Uncanny: Danny Robins Investigates Luibeilt, A Remote Haunted Cottage In The Highlands Of Scotland
Photo: © Sandy Stevenson
Danny Robins brings us the Christmas special of 'Uncanny' and this time the paranormal happenings that took place around Christmas time in 1973 are so huge that the story has been split over two episodes of the supernatural podcast series.
In the episode, which is available now on BBC Sounds, we meet Phil Macneill who tells us about his experience with a friend in an old cottage in the Scottish Highlands. The two young men believed it to be abandoned, only to find that something very frightening lurks inside.
Phil was 18 at the time, a member of a mountaineering club based in South Glasgow. He would spend most weekends in the mountains with his friend, Jimmy Dunn. But one particular adventure, which took place a few weeks after Christmas, changed Phil's life.
Phil and Jimmy had got the train to Balloch, from there they'd hitched a lift to Kinlochleven and then hiked further north to a place called Luibeilt. Phil describes this as "a deer stalkers cottage quite a long way into the mountains."
The cottage is in fact a bothy, as Phil explained to Danny, "a bothy is a building which has been modified to provide accommodation for climbers and hill walkers, and they usually have a stove, running water, never electricity of course. We were given to believe that it was occupied and the people who lived there provided accommodation."
The house was quiet when they arrived, but peering through the windows it appeared obvious that someone was living there, so they left their heavy bags in an outbuilding and head into the hills. When they returned at around 9pm, it was pitch black and the duo headed inside, but they didn't find exactly what they were expecting.
Phil said, "it was cold, that was the first thing, it was much colder on the inside than it was on the outside and it felt odd. It just didn't feel right. So we made our way around the house and it became immediately obvious that the place had been vacated very rapidly. The table was set for Christmas. There were Christmas crackers on the table, but Christmas hadn't happened. The place looked as if people had upped and left all of a sudden."
Phil said that despite the lack of people, every single room looked lived in, apart from one, a fairly small room that had a dismantled metal-framed bed against one wall and a large window ledge which oddly had a boulder placed on it between the olive green curtains.
Phil and Jimmy decided to sleep downstairs in the living room. Danny asked, "you weren't worried that somebody would come back and find you in their house like Goldilocks and the three bears?" Phil replied, "you don't just turn up in the middle of the night, there's no way of getting there at that time of the year it's not really doable."
After getting in their sleeping bags and blowing out the candles, Phil recalls how totally dark and silent it was, but he said, "almost the minute the candle went out there's noises upstairs."
He continued, "the first noises which we hear are footsteps upstairs in that room above. The second noise we hear is the dismantle metal-framed bed being pulled away from the wall and it sounds as though it was being put together, and then a little while later, the third noise we hear is the boulder being rolled around the floor."
Despite this, Phil says that he somehow managed to eventually get to sleep, that is until around 4am when the noises started up again. Phil says, "the noises aren't just in the room above, they're in our room. The entire room erupts. There are things flying around all over the place."
However Phil said, "suddenly the place went absolutely dead silent, completely dead silent." Phil lit a candle, only to find that the candle went flying across the room as though somebody kicked it away. Phil recalls that at this point things kicked off again, he describes books "fluttering around" bookshelves as they were flung off of it.
Next came footsteps. Phil said, "the noise is now in the room above and we hear footsteps, very clearly audible footsteps from that corner of the room upstairs." Danny asks what we're all thinking, "are you certain that you were alone in this house?" Phil tells him, "I'm absolutely certain. We got there and we went through the entire building and there was nobody there."
Phil continued with his story, "right outside our room there's a spiral staircase which leads to the upper floor and this thing comes down the spiral staircase and in casual footsteps, one after the next until it's got to the bottom of the staircase." Phil said that by the time the sound reach the bottom of the stairs he was stood by the door ready with an ice axe in hand. He said, "right behind the living room door is the bottom of the spiral staircase. I swing open the door, ice axe over my head and there's nothing." He continued, "I slammed the door shut and the footsteps go straight back on the spiral staircase emerging to the top and wandering across the bedroom above."
After these terrifying events, Phil and Jimmy decided there was no way they were going to venture into the rest of the house. They packed up their gear and left by climbing out of the living room window. Phil says that once outside they shone their torches up in to the window of the room above, and to their surprise those olive green curtains that had been open earlier were now closed.
What The Experts Think
This week Danny is joined by the two experts he worked with on his previous podcast series, 'The Battersea Poltergeist'.
Danny talks to writer and parapsychologist Evelyn Hollow about the unusual setting of this particular case. Evelyn says, "it's a really strange location for a poltergeist story. Usually in poltergeist cases, we see a pattern of escalation that slowly builds and then increases over a long period of time, but in this case, they go in, and as soon as it's nighttime, it just all starts kicking off really explosively."
