Every city has its tales of woe, but Edinburgh has a little more than most. Not only was the country and city ravaged by religious wars, but superstition was highly prevalent. Witch trials, strategic religious cleansing, body snatching & an underbelly of prostitution makes this city ripe with hauntings. Here is a perfect Self-Guided Edinburgh Ghost Tour.
Ghostly Tales of Edinburgh:
Any local knows that Princes Street Gardens used to be the site of the Nor Loch and we’ve heard the tales of Greyfriars Bobby and the Mackenzie poltergeist many times before. Not only are these famous creepy tales of Edinburgh originating from here, but stories of Scrooge and none other than Lord Voldemort of the Harry Potter series were inspired characters of this city.
Now the lush, and peaceful gardens in the center of Edinburgh these gardens were once witness to horrific events that took place on Princes street ages ago.
A large body of water once graced this valley north of the Castle Rock, claiming the land as far back as 15,000 yrs ago as a byproduct of the ice age. The lake eventually dried up and Edinburgh was quickly thriving and growing. With many residents living in the 15 story housing within the cities fortifications, all the human waste had to go somewhere convenient. Enter the story of the Nor’ Loch.
The stench from this ancient sewer plant must have been overpowering if the wind blew the wrong way, thus giving Edinburgh the nickname ‘old reeky’. Not only did the Nor’ Loch hold the human waste of the overpopulated city, but brutal punishments, murders, executions and public ‘dookings’ were very common at the edges. Mr Sinclair was one of these tales, where him and his two sisters were sentenced to die for the crime of incest in 1628.
Mr Sinclair and his two sisters were packed into a box with holes drilled into it and dumped into the Nor’ Loch with a padlock firmly in place. When renovations were made to Princes Street Garden, and the swamp drained, a box with 3 human remains were found in the mud.
Upwards of 300 men and women were burned alive here for the crimes of witchcraft and wizardry. They were tied up, dragged down the slopes & dumped into the filth. If they sank to the bottom, well they were declared free of evil spirits. If they floated, well then a swift burn at the stake was in store with the human waste being a terrible fuel for those fires.
It was some 200 years later that the city began to call for the draining of the cesspool. The New Town was beginning to be developed and by 1764 Nor’ Loch was drained. Princes Street Gardens was then built from East to West and finished around 1876.
Grey Friars Bobby:
John Gray arrived in the city in 1850, looking for work and attempting to avoid the dreaded workhouses, he joined the Night Watch with the Edinburgh Police Force. The nights in Scotland can be long and lonely and sometimes haunted. John Gray adopted a Skye Terrier named Bobby. These two were truly the best of friends.
After years of roaming the streets and keeping the good people of Edinburgh safe, John came down with Tuberculosis. He eventually succumbed to the disease on February 15, 1858 and was buried at Greyfriars Kirkyard. Continuing his watch unfailingly, Bobby, his loyal dog and companion continued to stay at his masters grave – even in the worst conditions and weather.
The gardener tried to oust the poor thing several times but the dog was steadfast. The gardener’s heart eventually softened and a bed was made for bobby, complete with padding… allowing him to stay by his master’s side. People would come from miles around to see Bobby take his afternoon meal, following a cabinet maker to the Coffee House where he and John Grey would often go together.
This routine took place for over 14 years, Bobby keeping constant watch of his masters grave until his own death in 1872. A Baroness, moved by this story of loyalty, erected the granite monument and statue commemorating this loyalty, who is now the most famous dog in Scotland. The Scottish people’s love of Dogs is still apparent today throughout the city.
If you visit the statue, you will notice that it’s nose is quite worn. It is believed that rubbing Bobby’s nose will bring the visitor good luck and safety while touring the Kirkyard. The Grave of the beloved Bobby will also have several sticks placed by tourists, to help Bobby’s ghost be able to play fetch with his master again.
Not long after the ‘National Covenant’ was signed into practice, a document to keep Scotland Presbyterian, King Charles II took the throne and disavowed all those who covenanted and forcibly demanded those throughout England and Scotland to accept the state religion.
It was June of 1679 that the military forces swept the country in the most bloody battle for religion known as Bothwell Brig. Several thousand Presbyterian Covenanter rebels were bound and imprisoned in Greyfriar’s Parish – this became known as the ‘Covenanters’ Prison’.
These covenanters endured inhumane torture, starvation, exposure, beheadings and so much more. This was all done at the hands of Lord Advocate Sir George Mackenzie, who we now know as ‘Bluidy MacKenzie’. His double life found him as both a loving father and business savvy gentleman, as well as the sadistic side of torturing these souls in the name of the King. Bloody Mackenzie was responsible for 18,000 deaths of these Covenanters, until his death in 1691. He is now buried in a tomb in Greyfriars Kirkyard. This Black Mausoleum Tomb is now the source of the most well-known paranormal activity in the entire world.
In 1998 a homeless man broke into the sealed tomb, ransacked the tomb breaking many of the things inside. While trying to open the casket that held Bloody Mackenzie’s body, a hole reportedly opened up in the floor and the man fell into another chamber. The homeless man had fallen into a Plague tomb, where many bodies had been previously dumped and buried during the great Plague in Scotland.
This released the vengeful spirit of Bloody Mackenzie, who has since been named the Mackenzie Poltergeist due to the 500 ghostly attacks that have been reported and photographed near this tomb. These attacks include burns, skin gouges (around the neck and abdomen); unexplained bruises; broken fingers; feeling as if one’s hair is being pulled. Some visitors have said they were punched or kicked by an invisible attacker.
