Scotland has long had a reputation for the uncanny. In particular, this small country’s violent history means that each town and city located therein is steeped in centuries of unquiet dead. From spooky forests and glens to remote castles and sprawling houses, the spirit world is never far off. As we will see, even the nation’s most iconic buildings have their fair share of eerie sounds and ghostly apparitions.
Although a thriving ghost tour industries mean you can easily explore such sites, beware – it’s not long before the spirit hunter becomes the haunted.
1. Mary King’s Close
The capital of Edinburgh is one of Europe’s most haunted cities, and Mary King’s Close is one of the city’s most infamous areas. This spooky lane is one of several that branch off The Royal Mile from Edinburgh Castle to the Palace of Holyroodhouse. Mary King’s Close was infamously bricked up after the plague overtook its residents, though today you can tour its many mysteries, including Greyfriars Cemetery, where the ghosts of Covenanters lurk. Its spirits include a Death Coach drawn by flaming, headless mounts with no driver. Some say that is the preferred vehicle for the late Major Thomas Weird, who confessed to bestiality and witchcraft before his execution. Others merely note that it is an ill omen of impending death.
2. Boleskine House
Boleskine House came to fame when so-called “wickedest man in the world” Aleister Crowley moved there in 1899. However, even before Crowley, this former hunting lodge had a sinister reputation. Originally built in the 18th century, it supposedly sat atop a 10th-century Scottish kirk or church that caught fire while filled with its congregation, killing all of them. The building also sits above a graveyard to which it connects through underground tunnels. Crowley’s performance of various demon summonings then led to rumors after he left of poorly closed portals allowing hellish creatures into our world. Since then, though, it has been owned by Jimmy Page and run as a hotel before mostly burning down in 2015.
3. Culloden Moor
This windswept grounds near Inverness was the site of the last battle fought on British soil – and the final hurrah for the Jacobites. In 1746, the rebel army led by Bonnie Prince Charlie was crushed by government troops, and around 2,000 members of the Stuart, Macdonald, and Fraser clans were killed and wounded. Cairns dot the landscape to mark where these men died, though the ghostly armies that occasionally march across the moor help, too. People nearby have reported spirits marching through their yards, while tourists regularly run into spectral soldiers. Any visitor to the Moor will notice a heavy atmosphere where this bloody battle took place, and many say birds don’t even sing near the memorial cairns.
4. Glamis Castle
Since it was built in the 14th century, this castle of the Bowes-Lyons family has gathered more than its fair share of haunts. Early on, the Ogilvy Clan sought refuge here from their enemies, the Lindsays – only to be walled up to die of starvation. While their spirits linger in an unknown Haunted Chamber, the Lady Jane Douglas sometimes appears as an ill omen, after being burnt as a witch. The Earl Beardie can also be heard playing an eternal card game with the Devil, but, most famously, the Bowes-Lyons family passed down the tale of the Glamis Monster. This disfigured prisoner or deformed child was hidden away in the castle – only to become a great and aged giant that haunted the family long after its death.
5. Cawdor Castle
Cawdor Castle dates back to at least 1454, when it was built around a holly tree with a gold-laden donkey to ensure the inhabitants’ prosperity. You can still view the original tree, although it died in 1372. The castle’s main ghost is a spectral lass with no hands, who is likely the spirit of the daughter of an early Earl of Cawdor. According to legend, she angered her father by becoming too friendly with a rival chieftain’s son. Filled with rage, he chopped her hands off – either in her bedroom or while she desperately clung to the window of the highest tower. In both versions, she perished and began haunting the castle grounds.
6. Fyvie Castle
Although the National Trust now cares for Fyvie Castle in Aberdeenshire, it has passed through many families since its construction in 1211. Its inhabitants include an ominous phantom trumpeter and meddlesome spirits that move and steal away objects. The Grey Lady is a relatively young ghost who appeared shortly after the secret, locked tomb of Lady Meldrum was unearthed during renovation in the 1920s. Dame Lillias Drummond has haunted Fyvie Castle for far longer, beginning shortly after her death by starvation in 1601. She started by disrupting her husbands’ wedding night with his new bride but lingers still as the Grey Lady who appears when the castle’s owners are in danger.
7. Stirling Castle
Another Green Lady haunts Stirling Castle, though the specter in this case, is merely one of Mary, Queen of Scots’ servants. As the castle was long home to the Kings and Queens of Scotland, a noblewoman haunts its halls as the Pink Lady, whose spirit leaves a scent of rose blossoms. Rumors abound of her death, from a tale of a noblewoman dying of a broken heart during the Wars of Independence to the story of Mary Witherspoon, whose body was stolen by grave robbers and sold for dissection. A Highlander in traditional costume also roams the grounds and, before disappearing, is often mistaken for a tour guide by hapless visitors.
8. Edinburgh Castle
Like much of Scotland, the capital of Edinburgh bears the scars of a long and bloody history. The city’s 2,000-year-old castle is thus surrounded by steep cliffs and spooky stories. When the nearby tunnels to Royal Mile were first found, a bagpipe player was sent to explore while playing the pipes but disappeared halfway – only to return to haunt the capital from below. In addition, a headless drummer boy sometimes warns of danger on the battlements, while former prisoners haunt the dungeons. One especially smelly prisoner will try to shove visitors down the battlements, much as he was tossed to his death after hiding in a dung barrow.
9. Greyfriars Kirkyard
This graveyard was built near the southern edge of Old Town Edinburgh in the late 16th century and sits around Greyfriars Kirk. Although residents include many notable names, the most infamous is the MacKenzie Poltergeist. This irksome spirit lurks in the Black Mausoleum section of Covenanter’s Prison, an area of enclosed vaults that was used to imprison around 400 prisoners from the Covenanting Wars. Lord Advocate George Mackenzie, known as “Bluidy Mackenzie”, ensured that conditions were horrid for prisoners but was laid to rest just yards from the prison itself. Due to the ghost’s dangerous activity, the area is closed off for public safety, though some ghost tours can schedule and lead visits.
10. Overtoun Bridge
The Overtoun Bridge was built in 1895 on the approach to the house of the same name in West Dumbartonshire. Around one canine companion jumps to their death on the waterfalls 50 feet below each year – from the same side and in clear weather. Some believe that dogs are spooked or suspicious enough of a spirit to throw caution to the wind, and others point to the Celtic belief that bridges are walls between realms. The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds investigated at one point and found that particularly smelly mink trails were luring dogs to their deaths. Yet, not even science can explain why Kevin Moy threw his son from the structure in 1994 before attempting suicide, believing his child to be the devil incarnate.
With such a storied history, Scotland has more haunted places than most to offer spectral spectators. From Grey Ladies to phantom pipers, haunting Highlanders, and everything in between, the ghost hunter in you will have more than enough to do. Along the way, be sure to show respect to the dead and to the inexplicable occurrences at each site – or else you may find yourself too soon among them.
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