Nessie and Other Strange Creatures of Loch Ness by Amy Van De Casteele and M J Steel Collins

 Ad Maskens/ Wikimedia Commons

Loch Ness itself is pretty impressive with or without a monster. Located 23 miles south west of Inverness, the Loch is the largest body of fresh water in the UK. Although its length of 22.4 miles is just pipped by Loch Lomond’s 23 miles, Loch Ness is the largest due to its depth of 754 feet, holding 263,000 cubic feet of water. Quite a lot for a cryptid to swim in! The surface of the Loch can also rise by as much as seven feet in heavy rain. Another interesting quirk is that due to the large amount of water, Loch Ness has a thermocline 100 feet down. This causes the top 100 feet to alter its temperature according to the weather, but the water below maintains a steady 6.6 degrees centigrade all the time. During the winter, the extreme cold causes the warmer water to rise, and the Loch lets off steam if it’s particularly chilly. Or Nessie has put the central heating on!

As for Nessie herself, the first indications of her may in fact go back to when Picts lived around the Loch. Romans arrived in the area at the time, and found several carvings of animals, most of which were recognisable. However, one depicted an eel like creature with flippers. It became known as a water horse (or Each-Uisge in Scottish folklore). The first ‘official’ sighting of Nessie occurred in 565, when St Columba and his followers arrived by the Loch.

There are slight variations to the tale, but a document from the 7th or 8th century has it that the band of Christians came across a group of Picts burying a man who had died after being being bitten by a monster in the Loch. St Columba directed one of his men to swim across the Loch and bring back a boat from the other side. As the man swam, a water beast rose to the surface and began chasing him. As the others looked on in terror, St Columba raised his hand and, in the name of God, ordered the beast not to touch the man. The monster halted and vanished under the water. The follower in the water was safe and St Columba’s entourage was joined by the Picts in praising the wonders of God.

The modern era of Nessie was born in 1933 with the construction of a road around the Loch. Users of the new road occasionally met some unusual local fauna. George Spicer and his wife were out when they saw a massive beast about 25 feet long, with a long neck, cross the road towards the Loch. A few weeks later, motorcyclist Arthur Grant almost crashed into a similar creature as it crossed the road and vanished into the Loch. The following year saw the publication of the infamous Surgeon’s Photo, which claimed to be the first photo of Nessie. Although it was claimed to be fake in 1975, and further debunked in 1993, debate still rages about it’s authenticity. And that was pretty much the start of Nessie mania. Down the years, this has taken in several Cryptozoological hunts, a myriad of sightings, more photos, the claim by the Italians that they had killed Nessie with a bomb in WW2, and during the campaigns for the Scottish Independence Referendum quips that Nessie had moved to England on the off-chance Scotland seceded after a photographer claimed to have taken the monster’s photo in Lake Windermere!

The area surrounding Loch Ness has the usual fare of ghostly tales. Back in the days when Cromwell’s New Model Army were holed up just by Inverness during its occupation of Scotland, it was decided to burn the town to the ground in a pre-emptive strike, just in case the locals rose against them. The army didn’t get far. They found Inverness was well defended – by the dead who rose from their graves and surrounding the town! Then there is the case of Castle Spioradan, formerly Castle Bona. It was the scene of massive bloodshed between the Camerons and Macleans, that ghosts haunted it to the extent it became abandoned and it’s name changed to Spioradan, meaning Castle of Spirits. It no longer stands.

But what Loch Ness has to offer, as well as it’s monster, is a brilliant cross section of classic Scottish supernatural entities – in particular, the Cailleach and the Kelpie/Each-Uisge.

Before the advent of Christianity and the institution of the single omnipotent (male) God figure, Gaelic mythology boasted a rich pantheon of gods and goddesses – each one usually connected in some way to a natural phenomenon such as a season, or to geographical features like trees and mountains. One of these figures, arguably one of the most ancient, is known as the Cailleach – which translates as ‘hag’ in modern Scots Gaelic and came from the Old Gaelic ‘Calleich’, meaning ‘veiled one’.

The Cailleach is believed to be an ancestor deity but is also connected to the weather, to the mountains and to the season of Winter. In fact in Scotland she is also known as Beira, Queen of Winter – and old legends say that she formed many of the country’s starkly beautiful mountains and hills, either by dropping stones from her creel or wicker basket as she walked, or by purposefully erecting them as stepping stones (depending on the story). It is said that she is the divine Mother figure, and from her the other gods and goddesses sprang forth.

She is linked to the goddess Bríghde – the Cailleach rules over the winter months from Samhain to Beltaine, while Bríghde holds sway over the summer months. In February and March the ‘pass-over’ of power between the two goddesses was once celebrated by our ancestors – and, in some cases, still is. Legend has it that February 1st is the day the Cailleach devotes to collecting firewood for the following winter; and if she intends the winter to be long and harsh, the first day of February will be bright and sunny to give her plenty of light in which to collect all the wood she will require to keep warm during the icy months to come.

