The Royal Mile: A Guide to Ghosts and Hauntings

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The Royal Mile in Edinburgh is one of Scotland’s greatest tourist attractions. RICK HALE tells you where you can find its most haunted places to visit

Edinburgh's The Royal Mile seen from St Giles Cathedral
Edinburgh’s The Royal Mile seen from St Giles Cathedral

Running between two of Scotland’s most historically significant sites, Edinburgh Castle and Holyroodhouse, is Scotland’s Royal Mile.

Before becoming a much loved tourist destination with everything from trendy boutiques to well visited pubs, the Royal Mile had a much different purpose. 

The Royal Mile made up of a number of different streets was the traditional route the kings of this ancient land trod on their way to becoming Scotland’s most powerful rulers.

And as with many places across the United Kingdom, the Royal Mile in the old city of Edinburgh ran red with the blood of the slain. And those who perished in horror from the many plagues that ravaged the city.

Edinburgh and the Royal Mile may be a favourite of the countless tourists that walk its ancient streets, it is also a favourite of many ghosts.

Let’s take a stroll down this road, perhaps stop by a pub and a shop, while we search for the Phantoms of the Royal Mile.

Edinburgh Castle and the Royal Mile

Edinburgh Castle
Edinburgh Castle

The most obvious place to begin our exploration of the ghost of the Royal Mile is of course, Edinburgh Castle.

Construction on this grey walled structure began in the 11th century and has continued into modern times.

Edinburgh Castle is considered to be the most significant building in Scottish history.

Edinburgh Castle has been everything from a royal residence, a prison, and a military stronghold. The castle even has the reputation of being the most besieged castle in the United Kingdom.

So it should come as no surprise that this ancient stronghold should have many resident ghosts.

Our first ghost in Edinburgh Castle is arguably,  well, the smelliest 

Centuries ago a local man was thrown into the castle’s dank, dark, rat infested dungeon for a crime long since lost to history.

One day, he came up with an ingenious escape plan, he would hide in a wheelbarrow filled with dung and get carted out to freedom.

Sounds good, right? Well, no so much.

Rather than being wheeled out of the castle,  the contents were dumped from the battlements. Poop and all. Needless to say the not so brilliant prisoner died. 

The ghost of the prisoner is reported as an overpowering stench moving throughout the castle.

Our next ghost was just as unlucky as the castle’s stinky ghost, a young Piper.

When subterranean Tunnels were discovered a young bagpiper was sent to explore their length and depths.

As he wandered in the murky darkness, he played his pipes as loud as he could, as those overhead followed along.

Suddenly, the boy just stopped playing. When he failed to return a rescue party was sent, as pipers were a valuable commodity . 

The search lasted for a few hours, but he was never found. It’s as if the tunnels just swallowed him up.

Today, people claim to hear the unmistakable sound of a bagpipe playing under the castle, as well as under the Royal Mile.

Lastly, the ghostly figure of a woman in a grey dress is seen forlornly wandering the castle.

This phantom is believed to be Lady Glamis, Janet Douglas who was falsely accused of witchcraft and burned at the stake. Many say she was a victim of a bitter rivalry between her brother and the King, James V.

Her spirit is restless due to both despair and revenge.

Find out more about haunted Edinburgh Castle on Spooky Isles.

The House On Victoria Street

Thomas Weir seemed to have it all. In 17th century Edinburgh, he was a gentleman who hailed from a respected family.  And he was a veteran who served God and Scotland with distinction.  And then one day, he just seemed to lose his mind.

Weir began acting strangely and confessed to a litany of crimes. Including,  but  not limited to, bestilaity,  witchcraft,  and having a personal relationship with old Splitfoot himself. 

Even his own sister confirmed the bizarre and diabolical stories her brother spread. She went so far as to claim he got his demonic power from the cane he carried with him.

When word reached the authorities they were like, yeah right. Nevertheless Weir’s continued behavior and confessions made them act.

After a short trial, Thomas Weir was found guilty and executed.  And as you might expect, it didn’t stop there.

Folks who moved into Weir’s home reported encounters with dark, sinister entities that made their lives hell.

One couple spent a mere night in the house before fleeing for their sanity and their lives.

The house sat vacant for many years before being incorporated into a church. But it’s still remembered as being Edinburgh’s most haunted houses.

Greyfriar’s Bobby

Greyfrair's Bobby Statue

Over the last 20 years, Greyfriar’s Kirkyard has become famous for a sinister entity known to physically attack anyone who steps inside the famed, Black Mausoleum. 

However, there Is another ghost said to haunt the streets surrounding the kirkyard. Something friendlier, playful and adorably scruffy. A little dog named, Greyfriar’s Bobby.

According to the local story, Bobby, a Skye Terrier was the faithful companion of John Gray, a night watchman with the Edinburgh police.

When John died and was buried in Greyfriar’s,  Bobby came to visit and laid on his owner’s grave.

Bobby did this for 14 years before passing into the afterlife himself.

It would seem that Bobby continues guarding his owner’s grave even after death.

