The De’il of Ardrossan

If you walk along the sand from Ardrossan South Beach and glance eastward, you will see the red ruin of Ardrossan Castle propped up on Castle Hill…

By Eva Gerretsen

If you walk along the sand from Ardrossan South Beach and glance eastward, you will see the red ruin of Ardrossan Castle propped up on Castle Hill. While the view is grand both towards the sea ahead of it, and the rolling green hills behind it, the castle’s most compelling story lies in its brickwork. The front wall of the castle is of particular interest. A large cleft in the ancient stone, about half a metre wide, is believed to be the hoof-print of the Devil or ‘De’il’ himself. Retold here are two versions of the story of The De’il of Ardrossan, sourced from the Ardrossan Heritage Society’s records and Tales of Ayrshire, collected and retold by Anna Blair (Shepheard Walwyn)

Sir Fergus of Ardrossan, or Sir Fergus De Barclay as he is also known, was renowned for his horsemanship. His connection to these four legged beasts was so deep, it aroused a great deal of suspicion in the village. It was whispered that he had struck a deal with the Devil, trading his soul for an enchanted bridle which gave him command of even the wildest horse. 

He soon grew tired of his soulless life, and yearned to break his contract with Satan. He knew that the only way to do this was to challenge the Devil to a task that he could not complete. Sir Fergus came up with the perfect challenge; if the Devil could make rope from the fine, pale sand of Ardrossan beach, the bargain would remain intact. If he could not, Sir Fergus’ soul would be returned. Accepting these terms, the Devil walked to the water’s edge and began to weave. However, the sand would not hold, and slipped through his fingers. Even when wet, the sand fell into weak clumps to be pulled away by the tide. Having failed the task, the Devil returned Sir Fergus’ soul, but not without acrimony. In a fit of rage, the Devil transformed himself into an enormous horse and kicked at the castle walls, leaving a hoof-print dent in it’s stone. 

Despite regaining his soul, Sir Fergus’ life was not without its trials. Soon after, his son died tragically in a riding accident, for which Sir Fergus blamed his wife. Blinded by grief, he murdered her, as revenge for their son’s death. 

In this wretched state, he crossed the sea to the Isle of Arran, to live in Kildonan tower. It is here he has a premonition that if he ever set foot on Irish soil he would die. 

One day, as he walked along the beach from Kildonan tower, he stopped for a moment and stood upon sods of earth used as ballast by Irish boats. His premonition was to be true, for not soon after he died and was sewn into a bull’s hide and buried in the shoreline.

Buried as he was, a strong incoming tide swept his body away, where it floated to shore and rested finally below the walls of Ardrossan castle. 

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