Seven Spooky Spots in Scotland
Scotland is a bustling, contemporary place. Often, it is the origin of cutting-edge technology. You might be surprised how many inventions—from color photography to ATMs to MRIs— were invented by Scots (click here to read my post on Scottish inventions). That said, as an ancient Celtic land, Scotland has its fair share of mystical places and supernatural goings-on. Perhaps more than its fair share. For millennia, souls have walked across its landscape before moving onto a higher plane. But some spirits have lingered. If you’d like to encounter one or two of them, here are seven spooky Scottish spots to explore.
If you want to go ghost hunting, what better place is there to start than a graveyard? But the Glasgow Necropolis isn’t just any cemetery. It is 37 acres of land. Approximately 50,000 people are buried there, not all of them in marked graves. Odds are you can find one or two restless souls hanging about.
That said, the necropolis is quite pretty. In the daytime. Located on a hill overlooking the Glasgow Cathedral, the necropolis has abundant Victorian architecture and 3,500 elaborately designed monuments. The second-largest green space in the city of Glasgow, the cemetery has wooded areas filled with wildflowers, and more than 180 different plants and trees. On a stroll through this graveyard, you’ll also see—or perhaps just here—a variety of wildlife too.
The necropolis is free to visit, and guided tours are available. The graveyard closes to the public at 4:30 P.M. but, if you want to visit after dark, nighttime tours are available. If you dare to go.
Spirits of Culloden
Another great place to seek out restless souls is a battlefield and, on April 16, 1736, a bloody battle, famous in Scottish history, took place at Culloden. Scottish defenders of Bonnie Prince Charlie’s claim to the British throne faced the English army. In less than an hour, 1,500 men lost their lives. Now, hundreds of graves and a 6-meter-high cairn honor their memory. Many people have reported hearing, on that desolate and wild moorland, the sounds of battle including shouts and cries, the clash of swords, and the booming of gunfire. Legend claims that the ghost of a Highlander can be seen wandering the moor, murmuring the word “defeated,” over and over.
Glencoe is another site of mass slaughter but not from a war. This massacre was the result of treachery, betrayal, and an unforgivable violation of the Celtic code of hospitality. The Campbells and the MacDonalds are two of the most powerful Scottish clans. They were rivals who sometimes worked together and even intermarried. As long as it was to their mutual advantage. But an event happened in 1692 which would evermore instill in the MacDonalds a distrust or, for some, a hatred of Campbells.
First, a little political context: the Campbells were fierce supporters of the English king, William of Orange. The MacDonalds supported the deposed Stuart (therefore Scottish) king, James II. King William sent out an edict that all of the chieftains of the rebellious Highland clans either sign an oath of loyalty to him by January 1, 1692, or their clans would face punishment “to the utmost extremity of the law.” Alasdair MacDonald (aka Maclain), chieftain of the Glencoe MacDonalds, resisted signing the oath until the last moment. On December 31, 1691, he set out for Inveraray to have his signing witnessed (per orders) by the Sheriff. Inveraray, though, was Campbell territory. The Campbells accosted and detained Alasdair for a day. When he finally arrived at his destination, the Sheriff wasn’t there. He had gone on a trip. When he returned a few days later, the chieftain signed the oath and the Sheriff attested to the signing, but to no avail. The late oath-taking was rejected.
Unbeknownst to Alasdair (who had returned home), the royal order went out to cut down the MacDonalds of Glencoe “root and branch.” In response, Captain Robert Campbell of Glenlyon sent his soldiers to Glencoe. When they arrived at the MacDonalds’, they pretended to be friendly, weary soldiers in need of accommodation. Alasdair Maclainn, adhering to the Celtic code of hospitality, took in the over 100 soldiers, housed, and fed them. For 12 days.
In the wee hours of the morning, on February 13, 1692, the Campbell soldiers began slaughtering the MacDonalds as they slept in their beds. As the household awakened to this horrific violation of hospitality (you don’t kill your host!), many MacDonalds managed to flee into the glen and the nearby mountains but died from the bitter cold. Inside the castle, Alasdair plus 33 men, 2 women, and 2 children of the clan were murdered by the Campbells. Their screams are said to echo through the castle today and the cries of those dying from exposure can be heard in the glen. A less supernatural reminder of the treacherous and bloody deed can be seen on the door of a Glencoe inn. The sign reads: “No Campbells.”