A small dog has been seen, as well as heard, running about the kirkyard. And faithfully guarding John Gray’s grave.

To commemorate the love of Bobby, a statue was erected outside Greyfriar’s to honour the faithful pet. Visitors pet Bobby for good luck before entering the legendary Cemetery.

Read more about the hauntings of Greyfriar’s Kirkyard on Spooky Isles.

Brodie’s Close

William Brodie was anything but a nice man. He was a liar, a thief, a cheat and considered to be one of the wicked men in the history of Edinburgh. 

Brodie was successful at living a double life for many years. To the public, he was a craftsman who made cabinets.

But all that came to an end, when he copied the keys to a bank and stole hundreds of dollars to support both his family and his many mistresses.

When the jig was up, and the cops came looking for him, Brodie fled Scotland and before getting caught made it as far as Amsterdam. 

Brodie was brought back to Scotland and executed for his crimes.  A wicked life brought to an end.  Not hardly.

Off the Royal Market on Lawnmarket can be found Brodie’s Close. The area where his workshop once stood. The workshop where he indulged in his evil acts.

According to legend the ghost Of William Brodie appears sitting astride a demonic, fire breathing horse. Brodie rides the horse through the Close that bares his name before the two ride off into hell.

The Scotsman Hotel

Located at North Bridge is the elegant,  Scotsman Hotel. Before becoming a hotel the building was the headquarters of the Scotsman Newspaper.  And this 5 star hotel is said to be haunted by the ghosts of the paper’s former employees.

A printer who died while diligently getting the paper ready for print is seen wandering the halls of the hotel covered in the ink of his beloved trade.

Edinburgh Vaults 

I am incredibly claustrophobic and the idea of exploring underground caverns absolutely terrifies me. 

With that being said,  if you did add the promise of ghosts I might just change my mind. And the place that could accomplish that are the incredibly haunted Edinburgh Vaults.

Completed in 1788, the South Bridge  vaults were home to taverns, storage space, and shops for tradesmen.

In latet years,  the isolation of the Vaults were perfect for homeless encampments and criminal activity. Due to this, the vaults were closed down and nearly forgotten. 

However, since being reopened in the 1980s, the vaults have become one of Edinburgh’s most popular tourist attractions.

And much of that popularity is due to the many reports of encounters with ghostly figures. And I warn you, they are anything but friendly. 

Those who have visited the Vaults gave reported coming face to face with a nasty spirit called, Mr.  Boots.

Those who have seen Mr. Boots describe him as a tall man, a dirty, worn blue coat and heavy boots which he stomps around the vaults in.

Boots has been seen wandering in the shadows and glaring menacingly from doorways.  

No one is certain who was in life, but one thing is clear, he does not want you in his domain.

Mr Boots isn’t alone in haunting the vaults.  Visitors have reported hearing the disembodied voices of children.

While others have reported seeing full bodied apparitions of those who lived and died in the vaults. 

Clearly the Edinburgh Vaults are not for the faint of heart. I warn you, take the tour at your own risk.

Mary King’s Close

And lastly, no tour of the ghosts Of the Royal Mile would be complete without a visit to its most popular haunted hotspot, Mary King’s Close.

This haunt located under the Edinburgh City Chambers, took its name from Mary King, a merchant who resided on the spot at the close of the 17th century.

The ghosts said to haunt the Close were the victims of a plague that ravaged the city centuries ago.

Disembodied limbs dripping with blood are seen about the Close, as well as grotesque dog that appears, growls at visitors with blood stained teeth, and vanishes.

Truly terrifying, I know. But perhaps the closes most famous ghost is a sad little spectre simply named,  Annie.

Annie has been witnessed in the many rooms of the Close crying over the loss of her beloved doll.

Annie is believed to be a little girl who perished during the plague of 1645 and won’t find her way to the afterlife without her doll. 

Belief in this is strong that visitors to Mary King’s Close leave dolls in the hopes that young Annie will choose one and find the rest her soul needs. 

Edinburgh,  the jewel of Scotland is world class city filled with endless possibilities and is a favourite of tourists from around the world. 

You can aimlessly wander the streets of Old Town and the Royal Mile looking for a special gift. Or exploring its many haunted places.

Have you been to any of these places on the Royal Mile and seen anything spooky? Tell us about it in the comments section below!

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Rick Hale
Rick Hale, is a native of Chicago, Illinois and first became interested in the paranormal after having a positive interaction with an apparition at a young age. Rick is the author of The Geek's Guide To The Strange and Unusual: Poltergeists, Ghosts and Demons. Behold! Shocking True Tales of Terror...and Some Other Spooky Stuff. And Bullets, Booze and Babes: The Haunted History of Chicago and Illinois. Rick is the co-host of The Shadow Initiative Paranormal Talk. Rick was featured in the documentary Ghost Tapes 2. Rick is a featured writer for Spooky Isles and Paranormalstudy.com. Rick has also been published by Haunted Times, Paranormal Underground, The Supernatural Magazine and Legends Magazine.

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