Absolute Escapes October 10 2023

The hour is late and the darkness has descended eerily early around your remote Highland hotel. The rain and wind howl at your window and a crack of lightning splits across the sky. Your bedside candle is burning to the wick and the flame flickers, casting shadows across the wall. The room has a sudden chill, your deeper senses come to the fore, and you feel like you’re not alone.

It’s just my imagination‘ you say, ‘too many drams, best call it a night.’  Didn’t the barman say this room was haunted? But you don’t believe in that stuff. As you drift off towards sleep you look towards the corner of the room and see a shadowy figure looming …

We all have our stories – tales you’ve been told and unexplained sights and sounds. Scotland certainly has her fair share of them, and each of our world-renowned historic sites has a story to tell, from haunted castles, ancient standing stones, and a creepy capital city.


Edinburgh Castle – The Ghostly Piper

Scotland’s capital, Edinburgh, is a stunning city that wows all who visit with its charm, beauty, and heritage. During the 18th century Scottish Enlightenment, the city was known as the ‘Athens of the North’. But where you have light, darkness also exists.

Whilst it is said that Edinburgh has an underground city beneath its streets, this is not strictly true. There are a number of underground areas of the city – the South Bridge Vaults being one. It is also said that a passage runs from Edinburgh Castle all the way down the Royal Mile to Holyrood Palace.

When these passages were first discovered a young piper was sent down to explore where they went. The passages were small and the sound of the pipes would allow them to be heard from street level. The young piper was never seen again. It is said that if you put your ear to the ground you can hear the ghostly sound of the piper playing his final tune – for eternity.


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Princes Street Gardens, Edinburgh – Witch Ducking

The centre of Edinburgh is divided between the Old and New Towns, both are striking in their own unique style and are recognised as UNESCO World Heritage Sites.

The divide is Princes Street Gardens – today, a green retreat in the centre of the city which has a murky past. These gardens were once a body of water called the Nor’ Loch and the main water supply for the Old Town, but they were also a site of punishment.

During the Middle Ages, ‘witch ducking’ took place in the loch, when an accused witch was tied up and thrown into the water. If they were able to escape they were a witch. If they couldn’t escape then they could not have been a witch, but would sink to the bottom of the loch.


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Edinburgh’s Old Town – Burke and Hare

Edinburgh has a large choice of character-filled taverns where you can quench your thirst, and visitors to the city have been frequenting them for hundreds of years. During the 1800s, an infamous pair of Irish immigrants also lay waiting in these taverns – Burke and Hare.

Scotland was making strides in anatomical studies at this time, but a more consistent supply of cadavers was required by Edinburgh University, which paid handsomely for a fresh corpse. You would be forgiven for thinking that the act of body-snatching was bad enough (digging up corpses and selling them on), but Burke and Hare took it to a new level by luring unsuspecting tourists to their deaths.

When they were caught, they admitted repeating this gruesome process 16 times, but it is believed the actual number was far higher.

There are so many dark stories to hear in Edinburgh and you can explore these with a number of guides. We would highly recommend Mercat Tours – Edinburgh’s award-winning ghost story-tellers.


Callanish Standing Stones, Isle of Lewis – Stone Giants

The Callanish Standing Stones in the Outer Hebrides are one of Scotland’s most well-known stone circles, with the huge stones being erected during the late Neolithic period and being used for rituals that remain a mystery to this day.

The stones are known as ‘Fir Bhreig’ which in Gaelic means ‘the false men’. Legend has it that the stones were giants which were turned into stone because they would not convert to Christianity.


Glencoe – A Murderous Massacre

Glencoe is considered to be Scotland’s most stunning glen, and droves of people visit this breathtaking location each day. However, it is also home to a dark historical event.

The story of Glencoe is a tragic and well-known event in Scottish history. A branch of the clan MacDonald hosted troops from the British army and over 30 members of the clan were massacred in their sleep. It is said that visitors can still hear screams in the glens.


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Eilean Donan Castle – A Spanish Spirit

Eilean Donan is on the road to the Isle of Skye and is one of Scotland’s most famous castles – people travel from far and wide to photograph its beauty.

But like many of Scotland’s castles, Eilean Donan has a darker side. It is said that the castle is haunted by a Spanish soldier who fought during the siege of the castle at the 1719 Jacobite rising.

Another of the most famous spirits which is said to roam the castle is Mary Queen of Scots. However, Eilean Donan is not the only castle which claims to be visited by Scotland’s busiest ghost, as other sightings of Mary include Loch Leven Castle, Borthwick Castle, and Stirling Castle.


Discover Scotland’s History for Yourself

Scotland is a nation of storytellers, and throughout the centuries, accounts have persisted of unexplained sights and sounds.

Absolute Escapes offer award-winning self-drive holidays and self-guided walking holidays where you can discover the darker side of Scotland’s historic sites for yourself … if you dare!

Jason Martin

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