There is a rich tapestry of beliefs revolving around this fascinating ‘crone’ figure. On the Isle of Man she has been seen in the form of a giant bird; in Scotland and Ireland the first farmer to complete his harvest must make a corn dolly to represent her and fling it into the field of a neighbour who has not yet finished collecting his grain. Then, too, there are some scholars who believe that the Old Irish poem entitled ‘The Lament of the Old Woman of Beare’ is in fact about the Cailleach herself. The poem speaks of this woman’s longevity and states that ‘…her grandsons and great-grandsons were tribes and races’.

There is even a Scottish glen named for the hag, and a fascinating local legend is connected to it which tells how the Cailleach, her husband the Bodach and their children were taken in by locals living in the glen, and how they made it green and fertile by way of thanks. When they departed from the glen they left several stones behind them, and told the people that as long as these stones were carefully placed to watch over the glen on Beltaine and then returned to their shelter on Samhain, the reign of prosperity and fertility would continue. Even now, the people of Glen Cailleach still move the stones according to the goddess’s instructions – and the valley remains green and beautiful.

There are a few tales of Cailleachs lurking in the hills around Loch Ness. One was Cailleach a’ Chrathaich, the Hag of the Craach. Living in the hill to the west of Loch Ness, she particularly had it in for the MacMillan clan. The Hag of the Craach’s favourite trick was to keep an eye out for passing travellers with whom she’d strike up a conversation, passing herself off as an old woman living in the hills. She would surreptitiously take the traveller’s hat from him without his realising – they would in fact leave, not realising they were bare headed. The Hag would sit and rub at the material until it was worn away, at which point the hat’s owner would drop dead instantly. In this manner, she killed several men, quite a few of them from the MacMillan clan.

One clan member she caught out was Donald MacMillan. Donald spent some time talking to the Hag when he realised who she was and that she had his hat. He ordered her give him his hat back ended up fighting her for it. While he got his hat back, his fate was sealed, as the Hag let out a blood curdling scream, telling Donald that although he got his hat back, in three weeks, he would die. Donald was left in a lather, and three weeks to the day of the curse, his friends and family gathered around him, praying for the curse to be lifted. But it wasn’t to be. At nine o’clock, Donald fell down dead.

The Kelpie is a water-bound mythological creature which is said to be dangerous and malevolent – though also sometimes heartbreakingly beautiful, when they appear in human form. Kelpies are said to dwell beside the banks of rivers or streams, and in this way are slightly different from the Celtic water horse, or Each-Uisge, which is said to be far more dangerous and can be found in the sea, in sea lochs or in fresh-water lochs.

Because of the similarity between the two, and also because of the sheer variety of stories told about them, it can be difficult to make general statements about Kelpies. They can be vicious and murderous – dragging innocent children to their deaths in the water – or appear as helpful fairy-tale creatures, seeking out human companionship in their loneliness. They can also show themselves in various physical forms. In one myth the Kelpie appears as a beautiful, well-muscled black horse; in another, as a wizened old man with ‘a malignant scowl’.

One rather romantic folk story, hailing from the Outer Hebrides island of Barra, tells of a Kelpie showing himself as a handsome young man in order to woo a beautiful mortal girl and take her as his wife. But the girl discovers the truth and, while the kelpie-man sleeps, steals the silver necklace he wears, which represents his bridle when he is in equine form. Instantly the young man changes into his true shape, a mystical horse, and the girl takes him home to her farm where her father puts him to work in the fields for one full year. When a year has gone by the girl mounts the Kelpie and rides him to visit an old wise man, who instructs her to return the silver necklace to the beast. When this is done he transforms back into a handsome boy and the wise man asks him which form he would prefer – will he remain a man or revert to his horse shape forever?

The Kelpie turns to the young woman and asks her if she will marry him, so long as he stays a man. She agrees, and the Kelpie thus opts for the human form – choosing mortality, in order to be with her. They marry…. and, hopefully, they lived happily ever after.

Unsurprisingly, as the body of water is already so steeped in myth and legend, Loch Ness was said to have its very own Kelpie. But unlike the handsome man of Barra, the Kelpie of Loch Ness was a much less amenable beast and appeared only in equine form, haunting the eerie woods and windswept shores of the famous loch back in the 1800’s.

