Grave­yard tourism

The new trend that’s sweep­ing Scot­land

The Herald on Sunday - - FRONT PAGE - By San­dra Dick

DECAYED and de­crepit with their eerie moss- cov­ered memo­ri­als, ivy- choked stones and long- dead in­hab­i­tants, Scot­land’s old and aban­doned ceme­ter­ies have emerged from the grave, and are en­joy­ing a fresh lease of life as “must-see” tourist des­ti­na­tions.

While Ed­in­burgh’s Greyfri­ars Kirk­yard and the Glas­gow’s Necrop­o­lis have al­ways lured vis­i­tors with tales of graver­ob­bing, ghosts and fa­mous oc­cu­pants, at­ten­tion is now in­creas­ingly fo­cus­ing on Scot­land’s lesser-known ceme­ter­ies.

Dubbed “tomb­stone tourism”, ris­ing in­ter­est in some of Scot­land’s cen­turies-old for­got­ten kirk­yards and at­mo­spheric Vic­to­rian gar­den ceme­ter­ies is be­ing aided by the Scots di­as­pora search­ing for fam­ily roots and hun­dreds of so­cial me­dia pages show­cas­ing macabre im­ages and fas­ci­nat­ing sto­ries from pre­vi­ously for­got­ten Scot­tish lairs.

Last month VisitS­cot­land tapped into the dark tourism trend when it launched Scot­land’s Ghost Trail, a guide for spooky places for tourists to visit that in­cluded bat­tle­fields and grave­yards.

Mean­while, na­tional char­ity Ar­chae­ol­ogy Scot­land says there is ris­ing in­ter­est in its “adopt- a- mon­u­ment” scheme, aimed at con­serv­ing grave­yards by cre­at­ing net­works of vol­un­teers to care for stones at risk from in­creas­ing wet weather and to doc­u­ment their in­scrip­tions.

Cara Jones, the scheme’s project man­ager, says there are signs of mount- ing in­ter­est in once-ne­glected grave­yards. “They are such ubiq­ui­tous fea­tures of the Scot­tish land­scape in both ur­ban and ru­ral lo­ca­tions, which makes them very ac­ces­si­ble her­itage mon­u­ments.

“They are a great in­di­ca­tor of pop­u­la­tion rises and falls, trends and move­ments. And while there has al­ways been in­ter­est it does seem to be in­creas­ing.”

Jan An­drew Hen­der­son is au­thor of Black Mark­ers: The Dark His­tory Of Ed­in­burgh Told Through Its Grave­yards, and runs Ed­in­burgh’s City Of The Dead Tours, which takes tourists to the cap­i­tal’s Covenan­ter’s Prison and the Black Mau­soleum. It is home to the Macken­zie Poltergeist, cred­ited with lash­ing out, leav­ing tour guides and vis­i­tors scratched and in­jured.

He agrees grave­yards are now firmly on the tourist trail. “The real shift is in the loos­en­ing up of taboos and the way we see grave­yards – lead­ing to a huge in­crease in vis­i­tors and, there­fore, web­sites and books,” he says.

“Some peo­ple at­tribute this to a rise in ‘dark tourism’. But it’s more do with a huge shift in per­cep­tion and at­ti­tudes.

“At one time, grave­yards wer e only seen as places you went to visit dead re­lat i ves or were in­ter­ested in stone carv­ings, places that were sup­posed to be serene and solemn.

“In re­cent years at­ti­tudes have re­laxed and folk have re­alised they are a fan­tas­tic source of his­tory and a good spot to pic­nic.

“City Of The Dead was the first tour in Ed­in­burgh to go into a grave­yard when it started ghost walks 20 years ago. Now there are 10 times that num­ber.”

In­ter­est there has soared due to the grave of Tom Rid­dle, said to have in­spired JK Rowl­ing’s Volde­mort char­ac­ter. How­ever, its pop­u­lar­ity is so high that pho­tog­ra­phers seek­ing a per­fect, eerie grave­yard shot to add to pop­u­lar so­cial me­dia col­lec­tions have turned to ex­plor­ing Scot­land’s other ceme­ter­ies. That is also be­lieved to be fu­elling in­ter­est in grave­yard tourism.

