So back in June 2015, I was lucky enough to visit Scotland’s capital Edinburgh for my 21st birthday.
This greatly excited me for two reasons:
1) Edinburgh is wonderfully historic, with awe-inspiring gothic architecture, and a fantastically rich and complex history
2) Edinburgh is also famously haunted. So haunted in fact, it is often reputed as being one of the most haunted cities in the world. If not the most haunted city in the world.
With a dark and often bloody history, it is no wonder that so many famous locations (and many less famous locations) in Edinburgh boast their fair share of ghostly occupants. With the likes of Burke and Hare, bloody revolution attempts and the Black Death, as well as widespread poverty, disease and overcrowding from the 16 to 1700’s, Edinburgh has certainly seen it’s fair share of grisly events and unfortunate deaths. It’s therefore not hard to imagine how Edinburgh may have acquired a large collection of ghosts and ghouls, and a seemingly endless catalogue of haunted places.
So, with no further ado, let’s go to the list!
1. Edinburgh Castle
This is a must for anyone visiting Edinburgh – paranormal fanatic or not. An jaw-droppingly impressive and imposing structure, which is visible throughout the majority of the city, it is probably just about the most interesting attraction the city has to offer.
Having been the scene of many battles, and the former home and birthplace of many kings and queens, such as Mary Queen of Scots, its history is as grand as it is bloody.
On the haunted side of things, the castle claims its fair share of spooks, including an old man in a leather apron, a headless drummer boy, and supposed poltergeist in the dungeons.
It’s not hard to spend an entire day at the castle. You can go and view the Scottish Crown Jewels, visit the birthplace of James VI, tread the boards of The Great Hall, pay your respects at the Scottish National War Museum, or gaze at the city below you from the numerous batterys dotted around the castle.
If you’re brave. Unlike me. To describe the castle as ‘towering’ above the city is a desperate understatement. Especially for those morbidly afraid of heights.
On the darker side of the castle’s history, you can also visit the castle’s Prisons of War Exhibit. These cavernous prisons were used in the 17 and 18 hundreds to imprison prisoners of war, the youngest inmate on record having been – heart-breakingly – a five-year old drummer boy, captured during battle of Trafalgar in the early 18th century. A pretty harrowing – and in the modern-day, unthinkable – prospect to comprehend.
While the Prison’s of War exhibit it probably the most somber part of the castle, I found it without contest the most fascinating. Containing recreations of the inmates squalid and dingy living quarters back in the 1700’s, and information on the rather dire conditions those interred were subjected to, it is very informative and immersive experience. The exhibit also display a large number of fascinating artifacts left behind by former prisoners, or taken from the original prisons, including prison doors covered with the carvings of former prisoners. Which was pretty awesome.
You can find out more or book fast-track tickets on their website www.edinburghcastle.gov.uk.
Tickets, at £16.50 per adult, are a little expensive, but considering the sheer scope of things to see and do at the castle, it is well worth the money.
2. Mary King’s Close
This, without a doubt, was my favorite part of my Edinburgh trip. I LOVED Mary King’s Close.
Hollowed out from rock in the 1600’s in a crude attempt to solve the cities mass overcrowding problem during the 16th century, and provide housing for Edinburgh’s poorest, it saw more than its fair share of illness, poverty and misery during it’s occupation. A complex and somewhat claustrophobic warren of underground rooms and passageways, it provides a fascinating insight in to the lives and living conditions of Edinburgh’s poorest in the 1600’s.
As you are guided around by a costumed tour guide, you are taken through the different parts of this sprawling underground labyrinth, experiencing and learning about the living conditions, workplaces and daily lives of the hundreds of occupants who called the tunnels home back in the 16 and 17 centuries. It is fascinating to comprehend that entire communities lived, slept and worked in these claustrophobic, dingy passageways 400 years ago.
The tour is certainly not deprived of ghost stories either. There have been numerous accounts of visitors hearing footsteps, dark figures, or even being scratched. A number of visitors and staff have also reported seeing the figure of a woman, and a 16th century plague doctor has also been witnessed. Back in 2008, a picture was also inadvertently taken by a staff member while testing out the infrared camera used for taking souvenir photos, which shows a wispy figure lurking in a doorway.
The Close’s most famous ghost however has got the be the spirit of ‘Wee Annie’. First contacted by a Japanese Psychic back in 1992, Annie is supposedly the spirit of a little girl, who was abandoned by her parents after contracting the plague, and who has remained in her tiny room ever since, confused, lonely, and missing her favorite doll. Ever since it has become a frequent custom of visitors to leave toys or dolls for Annie in an effort to comfort her lonely spirit, and her small room is now positively overflowing with dolls and soft toys gifted by visitors from all over the globe.
