COULD Scotland be one of the world’s most haunted nations? It’s certainly had a history bloody and savage enough to be a contender. Murder, war, disease and cruelty underpin sightings, real or imagined, of ghosts in some of the country’s most famous castles, thoroughfares and tourist attractions. Here are five of Scotland’s most notoriously ghoulish spots
The Royal Mile, Edinburgh
One of Scotland’s most reputedly haunted places, Edinburgh’s Royal Mile nevertheless pulls in so many tourists each year - many of whom come to see the street’s numerous ghost tours and attractions - that you start to wonder who’s more scared of who. Mary King’s Close is one of the city’s most famously haunted areas, which was shut off after plague overcame the street and its residents.
The most common ghost story relating to the Mile itself concerns the Death Coach, an apparently driverless carriage drawn by flaming headless horses seen on the eve of some sort of disaster. Similar tales of Death Coach sightings exist in Irish folklore, where sightings of the carriage are a sure sign of someone’s impending death. To return to Scots folklore, the coach on the Mile is said to have been linked to Major Thomas Weir, a one-time respected military officer who revealed himself to be partial to incest, bestiality and witchcraft. After his execution, the coach became, in the eyes of some, his de facto public transport.
Culloden Moor, Inverness-shire
The Battle of Culloden was the last pitched battle fought in Scotland, and it was also one of the bloodiest. The conflict ended the Jacobite rebellion, extinguished the Stuart claim to the British throne, and sent Bonnie Prince Charlie, who led the Jacobites to battle, into eventual exile in France. Up to 2,000 Jacobites died on the moor with the odds stacked against them, as well as the wind and the rain.
With Culloden’s bloody history, there are bound to be a few scare stories that do the rounds: birds are said not to sing near the graves of the fallen on the field; ‘anniversary ghosts’ are said to arrive on the site of the battle on April 16 to reenact the clashes; broadswords can apparently be heard swinging against each other. Most frightening of all is the Great Scree of Culloden, a spectral black bird apparently sighted by a Jacobite commander on the eve of battle (it turned out, of course, to be a pretty bad omen). It makes the occasional cameo on the moor, and it gives bad luck to any poor sod who comes across it.
Glamis Castle, Angus
Glamis Castle is a storied fortress with an ensemble cast of spirits with scary names and ailments: Lord Beardie, the Grey Lady, and a woman without a tongue, among others. Situated on lands that have belonged to the Bowes-Lyons family since the 14th century (they were given the land by one Robert the Bruce - you might have heard of him), Glamis Castle is the birthplace of Princess Margaret, and was written about by Shakespeare in MacBeth.
The most famous story of Glamis Castle is about Earl Beardie, otherwise known as Alexander, Earl Crawford, who, by all accounts, was a pretty horrible guy. The story goes that he ended up screaming the castle down in a drunken rage as he searched out a partner to play cards with. A man knocked on the door and asked the Earl if he was still searching for an opponent, and the two men sat down to play. Some time later, the Earl left the room reprimanded a peeping servant, who lost an eye after peeping through the keyhold. After returning, the Earl found the man he’d been playing with was missing - and had taken his soul with him. Apparently he’d wagered it, and had unknowingly invoked the Devil by earlier vowing that he’d play the Devil himself for the sake of a game.
A secret room is also widely suspected to be somewhere within the castle walls. Chillingly, the 13th Earl of Strathmore, Claude Bowes-Lyon, once said: “If you could even guess the nature of this castle’s secret you would get down on your knees and thank God it was not yours.” It was speculated that the secret room contained a prisoner. A collage of stories paint a picture of a disfigured person who may or may not have been the son of the 11th Earl of Strathmore, or the offspring of his son Lord Glamis.
The vaults deep beneath Edinburgh’s picturesque, cobbled exterior are, because of their location, inherently uninviting. A deep, dark and damp warren of stone tunnels built in the late 18th century to house tradesmen and pubs, the vaults were poorly built and soon became slum dwellings for the city’s poorest once businesses packed up and left their leaking premises. When you take regular sightings of spirits into account, then the vaults may really be one of the scariest places in the country. It was also, seemingly, tailor-made to be haunted.
By the turn of the 19th century the vaults were just a few years away from being completely abandoned; in one of the many nadirs of the vaults’ history, Burke and Hare reportedly prowled these makeshift slums for potential victims. Another story has it that the first person to cross South Bridge, a part of the greater structure of the vaults, ended up in a coffin a few days later. Quite apart from misfortune or bad omens, many others would have died from living in the abysmally unsanitary conditions in the vaults. This is perhaps why no specific, famous ghost stories have emerged from the vaults. Various television crews of the Living.TV variety have visited the vaults for low-hanging spectral fruit, which there seems to be plenty of.
Fyvie Castle, Aberdeenshire
Fyvie Castle has passed through various families since it was built in 1211, but has belonged to the National Trust for the last 30 years. Fyvie Castle’s ghost problems have been public record quite recently - Robert Lovie, a caretaker for the historic building said as recently as two years ago that “strange and unexplainable things happen here regularly... objects move and sometimes disappear altogether.” The majority of spiritual sightings stem from two long-dead women, Lady Meldrum and Dame Lillias Drummond, known as they Grey Lady and the Green Lady respectively.
Lady Meldrum’s remains were, as per her request, locked in a secret room. This room was disturbed in 1920 by workmen renovating the castle, who found her remains. Lady Meldrum had reputedly placed a curse on anyone who entered the room, and hauntings connected to her have been reported ever since.
Dame Lilias Drummond was reportedly starved to death by her husband Sir Alexander Seton, who wanted to marry her cousin. Her name is scratched upside-down from outside on the window sill of where Seton and his new wife slept. It is said that Seton and his new wife heard scratches and deep moanings in their room, and found the carving the next morning. The Green Lady has been seen by visitors and guests of the castle for over 250 years, and she is often said to leave a floral smell behind her.