Fully tacked up with saddle and bridle as if it were nothing more ominous than an escaped horse, the Kelpie thus hoped to lure a hapless mortal onto its back and drag him into the loch to drown. But a famous legend recounts how Highlander James MacGrigor captured the creature and cut off its bridle, without which it would surely die within the space of twenty four hours. The Kelpie – which could speak – tried to bargain and plead for its bridle to be given back, but to no avail. Dismally it followed MacGrigor all the way back to his home, where it told him that he could not enter the house with the bridle, as there was a cross over the entrance. By way of response, the cunning MacGrigor simply flung the bridle into the house through a window – and the outwitted Kelpie was forced to retreat to the woods to die, all the while cursing MacGrigor and its unfortunate fate.

Some Kelpie/Each-Uisge tales from Loch Ness seem to tie in with the monster; in fact, as as already been mentioned, the first ‘official’ Nessie sighting occurred in 565 when St Columba saw off an Each-Uisge determined to eat one of his followers having already killed a Pict fisherman. Perhaps it could be said that Nessie is the modern form of the Each-Uisge. One rather vivid Kelpie tale from Loch Ness involves two young brothers who were allowed to go fishing on the Loch by themselves for the first time.

The boys were warned by their father to watch out for the Each-Uisge, which appeared as a beautiful white horse wearing bejewelled, golden bridle. The boys promised to be careful, and off they went. They had a very successful day’s fishing, and were returning to the shore when the younger brother pointed out the Each-Uisge, noticing how beautiful it was. The pair became entranced by the creature’s unearthly power and walked slowly towards it.

But the eldest remembered their father’s warning and shook himself from the Each-Uisge’s spell. He tried to rouse his brother from the enthrallment, but to no avail. By this point, the youngest boy was already on the Each-Uisge’s back. The eldest suddenly, somehow managed to break free from the spell, and put up a hard struggle that he ultimately won to save his brother from the Each-Uisge hypnotic power by slicing through the beast’s neck with a sword. It turned out that the creature was a young man cursed by an evil wizard to live as an Each-Uisge until a person who had never lifted a sword cut off it’s head.

Further Loch Ness legends can be found in Tales of Loch Ness by Stuart McHardy, Luath Press


The Ghosts of Self Determination by M J Steel Collins

The Referendum for Scottish Independence is a very big deal. Scottish history is littered with skirmishes when the Scots have battled to rule themselves. And if it’s not a battle, there are even more ghosts up and down the land, quietly reminding us of when more violent methods were used in the name of Scottish self rule. If ghosts could vote, there is no doubt that they’d be joining the reported queues at the polling stations up and down Scotland. Here is just a short list of the battles that have resulted in some spectacular hauntings…

The Battle of Culloden, 16 April 1746

The last battle on British soil, which also saw the Jacobite rebellion squashed and saw something akin to martial law by the army, with the odd escaped Jacobite hiding out in caves and remote areas in the Highlands.

There have been strange stories of ghosts trooping around the area; one person refused to travel past the battlefield after seeing ghostly battalions lining up, whilst an elderly lady saw ghosts marching through her garden, which she discovered was on land where the battle took place. The battle is also said to be re-enacted each anniversary.

In 1936, a woman lifted a tartan plaid from one of the graves at Culloden, to find the ghost of a Highlander lying underneath.

The Battle of Killiecrankie, 27 July 1689

A battle from the first Jacobite uprising, that saw clans supporting James VII/II fight clans supporting King William of Orange. The Jacobites were successful in this one, though their leader was slaughtered. It had an interesting aftermath, where about one month after the battle, it’s ghostly re-enactment in the sky above the battlefield was witnessed. Word of this got back to King James VII/II, who sent a team to investigate. They saw another re-enactment for themselves and even recognised some of the apparitions battling above them, apparitions of men killed in the battle and men who had survived.

Strange things have been reported in the area ever since by several people down the centuries.

The Battle of Langside, 13 May 1568

Previously covered on this site, this saw Mary, Queen of Scots and her army taken on that of the Regent Moray. It was a relatively short battle, which Mary had tried to avoid as she had just escaped captivity Loch Leven, and was heading towards Dumbarton. However, her forces were headed off by Moray’s in Glasgow, and despite a positive start (if there really is such a thing in a battle), Mary’s army were defeated with a loss of 300. She later tried to reach out to her cousin, Elizabeth, but things didn’t turn out very well.

Ghosts are said to rise from the pond in Victoria Park, which was built on the battle ground, on the anniversary of the battle. Like Killiecrankie, they re-enact the battle in the sky, but really only for the odd person wandering home after a late night these days.

Strangely enough, what is probably the ultimate Scottish battle, Bannockburn, doesn’t have any reports of ghosts. It may be that over the years, any haunting has petered out, or the battle is too well remembered to merit a ghost story.

Thankfully, the decision of Scotland’s future involves a lot less bloodshed, well, apart from the odd fisticuffs between those getting overly keen in putting their point across. Hopefully the ghosts of 18 September 2014 will be a lot happier than their historical counterparts.


