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Sunday, July 11, 2010

9. The Leith Hall Dule

Amongst the 260 acres which make up the grounds of Leith Hall, Aberdeenshire, stands an impressive sycamore, 116cm in diameter, known to locals as the Dule Tree. The word 'Dule' derives from the Gaelic for 'grief'; which will give you some indication as to the tree's former sinister purpose.

Dule trees were used for execution by hanging, and also often as a 'gibbet' for displaying the corpse of the executed man as an example to others. Sycamores were commonly used as dules due to the strength of their branches. The Leith Hall 'dule' is believed to date from around 1650, when the Leith-Hay family built their stately pile on the site of the medieval Peill Castle. Although the sycamore was probably planted at the time the new hall was built, there was likely to have been a gallows tree at the castle previously. Baronies in Scotland retained the ancient tradition of the 'pit and gallows' right up until The Heritable Jurisdictions Act of 1746, which sought to bring the vagaries of local justice under official government legislature.

Several ghosts are said to haunt the site, including that of Laird John Leith III, who died after being shot in the forehead in a drunken duel on Christmas Day, 1763. Numerous guests have reported seeing his apparition, with a bandaged head, while staying at Leith Hall - including several patients who were treated there during the Great War, when the building was used as a temporary hospital.

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