Greyfriar’s Kirkyard is a must for all paranormal fans – it is said by many to be the most haunted Graveyard not only in the UK, but possibly the world. An entity is said to attack visitors in a small section of this graveyard after a disturbance in 1998, and as of recording, the poltergeist has been blamed for 2 deaths, and over 700 injuries.
There have been burials in this Kirkyard since 1561. It was originally a ravine that dipped below ground level, but as more and more people were buried here, the ground is now a bulging hill. Official records estimate that there are more than 750,000 bodies here, but given that many more people were buried here under the cover of darkness to avoid costs, and the fact that there are also plague pits with an unknown number of bodies inside, that number could stretch to well over a million.
It is said that after bad weather (and in Scotland, that often is the case), the ground can become soft, and it is not uncommon to find human bones sticking up. Most of the bodies were not buried at 6 feet, and many are literally just below the surface.
The darkest part of this graveyard lies behind a set of locked gates at the far side of Greyfriars, known as The Covenanter’s Prison. The national Covenant was signed in this very graveyard in 1638, opposing the monarchy, but after the coventanters were defeated at The Battle of Bothwell Bridge in 1679, captured rebels were locked in a walled section of land to the south of Greyfriars. Many of these rebels would die in captivity, under the commands of a man called George Mackenzie. His ruthlessness gave him the nickname “bluddy Mackenzie.” The irony of this is that after George’s death many years later, he was buried just a few feet from the site of The Covenanter’s Prison. Many strange goings on are said to occur around the black mausoleum where his body is buried.
Today, The Covenanter’s Prison is part of the Kirkyard. After a need for an overflow due to a demand for more land to bury the dead, the Kirkyard was extended into the piece of land where thousands of poor prisoners were held for many months. A lot of the land was built on, but a thin strip of land containing tombs still exists.
And it is here where the hauntings are said to occur. In 1998, a homeless man broke into the black mausoleum while looking for a place to sleep during a storm. However, when inside, the man is said to have fallen through the floor and damaged the coffins of the bodies inside…including that of George Mackenzie. Just days later, all kinds of strange things started happening. People were reporting injuries inside the prison section. It became so severe that Edinburgh Council were forced to keep the gates to this section locked from the public. Only official tour guides have access.
In 2000, a priest named Colin Grant spent the night in the Kirkyard with a local reporter to perform an exorcism and to bring peace to Greyfriars. He would claim that he was tormented by the number of troubled souls in the Kirkyard. A photograph from the night even shows what appears to be a black figure behind him, watching. Colin was badly affected by his night in Greyfriars, and he would die just weeks later during a seance, after repeatedly telling people that something from Greyfriars was following him. The reporter from the local paper was also attacked while in the Kirkyard, and the next morning, she woke up covered in bruises.
In 2011, Dead Air Radio’s Chris Felton also has a strange encounter alongside Steve Taylor and the team when they had stones thrown at them, and all witnessed a white mist floating towards them, all while live on the radio.
I was kindly given access to spend the night in The Covenanter’s Prison section of the Kirkyard.
Visit Greyfriar’s Kirkyard
26A Candlemaker Row
Edinburgh EH1 2QE
Greyfriar’s is located in the old town area of Edinburgh. There are a couple of entrances to the Kirkyard which are open 24 hours. The most common way is behind the pub, Greyfriar’s Bobby, which is named after a small Skye-Terrier dog who is said to have visited and sat beside his owner’s grave everyday until his own death in 1872. Bobby is one of the biggest tourist attractions to Greyfriar’s, and there is a gravestone dedicated to him in the entrance. However, not many people know that the story is actually a load of fiction. While there really was a dog called Bobby, there is no evidence to prove the existence of his owner, ‘John Gray’. There is a gravestone for John along the East side of the Kirkyard, but nobody is buried beneath it.
We know that Bobby was a real dog. The most logical explanation is that he was a stray dog visiting a local butcher shop, who would often throw scraps out of the back window…and into the Kirkyard. Animals weren’t buried in Greyfriar’s, so we know his ‘grave site’ is not genuine. In fact, if you really want to know the exact location, some BT engineers found it in the early 2000s just outside these gates while installing fiber broadband. They were digging in the road and found a shoebox size wooden box containing Bobby’s bones. It was buried back in the same spot. That exact spot is where there is a grey rectangular patch of tarmac about 10 meters from the gates.
A lot of Harry Potter fans also visit Greyfriar’s, as it is believed that J.K. Rowling took inspiration for the character Voldermort from the grave of a man called Thomas Riddell. She was known to spend time in the Kirkyard, and would often write her novels in Elephant House Cafe nearby.
Another entrance at the bottom of the Kirkyard is opposite The Budget Backpackers hostel, which is one of the cheapest places in Edinburgh to stay.
When going in via the main entrance by Greyfriar’s Bobby, turn to the left, and walk along the tombs at the south side of the Kirkyard. When you see the black one, that is George Mackenzie’s. Carry on walking and you’ll see the locked gates of The Covenanter’s Prison. If you really want to go inside and brave the Mackenzie Poltergeist, you’ll need to book onto an official tour, with City of The Dead Tours
. They are the only group who can take you in. Their office is just on the right hand side of the main gates, and tickets can be bought online or from here. The tour starts outside St Giles Cathedral on the Royal Mile. It takes in some stories from around the ancient streets of Edinburgh, before taking the group into the Kirkyard, and then into the prison. The tour starts at 21:00 between Easter and Halloween, and 20:30 over winter, and costs £13pp. The tour lasts around 1 hour 20 mins.
People on this tour have genuinely been hurt by something while in the Covenanter’s Prison. There are photos on their Facebook page. People with pacemakers are advised not to attend – not because of the scares, but because electrical appliances have been affected in here, and a man in the past was taken ill with a pacemaker.
Note: City of The Dead also do tours into the Edinburgh vaults. That is also very much worth visiting!
There are many places to stay in Edinburgh. If on a budget, stay in The Budget Backpackers Hostel for £11 per night, and walk 10 seconds to get to Greyfriar’s. For hotels…take your pick!
Food and drinks is also a huge option. There’s everything from ubs that serve food and host live music, to Nandos and Pizza Express all within 5 minutes walk.