The ruins of Cammo
House lie in a wooded area near to the river Almond in West Edinburgh.
It was built in 1693 and is thought to have been the inspiration for the
'House of Shaws' in
Robert Louis Stevenson's
novel Kidnapped. I
knew Cammo House in 1969 before it was burnt down by vandals and for a
brief moment back then, I touched the end of an era and a way of life.
At around 3am
on a cold clear night during 1969, a telephone call to the West End Police Station
in Edinburgh was made by Percy Tennant who was reporting lights and suspicious noises
coming from his house in the woods of Cammo Estate.
I had met Percy
before, he was about 80 years old, almost bent double and he spoke with a crackly voice.
lived in the old farmhouse
(image opposite) where I
had visited him during the summer, a few months previously. On this occasion I was to meet him in the
driveway, leading up to Cammo House which was somewhere deep in the woods.
When you are
very young in the police, especially when you are the 'spare man' in the van,
you get all the work thrown at you. I dealt with road accidents, sudden deaths,
fires, thefts, you name it, I got it and it came as no surprise to me
when I was dumped near to the
driveway leading to the woods at Cammo House. The van went off to
another call, which to the driver and my sergeant, was more important. I
watched the police van hurl around the corner into the main Queensferry Road with tyres screeching and
it's blue light flashing as it
I had heard
all the stories about Percy Tennant, the grand events that had taken
place at the house in the latter part of the 19th century when he had been a young boy.
How his brother had apparently left for America and the mother, broken
hearted had lost the will to maintain herself and the house. Over the
years for whatever the reasons, Cammo House started to disintegrate and
it became uninhabited. Percy had moved to the farmhouse in his old age
for company and care. As in most cases the story became tinged with the
supernatural and his mother was
supposed to be buried on the estate and her ghost now walked the lawns at
night. Also there was the story about the howling and barking of dogs in
I slowly walked up the driveway towards Cammo House which was hidden amongst the trees deeper into the estate.
It was more like a lane and it was overgrown with bushes, weeds,
by trees and very dark. Some 100 yards I walked and then I saw it, it’s
high roof gleaming in the moonlight. The full moon beamed down on the
scene and I saw in my mind's eye, Robert Louis Stevenson watching it
from the same angle. The
novel Kidnapped was spawned and Cammo House was immortalised for ever
more. I saw Alan Breck, David Balfour, his wicked old uncle
then I saw old Percy as he stood at the rickety entrance gate with his
leery lamp swinging in the wind, the yellow glow lighting up his thin
pointed face, he looked like wee 'Willy Winky' but he was real.
He said, “hello
sonny, climb the gate” and as I landed on the other side, I was avalanched by
about thirty crazy dogs of terrier size as they set about trying to tear
off my trouser legs at the ankles, with Percy jumping around like a
demented demon shouting and screaming at them “Don’t mind the doggies,
Constable, they think your an intruder." Don’t mind the doggies, I
thought, as I fought with their hairy faces; much growling, yelps and
barking followed as we all staggered up the main driveway towards the
house. By the time I got there, they had all calmed down, I think mainly
because they all had a piece of my trousers. So much for the dogs
howling at night, now I only had to meet the ghost of his mother.
The front of
the house was impressive and the walls were very high. The view down
from the front, spread across a huge lawn which extended into a long
grass driveway with a view of Edinburgh through the trees.