Edinburgh Castle’s Ghostly Drummer
Probably the best place to find a ghost in Scotland is in a castle. All the best castles have at least one, and Edinburgh Castle has several. The most famous is the Headless Drummer. He is said to have appeared for the first time in 1650, just before Oliver Cromwell attacked the castle. The decapitated musician has only rarely been seen and, according to legend, his appearance is a sign of impending danger. The sound of his drum, however, is heard frequently, coming from the battlements at dusk or just before dawn. Locals say his drumming is a reassuring sign that he is keeping watch over both the castle and the capital city.
Other supernatural guests of the castle include a ghostly piper, a black dog, and Janet Douglas, Lady Glamis, who was burned as a witch on the castle grounds.
Although Campbells may not be welcome at Glencoe, they are at Inveraray Castle, home of the Duke of Argyll, Chieftain of Clan Campbell. The castle is said to be home to several ghosts as well, notably, the spirit of a young Irish harpist who was murdered in the Macarthur Room and the Grey Lady, who is only ever seen by Argyll daughters. Family legend also claims that when each duke dies the Galley of Lorne, a ghost ship, can be seen sailing on the estate’s Loch Fyne.
The castle will look familiar to Downton Abbey fans as it was the setting for Duneagle, the home of the Marquess and Marchioness of Flintshire, parents of Rose MacClare. Tours of the castle are given from March to October.
Tay Bridge Catastrophe
While many people dismiss ghost stories as products of creative imaginations mixed with quite natural things that go bump (or woo-oo) in the night, most have roots in historical fact. The Old Tay Bridge Ghost Train is an example. Its origins come from a real-life disaster. Built during the Victorian Age, the railroad bridge over the Firth of Tay connected Wormit, a town in Fife, Scotland, with the city of Dundee. In 1878, when it was built, it was the longest bridge in the world, spanning 2 miles and standing at 88 feet above the water. The Tay Bridge appeared to be an engineering masterpiece. No one foresaw the tragedy which would occur only a year later.
On the night of December 28, 1879, a terrible storm was raging. Despite gale force winds of 80 mph, the bridge remained open to traffic. At 7:13 P.M., a train started across the bridge from the Wormit side. It was due to reach the Dundee end by 7:19. The bridge was so narrow that only one train could travel its tracks at a time, so signalmen were placed at each end to control the traffic. As the train made its way towards Dundee, battered by the storm’s winds, the signalman on the Wormit side suddenly saw a bright flash followed by complete darkness. He tried to contact the signal cabin at the Dundee side, but all communication had been severed.
The prolonged lack of the train’s appearance on the Dundee side caused concern and, finally, a locomotive foreman named John Roberts volunteered to investigate. He crawled across the span, battling wind and rain, until he drew near the center. Then he discovered the ghastly reason for the train’s disappearance: the center of the bridge had collapsed, plunging all 70 passengers plus the engineer and crew into the swirling waters of the Tay.
A new bridge was built next to the collapsed one. Each year since, however, on the anniversary of the disaster, people claim to see a phantom train crossing the Tay in the spot where the old bridge existed. Then, they say, screams can be heard as the train plummets into the dark waters.
Overton Bridge Dog Suicides
The final story of this short list of haunted Scottish places is a bizarre mystery. Built in 1895 and reputedly haunted, Overtoun Bridge is located in West Dunbarton, just west of Glasgow, Scotland. There has been a high incidence of dogs jumping from this bridge to their deaths in the rocky gorge 50 feet below. Over 300 “doggie suicide” attempts (some papers say 600) have been reported since the 1960s alone. At least 50 dogs have died, and many who survived have gone back for a second try. All of the dogs have leaped from the same side of the bridge and, reportedly, from the same spot. While a theory has been floated that the odor of mink is a reason why the dogs jump off the bridge, no solid explanation for the deaths has been established.
However, people from the area have proposed a Celtic-appropriate possibility. They say the area is a thin place, a spot where the veil between this world and the Otherworld is thin enough to see through and even pass through. They contend that spirits are luring the dogs into the Otherworld. In Celtic mythology and folklore, dogs are guides to the Otherworld so, from a Celtic point of view, this theory would make sense. An alternate explanation given by folks from the area is that the dogs see the ghosts on the other side of the veil and (pardon the pun) are spooked by them into leaping off the bridge. Whatever the cause, the site now has a warning sign which reads: “Dangerous Bridge. Please keep your dog on a lead.”
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Slan go foil!