Start­ing this week and run­ning un­til Halloween, your guide to all things su­per­nat­u­ral

The Herald on Sunday - - FRONT PAGE - GHASTLY CAS­TLES

AHAUNTED cas­tle is as Scot­tish as a dram in front of the fire on an au­tumn evening. Roddy Mar­tine, au­thor of Haunted Scot­land, puts it this way: “Haunt­ings are uni­ver­sal but in Scot­land the imag­i­na­tion is trig­gered by the cli­mate, the dark win­ter nights, the land­scape and the his­toric build­ings.” Ev­ery­one loves a ghost story – a unique mix­ture of ro­mance, hor­ror, spine-tin­gling fear and ghoul­ish pleasure – and here in Scot­land there are plenty of strange sight­ings and things that go bump in the night to make the hair stand up on the back of the neck of even the most com­mit­ted scep­tic. Here, we give you the run­down on the most haunted places in Scot­land. No cas­tle in Scot­land is com­plete with­out a good ghost story. The clas­sic is Ed­in­burgh’s his­toric fortress at the top of the Royal Mile – more that 900 years old, the cells of its an­cient dun­geons were the site of count­less grisly deaths. Vis­i­tors to the cas­tle have re­ported sight­ings of a phan­tom piper, a head­less drum­mer, and the spir­its of French pris­on­ers from the Seven Years’ War in the mid-1700s. Stir­ling Cas­tle, mean­while, is one of the coun­try’s most im­pres­sive cas­tles and has suit­ably spooky tales to match. Mary, Queen of Scots spent time there af­ter re­turn­ing from France on Septem­ber 13, 1561. The next evening a can­dle left burn­ing set fire to the cur­tains of her four­poster bed. A ser­vant girl saved her but lost her own life and her ghost – known as the Green Lady – is said to wan­der the stone pas­sages to this day.

Plenty of cas­tles have a ghostly green lady-in-res­i­dence. The 13th-cen­tury Fyvie Cas­tle in Aberdeen­shire, built on the site of an open-air court held by Robert the Bruce, has its own ver­sion with a Grimms’ fairy tale twist. In one pop­u­lar telling this Green Lady is the spirit of Lil­lias Drum­mond who mar­ried Alexan­der Se­ton, or Lord Fyvie, in 1592. The fam­ily had been cursed by the leg­endary bard and seer Thomas the Rhymer. Se­ton had an af­fair and went on to marry his mis­tress af­ter Lil­lias’s sud­den and mys­te­ri­ous death. On their wed­ding night they awoke to strange noises and in the morn­ing found Lil­lias’s name scratched on their win­dow sill. Many years later, dur­ing ren­o­va­tion work in the 1920s, the skele­ton of a woman was dis­cov­ered be­hind a bed­room wall. Had she been walled up alive?


The bleak iso­la­tion of the High­lands can be more than a lit­tle spooky at times, and there are plenty of tall tales of wan­der­ing spir­its whose ex­pe­ri­ence of bloody vi­o­lence left them wan­der­ing the Earth un­able to rest. The site of the bru­tal Glen­coe Mas­sacre, which took place on Fe­bru­ary 13, 1692 and re­mains one of the most hor­rific in­ci­dents in Scot­land’s his­tory, is a clas­sic high­land haunt­ing. It is said that Clan Camp­bell troops, pos­ing as friendly vis­i­tors, at­tacked their hosts, Clan Mac­Don­ald, while they slept be­cause they had failed to pledge al­le­giance to the new monarch. They mur­dered 38 men, women and chil­dren, while oth­ers fled to the moun­tains but died of ex­po­sure. Mod­ern vis­i­tors claim to have seen ghostly fig­ures and heard screams in the glen.

Even more ghostly ex­pe­ri­ences are re­ported on Cul­lo­den Moor, near In­ver­ness, where the Ja­co­bites were de­feated for the last time by the Duke of Cum­ber­land’s Hanove­rian troops in April 1746. It is said that the fe­ro­cious bat­tle, which killed al­most 1,000 men, left be­hind many tor­tured spir­its, in­clud­ing that of a tar­tan-clad sol­dier who lies in­jured on the moor. Other haunted High­land land­scapes in­clude a 15-mile stretch of the A75 be­tween An­nan and Gretna Green. It’s been claimed lo­cals don’t drive down it af­ter dark to avoid the mys­te­ri­ous mists from which Vic­to­rian women and an old man are said to ap­pear, caus­ing ac­ci­dents.


We all know old houses make creepy noises at night. But some of us don’t ac­cept that it’s the fault of a dodgy heat­ing sys­tem or creak­ing foun­da­tions. Leith Hall in Aberdeen­shire is said to be haunted be a whole host of spooks – per­haps with good rea­son. It is claimed that a tree in the grounds had been used by lairds over the cen­turies for hang­ing pris­on­ers and dur­ing the First World War it be­came a tem­po­rary Red Cross hospi­tal hous­ing over 500 pa­tients. Hap­pen­ings in­clude a ghostly man with a white ban­dage wrapped around his head, chil­dren play­ing, the dis­em­bod­ied sounds of laugher and sud­den drops in tem­per­a­ture. Crime writer Alanna Knight re­port­edly once stayed here with her hus­band, only for both to wake up in the night pan­ick­ing that they were be­ing smoth­ered. House of the Binns, a laird’s house near Lin­lith­gow built in 1612 by Thomas Da­lyell, an Ed­in­burgh mer­chant who made his for­tune at the court of King James VI and I in Lon­don, has been the fam­ily home of the Da­lyells for 400 years and has plenty of haunt­ing his­tory. Ghosts in­clude 17th-cen­tury mil­i­tary man Sir Tam Da­lyell, whose ap­pari­tion rides a white horse up to the house. If you don’t be­lieve that you’re un­likely to be con­vinced by the story that he played the Devil at cards and won.


