The city of Edinburgh was my home for the year and change I spent earning a Masters of Science in European Archeology. Between lectures, window shopping on Princes Street and exceptionally long term papers, I was able to visit some fantastic locations of very old haunting legends. The lore is old and for an American twenty-something in the late aughts, it was outstanding to be able to experience some of it in person. My roommate there was Mary, from the island of Cyprus, and she's been back there in the city of Limassol since we departed from school. When we lived at 5/9 Nicholson Street in Old Town Edinburgh, we used to take walks up to the castle from the south side, turning right at Greyfriar's Kirkyard, curving down Victoria Street and up an enclosed staircase or "wynd" up to the Royal Mile and to the wide esplanade overlooking the city on the north and south.
We hung out at the top of the Mile in the evening to relax after class, Edinburgh is incredibly safe to wander at night compared to Albany, NY, and on the steep, grassy cliffs that the castle sits on, there are bunnies. Hundreds of little brown bunnies hopping around and chomping grass all night. It was incredible. Did I forget to mention the other creature that roams the streets of the city are foxes? So there's that.
What I didn't pay very much attention to during our nightly post-grad walks to the castle were the ghosts who may have been residing in and around the hilltop at the same time. We even could have been hearing the otherworldly sounds of bagpipes had we stopped talking for a moment to listen. The ghouls and phantoms said to roam the Edinburgh Castle have become distinct within their legends, and are retold on ghost walks, tours and by those who know and love them.
The phantom sound of bagpipes is alleged to be heard while inside the castle's courtyard, the Crown Square inside the castle walls, along the Royal Mile and near the lower dungeon rooms built within the rocky hilltop itself. The fortification and high location of this castle made it incredibly difficult to attack. After becoming a royal residence in the 12th Century and a military barracks in the 17th Century, and after battles, executions and political and social changes through the years, it is now a museum and main landmark of the city. The rooms at the lowest levels are locked away from most tour-goers now, but those who work there have said they've heard the phantom bagpipes playing.
The story goes that a young bagpiper was sent through the narrow tunnels that lead down the hill along the Royal Mile to Holyrood House at the bottom. The boy, being the only size who could fit, played the bagpipes all the way down the hill to the Tron Kirk, or church, until the sound of his pipes ceased and he was never heard from or seen again. This was all said to occur several hundred years ago, so the legend has a strong sort of staying power to it.
Coincidentally, the steps of the Tron Kirk was another haunt where Mary and I used to have our take-away coffees and cigarettes on weekend mornings. We'd watch the throngs of tourists in the warm weather and enjoy having nowhere in particular to have to be, (besides in front of our computers studying). Maybe I enjoyed that church so much with its gothic exterior because I loved that shady spot in the center of the lower Mile, or I was drawn to it for a more metaphysical reason. I'll never know, but it's still fun to imagine some otherworldly energy and mine connected me to that location over those months. The Tron Kirk is not at the bottom of the historic length of the Royal Mile, which used to end at what is now the World's End Pub, a place we'd headed for pints a few times. There's a very fancy chocolate shop where my 24th birthday cake came from that I think about often as well. As one does.
The alleged haunting activity of Edinburgh Castle doesn't end with the spooky bagpiping. The shadowy forms of the formerly living have been seen darting just out of sight in the corridors among the Scottish crown jewels and the Stone of Destiny, (it may or may not be the original, debate is ongoing). The feeling of being touched or pushed and clothing tugged has happened to several guests over the years, and rumor has it that some of the activity is attributed to women executed on a gallows once built on the esplanade. The sounds of knockings, hammering and workmen building can be heard from that location, and is attributed to the restless souls of the women accused of witchcraft whose lives were ended so cruelly.
(For another spooky execution and prison location on the Royal Mile with a local ritual going strong today, I've participated, google the "Heart of Midlothian".)
There was an intriguing paranormal experiment conducted at the castle in 2001 by Dr. Richard Wiseman for the Edinburgh International Science Festival. Over a 10 day period he had 240 volunteers from around the world with no prior knowledge of the castle's ghost stories take tours through the structure. They were taken to established and made up haunted hotspots and told both the established stories and false ones as well, to see what they would experience. Surprisingly, most people reported unexplained activity in the locations that have already been allegedly haunted for hundreds of years, including drops in temperature, being touched, watched and even seeing shadow figures. The castle's legends sound as though they could be reinforced by this experiment, but by no means is it conclusive or indicative of much more than possibility, albeit very curious.
The lengthy history of Scotland's Edinburgh Castle spans centuries as first a settlement in the 800's CE, and has been fortified and re-fortified over the years for now millions of people to tour and see in person. Of course, taking photos and videos in the castle may turn up more than one would expect if you believe the place to be haunted. What the bunnies and foxes on the steep hillsides below the castle have witnessed, or not, we'll never know.
Thanks for reading,