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Glenapp Castle is an enthralling tale of intrigue and suspense. Set against the stunning backdrop of Scotland's craggy southwestern coast, this is a story of a love lost and found, a truth kept and revealed, and a house long forgotten but suddenly brought back to life.
IT ISN'T TRUE THAT time heals. The monotonous ticking away of minutes and hours may dull memory, but time doesn't know the first thing about mending the heart. I have thrice surrendered to time's trickery, faithfully lowering the veil of delusion, and thrice re-emerged a sorrier man. Memory is entombed in the deep recesses of the heart, not in the mind. It shackles itself to the very cells that pulsate tirelessly through the body reminding you never to forget. And it is not always for the loss of life that one grieves, for though I reference three as dead, one is among the living, still.
A ready reminder, the crimpled advertisement rests on my kitchen table, faded and yellowed from the stale, dank air that permeates my cottage.
Needed: A Head Gardener at Glenapp Castle to restore two-and-a-half acre walled garden. May start immediately.
The haunting irony of the perfect job on the one estate I cannot bear to return to seems unjustly cruel-a twisted, perverse comedy contrived to resurrect my deepest sorrows and tempt my wildest dreams.
I am not certain why I returned to the wee village of Ballantrae, isolated as it is on the southwest coast of Scotland. Perhaps Ailsa Craig, that omnipotent sea mountain is to blame, its lurking magnetism yanking me back and forth between dread and an uncontrollable longing to live here, under its spell. Perhaps it is time to stop running away.
They say Glenapp Castle is a hotel now. I will never again step foot in the place, so it matters not to me. It is the walled garden that lures my weary spirit home-Sophie's garden.
The unrelenting April rain justifies my sense of purposelessness, and I return to my cot to contemplate how much longer I can survive without work. Lulled by the crash of my shutters in the gale, I mistake the pounding on my door for a dream remnant. But again, the dull, insistent knocks resound through the room. No doubt, it is my daily visitation from the village librarian, Nessie Brown, urging me to forgive and forget, to answer the advert and get on with my life.
What does she know of such things?
I pull on my trousers and hastily slip the advert into my pocket before opening the door. Standing before me is a woman I do not recognize. My annoyance subsides as evidently she's made some mistake.
"Are you Tom Hutcheson?" she inquires.
"Aye," I reply.
"My name is Eva Campbell. May I come in?"
She is unusually tall and has to bend forward to clear the threshold, yet does so gracefully, naturally. I gauge her to be in her mid-thirties, yet her youthful, freckled skin makes me unsure. She removes her paisley scarf and tosses her red curls to and fro, sprinkling droplets of rain to the floor. A puddle of water has formed around her feet and she smiles apologetically.
"I'm terribly sorry to bound in on you like this, but I'm really quite desperate," she says. "I'm looking for a Head Gardener and I'm told you have experience. Might you be interested? I put an advert in the paper months ago, yet I can't find anyone willing to take it on." Unabashed by my silence she surges on. "We have two gardeners now, but they need direction. There are thirty acres in all and a vast walled garden in total disarray. My husband, Andrew, and I bought Glenapp Castle nearly eight years ago now, but repairing the damage from the fire and making the grounds presentable has consumed us, I'm afraid."
"Who are your gardeners now?" I ask, knowing the answer.
"William Hobbes, he's the one who recommended you, and Henry McGrady, from Kilmarnock."
My visitor stands quietly, her hazel green eyes watching me intently as she wipes a rogue drip of rain from her brow.
"Would you like to see the garden?" she asks.
"I'm not sure. I've been away, you see," I manage.
"Do you know the place?"
"Aye, I know the place."
"Well, then," she seems pleased. "At the first sign of sunshine, promise to come and have a look. We've totally renovated the castle, and it's a beautiful setting, as you must know. From what William tells me, you'd be perfect. Will you come?"
"I'll come, but I cannot promise ..." I surrender, cursing myself. When I open the cottage door to let her out, a red admiral butterfly fans its black, red, and white wings, then settles on her shoulder. Fairy wings, Sophie and I used to call them. Then, for the first time in weeks, the sun burns through the thick storm clouds, illuminating the flooded village streets in streaks of coppery gold and silver.
"I believe in signs, Tom Hutcheson, do you?"
Oh, I wanted to believe in signs more than anything in the world.
"I'm not sure," I say.
"Well, I do," she professes, warmly extending her hand. "I hope you'll consider my offer. The walled garden needs a savior, and I highly suspect it's you."
