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.
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
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
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
Also view: THE MACKENZIE POLTERGEIST OF OLD EDINBURGH
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
Also view:THE GHOSTS OF EDINBURGH CASTLE
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
7 PALACE OF HOLYROODHOUSE
8 WEST BOW
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
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.
Story: The Scotsman