Besides Scotland’s beautiful landscapes and mountains, the country is also known for its witches, ghosts and ghouls. As we’re coming near the end of our time here, and being a paranormal enthusiast, I wanted to visit one of the world’s most haunted graveyards at Greyfriars Kirkyard.
Greyfriars became a burial ground in 1562 and is steeped in history. The land is the final resting place of some famous Scots. One, in particular, is not human, but rather a furry fellow, Bobby the loyal Skye Terrier who guarded his owner’s grave for 14 years before his own death.
The site is also known for Harry Potter characters, meaning some of J.K. Rowling’s character names have been inspired from Greyfriars. I did not retrieve the map to the graveyard for our visit, so unfortunately I only found Thomas Riddle’s tomb (Tom Riddle for Lord Voldemort).
On a graver note, 1200 Covenanters during “The Killing Times”, a Presbyterian movement that played an important role in Scottish history, were imprisoned in the Covenanter’s prison, connected to the graveyard by a stone gateway. Conditions at the prison were squalid. Most of the prisoners were hanged at Grassmarket or deported as slaves. Those who survived, 257 of the prisoners, were ones who escaped or pledged loyalty to the crown.
Ironically, Sir George Mackenzie, the persecutor of the Covenanters, is also buried here in The Black Mausoleum, close to the Covenanter’s prison, and is said to haunt Greyfriars. Known as the Mackenzie Poltergeist, hundreds of people claim to have encountered this evil spirit — so much so that this is the most well-documented paranormal phenomenon in the world.
When a homeless person broke open Mackenzie’s stone coffin to escape the winter in 1999, many believe it provoked Mackenzie’s spirit. On the nightly City of the Dead ghost tour, many people have been scratched, bruised, bloodied, and have fainted from visiting Mackenzie’s tomb. One 11-year-old boy came out of the tour with long bloody scratches down his arm. This kind of phenomenon occurred so often that the organizers of the tours offered a full refund to those spooked.
As a result, Edinburgh City Council sealed up Sir George Mackenzie’s grave, but strange happenings continue. To date, there are over 450 documented attacks and possibly one death of a psychic medium in which some say Mackenzie Poltergeist is responsible for.
Visiting Greyfriars Kirkyard during the day is an interesting place to peruse and stroll. Most likely there will be lots of other tourists visiting as well. Our visit on a gloomy day, under a thick mass of gray clouds, masked the existence of summer, as dead leaves eddied beneath looming trees. I saw eerie stone-carved Angels of Death and ghouls. Usually, I think old graveyards are beautiful, but this one just felt ominous.
At nighttime, when it is dark and less crowded, I don’t doubt the atmosphere will be different. I imagine the creepiness is amped up. So, if you’re looking for a thrill or a scare, visiting after nightfall would be best!