I watch her stroll home towards Glenapp Castle, the red admiral clinging steadfastly to her shoulder, and I pray that Eva and Andrew Campbell aren't living in the north turret wing.
IT WASN'T AS IF Andrew and I woke up one Sunday morning and decided to buy a Victorian castle-the notion of leaving Edinburgh was unthinkable. Not even the stifling press of humanity, the jarring screech of automobiles, the noxious fumes that seeped through our apartment windows before breakfast, not to mention the dreich weather that droned on and on for weeks at a time, could have conspired to dislodge us. It would take a series of earth-shattering, soul wrenching eruptions to awaken our dull-witted, somnolent existence, and those events began with the premature death of my beloved dad.
My father was giving a ghost tour to a group of Dutch psychics in Edinburgh's notorious underground city when his heart gave out. The medics told us he collapsed in the exact vault where the body snatchers used to stack their nocturnal cache of corpses. If my timing is right, he would have just explained that in the 1780's, the medical school had an insatiable and unquestioning appetite for cadavers-the warmer the better. Though tragic, it was an apt departure, for Dad had a lugubrious fascination with the living dead and made his real income converting haunted houses into small hotels.
For me, worse still, not six weeks later, while still missing Dad terribly, Mum insisted we sell our five family-owned hotels so she could retire to Girvan, on the southwest coast to be near her sister, leaving the divestiture for me to handle alone. Andrew was a full-time veterinary assistant to his father, the distinguished Ruaridh Campbell, Dean of the Veterinary College at the Edinburgh University. Our Sunday mornings were spent snuggled in bed, sipping coffee and reacquainting ourselves. Sadly, that hadn't proved as fruitful as we hoped, either.
When I worked for my dad, one of my responsibilities was to scout the Sunday papers for "Distinguished Properties", gracious-sized homes large enough to potentially convert into small hotels. Three years later, still foraging the adverts like a hungry scavenger, one in particular caught my eye-it was an auction of an old Victorian castle outside the village of Ballantrae, in Southern Ayrshire, not far from where Mum was now living. I was intrigued for the property just might overlook Ailsa Craig, that magnanimous sea mountain visible for forty miles along Scotland's southwestern coastline. The final viewing was the last Sunday in May, just a week away. I persuaded Andrew we could spend Saturday night with mother in Girvan, then drive down the coast for a look.
It was a spectacular spring day. The air was pungent with trails of sweet lilac and honeysuckle and freshly churned earth, poised for seeding. Where fields lay fallow, black-faced ewes and milking cows dotted the hillsides. Gradually, the landscape hardened into craggy- edged cliffs that dropped thousands of feet to the water's edge. As the road descended through the Carrick Hills towards the sea, I braced myself for the blast of salt air, and when it came, I hung my head out the window and let the briny scent scintillate through my every pore.
The entire village of Ballantrae must have been in church, for there was no evidence of human life to be seen when we arrived. Wee two-story houses, all connected and painted in bright seaside colors lined the main street. Just a block away, the Irish Sea spread before us like the beginning of the end of the world. And I was right-there sat Ailsa Craig like a sacred ziggurat, awash in sunshine.
Andrew and I walked the length of the beach among sanctuaries of arctic terns and gigantic man 'o war and seaweed the color of steamed red cabbage. Smooth, sun warmed, gray rocks massaged the soles of our feet as we discussed the changes we wanted to make in our lives.
After five grueling years, Andrew's frustration with still being only a salaried assistant in his father's prestigious veterinary practice had worn him to a pulp-not to mention that most fathers would have offered full partnership far sooner. Before we left the city, Andrew received the news he was now expected to "buy in" at an exorbitant price, adding salt to an already wounded relationship. I had always dreamed of opening a Bed & Breakfast by the sea-a real possibility now that I found myself a woman of generous means without a job. Lulled by the lapping waves, for a long time we silently contemplated how to work things out. It was Andrew who commented, "You know, Eva, we married because we love being together. Sundays are a start, but it's no way to run a marriage." I wholeheartedly, passionately agreed.
The only restaurant open on a Sunday was The King's Arms Hotel-an antiquated, dark-paneled establishment with cheerless photographs of men and women on ice, standing behind their curling stones-teams, one presumed, of local competitors. They certainly were a doleful lot; there wasn't a smiling face among them. We ordered homemade crab soup and for far bridies, savoring the steak and onion pastry over a warming glass of claret. It was nearly half-past three when we finally asked for directions to Glenapp Castle.
"What's your business there?" the owner of The King's Arms wanted to know.
"We read that it's going up for auction tomorrow," Andrew replied.