A Haunting Trip Doon the Watter by M J Steel Collins

The Glasgow Fair isn’t quite the event it used to be. Nowadays, it means only a few days off for Glasgow workers from the daily grind. But a few short decades ago, it saw thousands of happy workers leave the city in droves to enjoy what was for most the only proper holiday they got all year. And a holiday, in the days before the package trip abroad, meant catching a boat from the Broomielaw and sailing down the Clyde to one of several towns and villages dotting the islands and mainland coast of the Clyde estuary as it opens out into the sea.
In many cases, several families would head off to the likes of Dunoon or Arran for the entire summer, and were joined at the weekends by the workers in the family, who couldn’t afford to take the entire summer off. The Glasgow Fair and going ‘doon the watter’ really took off; benefitting working class families in the late 19th century when workers were given paid holidays. The exodus from Glasgow each July became a huge event, with the city train stations and docks bustling with several excited families armed with everything they needed for a wee break by the sea.
By the 1970s, air travel became more accessible and affordable, with many opting to take in the delights of Benidorm rather than Rothesay. The steamers down the Clyde eventually were phased out. The only one left plying the old routes today is the Waverley paddle steamer. Whilst the holidaying Glaswegian might be a lesser spotted creature in the Clyde estuary, denizens of another worldly nature are plentiful, as the following shows…
Greenock, Inverclyde
In 2012, the then Strathclyde Fire and Rescue Service (now the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service) received a request from a paranormal group, Darkside Paranormal, to investigate the Service’s heritage centre, a disused Victorian fire station in Greenock. Strange stories abound of the old station, with some trades people refusing to work alone in certain rooms.
The museum, in Wallace Place is reputedly haunted by the ghost of a small boy who died during the 1920s after falling from the fire master’s flat.
Gourock, Inverclyde
The Kempock Stone, at 49 Kempock St in Gourock has long been linked to superstition and witchcraft. The land on which it stands has a permanent ban on any building being erected there. Standing at 7 feet tall, the stone looks something like an old woman and is believed to be an old altar to the god Baal, or ancient battle memorial.
There was a tradition amongst sailors and other folk who worked at sea that Granny Kempock controlled the elements, and fishermen used to leave the stone offerings to ensure good weather.
In 1662, several women, including 18 year old Mary Lamont, were the main characters in a witchcraft case involving the stone. They were accused of trying to throw the stone into the Clyde to endanger shipping and attempting to use magic to pilfer milk. Lamont herself apparently confessed to dancing with Auld Nick himself round the stone. Needless to say, they were all executed.
Ghosts are still believed to dance around the stone on some evenings.
Millport, Isle of Cumbrae
A reliable source has it that staff at the Lady Margaret Hospital in Millport on the Isle of Cumbrae has had some interesting ghostly encounters, mainly of the apparitions of elderly ladies in their nighties. One in particular seems fond of the toilet. The hospital, founded in 1900, was once a fever hospital, where patients with infectious diseases were sent.
The Garrison in Millport was the site of a public ghost hunt in 2011, carried out by the Scottish and UK Paranormal Association. The Garrison, built in 1745, today it operates as a community venue, incorporating the GP surgery, museum, library and cafe. A newspaper report at the time states that some interesting phenomena had already been recorded on prior paranormal investigations carried out by the Scottish and UK Paranormal Association, and that it was hoped ghost walks could be operated in the building in future. The Garrison, located in the centre of Millport was the former home of the Earl of Glasgow.
Ardentinny, Cowal
One of the rooms in the Ardentinny Hotel is reputedly haunted by children who have woken occupants during the night.
Gairloch, Wester Ross
The site of some interesting cryptozoology; a monster which sounds like Nessie’s bad tempered cousin was reported by fishermen in 1918. They encountered a beast rising 30 feet out of the water, which then charged at them. Prior to this, circa 1527, sources have it that a rather angry creature emerged from the loch, attacking a hunting party and killing three of them.
Helensburgh, Argyll and Bute
Another Scottish water beastie, this time seen traipsing across the beach by a dog walker in 1962, before disappearing into the sea, leaving footprints, a malodorous scent and a traumatised dog.
The Isle of Arran, Firth of Clyde

The largest island on the Firth of Clyde, which is heaving with the ethereal:

