Scotland is certainly a spooky place, not just on Halloween. Our long bloody history set in remote forests, castles and glens is the ideal fodder for many gruesome tales of ghosts and ghouls.
Scotland is a nation of storytellers and throughout the centuries accounts persist of the spirits of real people who died in tragic or horrific circumstances. Of apparitions that appear at certain times of the night, or on certain days of the year – perhaps when they were murdered. And of strange, eerie sounds that pierce the chilled Scottish air.
Hauntings seem to have no set boundaries. Ghosts have been reported on bleak roads, in old theatres and ancient graveyards across the land. Is it just a draught seeping through an ancient wall or something altogether more sinister. In Scotland you can never be too sure.
Scotland’s Spookiest Street
Mary King’s Close, Edinburgh. The street leading from Edinburgh Castle to the Palace of Holyroodhouse is known as “The Royal Mile”, with dark and spooky lanes leading off. One, Mary King’s Close, was bricked up during an outbreak of plague and only recently re-opened. Said to be the most haunted place in the Scottish capital, the spirit of a young girl has often been seen. Guided tours will take you to the close, Greyfriars cemetery, where the ghosts of covenanters who were tortured and executed linger, and also to the place where body snatchers Burke and Hare first dug up corpses to sell for use in medical experiments.
A few miles to the south-east of Edinburgh. Made famous by the novel and movie “The Da Vinci Code”, this working church was built for the Sinclair family in the fifteenth century. Ghostly flames apparently flicker in the burial vault when one of the Sinclairs is about to die, and an apparition of the apprentice who carved the famous Apprentice Pillar and was then murdered by his teacher, can sometimes be seen or heard.
Stirling Castle was the home to the Kings and Queens of Scotland. Trouble, intrigue and death were never far from their walls. Stirling is not short of a ghost story or two. Some of their origins are clear, others are shrouded in even more secrets. The Pink Lady falls into the latter category.
Some say she was a pretty noblewoman engaged to a brave knights who starved to death inside Stirling Castle – while under an English siege in 1304 - during the Wars of Independence. She in turn died, not from malnourishment but from the pain of a broken heart.
Her spirit roams the castle awaiting the day their souls will be entwined once more.
Others say she is Mary Witherspoon, a victim of Grave Robbers who sold bodies to educated men for dissection. While the robbers were brought to justice her ghost still seeks her mortal remains. People report a faint scent of rose-blossom in the air before she appears, her favourite flower.
Just north of Aberdeen, this castle is haunted by the spectre of Lilias Drummond who died there in 1601. Some believe she was starved to death by her husband, others that she died from a broken heart. Whatever the truth, it is said that Lilias’s ghost carved her name on the stone window sill of her husband’s bedroom on the night that he took a new bride. The writing can still be seen and the green-ghost of Lilias appears when time bodes ill for the owners of Fyvie. A dead drummer and a haunted trumpeter are also believed to haunt the Castle – with the trumpet sounding when death is near.
On the Aberdeenshire coast and to the east of Fyvie, Cruden Bay is a pleasant looking fishing village. But in the 19th century it was the holiday haunt of Bram Stoker. The ruins of Slains Castle, which drape down from the headland inspired his vision of Count Dracula’s Castle. The Kilmarnock Arms Inn, where Stoker stayed in 1895, is still there. Would you risk a visit to the place where Count Dracula was brought to life?
Shakespeare’s Macbeth was given the title of Thane of Cawdor in the classic story or power and revenge. While the castle did not exist during the time of the real Macbeth, could the stories of Cawdor Castle, close to Nairn near inverness, be stranger than Shakespeare’s fiction.
One ghost is thought to be the daughter of and earl of Cawdor. A wayward lass who insulted her father by flattering an enemy chieftain’s son. When the Earl discovered their tryst she fled to the highest tower of the castle as he followed in murderous pursuit. She lowered herself from the window to escape the threats of her father. He showed no mercy and chopped off her hands sending her to her death.
Visitors have reported seeing the ghost of this handless girl still roaming the castle.
On the west coast of Scotland, close to the town of Oban, the castle is more than thirteen hundred years old. Besieged and rebuilt many times it was visited by Robert the Bruce, King James IV and Flora Macdonald – who was imprisoned at Dunstaffnage after helping Bonnie Prince Charlie escape Scotland following the Battle of Culloden. A lady dressed in green walks the ramparts when momentous events are about to unfold for the castle owners, Clan Campbell. When smiling the fortune will be good. But if she is seen weeping, trouble lies ahead. The castle is open daily, with restricted hours during the winter.
The Home of Walter Scott at Abbotsford House
Abbotsford House in the Scottish Borders, was the home of novelist Sir Walter Scott. When you visit you can walk his library and even sit in his dining room. Be careful though. That is where the great man died after exhausting himself writing in an attempt to pay off huge debts. Might you catch a glimpse of his ghost?
It was here on a windswept patch of ground near Inverness that Bonnie Prince Charlie’s rebel army was crushed by government troops in 1746. The Prince’s army was made up of Scottish clans like the Stuarts, the Macdonalds and the Frasers. Many were slaughtered after the battle was over. Cairns, or rock monuments, stand where these men died. Visions of the battle and apparitions at the memorial cairns are said to occur in this sorrowful place. A refurbished visitor centre is open all year round.
The castle has a long and bloody historyand is reputed to be haunted by many ghosts, including that of a headless drummer boy. His appearance is said to be a warning that the castle is about to be besieged and was first seen in 1650 before Oliver Cromwell and his English army attacked. The castle is now a major tourist venue and is home to the Scottish crown jewels and the Stone of Destiny an ancient rock on which the Kings of Scots were crowned.
A modern day mystery, the Overton Bridge in West Dunbartonshire has been the site of many unexplained dog suicides. The dogs are reported to take the plunge from exact same spot on the same side of the bridge. Some of those lucky enough to survive are said to return moments later to try again. It is alleged Overton Bridge has taken the lives of 50 unfortunate canine companions.
There have been many attempts to explain the phenomena. Some think the problem lies with mink trails leading over the side of the bridge. However, in Celtic beliefs Overton Bridge is called a "thin place" where the realms of the living and the dead cross. Others believe that dogs are super sensitive to the spirits and spooked enough by the bridge to take their own lives.