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Ghosthunting in Edinburgh

Updated on June 27, 2012
Edinburgh's Haunted Royal Mile
Edinburgh's Haunted Royal Mile | Source

Edinburgh's Ghosts

Edinburgh, the capital of Scotland is perhaps one of the most haunted cities in Europe, ghosts live side by side with modern day residents. At the heart of the Enlightenment in the 18th Century the city has a cosmopolitan feel and wide appeal to visitors; you only have to scratch the surface to reveal the sinister aspect of ghostly Edinburgh. After dark,Edinburgh becomes host to many walking tours ghosthunting, as one barely has to turn a corner to bump into one of Edinburgh more ethereal citizens.

The Old town of Edinburgh has at its heart the Royal Mile, built on a narrow volcanic tail leading from Edinburgh Castle, a fortress built on a volcanic plug. Dating back many hundreds of years the residents became crowded for space, and Edinburgh saw some of the first ever high rise buildings. People dug deep underground too in search for dwelling space, buildings, collapsed. fires raged, people died from plague. To this day many of the dwellings in the underground labyrinth are open to explore. Throw into the mix the reformation of the church and the witch trials of the 16th Century, the infamous body snatchers Burke and Hare and you will start to taste a flavour of the more sinister side of Edinburgh. Winter in Edinburgh is a particularly eerie time, with very short days, the Old town is at its most atmospheric.

The Ghostly Piper of Edinburgh Castle

Edinburgh Castle has been a fortification for 2000 years and sits atop a volcanic plug which forms steep cliff faces to the West, south and North. The only access is to the East, where the Royal Mile meets the castle. The castle is connected to the labyrinth of underground tunnels and passageways, one is rumoured to lead to the Palace at Holyrood, the residence of the current Royal family, and once home to Mary Queen of Scots who lived there between 1561 and 1567.

During excavation work a few hundred years ago this passageway was unearthed and a lone piper playing bagpipes was sent down the tunnel to find the route to Holyrood palace. Officials followed him at street level, guided by the music. Halfway down the Royal Mile the piper stopped playing. Several search parties were sent down, but no trace was ever found of the piper. He had simply vanished. Many people to this day have reported hearing bagpipe music deep below the street. StillĀ  army garrison soldiers on watch at night on the castle esplanade have heard the ghostly music. Edinburgh castle is home to many other ghosts.

West Bow Home of Major Weir

Major Weir The Wizard of West Bow

Just a stone's throw from Edinburgh castleĀ  lived Major Thomas Weir in 1660. An upstanding member of the church and community, a soldier, a covenanter and regular churchgoer. He lived with his sister Grizel, a spinster. He was a familiar figure striding the streets of Edinburgh, wearing a long cloak and carrying a staff made of black thornwood. He would often lead the Sunday sermon in church, however one day instead of preaching the bible Weir began to confess to the congregation that he was a satanist and practiced the black arts .He admitted to incest and a life of crime and vice. The congregation thought he must have gone mad but upon questioning his sister also admitted to practicing the black arts, and claimed the devil's demonic powers were channeled through Weir's staff.

They were arrested, Weir was burned and his sister hanged.

After their deaths several families tried to live in the house, but fled in fear as the apparition of a headless calf would haunt the night. Even with the house empty, neighbours could hear the sound of music, shrieks and laughter late at night.For long after his death, the people of Edinburgh would claim that the major could sometimes be seen riding about the West Bow on a headless horse, only to vanish in a burst of flames.The house was demolished but even today people living nearby report ghostly happenings in the same spot.

Mary Kings Close

A short walk down the Royal Mile will bring you to Mary Kings Close. Once a bustling shopping area, Mary King sold lace, and numerous other shops and businesses vied for space, even a cow shed. Partially underground, living conditions were cramped, and sanitation non existent. Richer people lived in the higher levels of the tenements, away from the filth and squalor.Human waste was disposed of on the floor, and most of the residents were barefoot.

In the 17th Century plague hit Edinburgh, brought in from infested rats escaping from ships at Leith docks, the cramped conditions were an ideal breeding ground for the disease. The local council tried to stop the spread of the plague and the decision was taken to block up the close, allegedly leaving victims inside to their fate. The close was reopened only recently, and is open to visitors to witness life several hundred years ago.

Mary Kings Close is home to many ghosts, the most famous is 10 year old Annie, many people have witnessed her presence, including psychics. Visitors leave sweets and dolls in the rooms which she haunts.


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