Lochranza is at the northern tip of the Isle of Arran, replete with a loch with a small island and a ruined castle. The area is reputed to be where Robert the Bruce landed in 1306 when he arrived in Arran during his quest to win back the Scottish crown.
Lochranza also has fairy legends attached to it. In one, a local midwife was collecting the harvest with her neighbours when they came across a yellow frog. Someone was about to kill it when the midwife stopped them, feeling the frog was supernatural. Later, a young boy on a grey horse appeared to the midwife, informing her that she had saved the life of the Queen of the Fairies, who was in the habit of disguising herself as a yellow frog. The midwife was offered safe passage to fairy land and ended up as the Queen’s personal midwife.
Many legends are associated with the Machrie Moor Stone Circle, which rates with Stonehenge as one of the best in the UK. One of the many origin myths behind the circle is that it was created by a group of fairies flicking pebbles onto the moor below from the summit of Durra-na-each. There are several other stone circles to be found on the Isle of Arran.
Brodick Castlesits on a prominent spot on Arran and has an extensive history, and was in the Hamilton family for hundreds of years. It was occupied by Cromwell’s troops during the 1650s and has been attacked several times down the years. The castle has been added to over the years, and in 1958, became the property of the National Trust for Scotland. There are three supernatural tales associated with the castle.  The Grey Lady is believed to be the ghost of a plague victim, when it struck Brodick Castle. Peter Underwood writes that she has been seen by several staff members, presumably in the days before the castle was owned by the NTFS. She was seen on several occasions by ‘a psychic house keeper’ and a butler reported seeing her apparently stopping to talk to a tradesman one morning as he worked in the castle. The Grey Lady haunts the older part of the building.
Another ghost is of a man clad in green and wearing a wig, who haunts the library. A white stag has also been seen on several occasions when a member of the Hamilton family dies.
Rothesay, Isle of Bute
Rothesay Castle is a medieval castle, starting life as a wooden Norse stronghold, when the area formed part of the Norse Kingdom. Like many self respecting Scottish castles, it’s seen a fair few skirmishes, including several sieges by the English. The castle was restored by the Third Marquess of Bute in 1872 and 1879. It came under state control in the 1950s, and these days is operated by Historic Scotland, though still owned by the Stuart family.
The castle is haunted by a Green Lady, who dates back to the castle’s Norse days, when it was attacked by Vikings in the 13thcentury. A Lady Isobel, sheltering there saw her entire family slaughtered by the invading forces. One of the Vikings wanted her as his wife. But she was having none of it and killed herself.  Her greenish figure has been spotted several times on the castle tower and parapet.

Curiously, the Isle of Bute is the subject of a curse. The graveyard in Rothesay has a gravestone, which tells of a man who brought his family to the island to escape from a Cholera outbreak in Glasgow during 1900. Unfortunately, the entire family succumbed to Cholera on Bute and as a result, the man cursed the island.

Special thanks to Dr Patricia Barton, Claire Collins, Alex Henderson and James Campbell for their help in the compilation of this article.


The Nature of The Scottish Ghost Story by M J Steel Collins

Anyone who’s looked at ghost stories will notice after a while that they are of a finicky nature. Once you think you’ve got the tale pinned down, you discover it has at least one other version, or more. It certainly keeps the folklorist busy, but it is important to document the differing accounts as they arise, mainly as it shows how the story has developed over time. One thing I have learned to do, which is perhaps similar to what a paranormal investigator does, is not to accept a story at face value. The one thing where investigating ghosts and documenting their tales diverges is that when it comes to the story, the question of whether or not ghosts exist goes out the window. It is the story that matters.

Scotland has been described as the most haunted country in the world; truth be told, it is probably an even tie with Japan, but it can’t be denied that the ghost story is an important part of Scottish culture. This became clear to me back in university whilst doing my dissertation on ghosts and hauntings. The one thing that stood out was the story and the way in which it could change.

This sent me on an investigation on how ghost stories came about in Scotland. One of the key things that stuck out was the storytelling tradition. Before literacy became widespread, and obviously in an age when much of the population wasn’t glued to a flat screen TV, laptop, or such similar device, storytelling was the main form of entertainment. In fact, even getting caught up on current affairs was done by way of the ballad. It goes even deeper, if we take social theorist Walter Benjamin. Storytelling to him was a way of sharing experience, each teller putting their own impression with each recounting of a tale, giving it the various quirks and asides as the story was passed down. However, following the First World War, the increased dissemination of information meant that storytelling declined to be replaced by media.

Now we need to side step a little and have a look at legendary novelist, Sir Walter Scott. Some credit him with creating the modern Scottish ghost story. It is down to him that we have this romanticized view of the misty highlands, the ruined Scottish castle, and more importantly, the wistful, occasionally malevolent ghost. It has been said that Scott found the present ever so slightly dull, so he jazzed things up a little. In doing so, he also gave us the romanticised Scottish past. A little of Scott adding a part of himself to the telling of the Scottish experience a la Benjamin? Perhaps.