In 2000, Colin Grant, an exorcist, and minister of a spiritualist church performed an exorcism ceremony on the graveyard. Standing in the cemetery, it’s said he was overcome by the sensation of being surrounded by hundreds of tormented souls and evil spirits trying to break through to the mortal realm. Fearing for his own life, he left quickly, saying the evil was too powerful for him to overcome. A few weeks later, Colin Grant was found dead of a sudden and unexpected heart attack.
With the belief of magic, faeries and superstitions always comes the belief that witches are indeed real. Witch trials have a long history in Scotland and will be discussed in another article, as there are far too many things that are needing to be mentioned. To see just how far back these tales go, check out the full list of Witch trials and how the individuals died & stay tuned to culturetrekking.com for more on Witch Trials in Scotland.
The Source of Scrooge:
Charles Dickens invented the famous character of Scrooge when he misread the tombstone of successful Edinburgh merchant Ebenezer Scroggie in the Canongate Kirkyard. Dickens was horrified by the apparently hard-hearted inscription ‘Meanman’ – but the tombstone actually read ‘Mealman’ in recognition of Scroggie’s successful career as a corn trader. Thus, a legend was mistakenly born.
The Last Public Execution in Edinburgh History:
This grizzly tale of George Bryce’s execution for the murder of Jane Seton by cutting the 23-year old’s throat after breaking the relationship with him. It was 1863 and the townsfolk were enraged that this man would cut such a young girl’s throat with a razor-blade. He was sentenced to public execution on the corner of Lawnmarket and High Street.
He was to hang, with the more civilized method of the trap door mechanism ensuring a quick death by the neck quickly breaking. Thousands gathered to watch his execution, stories of the murder had been circulated and embellished to ensure the crowd was thirsty for revenge. As George Bryce was strung up, the priest giving him his last rights, a drunken Thomas Askern stepped up as the interim hangman for this occasion.
What the awaiting crowd didn’t know, was that Mr. Thomas Askern had lied about his qualifications. He had miscalculated the amount of rope needed for George Bryce to fall to his death. When the trap door opened, the length of rope needed to drop Bryce quickly to his death only let him fall 2 feet and he began to strangle in full view of the crowd. The crowd began to change their tune of hatred towards the accused, to hatred towards the authorities for having to witness the slow death of Bryce.
There are various stories of the man falling to the bottom and breaking his legs, then trying to be hung again and still being alive when he was cut too quick. After which the crowd took the limp but alive body of Bryce and paraded up and down the street complaining about the authorities. Askern was nearly beaten to death by the crowd for the atrocity of his failure. Then the man was hung again and finally pronounced dead. The stories, like all stories in Scotland, were a bit embellished, and records show the public execution lasting anywhere from 12-minutes to 40-minutes. If you walk by Lawnmarket street at night, you may still see the ghost of Bryce walking the streets, confused and angry for the way his execution happened.
The moral of the story? Don’t kill your girlfriend for dumping you, you may end up with a fate far worse than death…..a very very slow and painful death.
Interestingly enough, hanging’s continued in Scotland (in a more private way) up until 1963 when a man was hung for killing a husband of his lover in a jealous rage.
The Watcher in the Underbelly of Scotland:
These caverns were built in the 18th Century beneath the South Bridge of Edinburgh. Previously used as housing for the base of Scottish Society, body snatchers and prostitution….it is now full of hauntings and paranormal activity.
Taking a tour with Mercat Tours is the only way to visit these ghostly haunts, but well worth the cost. You need to have a strong sense of the paranormal, and an open mind to the unseen. As you take back alleys and passageways to the entrance to these vaults you get the feeling you are descending into a certain level of Hell.
You twist and turn through alleyways as your guide tells you of experiences the other staff members have had with the electricity. Now candles are placed along all the tunnels as a backup, should the electricity fail while a group is underneath Edinburgh again.
One particular room is called the ‘Watcher’s Room’, with the ghost said to be the most aggressive of any within the Vaults. Apparitions of a man standing within a doorway in the largest of the vaults, following guests and flipping hair, bruising staff, or saying ‘get out’ repeatedly in someone’s ear have been experienced. Paranormal crews have attempted to interact or stay the nights within the vaults, but have been unable to complete missions due to the aggressive nature of this ghost.
Should you find yourself in Edinburgh, take this tour, you will find yourself grateful that the hotels and hostels have several floors. The highest room in your accommodation is likely where you will want to sleep after this tour, as far from the presence of the Watcher as possible.
Never have I been a believer in ghosts until after visiting Edinburgh & feeling the cold grip of something on my leg while in the vaults of Edinburgh. The brutality that was exhibited, encountered here along with the plague, fires, and religious wars have made this area by far the best most haunted I have been to.
Not wishing to tempt fate, I never ventured outside while it was dark, there are plenty of tours that will take you to the vaults, graveyards and even the McKenzie Poltergeist grave. If you venture out during the day, be sure to stroll through Princes Street Gardens and realize just how many people must have been buried there or died in the city. The flowers may give a small comfort, as the cold chill of the Ghostly tales drifts down your spine.
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As Always….Happy Travels, Happy Tales, and see you on the Flip Side.
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Janiel Green is a Travel Guru with 22 years of National travel experience in the USA, and 18 years of International Travel experience. She is a highly educated, courageous, driven and dedicated individual to both her professional and personal life. She is the Founder of Culture Trekking LLC, and is devoted to bringing a celebratory passion for humanity into her writing to make meaningful, useful, and heartfelt recommendations for a culturally enriched travel experience. For inquires please contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org