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Ruthven Barracks


The castle that once stood on the site of the barracks, was said to be haunted by its notorious lord, who was trapped in limbo playing cards with the Devil.

Ruthven was first used as a Barracks in 1689. It was taken by force twice; once when the garrison surrendered to Bonnie Dundee, the other time being in 1746 when it was overrun by Jacobite troops.

Before Ruthven Barracks was constructed in the 17th century, a castle stood on the site, which was occupied in the 14th century by Alexander Stewart 'The Wolf of Badenoch', an apparently ruthless man about whom a number of traditions grew up. In revenge for being excommunicated he burned Elgin cathedral to the ground, and also ravaged the town with his small army. He was probably a figure of great fear in the community during his life, which can often be a catalyst for the birth of grim folklore.

In tradition he was said to practice witchcraft in the dark hours with his band of followers, but got his comeuppance when he tried to beat the Devil at a game of poker.

On a stormy night in 1336 the local villagers saw a lone horseman dressed in black approach the castle. Some of the braver villagers crept closer to see who the figure was and saw Alexander and the sinister character engaged in a game of cards (or chess). The dark stranger inevitably won and the whole scene disappeared behind a wall of flame. The next morning the villagers returned to the castle to find it a smoking ruin around which the bodies of Alexander and his followers were strewn. Alexander had been foolish enough to challenge the Devil to a game of cards and had forfeited the ultimate prize of his immortal soul. In the years that followed, right up until the 17th century - when the castle was demolished - Alexander and his ghostly comrades could be seen playing cards with the Devil in some dark corner of the castle.

In another version of the story Alexander plays a game of chess with the Devil, and a massive thunderstorm erupts after the Devil has won. The next day the Wolf is found in his hall with the nails of his boots torn from the leather. Alexander is buried at Dunkeld cathedral.

Directions: Off B970 at Ruthven, wich is off the A86.

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Image Copyright: 
Alison Topham
Author: 
Daniel Parkinson

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