Plagued by invasions, disease, and religious strife, Scotland's City of Edinburgh is steeped in murder, mystery, and mayhem. Occupied since the Bronze Age, Edinburgh took shape during the 11th century--and soon after tales of ghosts and goblins began to surface. Scary locations on our tour include: Holyrood Palace, rumored to be haunted by Mary, Queen of Scots, and her Italian secretary David Rizzio, who was murdered there; and an abandoned underground city, where thousands died during the 1645 plague.
Burke & Hare - From Ireland to Edinburgh
Burke and Hare are probably the world's most famous graverobbers - although there is some question as to whether they ever actually robbed a grave. The pair were both Irish but travelled to Scotland and met in Edinburgh where they were employed on the building of the Union Canal.
In the early 1800s the medical sciences such as anatomy were growing at a rapid pace. Edinburgh, with its University and its school of anatomy, was at the forefront of this advance. Respectable surgeons - and many less respectable ones - needed a supply of bodies on which to operate. Unfortunately for them, the law regarding the use of bodies was strict. Operating under conventional rules there simply weren't enough to go round.
The limited supply led to a market for the grave robbers, not just in Edinburgh. They would enter a cemetery at night, dig up a recently buried body then sell it to the local medical school, "no questions asked". These body snatchers were known as "resurrectionists".
Burke and Hare were not the only resurrection's to operate in Edinburgh, let alone 19th century Britain, however they were amongst the most prolific. What makes Burke and Hare infamous is that they were not content with "merely" digging up corpses. A good quality body could fetch as much as ten pounds, a huge sum in those days. Their greed led them to try to find a way to obtain more bodies more freshly and more easily. This led to one obvious tactic: murder.
One of Burke and Hare's main clients was Edinburgh University professor Dr Robert Knox. His anatomy classes were more akin to entertainment than science and could attract as many as 500 "students". He needed a steady supply of corpses.
From 1827 Burke and Hare went on a killing spree around Edinburgh. No-one knows exactly how many of their victims ended up on Dr Knox's table however it could be as many as thirty.
Luck finally ran out for Burke and Hare with their killing of Irish immigrant Mary Docherty. Questions were asked and Mary's body discovered in Doctor Knox's possession. Links were made back to Burke and Hare who were both arrested.
Hare agreed to testify against Burke in exchange for his own freedom. In the face of the evidence Burke confessed to some sixteen murders but always denied having ever robbed a grave.
The trial began at the end of 1828. Burke was found guilty and hanged in January 1829.
Hare was released and reportedly died a pauper in London. Knox never faced trial. With wonderful irony, Burke's body was given to the Edinburgh medical school for research purposes.
There were rumours that some students made off with slivers of Burke's skin and such "unholy relics" could fetch high prices.
From terrors of the 19th century, Burke and Hare have now become central parts of Edinburgh's tourist industry.
Deacon Brodie of Edinburgh - The Original Jekyll & Hyde
Deacon Brodie lived in Edinburgh in the 18th century. His double life is thought to have been the inspiration for Robert Louis Stevenson's novel "Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde".
William Brodie was born in 1741, the son of a cabinet maker. He grew to be a highly respected member of Edinburgh society. Brodie was a skilled craftsman, a member of the Town Council and the leader of the guild of Wrights and Masons. This latter post carried the title "Deacon" which is how he is remembered.
Deacon Brodie lived an extravagent lifestyle which even his high position in Edinburgh society could not support. So he turned to crime to finance his pleasure.
Brodie's legitimate job as a woodworker gave him access to the houses of the wealthy. He was therefore able to make notes about the house layout and security precautions and even make copies of the keys. Later on Brodie and his gang of accomplices would return to steal from his customers.
Eventually Brodie - possibly becoming too confident - over-reached himself. During a raid on the Excise Office one of his gang was caught. The thief - Ainslie - turned King's Evidence to save his own skin.
Deacon Brodie fled to Amsterdam but was caught and returned to Scotland for trial. He was found guilty and was hanged in 1788 at the Edinburgh Tolbooth.
Like all the best dastardly villains, Deacon Brodie was rumoured to have escaped the ultimate punishment. Some claimed that he bribed the hangman and fled to Paris.
Today "Deacon Brodie's Tavern" on Edinburgh's Royal Mile is a popular watering hole for tourists.
The Ghosts of Greyfriars
Edinburgh's spooky Greyfriar's Cemetery is situated in the middle of the old town, just off the end of George IV Bridge and near to the Museum of Scotland. It is a popular tourist destination and is perhaps best known for the story of Greyfriar's Bobby, the dog that mourned its master and was immortalised by a Disney film. It is also the resting place of "famous" Scots poet William McGonagall - known as the worst poet in British history! But perhaps its greatest claim to fame is that it is said to be one of the most haunted areas of Edinburgh. Quite an achievement in a city with as many ghosts and spooks as Edinburgh.
Historically, Greyfriar'sCemetery is best known as the burial ground for the 17th century Covenanters persecuted by "bloody" George Mackenzie in the Covenanters' Prison. Since then it has been the site of many hauntings and strange occurences, including sightings of the ghost of Mackenzie himself - the famous Mackenzie poltergeist.
As well as the hauntings, the place seems to have a fascination over people. Many visitors experience strange feelings, even if they don't actually witness a visible manifestation. Is it supernatural or just the atmosphere?
The place's reputation for gruesome activity continues today. In 2004, two teenagers were convicted of desecrating the cemetery. It was alleged that they cut the head from one of the corpses and used it like a glove puppet.
The Ghosts of Edinburgh Castle
Edinburgh Castle is reputed to be one of the most haunted spots in Scotland. And Edinburgh itself has been called the most haunted city in all of Europe. On various occasions, visitors to the castle have reported a phantom piper, a headless drummer, the spirits of French prisoners from the Seven Years War and colonial prisoners from the American Revolutionary War - even the ghost of a dog wandering in the grounds' dog cemetery.
The castle (you can get a tours here) standing magnificently between sea and hills, is a historical fortress, parts of which are more than 900 years old. The cells of its ancient dungeon, the site of uncounted deaths, could very well be an eternal place of unrest for numerous spirits. Other areas of Edinburgh also have ghostly reputations: the subterranean vaults of South Bridge and a disused street called Mary Kings Close where victims of the Black Death plague were sealed up to die.
We have even had sightings by some of our guests at 23 Mayfield stay here if you dare!!!! If you need help with ghost tours please ask us as we have tried most of them and still survived!!!
In a recent survey, edinburgh was voted the most supernatural location in the world.
And with the history of Edinburgh, with as much below ground as above, it is no wonder that it has it's own city of ghosts.
Whether it is the old streets of Mary King's Close or the Edinburgh Vaults, you are sure to have a remarkable search for the paranormal in this Capital City.
Each year in May, Edinburgh's Mary King's Close holds "Mary King's Edinburgh Ghost fest"
Edinburgh's very own paranormal Group , Full Moon Investigations carried out a number of investigation in the City and beyond and you can find out more details here
So, happy ghost hunting
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Edinburgh is rightly regarded as one of the finest cities in the World. And no wonder...