Edinburgh is the place to be for ghostly goings-on

Mary King's Close
Mary King's Close
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MOODY architecture, a history of murder most foul and bodysnatching, twisting and turning closes and wynds, walled-up streets, underground tunnels and graveyards galore... is it any wonder that Edinburgh has been named as the most haunted city on the planet?

It’s at Hallowe’en that its creepy credentials come creaking out of the coffin, boosting the Royal Mile ghostly tour businesses as well as the city’s population if you count all the spirits which are said to make themselves known around now.

Author Jan-Andrew Henderson

Author Jan-Andrew Henderson

According to author and founder of tour company City of the Dead, Jan-Andrew Henderson, Hallowe’en is always a busy time. “The thing with ghosts is they’re always the same, it’s the same stories, but people love to be scared. And Edinburgh has lots of places to get scared.”

So which are the most haunted places in town? Here’s our guide to the top ten...

1 MARY KING’S CLOSE

The infamous street is reputed to be where some of the first victims of the Black Death in 1645 were locked up and left to die. Which of course means that the place is full of ghosts desperate to escape the terrible fate which befell them when in human form...

One of the earliest and best documented ghost stories from the Close concerns the Coltheart family and took place 40 years after the last outbreak of plague. The story goes that Thomas Coltheart moved into the Close and within a day had seen a floating head, a young child, and various ghostly pets. Within weeks Mr Coltheart was dead and no-one wanted to live there again.

However, the truth about the Close isn’t quite so exotic – it was apparently still being litved in in 1901 – but that hasn’t slain the ghost stories. There are reports of scratching coming from inside a chimney where a child sweep is said to have died. Others claim to have heard the sounds of a party or crowded tavern, while a worried man is said to be spotted pacing around.

There’s also little “Annie” and her shrine. She was first seen by a Japanese psychic, who said the girl was crying for her mother and her doll, so she left the little ghost girl a toy – an action which has been repeated by many visitors since.

2 SOUTH BRIDGE

Built in just a year, opening in 1786, South Bridge swept away many old wynds of Edinburgh and the inside of the 1000ft long bridge is full of vaults and chambers and tunnels – just the sort of places ghosts like to hang out.

Whistle Binkie’s Bar, in Niddry Street is apparently home to a long-haired gentleman in 17th-century costume known as The Watcher. No-one has ever seen his face. Since the 1990s another entity, The Imp, has also inhabited the bar and storerooms in South Bridge, making mischief by stopping clocks and slamming doors.

3 GREYFRIARS KIRKYARD

The home of the devoted Bobby and his master has a more sinister side. It’s the burial place of Bloody George MacKenzie, the man who imprisoned 1200 Covenanters in a field next to the cemetery, executing some while others died of maltreatment. His inhumanity earned him his nickname.

He was buried in the Black Mausoleum, ironically right next to the Covenanter’s Prison, and stories began that his coffin would move around as he couldn’t rest
because of the atrocities he’d committed.

Certainly since tours to the mausoleum began there have been hundreds of reported sightings and attacks by his 
poltergeist. There have been sightings of a white figure, knocking noises, and dead animals with no obvious signs of injury have been discovered outside it.

4 EDINBURGH CASTLE

The Castle is said to be haunted by several apparitions, including the ghost of John Graham of Claverhouse, nicknamed Bloody Clavers for his ruthless persecution of Covenanters in the 17th century. Yes, he was a mate of McKenzie’s.

In 1689, the Duke of Gordon, then the Castle’s governor, stabbed his steward for bringing news of his family’s death, and the poor man is said to now wander the walls. As does the ghost of Janet Douglas, Lady Glamis, who was accused of witchcraft and burned at the stake in 1537. Then there’s the phantom drumming, ghostly bagpipers and invisible marching troops.

5 MUSEUM OF CHILDHOOD

Another story connected to the plague years. The museum is reported to ring with the cries of children late at night – children who were sealed into their nursery by town council officials and left to die.

But not alone. Apparently their mothers demanded to be let in. None was seen again, but they can still be 
heard.

6 QUEENSBERRY HOUSE

The Canongate has many ghosts – including the burning spectre of the daughter of a respectable 18th century family who was apparently killed after becoming pregnant to a servant. Then there’s the historic Queensberry House in the centre of the new Scottish Parliament haunted by a kitchen boy roasted and eaten by James Douglas, the mad Earl of Drumlanrig, in 1707.

7 PALACE OF HOLYROODHOUSE

According to Jan-Andrew Henderson, the palace has an excellent class of ghost, being haunted by Mary, Queen of Scots, her husband Lord Darnley and her murdered Italian secretary David Rizzio. Let’s not forget the naked ghost of Bald Agnes though. She was stripped and tortured in 1592 after being accused of witchcraft.

8 WEST BOW

The site of the former Anderson’s Close, torn down in 1827, on Victoria Street, was home to Major Thomas Weir, aka The Wizard of the West Bow. Weir was a strict Presbyterian and Covenanter – not one of McKenzie’s friends – but when he became ill he confessed to a life of crime and vice.

Eventually he and his sister were taken to the Edinburgh Tolbooth for interrogation and both told tales of witchcraft, sorcery and incest. He was strangled and burned, while she was hanged. The street is also said to be haunted by sailor Angus Roy, who was crippled on a voyage in 1820.

9 GEORGE STREET

Try to spot Jane Vernelt, who died in the early 20th century after losing her shop due to bad financial advice and has been seen several times in broad daylight, heading for the now non-existent property.

10 ROYAL LYCEUM

The theatre in Grindlay Street is home to occasional sightings of a blue lady, believed to be Ellen Terry, the actress who performed at the Lyceum’s first show.

OTHER THINGS WHICH GO BUMP IN THE NIGHT

OF course, there are lots of other places around Edinburgh which can boast a haunting or two.

Charlotte Square is said to have a musical spook – listen closely for the sound of a ghostly piano being played – while the Playhouse is haunted by a stagehand. He goes by the name of Albert.

Number 15 Learmonth Gardens in the 1930s was beset by the ghost of an Egyptian priest after the owners took home a bone. And Balcarres Street in Morningside is haunted by the Green Lady, thought to be Elizabeth Pittendale, killed by her husband after being caught “canoodling” with her stepson.

Ann Street in the New Town was home to a Mr Swan, who drowned at sea but is said to return regularly to wave goodbye to his family.