If you’ve ever visited Scotland, you know this: If ghosts exist, this is where you’ll find them. (Edinburgh, for example, tends to be named as one of the most haunted cities in the world.)
The Scots certainly agree. Many misty Highland moors, ancient battlefields, and old, spooky castles have spectral stories and creepy legends that are as scary as they are mysterious. Let’s explore some of our favorite ones.
10 Lady Catherine Of Dalhousie
When you visit Scotland, you may not even need to leave your hotel to witness ghosts. In fact, if you’re staying in the Dalhousie Castle Hotel and Aqueous Spa, you might have an old-timey ghost hanging out in your room. The ghost rumored to haunt the place is Lady Catherine, a 16-year-old noblewoman who was banished in a castle tower in 1695 after getting caught with a stable hand. The poor, lovelorn Catherine died in her tower, and it is said that her spirit never left the castle, even when it was converted to a hotel in 1972.
Lady Catherine’s ghost leads a fairly active afterlife, which has led to multiple sightings over the years. The hotel is a popular wedding site, and the specter has been known to attend the festivities. She walks the castle’s turrets and corridors and even appears in people’s rooms. Sometimes, she waves at the guests from a window. Other times, you might find her sitting on your bed. According to eyewitnesses, her grey dress, sharp features, and small feet could make you believe that she’s perfectly alive . . . that is, until she walks right through a locked door.
Here’s an interesting anecdote: In 2007, American writer Kate Bolick visited the castle to learn about Lady Catherine, who, at this point, had picked up the popular ghost moniker “the Grey Lady.” Although she was unsuccessful, she discovered that Catherine does not like the sound of bagpipes. Whenever the castle steward tries to play his instrument while she’s around, he’s unable to play properly.
9 The Ghosts Of Stirling
Stirling Castle is home to two well-known ghosts. The more striking one of them is known as the Pink Lady. She is a pretty woman who got her nickname from the luxurious, pink dress that she wears. She’s rumored to be none other than Mary, Queen of Scots, who was crowned in the castle. According to another legend, she may be the wife of a soldier who fell when Edward I and his troops besieged Stirling Castle in the early 14th century, doomed to search for her fallen husband for all eternity. The Pink Lady spends her time wandering around the castle and its surrounding area.
The second ghost is known as the Green Lady or the Grey Lady, depending on who is telling the story. A popular story says that she’s the spirit of a servant girl who saved young Queen Mary from a fire, possibly dying herself while doing so. Whenever she appears, a major disaster is sure to follow. Although this may seem ominous, the Lady is actually trying to warn people of the danger, attempting to save them like she saved her queen so many years ago.
Still, don’t think that the ghosts of Stirling Castle are all benevolent. There are rumors of a third, more mysterious specter. It manifests as unseen footsteps in the area known as the governor’s block. It is said that a 19th-century sentry died here in the middle of his patrol, his face twisted in terror. Is the poor guard the ghost making the footsteps? Or did he see whatever horrifying spectral creature was making them and die of fright? That’s the beauty of ghost stories: You can choose to believe whichever version you find the scariest.
8 The Hostile Spirits Of Blair Street Vaults
Listverse has told you about Edinburgh’s Old Vaults before, but some of the spirits that reside there are even scarier than the old legends of murderous grave robbers Burke and Hare storing their victims there. These underground chambers are locally known as Blair Street Vaults and thought to be the home of several nasty ghosts. These spirits will not necessarily show themselves to you, but their faces sometimes show in photographs, and their presence is felt in a number of other ways.
The most harmless ghost is Jack. He is a joker who likes to tug at people’s pants and throw stones across the chambers, causing nasty echoes. Another one is known as Mr. Boots. He’s the source of the mysterious, heavy footsteps that some say can be heard in the empty vaults. However, they’re both small potatoes compared to the Watcher, a truly frightening entity.
According to Nicola Wright, who has worked as a tour guide in and around the Vaults for over a decade, the Watcher is always lurking in the tunnels. Psychics have reported feelings of dread in its presence. It’s usually content just watching visitors, but sometimes, it starts pushing people and pulling their hair. The Watcher is at its strongest in an area called the White Room, where even veteran vault dweller Nicola refuses to go. She says that the Watcher tries to stop people from entering by shouting at them and pushing them. People who have stepped in the White Room anyway have returned with bruises, scratches, and torn clothes, feeling extremely nauseous.
7 The White Hart Inn
If you’re feeling playful, you might say that there’s no better place for a Scottish spirit than a pub. Maybe that’s why so many Scottish pubs have ghosts of their own. One of the most famous haunted public houses is the White Hart Inn. With its cellars that date back to 1516, it is one of the oldest pubs in Edinburgh. It’s also said to be one of the most haunted. According to legend, the White Hart Inn has seen many different murders and tragedies. Over the centuries, the place has accumulated so much spectral energy that many visitors have reported invisible hands pulling their hair or throwing things at them. The ghosts aren’t fans of modern technology, either, as they occasionally pull cables.