The fact that this bothy at the centre of the story is so remote and has no electricity rules out some environmental factors, but psychologist and skeptic, Ciarán O'Keeffe thinks one important factor remains. He explains, "I think the biggest suspect for me is cold. We've got a scenario where Phil by his own admittance describes this bothy as being cold inside." Ciarán continues, "we know that cold, stress and drops in temperature can cause a complex set of physiological and psychological responses. It can influence things like levels of consciousness, your alertness, your reaction time."
This could well be the case. One listener joining in with the #UncannyListenAlong on Twitter posed the question, "how the hell do you fall asleep after hearing that upstairs?" Well, generally you don't, but this is quite a telling question.
Phil may have already been asleep when he heard the noises, or at least have been in some kind of dream-like state, perhaps emphasised by the cold. Remember Ken in Room 611 from episode one? Expert, Caroline Watt, mentioned the possibility of hypnagogic hallucination when Ken was hearing strange and violent banging sounds while lying in bed.
These hallucinations can be auditory in nature, and as Ciarán reminds us, because of the dark all we're being told about is what Phil heard. Ciarán said, "we're really only getting an ear witness account, not an eyewitness account. There's no doubt in my mind that noises are being heard. There's interpretation of those noises as objects landing on the floor but we could still argue that the cold, tiredness could impair judgement." This could explain why Phil mentioned books "fluttering around" near the bookcase, despite earlier stating that he couldn't see his own hand in front of his face.
Phil also said, "suddenly the place went absolutely dead silent, completely dead silent." Could he be describing the moment he woke up here?
Addressing that question of someone else being in the house, Danny asked, "we have to consider the possibility that this is a person. Are we certain Phil and Jimmy are the only two human beings here?"
Ciarán answered, "no, I'm not because here you've got a building that is effectively set up to accommodate climbers, but also there's a particular code there's this Bothy Code, which means that when you're entering into a building like that, you need to respect any others within that property. So maybe a simple explanation is another climber or climbers entered into the building from a different entrance and they were just being respectful of Jimmy and Phil, who they knew were in that particular room."
At the end of his story, Phil mentioned that the curtains upstairs had been closed. Phil thought of this as another sign that something strange was going on, however the curtains being closed is also what you'd expect to find if someone living had bedded down in that room for the night.
Evelyn added, "it's not impossible that somebody else could have come in, but this place is in the absolute middle of nowhere, which very few people have access to or actually the ability to even walk to. The winter time in Scotland, you have to be fairly experienced even to be able to get up there and not get lost. So although I can't rule out that other people are involved, it's difficult for me to explain why someone would be there at that time of year in such a remote location at that time of the night."
We should remember that Phil and Jimmy returned to the Bothy fairly late for a winter evening after their climb at around 9pm. They experienced the first noises around four hours later. It is possible, even if unlikely, that another climber or group of climbers got back very late that night, perhaps after being lost in the darkness.
Ciarán also gave another possible explanation that could explain the sound of footsteps. He told Danny, "the footsteps that are reported remind me of another bothy, Ben Elder cottage where the same phenomenon was reported, where you had an individual, I think they were a deer stalker, and they reported hearing ghostly footsteps in an adjacent room." He continues, "in that particular case it was found that there was a stag that was using their antlers and banging on the outside walls."
Could an external banging sound be mistaken for footsteps inside the house? Ciarán also explained, "there's some lovely research in a military context showing that extreme cold can actually affect the ability to track an object, and he's talking about footsteps coming down the stairs, it might not actually be doing that at all, his judgement and his perception might be affected to such an extent there might be a single source for the knocking, but he's interpreting it as footsteps then imagining those footsteps are coming down the stairs."
The timing of the sounds, 4am, has links to the witching hour and evil connotations. Danny asked his other expert, "do you feel that there is something in that house that is dangerous?" Evelyn said, "well, whatever it is in the house, whether it's supernatural or a person, this is an entire room being obliterated. It definitely, unmistakably means them harm, whatever it is."
Although, this doesn't really add up. If something meant them harm it did have amble opportunity to harm them while throwing objects around, which included ice axes and other sharp climbing equipment. What ever this force was, if it intended harm it could have inflicted it in the darkness when Phil and Jimmy were defenceless.
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The Story Continues...
This isn't the end of Phil's story. At the end of the podcast he told us that he continued to be affected by the night after returning home to Glasgow, "I felt in many ways I was being followed. I had this feeling that this presence was somewhere wherever I was."
Phil immersed himself in the paranormal and did everything he could to try to explain what happened at Luibeilt. This lead Phil to the decision to go back to Luibeilt.
Danny tells us, "this is our very first double episode, so next time we have huge developments, as Phil has a terrifying experience in his own apartment." Part two of this terrifying story drops next Wednesday when we find out what happened when Phil headed back to the highlands to confront whatever lurks in that lonely cottage.
More episodes of Radio 4's 'Uncanny' are available on BBC Sounds now and will also be broadcast on Saturday nights at 11:30pm on Radio 4.
Ready For Part Two?
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