Taking Scott’s romantic notion of Scotland out of the equation and just looking at Scottish history in general, it’s fair to say that the Scots did make a habit out of doing nasty things to each other, just as the Scots and English appeared to hack chunks out of each other during their various skirmishes. This has given rise to the vast majority of Scottish ghost stories. The many ghost stories accredited to Glamis and Edinburgh Castles testify to this. It may be safe to say that ghost stories play a huge role in bringing Scottish history alive. Much of the Edinburgh Ghost Tour is made up of a huge slice of history, and the ghost story doesn’t make much sense without the historical context.

Benjamin is right in that the large dissemination by media has reduced oral storytelling – the main way in which we learn about ghost stories is via websites, blogs, podcasts, books, magazines, newspapers and TV shows. It’s no wonder we are saturated and that several ghost stories have umpteen different versions! The stories, like Chinese whispers, also change with each retelling; perhaps it’s the one thing from Benjamin’s theory that survived into the modern era. Scotland is an absolute minefield for the modern ghost story too. Edinburgh is arguably the main hive of Scottish tales, as seen by the healthy industry it has in ghost tours. That’s not to say other Scottish towns and cities aren’t coming out from under Auld Reekie’s shadow; Glasgow is starting to be given more recognition for haunting stories, and Dundee, Aberdeen and Paisley aren’t short of a few. Some of these places are beginning to spawn their own ghost tours. Mostly Ghostly in Dumfries and Galloway also do a sterling job running ghost tours around the area.

On a final note, Walter Benjamin would probably be heartened to know that traditional storytelling has been making a comeback in recent years, probably part of the wider scene of people getting back to their cultural roots. Storytelling in particular is rather important; it was after all the original means of sharing knowledge when culture was based on the oral, rather than written word. It also helps to bring places alive to people who may not otherwise engage with them. A castle on its own is just a castle, but throw in a few stories, it becomes so much more. An example of this can be seen in the Storyteller in Residence project at Crookston Castle in Glasgow, the ghost stories of which incidentally are scarcely recognised. Perhaps ghost tours can be viewed as a modern development of traditional storytelling?

More information:

Glasgow’s Haunted Hospitals by Amy Van De Casteele

Glasgow is an ancient city, which lies on the banks of the River Clyde, in the West Central Lowlands of Scotland. The land it rests on has been inhabited for millennia, and the city itself first came to prominence during medieval times, so it’s fair to say that Glasgow has witnessed its fair share of human life and all that it brings. Within the old buildings, the city’s foundations and the soil it lies on, there are countless memories and echoes of love, hope, despair, anger, suffering, violence, sickness, ecstasy and death.

The city is home to many fascinating old buildings and many of them are haunted.  Its hospitals are no different. Of course, it isn’t surprising that hospitals should become home to restless spirits, as these buildings are no stranger to death. But for the people who work there it must sometimes be a little daunting, to work in a place where you know you might turn a corner into an echoing fluorescent-lit corridor one night and come face to face with a former patient or a nurse who never wanted to leave her station…

The Glasgow Royal Infirmary, established in 1792, is just one of these haunted hospitals. Among its many ghostly inhabitants is the apparition of a former nurse, who strolls the corridors looking just like any other nurse – except that she is missing her legs below the knee. Meanwhile an old man named Archie lingers in Ward 27 and has been known to hold conversations with dying patients – and the surgical block of the hospital is said to play host to the spirit of a woman, supposedly a nun, who fell down a staircase as she tried to prevent someone committing suicide. Last but not least, another spooky story from the hospital recounts how a doctor had just received notification of a cardiac arrest on one of the wards and was hurrying to respond when he was stopped by a patient asking directions to the hospital exit. The doctor showed him the way and then hastened on to his patient – but when he arrived, it was too late. Most horrifying of all, the dead patient was the same man who had just asked him if he could show him the way out…

Meanwhile, in Stobhill Hospital, there is a well-known story of a helpful ghost who once helped a student nurse to save a patient’s life. The student nurse spotted a woman – who she thought was another nurse – slip into a side ward. Wanting to ask her something, the student followed – but when she entered the ward, she found that the nurse had vanished and the only person there was a patient who had fallen unconscious and needed urgent medical attention. Who, then, was the mysterious woman who had just vanished into thin air? Could she have been the ghost of a former nurse, trying to draw attention to the plight of a critically ill patient? No one will ever know.

Another well-documented hospital haunting is that of nurse Mary McLellan. In 1975, she was working in Glasgow’s Western Infirmary, and was preparing some equipment in a room just off a brightly lit corridor when she became aware of a silver-haired man wearing a blue dressing gown, who was standing in the corridor near the door to the opposite ward. He stood there for a few seconds, watching her, then disappeared. Mary wasn’t alarmed or suspicious in any way, thinking he was an ordinary patient. But a moment later a ward sister, who worked in that ward opposite the room where Mary was, came rushing up to her in a very distressed state because she too had seen the spirit – and knew him to be the ghost of a patient who had passed away two days ago.

