Last updated on March 27th, 2020
A guide to the 6 most haunted places in Scotland to visit at Halloween – from the city to the Highlands and islands
Halloween is one of the most-enjoyed times of the year in the UK and it got me thinking about some of the spookiest haunted places in Scotland that I’ve visited since I moved here.
While the Scottish landscape is full of cheery meadows blooming with wildflowers and heather in the summertime the same can’t be said for the colder months when the plants are dying back and the light takes on a more sombre hue.
To be honest, I actually like winter and autumn in Scotland as it shows the nation’s attractions in a completely different tone, especially the ones that have a darker side. Take Glasgow’s Necropolis for example (which you can read about in my Guide to the Glasgow Necropolis).
This is a place where ancient moss-covered gravestones sweep away into the distance in every direction and it really does have an otherworldly feeling if you walk around it on a damp winter’s afternoon. Stroll through it on a bright summer’s day though and the experience isn’t anywhere near as atmospheric.
But there’s another type of Scottish attraction that’s scary no matter the time of year.
Old buildings. Weird, dark, creepy, spooky old buildings that look like they’ve come out of Stephen King’s worst nightmare. I hate them. I don’t know what it is but they freak me the hell out, and Scotland has more than its fair share of haunted buildings.
Just take a look at any Google search of haunted places in Scotland and you’ll see a list of articles that run into the thousands, or check out Wikipedia’s list of reportedly haunted places in Scotland to be amazed by the number of ghost sightings that have been seen by locals and tourists alike. It’s enough to turn your hair white.
Every Scottish town and village seems to have either a creepy gothic church or a weird old castle that you know, just know, had an absolutely horrific event happen at some point in its history.
And perhaps the worst of them all is the historic city of Edinburgh, a city with more gruesome murders and executions concealed in its dark closes and wynds than any city has a right to have.
I mean seriously, have you ever walked down the Royal Mile late at night and caught a shadow moving in one of the alleyways that lead off it? Forget The Nightmare on Elm Street because The Nightmare on The High Street is where the scares are really at.
So with that in mind I thought I’d share with you a collection of the most haunted places in Scotland which have also got a fascinating history.
The list below features a few locations that are interesting not just because they’re old but because they’ve also got a grisly story hidden beneath their creaky floorboards. I invite you to come and explore them all.
A list of the most haunted places in Scotland to visit at Halloween
1. The Edinburgh Vaults
Let’s start off the list with a site that has the most horrific story of any our haunted places in Scotland, the vaults in Edinburgh.
If you’ve not heard of the vaults before, they’re basically a series of underground chambers beneath the modern-day city streets that once housed entire families of Edinburgh’s poorest residents in unimaginably bad conditions.
The story of the vaults begins with the building of the South Bridge in 1785, which was built to link the High Street of the Old Town with the university buildings on the south side of the city by spanning the 1000-foot chasm that separated them.
If you’ve already visited Edinburgh then you might know that the South Bridge is an impressive example of Georgian engineering consisting of nineteen stone arches rising 31 feet above the ground with shops lining the street on either side. And shops on the South Bridge are nothing new.
Shortly after it was built, businessmen opened trading booths along the top of the bridge to make the most of passing trade, and the arches beneath the bridge were converted into a series of workshops and storage rooms for the shops above.
Unfortunately, as time passed these underground chambers became part-flooded and fell into disrepair so the shop-keepers moved out, at which time the poorest residents of Edinburgh began to move in.
Beggars, the poverty-stricken, thieves and body-snatchers all moved into these forgotten vaults and lived in conditions that must have been unbearable.
There would have been hardly any light, no heat, very little fresh air and absolutely no sanitation, and yet entire families had no option but to live out their lives in the slowly flooding rooms under the bridge.
As conditions inside the vaults worsened the behaviour of the criminal elements got worse as well, and it didn’t take long for rape, murder and muggings to become part of the fabric of the day-to-day life of the unfortunate souls living inside the vaults.
Eventually, after nearly three decades of squalor, the Edinburgh vaults were sealed up by the city councillors and were all but forgotten about for the next 180 years until a chance excavation unearthed them in the 1980s.
What the historians found was a labyrinth network of rooms where everyday objects including ceramic jars, pots, plates and even children’s toys were strewn about just as they’d been hurriedly abandoned all those years ago.
In the intervening years the vaults were opened up the public and it wasn’t long before ghostly activities were reported by many of the visitors who dared to step foot beneath the streets of modern-day Edinburgh.
Some people hear disembodied voices calling out to them, while others say they’ve seen full-body apparitions walking through the vaults. Others report being stalked by a man wearing heavy boots who throws rocks at them, and yet others say they’ve had their hands gripped by the ghost of a young boy as they were exploring the old abandoned wine cellar.
There’s even a chamber that’s believed to have been used for decades by a satanic cult, and the story goes that a woman was brutally sacrificed in the middle of the chamber after the cultists had spent days torturing her. Gruesome stuff.
If you want to get down there and explore the vaults for yourself I can thoroughly recommend Mercat Tours who run regular underground tours where you’ll be shown around by an experienced and knowledgeable guide, either as part of a history tour or one that concentrates on the ghostly tales that have led to the vaults being named as one of the most haunted places in Scotland.
The ghost tour is brilliant and genuinely creepy, although I’d recommend going when it’s dark outside to really get into the whole paranormal atmosphere. Just make sure you’ve got someone’s hand to hold while you’re down there in case a ghostly child tries to grab it first.
