GREGOR STEWART and MJ STEEL COLLINS discuss the Scottish Capital’s reputation as being one of the most haunted places in the UK
MJ STEEL COLLINS: Edinburgh is variously described as the most haunted city in Scotland, the UK and even the world – what are your thoughts on these claims to fame?
GREGOR STEWART: It certainly has the right to claim to be one of the most haunted cities in the world, but it is a question of on what basis that claim is made. Edinburgh probably has more ghost stories connected to it than most towns, but if you look at the number of ghosts for the area of the town, or the population, then towns like St Andrews are, in my opinion, more haunted.
Does Edinburgh really have the edge over the likes of Glasgow, also said in recent years to be just as haunted, when it comes to ghosts and hauntings, and why do you think this?
I have written about the ghosts of Edinburgh and the ghosts of Glasgow, and I do believe that Edinburgh can claim to be more haunted than Glasgow, both on the number of ghosts and based on area or population. That is not to say Glasgow is not a very haunted city, it is, and people are often surprised to hear just how many haunted locations there are, as they simply do not get the same levels of publicity as the Edinburgh locations do.
Why do you think Edinburgh is so saturated with spirits?
The answer to this lies firmly in the history. Edinburgh was, for a very long time, a relatively small walled city, with the prominent castle at one end, which was the target for several invasions from the English, and battles to take it back by the Scots. Over overcrowding was a massive issue, forcing people to live in terrible conditions, crime was rife, and the punishments were swift and harsh. Even if those who fell foul of the law did not face the death penalty, they still faced almost certain death, as the wounds from other punishments, such as floggings, would quickly become infected in the squalid living conditions. Centuries of suffering and violence led to thousands of deaths, with many of these resulting in reports of hauntings.
How do you think the ghost tourism industry in Edinburgh has enhanced the city’s reputation for being haunted?
The tourism industry has undoubtedly had a massive effect on Edinburgh’s reputation as a haunted hot spot. It is almost impossible to walk anywhere in the old town without seeing costumed guides advertising or leading tours. As a result, even people who did not come to the city with any real knowledge of the ghost stories, leave with some knowledge, and this all helps to spread the word.
Edinburgh has some seriously famous ghosts, such as the hauntings at Edinburgh Castle, The Mackenzie Poltergeist and Underground Edinburgh – what lesser known ghost stories from the Scottish Capital can you share with Spooky Isles?
Most definitely. Craigmillar Castle is a fantastic location that sits just a few miles outside the city centre, although still very much within the city boundaries. This castle dates back to the 14th century and has strong connections with Mary, Queen of Scots, yet is often missed by visitors to Edinburgh. The castle is said to be haunted by a White Lady, who many speculate is the ghost of Queen Mary, and a man wearing full military dress, who has been seen silently walking across an area of grassland towards the castle. Even within the old town, there are several ghosts that are not well known.
Back in the old town, in Victoria Crescent, diners and revellers often report the shuffling sound of someone approaching, when there is no one there. This is believed to be the ghost of Angus Roy, a sailor who was forced to retire after a terrible accident that left him disfigured and with almost no use of one leg, resulting in him having to drag it along the ground. He lived in Victoria Crescent, where he was teased by the local youths for his appearance and walk, leading him to become a recluse. When he died, his spirit is said to have remained, possibly due to the ongoing sound of laughter from those out enjoying themselves, just as the laughing children had driven him to stay in his house,
Another ghost story that really captures my attention and will be the subject of further research and possible a stand-alone book, is Major Thomas Weir. Major Weir was both a military man and one of strong religious beliefs, and a much-respected member of the community, who lived with his sister in Bow Street, close to the castle. Around 1670, he issued a speech to a gathered crowd and sent shockwaves through the city when he confessed to practicing witchcraft and gave graphic details of his acts. He was arrested, as was his sister, who soon also started to confess to crimes of witchcraft. It was clear that both were, in their old age, suffering from mental illness, however in these times, witchcraft carried the death penalty. Major Weir was burned at the stake, and his sister was hung. Their former home became known as the most feared and haunted building in Edinburgh, leading to it eventually being pulled down, yet ghosts connected to both Major Weir, the Wizard of West Bow, and his sister, are still reported in the area. The tale of Major Weir, and his sudden transformation of character, is said to have in part influenced Robert Louis Stevenson when he created the character Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde.
And finally – does Edinburgh really deserve its reputation for being so haunted, or is it all hype to bring in the tourists?
It does deserve its reputation, but as I mentioned earlier other towns and cities also deserve similar reputations. It is the publicity that the Edinburgh hauntings get that raise its profile and this brings tourists, and so it is a bit of both. I am not suggesting that I think any of the locations are fake, it is simply that the hype and tourism is what has put Edinburgh on the map for paranormal enthusiasts.