4. Skaill House
Skaill House is one location in Scotland that I can put money on most tourists haven’t heard of. But if you’ve got any interest in the paranormal then I bet Skaill House is somewhere near the top of your list of spooky Scottish destinations to visit.
This Orkney manor house was built in 1620 not far from the stone-age village of Skara Brae, and it’s had more reports of weird events than any other building I know of. Originally built as the home to Bishop George Graham, it has been extensively altered over the years and has served as the family home to several Orkney Lairds, although today it’s open to public viewing.
While some people hide skeletons in their closets, this building prefers to hide them under its floorboards, and I’m talking actual skeletons here, not the metaphoric kind. And there’s not just one down there either.
During the preparation of Skaill House for its first public viewing, fifteen skeletons were discovered near the south wing and under the gravel of the east porch, and later radiocarbon analysis proved them to be of Norse origin.
It’s known that are a lot of Viking influences in Orkney, and even the word Skaill is an old Norse word for great hall, but could the disturbed bodies of Viking warriors be to blame for the strange events that have been reported?
Doors are known to open and close by themselves at all times of the day. Weird smells are often reported (I suspect the visitor’s dogs are to blame for that one…), and Scottish ‘members of staff’ have been spoken to by tourists when it was later confirmed that no-one was actually on duty.
There have been reports by staff members of sightings of a tall man with dark hair in the shop who disappears when they go to investigate, and even the current Laird has heard loud footsteps in the corridor when the corridor was empty.
And strangely, overnight guests have reported feeling the weight of a person sitting down on the edge of their bed, only to feel the weight shift when they go to turn the bedside light on.
All that’s creepy enough in itself, but there’s also the story of mad Ubby.
Ubby was a man who long ago had constructed an island in the nearby loch by repeatedly rowing out into the middle of it and throwing stones into the centre. He must have done this hundreds of times because he eventually created his own small island, high enough above the waves that he could sit on it.
Ubby obviously loved this little mound of stones in the middle of Skaill loch because in his later years he chose to row out there and die on it, and his restless spirit is believed to have remained near the site ever since.
Dogs especially seem to sense his spirit and there has been more than one visitor who has complained that their dogs get restless and upset in the manor house, and some get so upset that they end up cowering under the furniture (…the dogs that is, not the owners).
Whatever’s really going on at Skaill House is still to be understood, and maybe it will never be. Ghostly spirits or not, this is one old Scottish building that definitely deserves its place in this list of the most haunted places in Scotland.
5. Dunrobin Castle
Dunrobin Castle can be found in the village of Golspie in Sutherland, usually surrounded by busloads of tour coaches as it’s famous for being one of the prettiest castles in Scotland. But it’s also one of the most haunted places in Scotland
Built in the style of a French château, the castle dates back to 1275 and much of the building has been slowly extended over the last 700 years, with the impressive Scottish Baronial frontage not added until the mid-19th-century. Remarkably, this fortified house has been home to the same family (the Earls and Dukes of Sutherland), since the 13th-century.
Dunrobin Castle wasn’t always as glamorous looking as it is now though. In fact when it was originally built it was more of a fortified square keep, with walls six feet thick sitting perched on top of a cliff-top look-out position to protect the inhabitants from their enemies.
I really don’t think we modern folk can imagine how dangerous life must have been back then for the citizens of Scotland when they had to barricade themselves behind thick stone walls at night. What on earth must it have been like for the average family?
Although this isn’t exactly a creepy building it has a real maze of rooms on the inside in which you can’t help but imagine the events that must have played out throughout the centuries. And of course, the fact that it’s so old means that it has its own resident ghost. And unlike many unknown ghosts in other castles, we know exactly who the Dunrobin ghost is.
In the 17th-century the Earl of Sutherland was at the height of his power and influence, and among his children was a beautiful young girl called Margaret.
It was believed that young Margaret had fallen deeply in love with one of her stablehands, a young man known as Jamie Gunn, in an illicit affair that would have been devastating to the Sutherland family if it ever became public knowledge.
Sadly for the young couple they were reported to the Earl by one of his house staff, and enraged that his daughter was courting a man far below her social status the Earl threw his daughter into the attic of the Castle where he intended to keep her until he had found her a more suitable partner.
Margaret, however, was having none of it, and with the help of her maid she fashioned a makeshift rope out of bedclothes and snuck out the window hoping to meet Jamie at the bottom of the castle where they could escape together on one of her father’s horses.
Unfortunately, just as Margaret was climbing down the rope her father found her, and the story goes that he either cut the rope out of fury or she let go in fear, but whatever the reality is the poor girl fell from the upper level of the castle to her death on the rocks below.
Ever since that fateful day Margaret has been frequently heard by staff and visitors in the upper floors of Dunrobin Castle wailing uncontrollably for the life of happiness she missed out on with her stablehand lover, while psychic investigators have reported sensing a feeling of unimaginable loss on the castle’s upper floors.
It’s certainly strange to think that such a beautiful building could have been the setting for such a tragic event.
6. Greyfriars Cemetary
Ok, so this spooky place isn’t exactly a building, but it surrounds a building (actually one of the most famous buildings in Edinburgh), and its got a horribly dark history full of murder, persecution and torture. So in my mind it deserves a place in this list of the most haunted places in Scotland, and if you’re a fan of ghost stories you’ll be glad I included it.