Ed­in­burgh’s vaults, a se­ries of cham­bers formed in the 19 arches of the South Bridge in Ed­in­burgh, were com­pleted in 1788 and for 30 years housed tav­erns, cob­blers and other trades­men, as well as re­port­edly pro­vid­ing stor­age for the bod­ies of those mur­dered by se­rial killers and bodys­natch­ers Burke and Hare for med­i­cal ex­per­i­ments. As the vaults de­te­ri­o­rated they were closed and only re­dis­cov­ered dur­ing a 1985 ex­ca­va­tion. Now they are the clas­sic des­ti­na­tion of ghost tours, such as the Mer­cat Tours which are even put­ting on an af­ter­mid­night spe­cial walk to cel­e­brate Halloween this year. They claim vis­i­tors have re­ported all sorts of sight­ings, which they record, in­clud­ing ghostly fig­ures, tem­per­a­ture changes or the sense of be­ing touched. Staff are un­der­stand­ably wary of go­ing down there alone.

Dis­as­ter sites also il­licit re­ports of strange en­coun­ters. On De­cem­ber 28, 1879, just two years af­ter it was opened in Dundee, the Tay Bridge was hit by a ter­ri­ble storm which caused it to col­lapse while a pas­sen­ger train was cross­ing, killing all on board. It has a su­per­nat­u­ral st­ing in the tail. While now all that re­mains of the old bridge is its pil­lars it is said that on the an­niver­sary of the dis­as­ter a ghostly train can be seen cross­ing the part of the Tay where the ill­fated bridge would once have stood.

One of the strangest su­per­nat­u­ral sites must be Over­toun Bridge hear Mil­ton in Dun­bar­ton­shire where so many dogs jumped to their deaths 50 feet be­low that a sign was once put up ask­ing own­ers to keep their dogs on their leads. Lo­cal sto­ries of para­nor­mal con­nec­tions were whis­pered, and there were claims that some sort of ghostly voice was call­ing the crea­tures to their deaths. Animal ex­perts probed and found it was prob­a­bly the scent of mink in the area, and not un­dead sirens call­ing them to the rocks. Some­times in­stincts lead you astray.

MANY dis­miss the para­nor­mal as non­sense, but there are oth­ers who while scep­ti­cal are also open-minded and ac­tively in­volved in re­search. In 2001, Caro­line Watt a founder mem­ber of Ed­in­burgh Univer­sity’s Koestler Para­psy­chol­ogy Unit and well­known scep­tic Dr Richard Wise­man of Hert­ford­shire Univer­sity, who has writ­ten ex­ten­sively on so-called un­ex­plained phe­nom­e­non, set out to in­ves­ti­gate the al­leged haunt­ings in Hamp­ton Court in Sur­rey and the South Bridge Vaults in Ed­in­burgh.

Par­tic­i­pants were asked to spend ap­prox­i­mately 10 min­utes in one of the vaults on their own, write down any un­usual phe­nom­ena they ex­pe­ri­enced and rate the de­gree to which they be­lieved these ex­pe­ri­ences were due to a ghost. The sci­en­tists mea­sured mag­netic fields, air tem­per­a­ture and air move­ment, and light lev­els.

Par­tic­i­pants re­ported a to­tal of 172 un­usual ex­pe­ri­ences and when asked if they at­trib­uted it to the pres­ence of a ghost four per cent said yes or prob­a­bly yes, 38 per cent were un­cer­tain and 58 per cent said no or prob­a­bly not.

Watt said she was sur­prised that par­tic­i­pants’ prior knowl­edge of the rep­u­ta­tion of the “haunted” lo­ca­tions did not seem to in­flu­ence their re­ports.

“This ar­gues against the usual scep­ti­cal hy­poth­e­sis that peo­ple have ghostly ex­pe­ri­ences in par­tic­u­lar lo­ca­tions be­cause they al­ready know some­thing of the rep­u­ta­tion of the lo­ca­tion and this knowl­edge primes their ex­pec­ta­tions,” she said.

While the team con­cluded that “en­vi­ron­men­tal fac­tors” in­clud­ing vari­a­tion on light lev­els and mag­netic fields were the rea­son for the un­usual ex­pe­ri­ences re­ported, they ad­mit that other fac­tors re­main un­cer­tain.

“A wide va­ri­ety of dif­fer­ent fac­tors may play a role in cre­at­ing ghostly ex­pe­ri­ences,” added Watt. “For in­stance, there is the psy­cho­log­i­cal phe­nom­e­non of parei­do­lia – the strong propen­sity to ‘see’ mean­ing­ful shapes such as faces or fig­ures in ran­dom pat­terns such as fo­liage, walls, or clouds. We don’t have all the an­swers.”

Many dis­miss the para­nor­mal as non­sense

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