The Haunted History of Scotland

Spooky Tales and Haunted History

With such a rich history of epic tales, larger than life myths and brutal battles, Scotland has some of the most haunted locations in the world and stories that will send a chill down your spine. In this blog, we’ll be looking at some of the best spooky stories from around Scotland.

Samhain

With the popularity of Halloween now, with sweets and pumpkins galore, many assume that Halloween came to the UK from the United States. However, the origins of Halloween in Scotland date back thousands of years to “Samhain”. 

Samhain, translated as “Summer’s End”, was a Gaelic festival that symbolised the end of the harvest season at the end of October. Samhain is where many of our modern-day Halloween customs originate, including “Trick or Treating”. Thousands of years ago, it was believed that the link between the living and the dead was so strong on Samhain, the dead could mix with the living. The ancient belief was that the spirits could “disguise” themselves as children and knock on doors asking for money and food. Any residents who turned the disguised visitors away empty-handed would have risked a curse, so the visitors were given food or money to protect the household! The changing of the seasons and the arrival of the darker nights is also where the traditional Halloween colours of orange and black come from!

Ayrshire’s Most Famous Tale

Ayrshire’s most famous son, Robert Burns, was born in Alloway in 1759 and grew up listening to the local ghost stories and superstitions. One of these stories became one of his most famous pieces of work, the eerie tale of “Tam O’Shanter”. 

After staying well into the “Witching Hour” one Market Day, Tam finally set course for home with his trusty steed, Maggie. As Tam reached the Alloway Auld Kirk, he encountered a coven of witches dancing in the grounds of the Kirk, around the Devil himself, who was playing the bagpipes. When a drunken Tam alerted the witches to his presence, the vengeful “hags” gave chase to Tam. With the River Doon close by, Tam headed for the crossing, knowing the Witches couldn’t follow him across the water. The Bard tells us that the witches were so close to capturing Tam that one of them was actually able to lunge for him but only managed to grab Maggie’s tail. As Tam reached the water, the witch blasted Maggie’s tail away with a bolt of lightning before retreating. Poor Maggie’s tail never regrew. 

Many doubt the story of Tam O’Shanter and his real-life counterpart as the stuff of make-believe, claiming Tam was just too drunk and made up a story his superstitious wife wouldn’t question. However, the impact of Burns’ ‘Tam O’Shanter’ was so great that we have the poem to thank for Tammy Hats, which Tam was said to have lost in the chase, and the name of the famous Cutty Sark, amongst many others. 

So… Was ‘Tam O’Shanter’ really just a poem by Robert Burns? Or, is there more to the Alloway Auld Kirk than meets the eye? 

You can find the tale of Tam here. 

The Haunted Highlands

The site of so many bloody battles and moments in Scotland’s history, it’s little wonder the Highlands of Scotland are said to be rife with supernatural activity.

The Glencoe Massacre is one of Scotland’s bloodiest and most brutal events. Over 30 members of Clan MacDonald were murdered in the middle of the night by the very soldiers they were providing beds for that night. Acting on government orders, following the first Jacobite Uprising in the 17th century, a platoon of soldiers murdered the Clan as they slept. Some members of Clan MacDonald are said to have fled into the mountains but died of exposure in the freezing February countryside. 

Throughout the years, visitors to Glencoe have been witness to ghostly apparitions re-enacting the horrors of the massacre. It’s also said that on a quiet night, you can hear the screams of the MacDonalds. On the 13th of February every year, the anniversary of the Massacre, the screams are said to be even louder as the spirits remember the night of the massacre…

The Defeated Highlander at Culloden

In 1746, the Battle of Culloden was the end of the Jacobite Rebellion. The final resting place of thousands of clansmen, it’s no surprise the grounds of Culloden are said to be haunted by ghosts of the past. 

In under an hour, thousands of clansmen were killed by government soldiers as the Jacobite Rebellion came to an end. Alongside the typical sounds of swords clashing, guns being fired and the yells of injured men, the battlefield of Culloden has some special supernatural happenings. Many visitors to Culloden and staff at the visitor centre have reported seeing a lonely Highlander who haunts the battlefield, repeating over and over again one word, “defeated”. It’s also said that birds never sing over the battlefield, such is the power of the haunted battlefield and the death it witnessed.

Next time you’re visiting Culloden, keep your ears open for the defeated Highlander. 

Edinburgh’s tales of the Greyfriars Kirkyard.

We couldn’t talk about haunted locations in Scotland without talking about the most haunted city in the country, Edinburgh.

With a horrifying history that dates back centuries, from the evils of Burke and Hare to the ghostly events in the vaults underneath the city, Edinburgh is a city rich in spooky stories. We’re going to take a look at Greyfriars Kirkyard, and a section of the yard that has actually had to be closed off to the public. 

Greyfriars may be more well known for the beloved story of Greyfriars Bobby, or as the inspiration for many of J.K Rowling’s characters in Harry Potter, but it’s the story of “Bluidy Mackenzie” we’re focusing on. Sir George Mackenzie was infamous for his brutality, gaining his nickname after he tortured and killed hundreds of people in the name of the King. 

The Black Mausoleum that looms at the back of the yard contains Mackenzie’s remains and, if the stories are to be believed, his poltergeist. Visitors to the graveyard have been physically pushed to the ground when walking past Mackenzie’s tomb, as well as scratched, bruised and been the recipients of objects thrown at their heads. The Mackenzie Poltergeist stories have grown in number after a homeless man broke into the mausoleum to shelter from the harsh wintery weather. As the man walked towards Mackenzie’s coffin, a sinkhole is said to have opened up in the ground, dropping the man into a secret pit that was filled with the bones and skeletons of years past. A sinkhole you can still see to this day. The Mackenzie Mausoleum has been padlocked to the public ever since but that hasn’t stopped the Mackenzie poltergeist from haunting the graveyard. 

The Gorbals Vampire

The Southern Necropolis – Credit urbanglasgow.co.uk

Perhaps not as famous for ghostly tales as Edinburgh, Glasgow still has plenty of tales of the unexplained.

In the 1950s, the Southern Necropolis in the Gorbals area of was home to a demonic tale of a metal toothed vampire. On one night, hundreds of children marched into the Southern Necropolis, armed with whatever they could find, looking for a seven-foot-tall vampire. The children believed this vampire was responsible for the disappearance of two young boys in the area. Despite nights of searching, the children never found the vampire. The incident was put down to the children being heavily influenced by a comic book, despite no comic at the time ever featuring such a monster.

So… Is there more to this story? Were the children actually hunting ‘Jenny wi’ the Airn Teeth’? Jenny, it’s said, was a demonic hag from the 19th century who haunted Glasgow Green for centuries. Armed with metal fangs, “Jenny” would attack unsuspecting children and drag them back to her lair in the Necropolis…

What’s your favourite spooky Scottish story? Let us know!