2. Rosslyn Chapel
If you ever find the time to venture past the boundary of Edinburgh while you’re visiting us I highly recommend you take a journey to the nearby Rosslyn Chapel.
This stunning chapel has its origins dating back to 1446, and it’s been famous for a long time due to the ornate stone carvings that seem to cover every square inch of its walls. The mysterious symbolism of these carvings has led to many theories as to their meaning, with interest in Rosslyn exploding since it was featured in the movie The Davinci Code.
Now I’ll admit that this is one site in Scotland that’s more beautiful than scary, but the fact that there are so many outlandish theories as to what the stone carvings actually represent and the fact that no-one can disprove them makes Rosslyn Chapel one of the strangest places in Scotland in my opinion.
For instance, take the Apprentice Pillar. This is an impressive stone pillar that stands at the core of the chapel which has ornate carvings that are more intricate than those in many other parts of the building.
The story behind the pillar goes that while the master mason was in Rome looking for inspiration for the design of the unfinished chapel, his apprentice was busy at work creating his own designs on the pillar.
You would think that the master mason would have been pleased with his protegés work, but no. Instead, when he returned from his overseas trip the master mason became so enraged with jealousy at the quality of the pillar’s craftsmanship that he beat his junior to a bloody pulp.
Strangely, there’s a carving of a young man with a vicious cut on his head engraved elsewhere in the chapel.
Was this made to commemorate the poor apprentice? Another peculiar thing about the Apprentice Pillar is that the vines twirling around it look uncannily like the helix of a DNA strand. Was a representation of the core of all life carved into the core of Rosslyn Chapel 500 years before modern scientists discovered it?
And even stranger is the carving of stalks of corn around one of the windows.
There’s nothing interesting about stalks of corn you might think. Except that corn was an unknown crop in Scotland at the time the chapel was built, and in fact it wasn’t known to Europeans at all until Christopher Columbus discovered America some 50 years after the chapel had been completed. So who carved them into the stonework around the window?
And even all this is insignificant to the secret that’s supposedly buried deep beneath the grounds of Rosslyn Chapel.
There’s a legend that says that the Knights Templar, the sect of holy warriors who were founded by the Catholic Church in 1119, found the holy grail inside Solomons Temple while they were in the middle east during the crusades.
While no-one knows what the grail actually is, we do know that shortly after this event supposedly occurred the Knights Templar suddenly became incredibly powerful, so powerful that the king of France outlawed them out of fear.
In turn, many Templars fled to Scotland where they set up properties not far from Rosslyn, and from that time stories of a secret relic hidden beneath the chapel have surrounded the building.
A preposterous theory perhaps, except that there are numerous carvings of Templar Knights engraved throughout the chapel walls, along with carvings of Freemason symbology (the Freemasons and Templars reputedly had close ties). Not what you’d expect to find in a Christian building at a time that was fiercely religious.
You can visit Rosslyn Chapel by car or public transport, but if you’re not happy with making your own way there you can also get a guided tour from Edinburgh with Rabbies Tours. These guys specialise in small groups of no more than 16 people and they offer fun and informative tours for a reasonable price.
If you want to know more about this historic attraction you might like to read my Guide to Rosslyn Chapel.
3. Stirling Castle
Did you know that Stirling Castle was once the most powerful fortification in all of Scotland, even more so than Edinburgh Castle? Most people don’t, and if you’re a tourist visiting Scotland you really should take a journey to Stirling to explore this incredible historic building that’s also one of the most haunted places in Scotland.
The castle sits proudly on top of Castle Hill, the enormous geological formation that can be seen from all directions in this lovely part of the Stirlingshire countryside, and over the years it has served the nation both as a defensive military position and as a royal palace.
Robert the Bruce liberated the castle from the English in 1299, and Mary Queen of Scots was Crowned there in 1542, so it has plenty of history contained in its walls, although not all of it is pleasant.
One sorry tale concerns Queen Mary and one of her servant girls.
In 1562, The Queen of Scots returned to Scotland after spending nearly two decades in France and took up residence in Stirling Castle, where she was waited on by a number of servants. One of these was known to be a Highland girl who was believed to be gifted with the power of foretelling the future.
The girl told Mary that she had a premonition that if the Queen was to spend a single night in the castle she would die, so after begging Mary to let her keep watch she fell asleep in the corner of Mary’s bedroom.
The girl woke up several hours later to find the bedchamber a raging inferno, likely caused by the naked flames of the candles that had been lit in Mary’s room. As the flames burned through the girl’s emerald-coloured dress she managed to pick up the unconscious queen and carry her to safety, but not before suffering terrible burns in the process.
While it’s a recorded fact that Mary recovered with barely an injury, the poor servant girl was so badly burned that she died shortly afterwards in agony.
And ever since that fateful day there have been frequent reports of a ghostly female figure dressed in green roaming through the castle’s corridors, and the legend goes that whoever sees her quickly succumbs to a tragedy involving doom, despair and death.
If that’s not enough to put you off castles for life perhaps this snippet of information will. While exploring Stirling Castle, several tourists have reported seeing a man dressed in full Highland garb walking around in the shadows. As he’s so elaborately dressed most visitors guess he’s a tour guide so they wander over to talk to him.
Rather pant-soilingly though, the Highlander simply turns in the other direction and walks away, before completely vanishing into thin air. I don’t know about you, but if I saw that in one of the quiet corners of Stirling Castle I’d be shrieking like a five-year-old girl.
You can read more about this attraction in my complete guide to Stirling Castle.
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