"You won't find anyone from these parts bidding against you, that's for certain," he snarled. "No one in their right mind would buy that place."
"We're not going to buy it," Andrew clarified, politely. "We just want to have a look." The proprietor mumbled something about young people these days being bloody fools and after settling the bill, left us standing alone in the bar, without directions.
We hadn't seen the castle driving into the village, so we headed south across the Stinchar River, then took the first lane to the right towards the sea. The road ended abruptly at a spiked wrought-iron gate, secured with a steel padlock large enough to safeguard a county prison. On the stone pillar, Glenapp Castle was engraved in deeply grooved block letters, barely visible beneath the gridlock of overgrown ivy.
"If this is the last day for viewing before the auction," Andrew commented, "you'd think they'd leave the gate open for prospective bidders. Is there a gatekeeper to ring up?"
Before I could reach into my handbag to retrieve the advert, three gigantic ravens stealthy swooped down and landed all aflutter on the stone pillar. Spellbound, we watched the riotous trio tussle and shove one another, then rivet their beady green eyes on ours. The largest had lost a hefty portion of its tongue in a fight; its black tip was shredded and caked with dried blood.
"Not welcome," I meekly observed, recoiling behind Andrew's back.
"Nonsense," he replied, grasping my hand. "We'll simply walk across the ditch and bypass the gate altogether." But within seconds, the ravens edged closer, nipping at our heels. When one finally sunk his beak into Andrew's ankle, he shooed the pests to the nearby conifers.
"I don't understand it," he puzzled. "Ravens typically shy away from humans. And those queer eyes-ravens are born with bright blue eyes that turn gray, then brown, never green."
Nearly a quarter of a mile later, we came upon an enormous monkey puzzle tree around which the driveway split. Our intuition led us to the right towards the brighter opening of pointed firs. Then, after another hundred yards, we saw it.
"My God!" Andrew exclaimed. "Just look at this!"
The afternoon shadows part and parceled the five sprawling wings into slanting, geometric shapes, teasing me off balance at first glance. Constructed of sand-colored limestone, the castle floated on air like a mirage with no beginning and no end, melding with the cloudless lapis sky in a blurred, edgeless watercolor. With twin turret towers poised like regal bookends, Glenapp Castle seemed the most beautifully proportioned house I had ever seen.
It was the crescendo of birdsong that finally reeled in our senses. Like the climax of a great choral symphony, hundreds upon hundreds of birds-thrushes, warblers, woodcocks, swallows, and others I could not identify, joined in the dizzying swell of music above our heads. From the soaring parapets to the peaks of the twin turret roofs, from the precipice of the battlements to the blossoming, blood-red rhododendrons they soared, all in song, all at home.
"There must be a thousand birds here," I marveled.
"I've never seen, or heard, anything like it. What on earth do you suppose they're doing here?"
"I'm not sure," I said. "But I bet I know where they all sleep." Astonishingly, the massive front door to the castle was unlocked, yet curiously fortified on the inside by several heavy curling stones. I was not entirely surprised; it is well-known that most of the world's curling rocks were forged from granite quarried on Ailsa Craig. Once inside, we brushed a sticky morgue of decomposing insects from our hair as several mice scurried across the floor.
"Think beyond the mess, Eva," Andrew encouraged. "Will you look at this oak paneling?"
"What oak paneling? Everything's covered in bird droppings." It was true-there were as many birds inside as out, cooing and cackling, roosting in corners, waddling across the dusty floor oblivious to the mice, and of us. Andrew shook his head in wonderment. "My God, Eva, look at the size of these windows! Can you imagine what this place could look like renovated?" Indeed, I could.
We wandered through the gracious entry hall to a drawing room flooded with dappled sunlight. Andrew pointed out the intricately carved, pine mantelpiece depicting four scenes of a stag hunt. Someone had attempted to pry it free leaving deep chisel marks along the wall. The rest of the room had been stripped bare of anything not attached to the walls, including the door to a lovely Queen Anne corner cabinet, the shelves now platform to several colonies of nesting birds.
Andrew was exploring the adjacent dining room when I caught my first glimpse of her, dressed in a tidy maid's uniform, leaning over a round pedestal table, arranging invisible flowers in an invisible vase. As my heart thrashed against my ribcage, the green, waif-like apparition turned and smiled, then drew her finger to her lips as if a great secret were being shared. Before I caught my breath, she'd vaporized in the lofty labyrinth of cobwebs. Despite my father's penchant for the incorporeal, in that department I was strictly prohibited from any involvement. Now I had seen the visible dead for myself. And she saw me, too.
"Wait," I implored, too loudly.
