Visitors have long been charmed by the beautiful Strathearn countryside. But did you know that the area has a darker past? The picturesque villages, spectacular mountains and sparkling lochs around Crieff conceal a secret history of witches, bogles and phantom Roman legionaries. Why not explore these spooktacular sites … but just make sure you get home before dark!
- The Witch of Monzie
The views from tranquil looking Knock Hill outside Crieff are extremely beautiful. But many people visit less for the scenery and more to pay tribute to the area’s dark past.
In the days when Strathearn was a superstitious place, dozens of innocent local women perished in the relentless witch hunts that characterised the 17th and 18th Centuries.
Tragic Kate McNiven has the dubious honour of being the last person to be burned as a witch in Perthshire and you can still visit the standing stone said to mark the site of her execution.
The story goes that Kate was a healer and prophetess who lived with her family in the village of Monzie, near Crieff, in the early 1700s where she worked as a nurse to the Grahams of Inchbrackie.
According to local legend, she hid in a cave beside the Shaggy Burn after being accused of witchcraft in 1715. However, she was discovered and sentenced to a grisly death involving being rolled down what is now known as Kate McNiven’s Craig on the north side of the Knock of Crieff in a barrel before being burnt alive.
Before Kate died she cursed the Laird of Monzie and the Village of Monzie itself: From father to son, Monzie shall never pass; no heir of line should ever hold the lands now held by him.
Visitors can walk to the standing stone said to mark the site of Kate’s execution. Take the A822 from Crieff past Gilmerton then turn off onto the small road to Monzie and the Glenturret Distillery. Follow this road until you see the old gatehouse for Monzie Castle on the left. The stone is in the field about 300 yards past the Monzie stone circle.
- Mystery of Maggie Wall
No record of Maggie Wall actually exists in The Survey of Scottish Witchcraft, an online record of every witch trial between 1563 and 1736.
But the legend of Strathearn’s most famous witch lives on and an eerie stone monument in a field outside Dunning, which commemorates Maggie’s death by fire in 1657, has become one of Strathearn’s lesser known tourist attractions.
Maggie Wall was apparently one of 1500 Scottish casualties, mainly women, who perished in King James VI’s witch hunt. Seventeen suspected witches were put on trial in 1662 by elite Strathearn families, the Oliphants, Hays, Moncreiffs, Drummonds and Rollos. All were imprisoned, possibly tortured, and at least eight sentenced to death, including Dunning’s Issobell McKendley, Elspeth Reid and Jonet Toyes, Jonet Airth of Aberuthven, Forteviot’s Helen Ilson and Margret Crose, and Jonet Martin and Jonet Young of Findo Gask.
Writing in his book Paranormal Perthshire, author Geoff Holder notes that Maggie Wall’s memorial first materialised officially in an 1859 Ordnance Survey map, which also identifies adjacent trees as ‘Maggie Walls Wood’.
- Phantom Roman Legionaries
Phantom legionaries march through the grass at Ardoch Roman Fort. Or so it’s been said!
Whatever the truth, there’s no doubt that Ardoch Fort, near Braco, has a strangely oppressive atmosphere after dark and it’s easy to believe tales of strange noises and unexplained footsteps.
Other stories associated with the site are equally peculiar with reports of a dog-like beast that’s said to patrol the entrance to the Fort, and the nearby cottage where the spine-chilling shape of a legionary is supposed to appear on the wall.
Local legend states that the Romans buried a great treasure at Ardoch as they prepared to leave Scotland and there’s been suggestions of hidden tunnels and mysterious earthworks.
As an interesting aside Ardoch – which is one of the best-preserved forts anywhere in the world – was visited by Queen Victoria and Prince Albert in 1842, although only Albert investigated the earthworks, while Victoria preferred to remain in their carriage.
- Church Street Ghost
Writing in the local Strathearn Herald newspaper at Halloween, reporter Lynn Duke recounts the story of Crieff’s Church Street ghost. The restless spirit of “a small, bent man” has been seen by shop staff shuffling around, banging doors and moving items on the shelves.
The supernatural spectre is thought to be the spirit of a 17th Century farrier whose years of bending over his forge took a toll on his back.
According to the Herald, the old man was also responsible for attending to the security of an inn in Church Street. He would walk through the pend at 10.30 every night, moving on any wayward locals who were hanging around before closing the large wooden doors that shut off the inn’s courtyard from the street.
Then, with his evening’s job done, he would climb the stairs inside the pend and go to his rooms which lay over the area that is now a shop. To this day, anyone working late in the premises gets an irresistible urge to leave when the clock strikes 10.30pm.