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Sir Archibald the Wicked and the Coachman
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Sir Archibald the Wicked and the Coachman

Exploring the SWC300Excerpt 3 of 3 taken from Exploring the SWC300: A Cultural and Historical Companion to the South-West Coastal 300 Route by David M. Addison, all rights reserved.

I have to tell you about Sir Archibald the Wicked (c.1655-1710). You will notice that his lifetime fell within the “Killing Time” and, like his ancestors, the Wicked One was a fervent Catholic, which meant, of course, he was a rabid anti-Covenanter. You will not be surprised to learn, given his handle, that he was well versed in crime. Furthermore, it was said the older he got, the worse he got, like an addict needs more and more of their fix.

The story goes that in 1685, he and his men – scouring the landscape for Conventicles – came upon one being led by a Reverend Weir. Culzean set his armed men loose on the unarmed worshippers. One of them, Gilbert McAdam, armed only with a walking stick, tried to defend his aged mother from receiving a blow from the butt-end of a musket. It was knocked out of his grasp and, grabbing hold of his mother, he turned to flee. They were pursued by a horseman, who put a bullet through Gilbert’s brain. The horseman was none other than Sir Archibald, as you will have guessed, but before he could ride away, the distraught mother grabbed hold of the bridle and uttered a curse:

“When the hour of death approaches… no priest will be able to quench the ceaseless flames which burn in your bosom, and no words of affection soothe your dying pillow…”

According to witnesses, Archibald was visibly shaken. Servants reported that on wintry nights, when the wind howled around the castle turrets, he could be heard to cry in his anguish and his torment, “What woman was this who dared to scream so within the walls of Culzean castle?”

And so at last, the time came for Archibald to pass over to the other side. He was not a good patient. Like the Queen of Hearts, he threatened to knock off the doctors’ heads because they could not cure him. The priests were not any more efficacious. He sent them away because they could not quench the fire in his breast. The sweat beaded his forehead, his eyes bulged in their sockets and he stared in horror, pointed at something he could see at the bottom of his bed, but which no-one else could, and gave vent to an unearthly laugh.

And so, eventually, he died. It was a fearsome night. Think of the storm that Tam o’ Shanter rode through on his way home to face the wrath of Kate. The servants testified to hearing shrieks of laughter and groans of agony and fell to their knees and prayed, terrified out of their wits.

And then the day of the funeral dawned. Four white horses were attached to the hearse. One dropped dead on the spot, while the others kicked up such a fuss they had to be released. Four black ones were put in their place, but they refused to pull. The coffin was removed, the priest said some words over it, the coffin was replaced and at last the procession could proceed – but just as they set off, another fearsome storm broke out. The proceedings were just about to be abandoned when the storm stopped as suddenly as it started. However, the moment they reached the burial place, it started up again. Flashes of fire were seen to run along the length of the coffin, after which it felt much lighter. Some thought it was a lightning strike; others thought it was the Deil taking his faithful servant hame.

An event happened out at sea which would support the latter version. As a ship, passing through the bay, was being tossed about by mighty waves, the helmsman cried, “A boat! A boat!” It was not a day for being out at sea. Actually, it wasn’t a boat at all, but the poor fellow could be forgiven for misinterpreting what he saw illuminated by flashes of lightning, through the driving rain. Incredibly, it turned out to be a coach pulled by four black horses.

The captain hailed the coachman with a question. “From whence to where?” he asked, as if a coach-and-four was the sort of thing you might expect to see upon the briny any day of the week. I admire his sang-froid, I really do.

“From hell to Culzean’s burial,” replied the spectral coachman.

And what the captain replied to that, history does not record. Maybe he was struck dumb.

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