The Ghost in the Machine
First Society bottling in 1986.
Strange Happenings at Glenrothes Distillery
The close proximity of the distillery to the cemetery has been noted; the advanced age of many of the distillery's old servants at rest there may also be noted. It was also here in. this cemetery that one of the many souls laid to rest found life so pleasant in the village of Rothes that he chose for his spirit to remain earthbound.
On occasions this spirit would visit the distillery during the most severe Highland winter nights. One such visit was around the time of the distillery centenary, when the stillman on duty noticed a silent presence in the stillhouse. He instantly recognised the visitor by his dark complexion and long white hair - a well known figure around Rothes in former times. He was not alarmed by this friendly presence.
So begins a remarkable account by a former Master Blender and Distiller at Glenrothes Distillery, about events which took place there in 1980. First some background. The distillery was built in 1878, in the 'Glen of Rothes' which runs down to Rothes village III the heart of Speyside. Adjacent to and overlooking it - climbing the other side of the glen - is the village cemetery, which is also the site of a very ancient chapel: this gives rise to the tour-guide's witticism that there are 'spirits to right and left'. The period referred to in this story was significant for Glenrothes. Not only was 1978 the distillery's centenary; in November 1979 its owners, The Highland Distilleries Company, were subject to a hostile take-over bid by Hiram Walker (Canada). This was disallowed by the Monopolies and Mergers Commission in January 1980. Later the same year a new still house at Glenrothes was opened, incorporating the two existing still rooms and an old malt barn, and increasing the number of stills from six to ten. Storage, mashing and fermenting facilities were also enlarged. Curiously, the new No.3 spirit still was not operating as it should have done, but this was only discovered later.
To resume our tale. Questioned about the identity of the apparition, the distillery workers were quite clear: it was 'Bye-way'. Bye-way Biawa Makalanga, to give him his proper name - had been discovered in Africa in 1894 by Major James Grant, proprietor of Glen Grant Distillery, while on a hunting trip. The small Matabele boy had been abandoned by the wayside in Makalanga province (hence his name), and when all attempts to find his family failed - it was believed they had been massacred in a tribal feud - the Major adopted him and brought him back to Rothes. He attended the village school and became Major Grant's butler, and when the Major died III 1931 he left provision for him III his will, with a room at Glen Grant House, coal from the distillery and meals at the local hotel. Biawa was a well-loved local character: 'he spoke with a broad Rothes accent, was gentle, kind, and a quiet soul who won the affection of the whole community'. There is a charming photograph of him at Glen Grant's attractive new visitor centre. He died in Aberlour Hospital in January 1972 after a short illness, aged 84 or 85, and was buried in Rothes cemetery.
The story of the apparition at Glenrothes came to the attention of the late Cedric Wilson, Professor of Pharmacology at University College Dublin and an expert in paranormal phenomena. During a long medical career, Professor Wilson had encountered numerous cases in which his patients had been troubled 'by earthbound spirits, and their condition eased by the spirits' eventual release. He was also an expert on ley-lines - the mysterious 'straight tracks' of energy which run across the landscape, plotted in prehistory by sacred sites.
Apparitions are often associated with ley-lines, and this seemed to be confirmed when the Professor discovered that Glenrothes distillery stands on an important ley which runs from Rothes Castle to the cemetery, and thence to the Coleburn Stone near Elgin, and to the Northern Pictish capital of Burghead, on the Moray Firth. He had never been to Speyside, and part of the attraction of the case was "investigating the mysteries of Scotch Whisky from his particular angle". The management of Highland Distilleries was understandably sceptical, but gave permission for the Professor to visit the distillery during the silent season, when it was not in production. He arrived in August 1981.
The day he arrived for the meeting was bright and sunny, ideal for a site sun'ey on foot. In less than an hour the Professor has assimilated the conditions and commenced operations, with attention to the damaged ley line passing beneath the still house. The repair was speedily executed with the assistance of the plant engineer to source scrap 'pig iron' and to place two stakes of iron in the ground, one on either side of the defect. The completion of this activity was designed to inspire the earthbound spirit with confidence. Seemingly, through the resumption of the flow of energy along the ley line, the spirit would become aware that tranquility had been restored to the local environment. In fact silence descended upon that' place as the previously unnoticed tension was relieved
His tactics are well known to architects familiar with the upsetting power of broken ley-lines. The path of the energy field is quickly ascertained with dowsing rods (as in water divining), and the cause of the 'break', or 'redirecting' - which in this case was presumably due to the steel foundations for the new stills - determined. Then Iron rods are hammered in to correct the energy flow. Increasing numbers of architects consult ley-line experts to neutralise sites in this way, especially if electronic equipment is to be used in the new building. As a result of the natural human sensitivity to the scheme of ley-lines and Earth Mysteries, there followed the ideal conditions for the Professor to attempt contact and an interview with the earthbound Spirit.
To achieve this the Professor retraced his steps into the stillhouse and there remained in solitude for twenty minutes or so. When he emerged, his attention was fixed on the cemetery, where he entered and strode off smartly along the paths to the terraced hillside at the rear. A further silence, a further ten minutes and then the Professor returned to the small group of us in attendance and quietly announced that he had accomplished his mission. The earthbound spirit had agreed to depart for that special place appointed, and U'ue to his bargain has never been seen again around Glenrothes. What can we make of all this? All the elements - broken ley-lines and the way they can affect a site; earthbound spirits, and their release by rite of exorcism - are familiar to architects and clergy, not only to students of Earth Magic and other arcane sciences.
It seems probable that Baiwa's appearances at Glenrothes were prompted by the broken ley-line, rather than the threat of take-over: one of the pleasures of the nether-world must be a lack of concern for the Stock Market. This might also explain the kindly spirit's concern for a distillery other than the one which had nurtured him. Let us leave the final twist in the story to our narrator, to whom the Society is most grateful for this account of a very curious matter:
The information given on the local routing of ley lines at Rothes gave the Professor a insight into another challenge to the North at Pluscarden Priory. Through his natural sensitivity, he became aware of an ecclesiastical problem relating to ley lies under the Priory, which is close by Miltonduff Distillery.