Ger­man tele­vi­sion jour­nal­ist Nel­lie Merthe Erken­bach, whose Grave­yards Of Scot­land web­site fea­tures dozens of im­ages and sto­ries from kirk­yards around the coun­try, says the com­bi­na­tion of atmosphere and the unique sto­ries t hey t ell is par­tic­u­larly fas­ci­nat­ing.

“I was on hol­i­day and started to take the odd pic­ture of grave­yards,” she says. “Then I looked closer at the sto­ries be­hind them. It could be sto­ries about how the grave­yard was pr ot e c t e d f r om

rob­bers, or the myths and leg­ends linked to them.

“Peo­ple visit my blog from Amer­ica, Canada, New Zea­land and Aus­tralia. Some may be look­ing for an­ces­tral links and try­ing to find a cer­tain name, but oth­ers are just in­ter­ested.”

Forth Val­ley Hos­pi­tal the­atre nurse Ann Bollen is among scores of am­a­teur pho­tog­ra­phers who have cre­ated a hobby from trekking around Scot­land’s ceme­ter­ies. Her new book of pho­to­graphs, Tip­toe Through The Grave­stones, ex­plores the five grave­yards in the shadow of Stir­ling Cas­tle, in­clud­ing one that fea­tures a pyra­mid mon­u­ment and a glass-cased statue.

“I started pho­tograph­ing them two or three years ago, when there didn’t seem to be any­thing like the in­ter­est there is now,” she says.

“There are so many pages on In­sta­gram now de­voted to Scot­tish grave­yards – the Amer­i­cans are fas­ci­nated.”

Bob Rein­hardt, an art lec­turer from Philadel­phia, vis­its Ed­in­burgh reg­u­larly to pho­to­graph its Vic­to­rian ceme­ter­ies, in par­tic­u­lar War­ris­ton Ceme­tery.

Once a show­piece of Vic­to­rian mourn­ing, part of its eerie charm to­day is its air of decay, with weath­ered stones of­ten choked by creep­ing weeds and ram­pant ivy.

He says: “The heroic leg­ends of the past all come to life when you visit Scot­land. The many His­toric Trusts that main­tain all the orig­i­nal sites where these sto­ries orig­i­nated have pre­served so much of your Scot­tish his­tory, they serve as mod­ern-day stage sets to re­live the sto­ries of old.

“What bet­ter site to re­live those sto­ries than the fi­nal rest­ing places of the dearly de­parted his­tor­i­cal fig­ures?

“As these old ne­glected ceme­tery sites be­come more ac­ces­si­ble to the pub­lic and safer to visit, their doc­u­men­ta­tion of the past is an end­less re­source to re­visit your colour­ful his­tory.”

His pho­to­graphs of War­ris­ton Ceme­tery that showed its mon­u­ments be­ing con­sumed by na­ture sparked the Friends Of War­ris­ton, one of a ris­ing num­ber of ceme­tery groups in Ed­in­burgh that look af­ter the city’s his­toric grave­yards.

He points to the im­pact of so­cial me­dia for grow­ing in­ter­est in Scot­land’s old kirk­yards and ceme­ter­ies.

“There are nu­mer­ous web­sites and blogs de­voted to his­toric ceme­ter­ies, with thou­sands of mem­bers. I have three sites on Face­book, one for The Friends of War­ris­ton Ceme­tery, one for His­toric Scot­tish Ceme­ter­ies, and one for Friends of His­toric Ceme­ter­ies. In­sta­gram, Youpic and many oth­ers are steeped in ceme­tery im­ages.

“The rise of ge­neal­ogy has also given a boost to all of this re­newed in­ter­est in ceme­ter­ies. We now have a global


Vis­i­tors are im­pressed by many of Scot­land’s grave­yards, in­clud­ing, from left, the Old Town Ceme­tery in Stir­ling; St Kes­sog’s in Cal­lan­der; Old Lo­gie Kirk near Stir­ling Univer­sity; Lar­bert Old Church; Canon­gate Kirk­yard in Ed­in­burgh; and the Old Kirk in Tul­lial­lan.

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