I’ve been to Edinburgh Castle many times and although I’m a bit too much of a wimp to go to the Underground Vaults elsewhere in the city, I’m not so much of a wimp that I don’t appreciate a good ghost story from one of Edinburgh’s oldest buildings.
If I know somewhere I’m planning on visiting is haunted, I always wait and read up about it AFTER my visit, less there’s no way I’d be going to some of the historic locations in Edinburgh.
Edinburgh Castle, a world-famous landmark with a history spanning over 900 years, has provided tour guides with ghost stories that have become legendary and a stalwart in the city’s fabric.
A ‘must-do’ for every macabre holiday seeker to the capital, these dark stories and legends remain unexplained in part, yet are guaranteed to add a spooky feel to your visit.
Is Edinburgh Castle Haunted?
With a history as old as Edinburgh Castle’s then you’re bound to expect a few ghost stories lurking in the wings.
Edinburgh Castle is known as one of the most haunted castles in Scotland. Ghosts include The Grey Lady, a Headless Drummer Body and a Black Hound. Sightings of ghosts at the castle, as a whole, are few, the last one being in 2003 when construction workers were harassed in the castle’s dungeons. Visitors to the castle do report sensing people behind them or being grabbed by the shoulder on occasion though.
I’ve found eight ghostly stories where the ghosts still walk the castle grounds. Well, ok, one of them, the Lone Piper Boy, is said to haunt the underground passageways of Edinburgh, but his journey started off in the castle, so what more of a link do you need.
The Lone Piper Boy Of Edinburgh Castle
There are stories that tunnels lie beneath Edinburgh Castle. One, in particular, is said to extend the length of the Royal Mile and exit at The Palace of Holyrood. The tunnel is believed to be haunted by a lone piper, a small boy who disappeared near the Tron Kirk while helping to map out the underground passageway.
Walk past the Tron Kirk on the Royal Mile today, and you may have caught the faint whisper of a lone set of bagpipes playing under this famous city street.
For beneath the cobbles, a lone piper plays. A small boy. The only person small enough to fit between the walls of the tunnel and not get stuck.
He walked to his lonely fate on a now unknown date in the Castle’s history.
The Piper’s Mysterious Disappearance
Early safety precautions were put into place. The boy was to play the bagpipes as loud as he could as he stepped into the darkness, those safely above ground mentally keeping an eye on him. Listening to the sound of his playing, tracking him under the city streets.
Slowly the boy made his way into the darkness, the watch party plotting his twists and turns, the deeper into the tunnel that he went.
That was until the pipes suddenly stopped playing outside the Tron Kirk.
For days they searched for the small boy and his pipes, so reluctant were they to call off the search for a boy who seemed to have disappeared into thin air.
Eventually, and probably with a very heavy heart, the City Council ordered that the entrance to the tunnel be sealed with bricks. No trace of the boy has ever been found.
I have read that the Piper Boy is commemorated each year at the Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo when the Lone Piper stands on the ramparts of Edinburgh Castle.
Try as I might, I’ve only been able to find this referenced once. The Lone Piper that plays each year at the Tattoo does so in commemoration of the fallen, a tribute that’s been a long-held tradition in Scottish ceremonies.
Edinburgh Castle & The Headless Drummer Boy
The headless drummer boy of Edinburgh Castle was last sighted by servants in the central courtyard in 1650. A few months later, the castle was attacked by Cromwell’s army. It’s said that the drummer boy can still be heard beating his drum around the Castle’s ramparts. If he’s seen again, legend says that the castle will once again be under attack.
No one knows who the headless body of the boy drummer belongs to and although this ghostly apparition hasn’t been seen for over 370 years, that’s not to say he’s been forgotten altogether.
It’s said that when the living have left the Castle, when the tourists have gone back to the hustle and bustle of The Royal Mile, and staff closed the site for the night, a distant ‘rat-a-tat-tat’ of the drum can still be heard.
The Grey Lady of Edinburgh Castle: Janet Douglas, Lady of Glamis
Believed to be Janet Douglas, Lady of Glamis, this particular ghost appears in two locations in Scotland.
Janet Douglas, Lady of Glamis was burned at the stake on Castle Hill 17 July 1537 on a false accusation of witchcraft and treason. Following her death, a Grey Lady, believed to be Janet, was seen wandering through the castle hallways. Janet also haunts Glamis Castle as The Grey Lady of Glamis, wandering through the family chapel and clock tower.
In the summer of that year, when the final accusations of witchcraft and treason were being brought against her, her family and servants would be tortured at the hands of King James. Her servants eventually cracked, giving false evidence against her.
After being falsely accused of poisoning her first husband, John Lyon, 6th Lord of Glamis in 1528, as well as being suspected of plotting against the then King, James V, Janet would be tormented and suspected of treason for most of her life until she would be burnt at the stake, her 16-year-old son forced to watch.
Janet Douglas, The Grey Lady of Glamis Castle
Although executed at Edinburgh Castle, and despite their being rumoured sightings of a Grey Lady walking through its halls, it is at Glamis Castle in Angus, where Janet is the most active.