Another famous ghost to haunt the Western Infirmary is the spirit of Sir William MacEwen, an eminent brain surgeon, who died in 1924. Shortly before his death, Sir MacEwen allegedly refused to operate on a young artist who had been admitted to the hospital suffering violent headaches. Shortly after, the artist fell down four flights of stairs in the hospital during one of his headaches and died. Sir William MacEwen is said to walk the hospital, regretting not performing the operation.

At the Victoria Infirmary in the city’s South Side, a strange shadow was seen by a member of staff taking a quick break outside. What appears to be the apparition of a disfigured dog, complete with green gunge was seen slinking about a ward by staff and a patient.

In the former building of the Paisley Royal Alexandra Infirmary, just outside Glasgow, staff reported all manner of things when it became a nursing home. Disembodied footsteps in the padlocked loft, beds being lifted and moved, the sound of running water and whispers in rooms with sleeping patients, and most eerily, the apparition of a man dragging a body bag! Though, it is possible the tales dated back to when the building operated as a hospital before it’s closure in 1988, when it was replaced by the Royal Alexandra Hospital on another site in Paisley.

These kinds of stories might make the hair on the back of your neck stand up, and make you reluctant to be admitted to hospital – but none of the ghosts involved in these hauntings are malicious or evil, merely the spirits of former nurses and patients who have not moved on. Perhaps, when you next visit your local hospital, you should take a minute to reflect on the spirits who may still wander those echoing corridors. Who were they? Why do they remain? Whoever they are, they probably deserve your compassion more than fright or horror. For once, they were patients too… or perhaps they were a nurse, or a doctor, who still likes to check in on patients now and again, from force of habit or genuine care…


The White Lady of the Southern Necropolis by MJ Steel Collins

The worn and be cloaked white lady statue standing above the grave of Magdalene Smith and her housekeeper Mary McNaughton was erected in their memory by Mrs Smith’s husband, John, a local carpet maker. The two women died in 1933 after being hit by a tram in Langside Road one rainy night as they headed home from church. Generally, this is the regular kind of tragic tale you will find associated with the graves in the Southern Necropolis in the Gorbals, where the two ladies are buried. But also typical of this cemetery – famous for a vampire hunt in the 1950s – this particular grave and statue comes with a story.
Many believe that the statue, known in Glasgow lore as The White Lady, is haunted. It’s an old story, one my grandfather was rather surprised was still doing the rounds. Given the date the women died, the story must have come to light not long after their deaths if it’s one my Grampsie can recall from his youth. The tale goes that the spirit of one of the ladies haunts the statue. People walking around the cemetery claim that the head of the statue follows them. The stare of the statue is also supposed to turn unwitting victims to stone; to prevent this from happening,  it is advised to run around the statue three times chanting, “White Lady, White Lady, White Lady”.
Whether or not anyone has actually been turned to stone, it’s hard to say. There were certainly no surprised looking Glaswegians frozen in statue form when I went to visit the Southern Necropolis last spring. The stare of the White Lady must also be a long one, given the size of the cemetery.  It took a good while to find the statue, made difficult by the fact it was stashed behind an overgrown bush. The neglect of the grave, presumably down to the fact the family are probably long gone, adds certain poignancy to the tale. It certainly looks like a grave that would have a ghost!
However, despite all my best efforts, the statue didn’t move its head and remained decidedly still. I’ve also yet to turn to stone. If anything, the story of the White Lady has to be one of Glasgow’s typical shaggy dug tales, probably created by the children who lived in the tenements that used to surround the cemetery. After all, it was the fertile imaginations of those same children (aided in by a US horror comic) that came up with the seven foot vampire lurking amongst the grave stones which sparked the 1953 hunt.

Dixon’s Blazes iron foundry used to be situated behind the cemetery until the mid 20th century. This caused the cemetery to be lit up with a red backdrop every night as the foundry worked 24/7. That would definitely be enough to inspire lurid tales from young fertile imaginations. These days it’s not as spectacular – the foundry has been replaced by a dull business park, whilst the tenements that used to surround the Southern Necropolis were razed in the 1960s. Other than strange stories surrounding an angel statue which hangs from a nearby apartment complex, The Gorbals are rather dull in comparison to the district’s heyday.

*To find out about the Southern Necropolis’ other creepy tale, the Gorbals Vampire, click here


Mr Boots by M J Steel Collins

Edinburgh is a strange place. Only Scotland’s capital city would have streets that are underground. This is because Edinburgh originally only took up a very small area of land. As the city grew, it didn’t expand onto the surrounding area, but grew upwards. Extra storeys were added onto the already existing buildings, the end result being that the ground floors and street levels in some parts essentially went underground.