The tour is an hour long, and the close is situated in Edinburgh’s Royal Mile, opposite St Giles Cathedral. You can book ahead or find out more at www.realmarykingsclose.com.
3. Edinburgh’s Underground Vaults
Now these boast the proud title of being the most sinister haunted locations in the city. To the point where my tour guide actually had to give us a disclaimer warning before entering them. Yup.
If you look up Edinburgh’s Underground Vaults online, you will find countless accounts of people being scratched, hit, pushed, or touched while visiting the vaults. Countless.
Other common accounts include unexplained fainting, dizzy spells, as well as sightings of a tall, sinister male figure, who is often described as having a skeletal face.
The most unnerving story to come out of the vaults for me has got to be this one though:
Several years ago a mother visited the vaults with her young daughter. The mother had been worried about how the little girl would cope with the frightening pitch black darkness of the vaults, and after a while, unsurprisingly, she felt the little girls hand reach out and nervously grip on to hers for reassurance.
As they continued to be led around the vaults however, the little girls grip got harder and harder. So hard that it eventually became crushing, and the mother ended up crying out in pain and pulling her hand free from her daughters grasp, causing her to crash in to another visitor, which in turn lead to a mass panic, which resulted in all the visitors fleeing from the vaults in a mad rush.
Upon stepping out of the vaults and in to the daylight, the mother was surprised to see her daughter already standing outside the vaults entrance. Relieved but confused as to how she had managed to get safely outside before the mad crush to exit the vaults, she asked her daughter what had happened.
The little girl explained to her mother that she had been standing in the corner of the room when the mother had screamed and the panic had ensued, and a stranger had kindly taken her by the hand and led her safely out of the vaults.
When the mother asked the little girl how she knew the person who had taken her hand was a stranger and not her, the little girls answer was pretty definitive. She knew it wasn’t her mother’s hand as this hand had claws.
There are numerous vaults available for touring, and as many different tour groups providing the tours. I went with City of the Dead for my tour, and they was fantastic; very funny and scary in turns.
The vaults are very, very dark, and quite claustrophobic, and are definitely not for the faint hearted, and may not be suitable for young children. Especially, that is, if you don’t want them being led away by some clawed stranger…
4. Greyfriars Kirkyard
The final haunted location on my intinary was, of course, Greyfriars Kirkyard. The reason for this particular pilgrimage being, of course, the infamous Black Mausoleum, and it’s even more infamous occupant; The Mackenzie poltergeist. Potentially one of the most malevolent and dangerous active poltergiests in the world.
The Mackenzie poltergeist reportedly become active in 1999 after the Mausoleum was broken in to by a homeless man seeking shelter, who, much to his horror, broke through the floor and ended up quite literally stumbling upon a 16th century mass grave of plague victims.
However unintentional this may discovery may have been, it has doubtlessly stirred up something very, very dark.
Ever since there have been a simply astonishing amount of reports of people being inexplicably harmed while being within the vicinity of the tomb. There are dozens of reports of people being hit, scratched, pushed, and even bitten or thrown while in or around the tomb.
What’s even more astonishing is that an incredible 140 collapses have been documented by people visiting the mausoleum. This is to the point where fainting visitors is pretty much a common occurence during tours. This could be put down to mass hysteria, or simple fear but it is still very creepy nevertheless.
What’s even creepier is the disturbing amount of dead wildlife that is reportedly found near to the tomb, and the fact that two separate, unexplained fires have swept through the flats and offices overlooking the graveyard, both in 2002 and 2003.
Things have got so bad in fact that The Black mausoleum, and The Covenanters Prison in which the mausoleum is situated, are now kept locked by the city council, and are only accessible via paid, guided tours, which taken place at night. As such, I unfortunately never got round to visiting the mausoleum, but simply to wander round Greyfriar’s itself was an interesting trip in itself.
There are a lot of interesting graves and tombs to spot, the grave of Greyfriar’s Bobby being one of particular interest to most visitors, as well as a charming little chapel. I didn’t find it quite as spooky or atmospheric as I have at Highgate Cemetery in London but it was an interesting trip regardless.
If I had the opportunity again however, I would certainly not miss the chance to visit the tomb. Failing to do so is the one regret of my trip.
Whether you have the opportunity to visit the Black Mausuleum for yourself or not, there is a fantastic book written on the subject by Jan-Andrew Henderson, creator of City of the Dead tours, which is utterly fascinating, and one of my favourite books on the paranormal to date.
You can find both the book The Ghost That Haunted Itself: The Story of the Mackenzie Poltergiest, and details about the tours on offer on City of the Dead’s Website here: www.cityofthedeadtours.com.