Haunted locations for added spine-chilling interest to your trip. We do ghosts rather well. Pipers, dogs, green ladies and more – in castles, mountain tops, an airfield at Montrose and even a museum in Fort William.
With all those ruined castles, bare moors, lonely cottages and dark woods, you’re never far from haunted locations in Scotland.
Here is a selection of some of my favourite stories about silent spooks and noisy banshees, a word which just happens to be Gaelic for ‘white fairy’ (or near enough).
This page covers the whole of spooky Scotland and is a big read, so let’s go ghost hunting.
Kinnaird Head Castle
I grew up with this story. Basically, it was a straightforward case. Daughter falls in love unsuitably. Father locks her in tower and bumps off daughter’s lover.
Hey, it happens in folklore a lot. Daughter kills herself in grief.
In this instance, Sir Alexander Fraser’s daughter Isobel jumps from the ancient Wine Tower adjacent to Kinnaird Head Castle (pictured) in Fraserburgh – the east coast fishing town where I was born and raised.
The spot is still ghoulishly marked with red paint! (Or at least it was when I was a boy.)
The cave below the Wine Tower was the original scene of crime, though, to be honest, I never found the cave. The ghostly lover in there still plays his pipes on stormy nights. (It’s mandatory in such cases.)
The photo shows the Wine Tower on the edge of the cliff. The cave must be under water! Easy to find in Fraserburgh – follow signs for Museum of Scottish Lighthouses.
Builders have always being scarce in the north-west, so a Macleod chief had to do a deal with the Devil to get Ardvreck Castle built.
He offered his daughter in marriage to Auld Nick – the Devil himself. She only found out after they were wed and flung herself from the tower.
Her ghost is heard weeping bitterly here to this day.
Ardvreck is located off A837, NW of Inchnadamph.
Montrose Airstation Heritage Museum
Wartime aerodromes, where so many young men left the ground and never returned to it, are often strange and atmospheric places.
Montrose aerodrome was haunted by the ghost of an Irishman whose World War I biplane had a botched repair and broke up in flight. He had no parachute. Other later hauntings have also been reported.
Paranormal investigators here have photographed ‘orbs of light’.
Errr, guys, these were probably just reflections from the photo-flash off shiny surfaces. The Montrose Air Station Heritage Centre is at Waldron Road, Montrose, Angus.
Once quite well known in the league table of haunted locations, this formerly was Scotland’s most haunted youth hostel, with a long record of ghost appearances.
These include phantom pipe music and organ music, also a lady in white and an apparition carrying a sword.
The old Nursery or Schoolroom is the most haunted part, with a long list of unsettling goings-on. (They must have had plenty to talk about in this hostel common room in the evenings.)
At time of writing the hostel is closed and there are plans to turn the castle into a luxury hotel. Located by Culrain, Sutherland.
Ben Macdhui And The Big Grey Man
If you seek out places with a reputation for unexplained sightings, then this is the one that needs the most effort to visit on foot. It’s an all-day high level excursion.
The Big Grey Man of Ben Macdhui (An Fear Liath Mor) – a modern day giant – most famously made his presence felt to Professor Norman Collie, an eminent scientist, in 1891.
He (the professor) became spooked by being followed by something which was taking one crunching step in the snow for every three he took.
He panicked and ran for four miles down to the lower ground at Rothiemurchus. This is one of my favourite ghosts in Scotland.
The variation in the story is the climbers who, in poor weather and in the distance, see a figure approach the summit cairn (stone marker), walk round it and then disappear. They note he is the same height as the cairn.
When they, shortly after, reach the summit they find the cairn is (gasp!) 10ft (almost two metres) high.
The only problem here is the last time I was at the Ben Macdhui summit, the cairn was the same height as me. Hmmm.
Anyway, pictured (miles above!) is a photograph of the plateau area of the Cairngorms, with Ben Macdhui just off the right hand end of the panorama. A grey place for a grey man, I suppose.
Shooting at the thing!
Finally, among the many Big Grey Man stories, there is also the tale of the naturalist who was ferreting around the summit area in 1943 when he encountered a looming shape that so unnerved him that he fired his revolver at ‘the thing’.
I love the thought of an armed nature lover wandering around the Scottish summits. Still, it was wartime. Located 8 miles (13km) south-east of Aviemore.
Haunted Locations – Culloden Battlefield
A solemn place and site of miscellaneous hauntings, in spite of the tour buses and the tinkling of the visitor centre tills. A battle-worn Highlander is sometimes seen by the memorial cairn.
A female visitor once looked into the Well of the Dead and saw the reflection of a Highlander looking back at her. (Wait a minute. Or was that in The Lord of the Rings?)
A dark-haired Highlander in Stewart tartan has been seen on one of the grave mounds. Basically, if you are going to see ghosts anywhere in Scotland, then it’ll be here.
Follow the link here for the story of Culloden Battlefield.