I imagined the turn into the 20th Century with
servants, party frocks, horse drawn carriages and much laughter as the
guests arrived through the gates and up the driveway. The glow from the
oil lamps and into the most beautiful of houses,
with opulent fittings, grand pictures on the walls and a style of living,
which was hard to match. Now, it still stood majestic in the
moonlight amidst the same trees as it did back then, all serving as an exquisite
I stared at Percy
under the yellow light of his lamp, he was a strange old man. He gestured to the back of the
house and we (dogs and all) forced our way through the undergrowth to
the back yard of the house; ever seen the Dracula Movies and you get
the picture. Percy fought with the door to open it, while I kept staring
in every direction as I scoured the area for the ghost of his mother. The door
finally opened and we all stepped up, a step I thought,
and a strange feeling under foot. I shone the torch down and saw dog
excrement all over the floor, generations
of dog excrement, which had
piled up about 6 inches high and although it was hard, all the new stuff
was white with mould. Percy was apparently using the dogs to guard the property and
allowing them to live and roam free in the house at night.
entered into what appeared to be the staff quarters for I
could see the staff bell system, still on the back hall wall,
covered in cobwebs, just barely hanging there. As we walked through the
house, I saw old faded
encrusted paintings. Rotting decor, a staircase and worse, no
electricity. Through the gloom Percy led me upwards and gesturing, he
said “stay to the side sonny, avoid the middle of the floors.” I hugged
the old flaky walls and shone my torch at the dogs, who were puffing and
panting as they ran alongside. Percy led on, his thin frame and night-shirt illuminated by the yellow glow from his
paraffin lamp. I’ll say one thing for Police work.......... it was never dull.
reached the main room upstairs and it was filled with paintings and old
furniture. All the chairs had their springs up through the cloth (rotted
by dog urine) and the furnishings were yellow and discoloured. I shone my
torch around and suddenly I jumped back against the wall as I realised
the middle of the floor was missing and was in fact downstairs in the
room below. I peered through the dark hole and at that point
I developed a distinct weakness at the knees and an acute inability to
walk or even move. Percy was jumping around on the solid parts of the
floor, which he obviously knew and gesturing at empty spaces where the
thieves had stolen paintings from the walls. I decided to retrace my
steps very carefully.
I took the theft report and left him standing in the middle of the
grounds, surrounded by his dogs, yellow lamp swinging, the glow on his
face, the full moon over the house and somewhere the old lady was
watching it all. My heart went out for Percy, I still see him today,
man trapped in time, dreaming of the regal days at Cammo. He died and the National Trust took over the estate and the house.
vandals set fire to it and it remains in ruins along with the deserted
farmhouse where Percy had spent his last days.
the Cammo Estate in 2010 and discovered that the grounds had been turned
into a country park, used by tourists, dog walkers and families out for
a picnic. The walkways had been
up and the main entrance driveway had been refurbished and was a great
Cammo House was in ruins and the collapsed walls were
covered over with soil and grass. The ruins seemed so small and failed
to provide any guidance as to the actual size of the original building,
which had been substantial.
farmhouse where Percy had spent his last days, was now derelict and
overgrown with trees and bushes. It was
in a sorry state and now a pale
imitation of the building it once was.
looked at the boarded up window where he had once stood and
waved to me as I entered the courtyard. I could still see him as I did
one summers day over 40 years ago and I admit I was poignant and
touched with sadness for what he had endured and the downfall of such a
Robert Louis Stevenson make of it today, as it stands
demolished to the
ground and overgrown? Has the soul of Percy found peace at last and
moved on or has the story become embellished? Perhaps Percy has found his mother, perhaps when
there is a full moon
you will be able to see them walking in the grounds,
hopefully without those dogs.
2019 - The farmhouse has now gone, it was demolished and replaced by
flats and a car park for the residents.
return to Cammo Estate and over the years, I captured some images to document
the estate and
you can see the full series by clicking on this link -
The above story is true, it really happened.
In 2019, a friend related a story of his friend cycling at night in
Cammo Estate when he experienced an icy chill and a sudden unease as he
cycled along through the woods. He was so disturbed, that he fled the
estate as quickly as he could. I could not help myself, I just had to
write a story based on his experience -
For those of a nervous disposition, don't visit Cammo Estate at night,
especially when there is a full moon.
If you have enjoyed this article - please donate to my
Charity of Choice -
The Sick Kids
Dragon Project' written by
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