In 2013, a tourist couple supposedly managed to photograph one of the White Hart Inn’s ghosts. Although the bar manager doesn’t believe in the hauntings himself, even he admitted that the picture was very hard to explain. He also admits that many members of the staff have had odd encounters, and their cleaner has actually threatened to quit if he encounters any more unexplained phenomena.
In 2014, Scottish Ghost Adventures set up some equipment in the oldest part of White Hart Inn. They managed to capture mysterious voices saying “Help me” and “Connor.”
6 The Ghosts Of Glencoe
The massacre of Glencoe in 1692 was a brutal attack where the English soldiers visiting the MacDonald clan initially befriended their hosts. But suddenly, they received an order from the crown: Kill the entire clan. The formerly pleasant soldiers ambushed the sleeping MacDonalds during a blizzard, killing 38 of them. Many more died of exposure as they desperately fled for the hills.
Some say the ghosts of the wronged MacDonalds never went away.
People who live in the stunningly beautiful Glencoe (aka Glen Coe) area generally agree that the spirits of the victims are still lingering, unable to move on because of their unexpected and violent demise. Winter is said to be the best time to glimpse spectral MacDonalds, particularly near the massacre’s anniversary, February 13. Some have reported ghostly figures crouching in the hills, still desperately trying to hide from the soldiers. Others say that they’ve heard the screams and wailing of the MacDonalds being killed all over again. Others still claim that they’ve actually seen the massacre reenacted in ghostly form.
Still, the Clan MacDonald ghosts are just the tip of the supernatural iceberg in Glencoe. The place is also said to be haunted by the MacDonalds’ caoineag, an invisible, banshee-like entity that warns of danger with its bloodcurdling cries. Legend has it that the caoineag’s screams warned the MacDonalds of the impeding doom, which is how so many of them were able to escape the soldiers’ swords. According to some, she can be heard wailing near a waterfall on the night before the anniversary of the massacre.
5 The Plague Phantoms Of Mary King’s Close
Wherever people die in large numbers, you’re bound to find a ghost story or two. Mary King’s Close in Edinburgh is no exception. The partially walled-up, claustrophobic alley area below the City Chambers used to be a place where the city’s poor lived and, when the bubonic plague arrived in the 17th century, died. As the city grew, the upper levels of the Close were eventually demolished, leaving only the creepy, narrow basement levels that you can still visit today.
As a frightening, claustrophobic place where people died en masse, the Close has long enjoyed a reputation as a site haunted by the plague victims. The most famous ghost here is a young girl known as “Annie.” In 1992, Annie thoroughly scared a Japanese psychic taking a guided tour: The visitor had been unimpressed by the place until she stepped in a particular room. She was immediately overwhelmed by feelings of cold, hunger, and sickness, and when she tried to stumble away from the room, a small, ghostly hand tried to grab her leg.
In all fairness, we must mention that the history of the Mary King’s Close is not quite as ruthless as its marketing people would have you believe. Though there are many stories that the plague-stricken poor tenants were walled up in their buildings and left to die, the plague carriers were actually moved to a quarantine zone outside the city walls, and the dead were properly disposed of by gravediggers. It’s still a fairly tragic fate, though.
4 The Piper Of Kinnaird Head
Lighthouses are isolated and scary places. Scottish castles are famously haunted. When you combine the two, you get Kinnaird Head. This beautiful lighthouse has been serving Scotland since 1787, and it was built on the remaining structure of a 15th-century castle. Naturally, this means that Kinnaird Head has its very own ghost story.
It is said that the lord of the Kinnaird castle, Sir Alexander Fraser, was very protective of his daughter, Isobel. One day, when Sir Alexander was away on business, Isobel took in a young piper who was seeking shelter from a snowstorm. The two fell in love, but when Sir Alexander found out, he was so furious that he locked his daughter in the castle tower. He dragged the piper in a cave below the castle and chained him up. Unfortunately, a storm broke out and drowned the piper. The next day, Sir Alexander took his daughter in the cave so that he could make sure no hopes of marriage would linger between the two young lovers. However, when they found the piper dead, the heartbroken Isobel ran to her tower and jumped.
Today, the cave is known as The Piper’s Cave. Legend has it that the young man’s ghost can be heard playing for Isobel, whose spirit haunts the area whenever a storm is gathering.
3 The Handless Woman Of Rait Castle
Rait Castle is a large 13th-century hall house that was equipped with castle towers during the 16th and 17th centuries. Although only its ruins remain, its many strange architectural features make it an interesting structure. Its history is equally fascinating, as is the story behind its ghost. Yes, of course there’s a ghost. It’s a Scottish castle, remember?