Sandwood Bay, Near Cape Wrath
Leaving no footprints as he crosses the sand (well, he wouldn’t, would he?), a bearded sailor has been reported, down to the detail of the large brass buttons on his jacket.
Other phenomena have centred on the old bothy near the shore, not recommended for overnight accommodation.
A red-headed mermaid is also associated with this wild and lonely spot – it’s altogether atmospheric and used to be seldom visited.
However, this has changed in recent years, as tourism marketing efforts seek out remote spots to ruin.
At least it’s still a big walk. Access on foot north of Kinlochbervie.
The Grey Train Of Dunphail
I love this one. In the 1920s and again in the early 1960s different members of the same local family, using the railway as a short cut in dead of night, encountered a phantom steam train.
It was complete with brightly lit but empty carriages and no-one in the locomotive cab. And it appeared to be floating above the track.
There is now no railway at this spot, but Dava Moor’s lonely ambience certainly fires the imagination. I’m sure it’s close to where Macbeth met the witches as well. South of Dunphail, between Grantown-on-Spey and Forres.
1934 Austin, Near Sligachan
The main road by Sligachan on the Isle of Skye has been the setting for the spectral appearance of a 1934 Austin.
According to witnesses, the vehicle is seen being driven at high speed (and no doubt fuelled by high quality motor spirits).
This alarming spectacle causes the said witnesses to pull over to let this car overtake them as it approaches rapidly from behind. Then it vanishes. (I was hoping for maniacal laughter to be heard at this point, but no…)
Come to think of it, maybe its vanishing is just because it is going so fast. Maybe it’s a real car…you know what these island locals can be like. Sligachan – on the A850 – Isle of Skye.
Delgatie Castle is reputed to be haunted by a red-haired woman.
Apparently, during World War II, her apparition was disturbing enough to cause an entire detachment of troops who were billeted there to flee in their bare feet in a collective panic from the castle.
Wait a minute. They were all barefoot? What the heck was going on? Ah, come to think of it, it was wartime and carpet slippers must have been rationed. Delgatie Castle, 3m / 5km NE of Turriff, Aberdeenshire.
Fyvie, dating from the 13th century, has multiple hauntings. These include the ghost of Andrew Lammie, a trumpeter and unsuitable suitor for the Laird’s daughter.
He was accordingly banished – the standard punishment for uppity suitors back then.
Lammie then swore that the sound of his trumpet would foretell the death of every laird of Fyvie. His ghostly figure turns up from time to time in rich tartan.
There is also a Green Lady, a fairly usual denizen of haunted locations.
She emerges from a room, known inevitably as the Haunted Chamber, and glides through the corridors. Pictured above. (Just the castle, obviously.)
Fyvie Castle, 8m / 13km SE of Turriff and 25m / 40 km NW of Aberdeen.
Another castle with five stars for hauntings. The Grey Lady of Glamis hangs around as she was accused of witchcraft and burned at the stake.
And there’s more. The Monster of Glamis is a sinister story or legend dating back to 1821.
It’s about a family member, called Thomas, who was never allowed out of the castle after his birth because of, well, something: a dark secret connected to his appearance.
The creature apparently lived in a secret chamber within the castle. Or so the locals told the story. (Thomas’s parents were also the great great great grandparents of England’s present queen. Avid viewers of ‘The Crown’ will be familiar with more recent connections.)
Then there is Lord Glamis and the Earl of Crawford who had a card game interrupted by the arrival of the Devil. They’re somewhere in the castle to this day, still playing. Located at Glamis, A90, A928, 12 miles / 19km from Dundee.
Haunted Locations In Or Near Edinburgh
Mary King’s Close
This is Edinburgh’s centre for ghostly tourism. It makes clever use of a series of otherwise dusty ancient rooms and passageways below later buildings, formerly used as storage space by the local council.
To me, utterly unconvincing, but it gives employment to a whole host of spectres below present-day ground level of the Royal Mile.
For example, visitors on their guided tours of the Close are reverently shown the gifts left by well-wishers for the ghost of a little girl who lost her dolly and whose presence has been felt by various 21st-century mystics. Ho-hum.
Distinctly weird and (unfathomably) popular, but an important part of the haunted Scotland image.
Off High Street, in the Old Town of Edinburgh.
Edinburgh – Greyfriars Kirkyard
Another hotspot (or coldspot) for spooks. A poltergeist attacks sightseers, and tourists on local ‘ghost walks’ have been roughly handled in a variety of ways. (And not just by the local souvenir shops.)
Definitely in the haunted Scotland top ten.
Notoriously associated as a Covenanters’ prison, where many died. Some say the presence is that of George ‘Bloody’ Mackenzie, former Lord Advocate, who imprisoned the Covenanters. Located by George IV Bridge.
Take your pick from a headless drummer (sighted in 1960) or even a ghostly piper on the battlements even when the famous Military Tattoo isn’t on.