Although the poorer members of society usually wound up literally at the bottom of this haphazard set up, they were still too close for comfort for the ‘better offs’ who wished to get away from the overcrowding. Eventually in the 18th century, this was remedied by the building of the New Town, which the rich moved into, leaving the poor to the squalid conditions of what became known as the Old Town.

Construction of the New Town saw the erection of several bridges, connecting the various hills that make up Edinburgh for ease of access. South Bridge was designed as a street for high class shops, with vaults built into the lower part of the bridge to act as cellars for the merchants. Unfortunately, the permanently rainy weather of Edinburgh hadn’t been factored into the construction and the vaults were found to be leaky as they hadn’t been waterproofed. Soon, the vaults and cellars were abandoned by the shops, and the poor, who had nowhere else to go. They were also used by bodysnatchers as they went about their questionable trade.

Life in this new underground ‘street’ eventually got so bad that the city fathers had it sealed over, pretty much the same as what happened with Mary Kings Close. Although, the first time Mary King’s Close got shut up during the plague outbreak in 1645, where the residents of the street were sealed in to meet their fate. For years, the vaults in the New Town were left mouldering away in anonymity, until the 1980s, when Norrie Rowan came across them and excavated.

It was obvious that the South Bridge, also known as Blair Street, vaults were something special. Once they were safe to enter (after a lot of restoration), they were open to the public on history tours. However, it soon became clear that these weren’t your usual Edinburgh historical walks. Things began to happen: things that put a whole new light on the vaults and gave them a reputation beyond that of a slice of history. Participants reported feeling as though someone was breathing down their necks, strange shadows – in one instance, a young woman got such a shock at a disembodied voice telling her to ‘GET OUT’ that she had to be taken to hospital for treatment.

Soon the historical tours were accompanied by paranormal tours, which became very popular. The tours, operated by Mercat, were well established by time I took one in as part of the fieldwork for my university dissertation on Scottish ghosts. The reputation of the hauntings was well established and had featured in the first season of Ghost Adventures. The vaults were also the location of a well known psychological experiment into the experience of haunting by Dr Richard Wiseman and Dr Ciaran O’Keefe in 2001 during the Edinburgh International Science Festival. The conclusions of the experiment were that people who believe in ghosts were more likely to report paranormal experiences; those experiences were reported in the parts of the vaults believed to be haunted (participants weren’t told which sections were reputedly haunted and which weren’t); and that ‘paranormal experiences’ were probably down to environmental factors, such as air movement and appearances of the vaults. The full report can be read here. Ghosts weren’t conclusively proven.

Yet, several people swear that the ghosts are there. Perhaps the most poignant, and most harmless are the spirits of a young boy named Jack and his dog, which are believed to have died after becoming lost in the vaults. Jack can occasionally be felt tugging on the sleeves of visitors to the vault, whilst others report feeling the invisible dog brush their legs as it trots past. Another theory is that Jack and the dog were killed by the man who went on to become the vault’s most alarming entity, Mr Boots. This ghost has scared several people, breathing down their neck, appearing as a dark shadow and yelling at unwitting visitors to get out.

He’s been seen as a full apparition, sporting a tricorn hat, blue coat and leather boots. He has been blamed for breaking up a pew in one of the vaults, and his footsteps have been heard echoing around the dark lairs. It’s thought he was an alcoholic rent collector who lived in the vaults. He makes no distinction in who he scares, be it tour guide or tourist. Both large and small tour groups have seen him, and he once scared two guides out of the vaults one morning. Phenomena Mr Boots has been blamed for include throwing stones, strange smells, rapid drops in temperature and sighs.

Another malevolent ghost is the Black Lady, who lurks in a corner of vault five. She particularly has it in for expectant mothers as it’s said she lost her own child whilst alive. In the same vault, in the opposite corner, is a much friendlier ghost, The Cobbler, who seems to be happy watching the tour groups go by. Those frightened by the Black Lady tend to feel better when they stand by the friendlier ghost. Another apparition to be encountered is that of a hanging man, occasionally seen dangling in one of the vaults.

The South Bridge vaults are certainly an oppressive place. During my own particular tour, I found myself glancing around the corners in slight trepidation at the mention of Mr Boots. Whether he was there or not is hard to say, but there certainly seemed to be some parts of the vault where he is supposed to lurk that the light doesn’t quite reach. My mum, who at the start of the tour said she didn’t believe in ghosts, came out wondering what the strange shadow was that she saw. Part of the vaults’ ‘charm’ is that it is quite understated, like the tours taken round there. They lack the pomp and circumstance of the other Edinburgh ghost tours and that’s probably what makes this the creepiest of the lot.