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Midnight at Greyfriars

A visit to Edinburgh and its legendary haunted cemetery.

Dominating the city's skyline, the 12th-century Edinburgh Castle marks the western end of the Royal Mile.
Dominating the city's skyline, the 12th-century Edinburgh Castle marks the western end of the Royal Mile.

For as long as I can remember, I have had a fascination with cemeteries – be it their peaceful, yet morbid exteriors or the fact that I'll probably wind up in one someday. I never overlook an opportunity to visit a cemetery. Especially if it's supposedly haunted.

I can't recall when I first heard about Greyfriars Kirkyard, the supposedly haunted cemetery located in the heart of Edinburgh, Scotland.

But I know it was the allure of such a place that brought me to Scotland in 2003 and again in 2010. The allure being that whatever supernatural force haunted Greyfriars had the ability not only to frighten someone, but to phsically harm them as well. It was during my second trip to Greyfriars when I had the opportunity to see for myself if those claims were indeed true.

It was the second day of my trip. I had kept myself busy seeing the usual tourist attractions and gorging myself in various restaurants until the hour of 10 p.m., when the "Ghost Tours" began. The city's ghost tours are basically guided tours that take a group of spectators (namely, tourists) through several sites of old Edinburgh – Greyfriars being the most prominent of them.

The ruins of Holyrood Abby, at the eastern end of the Royal Mile.

Walking to the center of the Royal Mile, where the tours started, I frolicked to and fro from the starting point waiting for the tour guide to arrive.

When he finally did, I was told the disappointing news that there had to be a group of no less than 10 people or else the tour would be cancelled. You can imagine the relief I felt when, at the last minute, a group of 15 or so abruptly appeared from nowhere.

The tour itself was vastly informative, with more than few humorous quips. As the guide led us slowly throught the corridor of the graveyard, many details were explained about the history of Greyfriars. How it was the final resting place of over 500,000 people, how it was the site of a bloodbath during a religious war in the 1600s where up to 12,000 were killed, and how the man responsible for the carnage, a "Bloody" George Mckenzie, was himself buried there in his own personal tomb. The "Mckenzie Poltergeist," the name of the apparition believed to haunt the cemetery, is believed by many to be the man's ghost.

When the tour was over, the tour guide gave me a bit of information that was different from what I'd heard my first trip. Greyfriars was open at all times to the public. But the Coventer's prison, named for the religious group slaughtered there and the most haunted part of the cemetery, was off-limits.

Walking back to my hotel, I could think of nothing else.

I got back to my hotel and took a shower. The time was roughly 11:30 p.m., and still the thoughts captivated my mind. "Would a haunted place, any haunted place, be even more prone to phenomena during the time most associated with the supernatural, the 'witching hour,' midnight?" As my mind turned, I realized that my curiosity would not give me peace until such a question was deemed answered.

Grabbing my coat, I headed out the door at light speed. Across the long bridge and up a flight of stairs that lead to the Royal Mile, I was soon at the cemetery.

When I arrived past the barred gates, there was something different about it that I hadn't noticed before. First of all, it was totally empty. Not a soul in sight. This was particularly strange to me because, given that Greyfriars was open to the public, I was expecting at the very least to see vagrants or juveniles up to mischief or even tourists who had stayed behind on one of the tours. What also caught my attention was that there was now fog covering the whole vicinity. Fog so thick you could cut it with a knife.

Considering the appearance of Greyfriars, with its bold yet eerie tombstones and and large tombs, the fog did no less than give me the feeling that I was in a scene out of a 1970s Peter Cushing horror film.

Approaching the Coventer's prison, which of course was locked, I stood motionless. Hoping for any semblance of the bruising or scratches so many had claimed to receive from the malevolent "Mckenzie Poltergeist."

As I stood, I noticed strange sounds coming from every corner. Sounds that resembled the muffles of a small cat or rodent. Looking around with a heightened awareness, I was then taken by a feeling that time itself was standing still. Everything from the wind to the large trees in the middle of the cemetery seemed to move subtly. It was as if I was in some sort of dream-like state. Unfortunately, the feeling was short-lived. Standing motionless a few more moments, I decided to leave.

To this day, I really cannot pinpoint my exact feelings regarding the event. Was it excitement or some sort of subconscious fear? I cannot say. As I left the graveyard, I passed by the statue of Bobby, the dog world-renowned for the loyalty shown to its master, and gave it a pet.

