Edinburgh has a long and macabre history. Ghost hunters and psychics often tout the Scottish capital as a one of the most haunted places in the world, and learning the tales and legends is a fun (and sometimes scary) way to understand more about the city. Taking part in a walking tour is one of the best ways to find out about the gruesome tales that have been passed down the generations. In truth, most of them are more myths than hard facts, but they all set the scene in Edinburgh’s Old Town and the Royal Mile. In the depths of a dark winter’s night, these spooky tales can send shivers down your spine. Here are some of these spooky tales:
The ghosts of the Edinburgh Castle
Looming over the city from the top of The Royal Mile, the cold grey granite walls of Edinburgh Castle contain countless ghost stories. A young piper who disappeared without a trace hundreds of years ago can still be heard today, the faint, haunting sound of a lost soul. As well as the story of the vanished piper, head down to the dungeons to hear tales of a headless drummer boy and a gaggle of French prisoners captured during the Seven Years War who are regularly sighted in and around the castle. Other spooky goings-on include misty figures, things pulling at your clothes and sudden drops in temperature – could there be a rational explanation or is it the sign of something paranormal? You can try to find out by staying in one of the hotels near the castle. Location: Castlehill, Edinburgh EH1 2NG, UK
Greyfriars Bobby, the phantom dog
If you hear the bark of a dog in Edinburgh’s Old Town yet there’s nothing near, it could be Bobby, a phantom Skye terrier that is known to all in the city. The faithful hound spent 14 years guarding his master’s grave until he finally passed away in 1872 and was buried in Greyfriars Kirkland, near to his owner. People still hear his little bark near to his grave. A small statue of Greyfriars Bobby is a popular landmark on the corner of Candlemaker Row. Some people claim it’s good luck to rub Bobby’s nose, but others say it’s just a tall tale created by tour guides in the city. Regardless, this tale of canine loyalty is so famous it was even turned into a Disney movie back in the 1960s. Location: Candlemaker Row, Edinburgh EH1 2QQ, UK
Hundreds of witches burned at the stake
King James VI was so concerned about witchcraft, he created a frenzy throughout Edinburgh in the 17th century. Old women suffering from mental illnesses and even females with knowledge of science were labelled as witches and senselessly murdered. Many of these women – reports claim between 300 and 500 – were dragged to a market place on the Royal Mile and burned alive. This terrible period in British history thankfully stopped hundreds of years ago, but you can still visit the spot that was regularly used to burn the poor ladies. Location: The Royal Mile, Edinburgh, UK
The horrors of the underground vaults
Beneath Edinburgh’s Old City, there’s a collection of underground passageways that used to be home to the very poorest people, as well as vagrants, thieves and other undesirables. With very little ventilation, these dark, dank tunnels were very unpleasant. You can still visit parts of this underground labyrinth at the base of the Royal Mile. Fans of ghost stories will enjoy visiting Abandoned Annie, the ghost of a little girl who is said to reach out and grab your hand in the darkness. There is now a makeshift alter to little Annie, with thousands of dolls, toys and even money left for her by visitors. The money is collected by the council every year and donated to help sick children. Location: The Real Mary King’s Close, The Royal Mile, Edinburgh, UK
The most haunted graveyard in Scotland
Greyfriars Krikyard is a graveyard that dates back to the 16th century. It’s the resting place of several infamous characters, but the most gruesome story here is that of Bloody MacKenzie – a sort of olden-day super villain. This wealthy lord was tasked with punishing hundreds of prisoners who refused to change their religion. It’s said that he had a hand in thousands of deaths. Locals believe that the ghost of Bloody MacKenzie haunts the graveyard after his tomb was disturbed by a homeless man who broke into the graveyard at night. As soon as he laid hands on the tomb of Bloody MacKenzie, the floor opened up beneath him and he dropped into a shallow grave containing plague victims. Since then, many other freaky episodes have taken place nearby. A woman was found unconscious with bruises around her neck and many claim that it was MacKenzie’s poltergeist, continuing his evil deeds in death as he did in life. Location: 26A Candlemaker Row, Edinburgh EH1 2QE, UK
‘Earmarked’ thieves in the Old Market Square
This gruesome tale is a good lesson for would-be thieves. Anyone caught stealing repeatedly from the Old Market in Edinburgh would be taken to the stocks and have their ear nailed to the wood. The thief would be forced to rip their own ear off the nail, which would be a lifelong sign that they cannot be trusted. It’s been said that this ancient punishment – known as ‘cropping’ – is where the term ‘earmarked’ comes from. We’re quite sure it wouldn’t look pretty. To learn more of Edinburgh’s gruesome tales, take a guided walking tour around the Royal Mile and reserve your stay in Old Town to round off the experience. Location: Grassmarket, Edinburgh, UK
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