Known affectionately as The Grey Lady of Glamis, Janet Douglas haunts two locations within Glamis Castle. Often found kneeling in the castle’s chapel, the family have reserved a permanent seat for her, which even today, no one is allowed to use. Her spirit has also been witnessed in the turret about the castle’s clock tower, where some have seen her suffering in the flames.
The Grey Lady of Edinburgh Castle: Mary de Guise
As I was reading about the ghostly apparitions that appear to visitors, I also stumbled on Mercat Tours who were the only ones to give a different explanation as to who the Grey Lady may be.
When Mary de Guise, perhaps better known to some as the mother of the ill-fated Mary Queen of Scots died at the castle of dropsy in June 1560, her corpse was kept in state in the small chapel within the castle ground, St Margaret’s Chapel.
Wrapped in a shroud and then a lead coffin, where she stayed for just over nine months before being secretly taken to France for burial in the Convent of Saint-Pierre in Reims, her sister, Renée, being abbess here.
Edinburgh Castle’s Napoleonic Prisoner of War
The dungeons at Edinburgh Castle are supposedly the most haunted area within its walls and when construction workers were employed to carry out work in the Queen Anne Tower in 2002/2003, some flatly refused to work there alone.
I’ve not been able to find out much about the hauntings of this particular set of ghosts, prisoners captured and held at the castle during the Napoleonic Wars. The consensus however seems to be that the men carrying out the renovation work that year were harassed by the prisoners as they tried to go about their task.
Hazy blue orbs have also appeared above people’s heads if photographs have been taken in the tower.
I for one will never ever be taking a photo in here I can tell you!
If you want to see the escape hole used by some of the French prisoners of war at the castle then I think you’ll enjoy exploring this virtual 3D model of the castle which you can access via the Historic Environment Scotland (HES) website.
Head to No. 23 on the interactive model and then to No. 24, which is Drury’s Battery, the exercise yard for the Prisoners of War. You can easily waste a few minutes here, and I’ve referred to it a number of times in this post. Great if you can’t make a visit to the castle in person.
A Failed Escape In A Dung Cart Prison Vaults
Little is known about the individual who was so desperate to escape the castle dungeons that he decided to do so in a dung cart.
Imprisoned in the notoriously brutal dungeons as Edinburgh Castle, one prisoner, now appearing as a ghost who smells of dung, tried escaping by hiding in a barrel of waste from the castle’s latrines, clearly expecting a soft landing on a large pile of dung.
Instead, the barrow that he was hiding in was unceremoniously dumped over the walls of the castle, directly over the cragged rocks below. His neck was broken and instead of escaping he’d just been tipped to his death instead.
Those who have witnessed his ghost have mentioned the waft of dung in the air and a sense that the man tries to push them too over the castle walls.
The prisoners’ latrines where the man climbed into the cart can be seen at No. 26 on the Historic Environment Scotland (HES) virtual model of the castle linked to above.
If you do head over to HES to take a look, however, you’ll notice that they say that the man was recaptured and not immediately killed by the fall breaking his neck.
Which version do you believe?
The Black Hound or Ghost Dog of Edinburgh Castle
If you’ve been to Edinburgh Castle you’ll know that there’s a wee cemetery within the walls, especially for the soldiers’ pets and military ascots. It’s No. 33 on the HES 3D model mentioned above and it also makes an appearance in my blog Old & Spooky Graveyard in Edinburgh’s Old Town.
Reports of a black, or maybe even a white spectral dog have been associated with the pet cemetery at the castle.
The dog is either seen or heard with and around the cemetery and is thought to be one of the many dogs buried within its walls. With names like Fido, Topsy, Yum Yum and Gyp, take your pick as to which one it may be.
The story of the phantom ghost dog is often told but I can find very little more about the ghostly pup when I’ve tried to learn more.
Edinburgh Castle Lesser Seen Ghost: The Specter With a leather Apron
The ghost of a man wearing a leather apron doesn’t appear on many searches on the internet.
The most I’ve managed to find out is from a research project carried out in 2001 by Dr Richard Wiseman. Back then, 240 volunteers, who professed to not know anything about the ghostly hauntings of the castle, were let loose in the castle over a 10 day period to see what experiences, if any, they may encounter.
Along with having a burning sensation on their arm and feeling that they were being watched, one of the group reported seeing the ghost of a man in a leather apron.
The apparition appeared in the vaults of the castle where he walked through one of the doorways, just like that.
So in answer to our original question, Is Edinburgh Castle haunted? Absolutely, or are they just stories? I can however safely say that I’ve yet to experience anything ghostly during any of my visits.
If you’re familiar with my blog you’ll know that I’m absolutely terrified of ghosts and you only need to read about the hauntings in Greyfriars Kirkyard to find out why! But just because places may be haunted doesn’t mean that I don’t visit them, well, some of them anyway.
There’s no way you’ll be getting me down Edinburgh Vaults any time soon, or is there?