Picture the scene: It’s Scotland in late November. The gateway to the Highlands. The rain is lashing down as you look for shelter before the last of the remaining daylight ebbs away. In the distance an imposing old building shows signs of activity. There’s no chance of finding anywhere else before night falls, so now you’re at the mercy of what lies within one of the “most haunted” hotels in Scotland, The Drovers Inn.
It sounds terrifying, doesn’t it? Fortunately, that’s not how my wife and I came to find ourselves spending the night at this would-be notorious establishment. The real story is somewhat less dramatic. It was my wife’s 40th birthday and we knew exactly where we were going. It is only 90 minutes’ drive from our house, too, so we weren’t really short of options. Our room was booked well in advance, and our desire to stay there was much more to allow us to tackle part of the West Highland Way rather than grapple with ghoulies (although we were up for that too).
The Drovers certainly has a strange allure, with signs outside the building proudly stating its establishment in 1705; you can imagine American tourists being intrigued by a place pre-dates the establishment of their country. The actual origins of the building itself however seem a little more murky, with Historic Environment Scotland’s listed building document suggesting it originally had a military use, before it later became an Inn, as is indicated in a 1776 map (hint: look at the column on the far left, just above the border to Perthshire and you’ll see the ‘Ault Arnin Inn’).
Somewhat tellingly, the details above tell you considerably more about the history of the Drovers Inn than the History page of their own website, which is limited to evidence-free rumours of celebrity visitation, followed by some general history of the area. The romanticism of characters such as Rob Roy works well as tourist bait, but it’s not the only incentive given to visit the Drovers. Even more prominent than the history page on the website is a page on the main menu dedicated to ‘Our Ghosts’, which takes the reader through a number of alleged paranormal encounters from guests.
The general décor in the hotel somewhat props up the spook factor too, with a plethora of context-free creepy-looking black and white portraits of unsmiling families from days gone by, although there’s a mish-mash of other themes happening as well: from the Insta-friendly bear in the foyer, to the zombie horde of taxidermy, to the patriotic and homely appearance of the bar… not to mention the somewhat bizarre (but in my opinion pretty awesome) metal shark suspended from the ceiling in the breakfast room. The owners are clearly casting their net as wide as possible.
It’s the paranormal connection that seems to land the most free publicity though, as a Google News search demonstrates. Admittedly, number one on the list is a puff-piece about cosy pubs for the winter, but you don’t need to read far before the ‘most haunted’ phrase crops up (surely minus cosy points for that?). Second on the list is a Halloween-themed article about spooky pubs in the Daily Record, and number three is yet another listicle from the Daily Record, this time back in February to mark the release of ‘The Vanishing at the Cecil Hotel’ on Netflix. Most combinations of ‘ghost’, ‘hotel’, and ‘Scotland’ will point you towards the Drovers.
Aided by some real spirits from behind the bar during dinner I found the resolve to bite the bullet and ask the staff about paranormal goings on. Part of me was hoping for a moment like the Slaughtered Lamb scene from American Werewolf in London. In reality it was somewhat underwhelming: the server behind the bar hadn’t seen anything in the six months she’d worked there. Her off-duty colleague sitting at the bar said the same. Despite their lack of personal meetings with the deceased, it appeared as if it was the ‘party line’ not to throw too much cold water on any talk of ghostly goings-on. Thankfully another person sitting at the bar piped up. He used to work there and had some experience of guests who had reported strange happenings. Finally, from a previously quiet corner of the room, someone with a more than passing resemblance to the owner of the Inn, Ernest Strang chipped in with some half-hearted stories about strange goings-on, including blown light bulbs. Of course, light bulbs don’t need to be haunted to blow, particularly if they’re connected to the electrics in a building that’s older than some countries.
With such a disappointing lack of ghost stories from the people in the bar, I decided to make use of the faltering Wi-Fi signal back in our room to trawl through TripAdvisor reviews instead. Searching with keywords such as ‘haunted’, ‘ghost’, ‘spooky’, and ‘scary’, I found many references to the alleged haunted nature of the Inn, but only 9 out of the 1,568 reviews contained anything referring to an actual paranormal incident. These ranged from a somewhat vague ‘creepy night’, to someone ‘catching something in out of the side of the eye’, all the way to alleged physical contact. Surprisingly there was only one claim of a psychic connection to one of the spectral inhabitants. Much more tellingly though, there were dozens of reviewers specifically saying that nothing happened, even from those staying in room 6, which is claimed to be the most haunted room.
We weren’t staying in room 6 unfortunately, but we were right next to it. Whoever was in the haunted room that night may have heard some strange banging noises between 10:47pm and 10:51pm though. Sorry about that.
There were certainly no spectral sightings on our side of the wall that night, but considering the factors involved in why some people ‘see’ ghosts, that’s no great surprise. A grizzled old skeptic like me who is more interested in some well-earned rest & recuperation away from a two year old is perhaps less likely to be susceptible to such things. Consider though someone who already believes in ghosts, who has been specifically told that the building is haunted, staying in the ‘haunted’ room which deliberately has no television, and older décor, in a creaky old building which may well have people moving around late into the night. It’s perhaps a surprise that more people aren’t reporting ghost sightings on TripAdvisor.
So, is the Drovers Inn haunted? Probably not, but it’s just as haunted as you want it to be. Whether that’s your thing or not, it’s certainly a unique place, nestled in some of the most beautiful countryside you can imagine, so I can highly recommend visit. Maybe I’ll catch you there for a pint!