Haunted trail of Mary, Queen of Scots

AS EVERY schoolgirl is reminded as she skips in the playground "Mary, Queen of Scots got her head chopped off". This categorically terminal punishment might have done for the Queen of Scots corporeal self, but it heralded the start of her spiritual life.

Mary was a haunting presence even before her death, spooking her royal neighbour Elizabeth II of England. Although the two never met, Elizabeth felt so threatened by the potential power of her Catholic cousin that ultimately she felt she had no choice but to have her put to death. Which she did with one sweep of the executioner's axe.

Mary's colourful life and reputed beauty would have assured her fame. The crowning of her son James VI of Scotland as James I of England secured her place in the history books. But there are those who claim that she still seeks acknowledgement and that even today her physical presence can be felt, more than four centuries after her death in 1587. She has become not only Scotland's most famous queen, but also its most ubiquitous ghost.

Spectral Marys appear in almost all the locations that she was known to have inhabited or even visited. They provide a wonderfully haunted heritage trail of the places integral to the Mary story.Her short life took her from Scotland to France – where as a child she was betrothed to the dauphin, or heir to the throne, and only briefly reigned as a teenage Queen – and back again, before it ended in imprisonment and execution in England. Mary visited a large number of castles and stately homes – or at least it is claimed that she did – in addition to her Royal residences in Edinburgh, the castle and palace at either end of the Royal Mile. Consequently there are few surviving stately homes in Scotland that cannot lay claim to playing host to her ghost.

Mary made frequent visits to Stirling Castle, where she also sent her son James to be brought up. A ghost said to haunt the castle, known as the "Pink Lady", is thought to be that of the Queen, while another apparition called the "Green Lady" is reputed to be a servant who rescued her mistress after a bedside candle set fire to her sheets. At Borthwick Castle, Midlothian, Mary is said to appear dressed as a page boy. She stayed there in 1567 after her doomed marriage to the Earl of Bothwell, before escaping disguised as a man. Her freedom was short-lived however, and Mary ended up prisoner at Loch Leven Castle, where her spirit is said to have lingered, long after another great escape.

Hermitage Castle in the Borders is also said to be haunted by Mary – extraordinary given she never even visited. The link is provided by her husband Bothwell who stayed there shortly before they were married.

Craignethan Castle near Lanark, where she sought refuge after her escape from Loch Leven, is said to be another favourite haunt of Mary's. She stayed there only briefly before the Battle of Langside, but nevertheless it is said her headless ghost began appearing there after her execution.The glory of Mary hauntings are that they also embrace a clutch of extras. So, Glamis Castle enjoys the ghost of a young boy believed to have been Mary's servant. The Palace of Holyroodhouse may not have an actual ghost, but it is still spooky. A stain on the floor of Mary's apartment is said to be the blood shed by her secretary David Rizzio, killed by order of her husband. According to some, this bloodstain has been scrubbed clean a number of times, only to reappear overnight.

After Mary was forced to abdicate in favour of her son and seek help from the English, she was imprisoned at Carlisle Castle and then at Bolton Castle, where her ghost has been spotted in the courtyard, and, wearing a black velvet dress, at nearby Nappa Hall.

Next Mary was taken in by the Earl of Shrewsbury, who held her captive at three of his castles – in the 1930s, her apparition was reported walking through walls at the Turret House of the Earl's Manor Lodge in Sheffield, Yorkshire.Very little remains of Fotheringhay Castle in Northamptonshire, where Mary was put on trial and executed at age 44, as it was virtually razed to the ground in the early 17th century. But some of the stone and an oak staircase – which she walked down to face her execution – were used to build the nearby Talbot Hotel in Oundle. Mary's ghost is said to be a regular guest.

Most significantly, there is one historic building in Scotland that is notable by its lack of a ghost of Mary, Queen of Scots. Her birthplace, Linlithgow Palace, can only boast the spectre of her mother, Mary of Guise.

If you enjoyed reading this, you may want to read:

Dead famous Scots