Everyone knows the story of wee Bobby, the loyal Scots Terrier who lay by his owner’s grave for 14 years after he died (read my Bobby guide for more info), but perhaps not so many people know the story of the kirkyard (Scots for graveyard) where Bobby’s owner was laid to rest.
The site where Greyfriars is now located was actually used as a Franciscan friary in medieval times, with no graveyard was attached to it. However, due to the overpowering smell of the decaying deceased in cramped Edinburgh’s Old Town in the 16th-century, it was agreed that a new location was needed to bury the dead.
Building works started on the main section of the kirk in 1602, but it wasn’t until 1620 that it was finally completed, with the building that we see today having to be renovated several times after suffering the occasional accidental demolition with gunpowder and fire.
Many notable Edinburgh residents were buried in Greyfriars over the course of its history, including the Lord Advocate Sir George Mackenzie, the poet Duncan Ban MacIntyre, Admiral Sir Charles Douglas and the artist Sir John Medina.
And it would seem that Sir George Mackenzie loves the place so much that he’s not content to just sit in his coffin, preferring instead to terrify Edinburgh’s residents above ground.
Mackenzie was known as a ruthless persecutor of the Covenanters during his time in office. The Covenanters were a zealous religious movement in the 17th-century who were repeatedly defeated in several battles with government forces, and after a failed anti-government revolution in 1679 an estimated 1200 Covenanters were locked inside a freezing-cold mausoleum inside Greyfriars kirkyard as punishment.
The conditions were terrible for the prisoners. Not only were they kept in a tiny overcrowded space during the bitter cold Scottish winter, but they had hardly any food or water, and of the 1200 people who went into the makeshift prison only 275 came back out alive.
Whether Mackenzie felt tortured by guilt over the treatment of the Covenanter prisoners we’ll never know, but mysterious events have surrounded the kirkyard ever since.
Over the years more than 450 tourists have reported walking out of the gravesite with bruises, burns and scratches mysteriously appearing all over their bodies, while another 140 have suddenly collapsed while exploring the ghostly tomb.
Even worse, the ghost of Mackenzie has been seen to walk amongst the gravestones late at night and has been reported to have broken some of the bones of the visitors who were caught by him (although why anyone would want to hang around at night in what is widely recognised as one of the most haunted graveyards in the world is beyond me).
There has even been a death attributed to the ghost of Mackenzie, when a local psychic attempting to make contact with the spirit had a sudden heart attack shortly after.
Greyfriars is definitely worthy of a visit if you’re interested in the legend of Bobby, but if you take the time to walk around the kirk take a little extra time to wander around the kirkyard as well. But be careful. You just never know who you might bump into.
Read my guide to learn more about Greyfriars Kirk and kirkyard.
Spooky Events in Scotland
We love celebrating Halloween and all things ghostly here in Scotland and you’ll find a number of events held in most town and cities throughout the year. From ghost-themed comedy events to scary film festivals, you’re bound to find something to entertain you whether you’re a super-brave kid or a scaredy-cat adult
Check out the list below for a few Halloween-inspired activities to take part in, and make sure you check back often as I’ll be updating the list whenever I find another recommendation for you.
Paisley Halloween Festival
This event is supported by the Year of Young People fund, managed by Event Scotland.
The town of Paisley, near Glasgow, will be hauntingly transformed as more than 500 costumed young people and outdoor performers parade through the streets along with a series of spooktacular floats designed by young people. The Paisley Halloween Festival is expected to happen on October 25th and 26th.
Samhuinn Fire Festival
In one of the most colourful events in Edinburgh’s calendar, fire worshippers wearing colourful costumes depict characters from ancient folklore with displays featuring fire, music and street theatre performances.
The Samhuinn Fire Festival on top of Calton Hill really is a feast for the senses. The Celtic festival (which is organised by the Beltane Fire Society) takes you back to the traditions of Samhuinn – the pagan celebration of the end of the harvest season and arrival of winter, and is usually held in April.
Mercat Tours Ghost Tour
Edinburgh’s Mercat Tours definitely know how to put on a really atmospheric show, with their knowledgeable guides taking you deep into the heart of Edinburgh’s Old Town and even below the city streets to recite ghostly tales from the city’s dark past.
You start out by following a cloaked guide through the creepy back streets while listening to stories of murder, torture, and hangings from yesteryear, and finish with a visit to the eerie Blair Street underground vaults – widely acknowledged as one of the most haunted places in Scotland. The tours operate throughout the year.
I hope you’ve enjoyed this insight into some of the dastardly deeds and ghostly goings-on that have occurred in these historic Scottish attractions, and I sincerely hope it hasn’t put you off coming to visit us in the future.
To be honest, this list really is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the most haunted places in Scotland that you can visit, and I’m sure I could rattle off another hundred if I put my mind to it but that’s way too much content to put in one article.
So that being said I’m going to add new articles about creepy places to visit in the near future, and hopefully they’ll give you some inspiration for getting out and about in Scotland and exploring some of the incredible history and landscapes that we’ve got here.
Please check back often for new posts, or join the email list to be the first to hear about new Scottish tourist attraction information.
Thanks for reading, Craig 🙂
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My latest guides
- A Guide To: Ben Lawers – Perth & Kinross January 16, 2020
- A Guide To: Dunbar Harbour – East Lothian January 14, 2020
- A Guide To: Linlithgow Palace – West Lothian January 3, 2020
- A Guide To: Blackness Castle – Southeast Scotland December 19, 2019
- A Guide To: Faraid Head – North Highlands December 9, 2019