Starting this week and running until Halloween, your guide to all things supernatural
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?
BATTLEFIELDS AND HIGHLAND ROADS
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.
STATELY HOMES AND HAUNTED HOTELS
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.
VAULTS, GRAVEYARDS AND OTHER SPOOKY PLACES
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