Then make your way to the Vaults, where workmen were disturbed by prisoners left over from the Napoleonic Wars. (Re-reading that last sentence, I think there might be room for clarification. I’ll get back to you…)
If you’re a pet lover, you may prefer the phantom dog which has also been seen. (Haunted Scotland has quite a few doggy phantoms.)
This theatre is said to be haunted by a ghost called Albert, said to be friendly but mischievous.
It is believed that Albert is the ghost of a maintenance man killed in a backstage accident. It’s always nice to put a name to your phantom. 18-22 Greenside Place, Edinburgh.
West Bow, Edinburgh
The pious Major Weir who had a house here turned out to be a very wicked man. (Local folk should have guessed by the way he sent his walking-stick out on its own to get the shopping.)
He was executed for witchcraft in 1670. For years afterwards, his apparition flitted around the street, or galloped off at dead of night on a headless black horse. Located at the Grassmarket end of Victoria Street.
Phantom monks put in intermittent appearances in and around the site. These include a monk praying at an altar in the crypt, with four knights in attendance.
(He’s probably praying for a bit of peace from all the visitors who have turned up here since it featured in Dan Brown’s ‘The Da Vinci Code’.)
The ghost of the apprentice who carved the famous Apprentice Pillar and who was said to have been murdered by his teacher has also turned up.
Strange lights and fire around the chapel are supposed to herald deaths in the Sinclair family – at least, Sir Walter Scott thought so.
Rosslyn Chapel, 6 miles / 10km south of Edinburgh, in the village of Roslin.
House Of The Binns
Family home of the Dalyells, most famously 17th-century military man Sir Tam Dalyell, whose apparition rides a white horse up to the house. Tam is said to have played cards with the Devil and won.
(Note how often the Devil is found to be playing cards with a variety of Scottish notables. Perhaps that’s why, in a more pious age, playing cards were called in Scotland ‘the de’il’s books’. (De’il=devil.)
Anyway, on this particular session, The Devil was furious and threw the card table at Tam.
It missed, crashed through a window and landed in a pond, where it was found in 1885. (So it must be true. What?) Located 3 miles / 5km east of Linlithgow.
Sir Walter Scott, the famous Scottish writer and historian, created Abbotsford in his own lifetime, filling it with artefacts of Scottish history. His ghost is said to haunt the dining room, where he died in 1832.
Another presence, it is said, is that of the spirit of George Bullock, who died in 1818 and was in charge of the rebuilding of Abbotsford. Located 2 miles / 3 km from Melrose.
In Fife, Falkland Palace was a favourite hunting lodge (should that be haunting lodge?) of the Stuart monarchs.
Its fine Renaissance work is said to be frequented by a ‘White lady’.
She stands at a window in the Tapestry Gallery, weeping as she watches her departing lover, who has been – inevitably in such cases – banished forever.
Worth a visit for the gardens (pictured). Located in the village of Falkland, 11 miles / 17km N of Kirkcaldy, Fife.
The remains of a Cistercian monastery founded in 1217. A secret tunnel at the abbey was said to lead to a room full of gold, looked after by an old man who waited in a golden chair to hand over the wealth to the lucky (?) finder.
A piper and his dog were once sent in to investigate the tunnel – a short time later, the dog came out terrified. The piper was never seen again.
Piper and dog in cave a fairly common theme in Scottish ghost tales. In the village of Culross off the A985.
Discovery Point Antarctic Museum
In Dundee, the Royal Research Ship Discovery is said to be haunted. Footsteps and other disturbances have been heard.
Some think it could be the ghost of Ernest Shackleton; or Charles Bonner who fell to his death from the crow’s nest in 1901. Discovery Quay, Dundee.
Tay Bridge – Dundee
After the disastrous fall of the bridge in 1879, stories began to circulate about strange events on the anniversaries of the tragedy, as witnessed by train travellers.
A young man joined a north-bound train in Fife and found a compartment empty except for an elderly gentleman dressed in old fashioned clothes.
The train began its crossing over the replacement Tay Bridge. At that point, the old man’s features began to contort in fear and pain.
(These days that would easily be explained. He’d just taken a close look at the price of the rail ticket.)
Then he faded away, leaving the young man alone in the compartment.
McManus Galleries have Tay Bridge memorabilia, Albert Square, Dundee. See also picture above, in Royal National Museum of Scotland. This is actually one of the broken girders. Pretty impressive, eh?
Aberfoyle – Fairy Hill
The Rev Robert Kirk, the local minister, was an authority on fairies and often conversed with them on the Doon Hill. He was found dead in his nightshirt there one night in 1692.
Afterwards, he appeared in ethereal form, looking for help in escaping from the fairy world. He has now been turned into the tall pine which grows on the hilltop. Signposted near Aberfoyle.
Well, that’s quite enough, don’t you think?
If you want just one more – and it’s quite intriguing, since I heard it first hand – then take a look at what happened in the place where the playwright JM Barrie was born.