Edinburgh’s twisting ‘wynds’ and dark alleyways make it an eerie city to be in at night. As the mist rolls in from the North Sea and the darkness seems to seep from the stones of the buildings, even the most sceptical of visitors to Edinburgh hotels find their imagination turning towards the supernatural. Unsurprisingly, there are many places in Scotland’s capital where spooks are said to lurk.
Edinburgh Castle has long been associated with ghosts, with the spirits of the witches burned by its walls said to appear from time to time. There is also a ghost dog, which lurks amidst the gravestones of the pet cemetery located within the Castle’s walls.
One of the more famous of the Castle’s ghosts is the Headless Drummer. This youthful-looking ghost is said to appear whenever the Castle is under attack, with its first appearance apparently occurring just before Oliver Cromwell’s attack in 1650. Why he appears beating a drum and with no head is not known, nor is his specific identity.
Another musical spectre associated with the Castle is the Tunnel Piper. There is a labyrinthine network of tunnels beneath the Castle which link it to other nearby locations in the city. When they were first explored many years ago, a piper was apparently sent down so that people above could follow and track the route of the tunnel while he played. He disappeared and was never found, though his pipes can still apparently be heard at times still today.
The Edinburgh Vaults have recently become a focus for ghost hunters and other curious observers. It is an underground street which was for a time in the early 19th century occupied by the poor as a slum dwelling. Many of the city’s ‘ghost tours’ for tourists travel down this dank underground street and many have said that the ghosts of children and others still linger in their depths.
A 2009 BBC television programme recorded 20 minutes of mysterious voices in the Vaults which are yet to be explained, including what sounded like a Catholic priest reciting the Last Rites. Although initially thought to be noise from bars and clubs above the vaults, later filtering of the recording showed that the voices, which appeared to end with children’s yells, were independent of any ambient noise from the streets above. Many found this evidence convincing.
Many Edinburgh hotels are in the Haymarket, a historical area of Edinburgh not far from the city centre and other landmarks. Dalry House in nearby Orwell Place is apparently haunted by a spectre known as ‘Johnny One Arm’. This spirit has been identified as one John Chiesly, who in 1688 divorced his wife. A local magistrate, Sir George Lockhart, insisted that Chiesly pay an annual settlement to his wife. Chiesly refused and shot Sir George. He was later hanged after having the arm which held the pistol cut off. Chillingly, in the 1960s, a one-armed skeleton was found beneath a Dalry cottage and was discovered to be around 300 years old.
With a ‘death coach’ said to rattle along the Royal Mile from time to time, Scotland’s capital presents some rich pickings for ghost hunters. A ‘White Lady’ haunts the suburb of Corstorphine, while the ghost of Lord Darnley is reputed to skulk in corners of Holyrood Palace, ashamed of his part in the death of David Rizzio, the favourite of Mary, Queen of Scots.
Visitors to Edinburgh should be prepared to feel the hairs on the back of their necks rise when the sun goes down in ‘Auld Reekie’.