Perhaps he knows the truth.

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Dominating the city's skyline, the 12th-century Edinburgh Castle marks the western end of the Royal Mile.
Dominating the city's skyline, the 12th-century Edinburgh Castle marks the western end of the Royal Mile.

For as long as I can remember, I have had a fascination with cemeteries – be it their peaceful, yet morbid exteriors or the fact that I'll probably wind up in one someday. I never overlook an opportunity to visit a cemetery. Especially if it's supposedly haunted.

I can't recall when I first heard about Greyfriars Kirkyard, the supposedly haunted cemetery located in the heart of Edinburgh, Scotland.

But I know it was the allure of such a place that brought me to Scotland in 2003 and again in 2010. The allure being that whatever supernatural force haunted Greyfriars had the ability not only to frighten someone, but to phsically harm them as well. It was during my second trip to Greyfriars when I had the opportunity to see for myself if those claims were indeed true.

It was the second day of my trip. I had kept myself busy seeing the usual tourist attractions and gorging myself in various restaurants until the hour of 10 p.m., when the "Ghost Tours" began. The city's ghost tours are basically guided tours that take a group of spectators (namely, tourists) through several sites of old Edinburgh – Greyfriars being the most prominent of them.

The ruins of Holyrood Abby, at the eastern end of the Royal Mile.

Walking to the center of the Royal Mile, where the tours started, I frolicked to and fro from the starting point waiting for the tour guide to arrive.

When he finally did, I was told the disappointing news that there had to be a group of no less than 10 people or else the tour would be cancelled. You can imagine the relief I felt when, at the last minute, a group of 15 or so abruptly appeared from nowhere.

The tour itself was vastly informative, with more than few humorous quips. As the guide led us slowly throught the corridor of the graveyard, many details were explained about the history of Greyfriars. How it was the final resting place of over 500,000 people, how it was the site of a bloodbath during a religious war in the 1600s where up to 12,000 were killed, and how the man responsible for the carnage, a "Bloody" George Mckenzie, was himself buried there in his own personal tomb. The "Mckenzie Poltergeist," the name of the apparition believed to haunt the cemetery, is believed by many to be the man's ghost.

When the tour was over, the tour guide gave me a bit of information that was different from what I'd heard my first trip. Greyfriars was open at all times to the public. But the Coventer's prison, named for the religious group slaughtered there and the most haunted part of the cemetery, was off-limits.

Walking back to my hotel, I could think of nothing else.

I got back to my hotel and took a shower. The time was roughly 11:30 p.m., and still the thoughts captivated my mind. "Would a haunted place, any haunted place, be even more prone to phenomena during the time most associated with the supernatural, the 'witching hour,' midnight?" As my mind turned, I realized that my curiosity would not give me peace until such a question was deemed answered.

Grabbing my coat, I headed out the door at light speed. Across the long bridge and up a flight of stairs that lead to the Royal Mile, I was soon at the cemetery.

When I arrived past the barred gates, there was something different about it that I hadn't noticed before. First of all, it was totally empty. Not a soul in sight. This was particularly strange to me because, given that Greyfriars was open to the public, I was expecting at the very least to see vagrants or juveniles up to mischief or even tourists who had stayed behind on one of the tours. What also caught my attention was that there was now fog covering the whole vicinity. Fog so thick you could cut it with a knife.

Considering the appearance of Greyfriars, with its bold yet eerie tombstones and and large tombs, the fog did no less than give me the feeling that I was in a scene out of a 1970s Peter Cushing horror film.

Approaching the Coventer's prison, which of course was locked, I stood motionless. Hoping for any semblance of the bruising or scratches so many had claimed to receive from the malevolent "Mckenzie Poltergeist."

As I stood, I noticed strange sounds coming from every corner. Sounds that resembled the muffles of a small cat or rodent. Looking around with a heightened awareness, I was then taken by a feeling that time itself was standing still. Everything from the wind to the large trees in the middle of the cemetery seemed to move subtly. It was as if I was in some sort of dream-like state. Unfortunately, the feeling was short-lived. Standing motionless a few more moments, I decided to leave.

To this day, I really cannot pinpoint my exact feelings regarding the event. Was it excitement or some sort of subconscious fear? I cannot say. As I left the graveyard, I passed by the statue of Bobby, the dog world-renowned for the loyalty shown to its master, and gave it a pet.

Perhaps he knows the truth.

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