"Sorry?" It was Andrew, peeking around the corner like a court jester.
"Amazing how the light plays tricks, sometimes," I remarked, offhandedly.
"Oooooooooo," he teased. "Seeing ghosts already, are we? A wee gallus to show themselves in broad daylight, wouldn't you think?" Ignoring the jibe, I retorted with an equal dash of sarcasm, "So how do curling stones wedge themselves on the inside of the front door?"
Andrew, his ringlets the color of orange-blossom honey forever falling over his brow, peered at me through his rimless specs and conjectured, "Kids-if we could get in, so could they. We'd best move along if we want to see the rest before sunset."
I promised myself that on the way home to Edinburgh, I would tell him what I had seen. He deserved to know the truth. All in time.
We trudged on through the unfathomable filth, retracing our footsteps along the hallway to the main staircase, but soon discovered it was cordoned off with yellow police tape printed with DO NOT ENTER in bold, black lettering. The cobalt blue wall covering was peeling off in sheets, and several wooden steps, easily six feet wide, had rotted straight through leaving gaping holes in the treads.
Excerpted from Glenapp Castle by Tina Rosenberg Copyright © 2009 by Tina Rosenberg. Excerpted by permission.
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Posted April 4, 2010
What better setting for a ghostly tale of love, loss and murder than a Victorian Castle on Scotland's shore? Glenapp Castle is told from several points of view, particularly those of Tom Hutcheson and Andrew and Eva Campbell. As the story opens, Eva and Andrew have purchased the run-down, dilapidated, burned-out ruin of a castle with plans for refurbishing it and opening a hotel there. They hire a reluctant Tom Hutcheson to revive the castle gardens with no knowledge of the history of Glenapp Castle. or Tom's role in that history. With each chapter, the story shifts between narrators. and between past and present. slowly unveiling the grim history of Glenapp as it relates to the present day and the ghosts therein. In the hands of a lesser writer, this round-robin approach to the narrative would very likely have resulted in a choppy and disjointed story line. But Rosenberg masterfully blends points of view with past and present so seamlessly that I barely noticed the transitions.
The best character in this novel by far is Tom Hutcheson. The reader follows Tom as he grows up in the servant's quarters at Glenapp (the son of a former maid), falls in love, wins a curling championship, endures tragedy, and witnesses the crimes of the castle's utterly soulless previous owner, Sir John McPhee. Tom's story is at once heartbreaking and enthralling. and it is through his eyes that we learn the history of evil at Glenapp: events that ultimately lead to murder.
In the present, Eva and Andrew Campbell renovate and revive Glenapp Castle in every way. Unable to bear children of their own, they find themselves legal guardians of Issie, a vivacious little girl whose mother (Andrew's cousin) is killed in a car crash. Andrew, a skeptic, is shocked to learn that people in this modern day and age actually believe that Glenapp Castle is haunted. Their story largely follows Andrew's unwilling transition from skeptic to believer as well as Eva's awkward transition from a life with no hope of children to that of unexpected motherhood. All are startled to learn that even Issie's biological father has shadowy ties to Glenapp's past. As the Campbell's interest in their castle's history grows, their story merges with Tom's to paint a complete picture of Glenapp Castle and it's inhabitants. both living and dead. Toss in a colorful cast of supporting characters (my favorite amongst those being Andrew's clairvoyant mother) and you've got one heck of a supernatural page-turner! Rosenberg also does an admirable job of weaving traditional Scottish folklore into the story. (Never, EVER build your home in the path of a fairy trail!)
For all of its extraordinary strengths, Glenapp Castle does have a few weaknesses. Some of the characters who play large parts in the castle's initial story of betrayal and murder just sort of get dropped from the ranks without much explanation for what becomes of them. The resolution of the ghost story within the story is disappointingly anti-climactic. The story's villain, Sir John McPhee, is so completely depraved and disgusting a human being that he comes off a bit one-dimensional. And for all my admiration of Rosenberg and her efforts here, I must admit that she lost me a little when one of the later chapters was narrated by the family dog. All of that aside, I can readily forgive those little flaws in exchange for a ripping good read. I can unhesitatingly recommend this book to my friends.
Posted March 23, 2010
Glenapp Castle: A Scottish Intrigue is a book I didn't want to put down. The characters are engaging and the plot is a page-turner. Tina Rosenberg writes like an artist painting a scene. Her descriptions of the castle gardens and Scottish landscape are poetic. And, I learned all about Curling - a fascinating sport. I've already recommended it to my two book clubs and writing group. A great read - can't wait for the sequel!Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.