The Cummings, the most long-term occupants of Rait Castle, had been feuding with the Mackintoshes over its ownership for centuries. In 1441, the Cummings decided it was time to stop fighting. So Old Cumming invited Clan Mackintosh to the castle for a huge feast as an offer of peace. Even better, Old Cumming’s daughter had struck up a relationship with a young Mackintosh man. It looked like there might finally be a chance for peace between the two enemy clans.
Of course, the invitation was actually a clever plot to wine and dine the Mackintoshes and murder them while they were unable to fight back. Unfortunately for the Cummings, Old Cumming’s daughter was worried about the safety of her lover and warned the Mackintoshes about the plot. This is why they came to the dinner with dirk daggers hidden in their clothing. When the Cummings started their ambush during a toast for the dead, the Mackintoshes pulled their hidden dirks and quickly stabbed their hosts instead.
Old Cumming escaped the bloodshed and ran to the upper chamber to confront his daughter, who he now realized had warned the Mackintoshes. The furious clan chief attacked the young lady with a sword and cut off both her hands before she could escape by jumping out of the window.
After the slaughter, it turned out that no one really wanted to own a castle where so much blood had been shed. Rait Castle was left to ruin. Its only occupant is said to be the ghost of a young, handless woman in a bloody dress.
2 The City Of Inverness
Inverness is the administrative center of the Scottish Highlands, located slightly to the north of Loch Ness. It’s also a very, very haunted place. When a famous ghost-hunting show toured the United Kingdom, Inverness was the only Scottish venue they visited. Part of this was because it is conveniently near some other sites with a ghastly reputation, such as the Culloden Fields, which we’ll discuss in a moment.
However, Inverness has plenty of strange stories of its own. Local paranormal enthusiasts will tell you about the Black Friar, a ghostly monk who is said to haunt the town’s BT Building. Legend has it that a spectral girl lurks in the mirror in Balnain House, an old merchant building with a bloody history. There is an obligatory spooky lady ghost wandering the halls of Eden Court Theater. Hospitals, graveyards, and even the River Ness are said to be brimming with ghosts. There are whispers of Willie the Carse, a local bogeyman. Witches and fairies have also been reported in the area.
What makes Inverness even more mysterious than all these legends is that there is very little information available about them. Unlike Edinburgh, where haunted properties like Blair Street Vaults and the White Hart Inn are on proud display, and ghost tours are readily available, Inverness seems to enjoy keeping its ghosts private. A team called the Highland Paranormal Group has recently started to uncover the city’s ghostly mysteries, but even with their local knowledge and contacts, they say they’ve only started to scratch the surface.
1 The Military Specters Of Culloden
Culloden Moor is located just a few miles from Inverness. It is the site of the last major battle fought on British soil, the Battle of Culloden in 1746. The bloody conflict was between Scottish Jacobites and the much larger forces of the English crown, led by the Duke of Cumberland. The marshy battleground didn’t favor the Jacobites and their favorite strategy of charging the enemy headlong. The English artillery and cavalry tactics defeated them so badly that the battle effectively ended the traditional Scottish clan culture.
You’d expect a place with such a bloody and dramatic history to have more than its share of ghosts, and Culloden doesn’t disappoint. Paranormal investigators have reported mysterious cold spots in places where Jacobites fell in large numbers. It is said that a Culloden drinking well called St. Mary’s Well is so haunted that its water is screaming with the voices of the restless dead.
The anniversary of the slaughter is a particularly active time for the ghosts. During that time, many people say they’ve seen mysterious marching Highlanders, strange corpses, and bleeding men. Some say that they’ve witnessed the entire battle played out by the restless ghosts of the fallen, as the air fills with screams and sounds of fighting. Perhaps the most haunting Culloden ghost, however, is a single specter: a tall, lonely, dejected figure wandering the moor aimlessly and whispering, “Defeated . . . defeated . . . ” over and over.
+ Ghost House Nanny
In Scotland, ghosts are so widespread that they can even affect job listings. In 2017, a family posted a job offer on Childcare.com, looking for “an exceptional live-in nanny” for their two children aged five and seven. The position paid exceptionally well for a nanny gig at £50,000 a year. However, there was a slight catch. The family lives in the Scottish borderlands, in a “scenic, historical property.” The parents are busy professionals who tend to be away for roughly four nights a week. Also, the last five nannies all quit because the place is haunted.
According to the job posting, the parents were told that the property was haunted when they bought it a decade earlier. They decided to keep an open mind and purchase it anyway but have never personally experienced any paranormal activity. Maybe the ghosts just don’t like them, though, because when they’re away, the place reportedly goes wild: There have been multiple incidents of mysteriously broken glass, strange noises, and moving furniture.
Despite the fact that the whole situation seems like a setup for the kind of horror movie the protagonist is not going to survive, the family’s decision to be up-front about the job’s challenges paid off. They received over 3,000 queries from fearless nannies and ultimately found the person who they felt was perfect for the job.
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