Ten Facts You May Not Know About Edinburgh Castle

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Perched high above Scotland’s capital city, Edinburgh Castle is a historic fortress that’s occupied Castle Rock since the 12th century. It’s had a long and colorful history throughout the centuries.

Currently the castle is the most popular paid attraction in Scotland. More than 1.5 million visitors pass through the castle gates each year. Additionally, the castle hosts the annual Military Tattoo, which takes place in the esplanade every August.

I’ve had the pleasure of visiting Edinburgh Castle twice. There is always something new to learn about this imposing fortress.

Check out these ten facts you many not know about Edinburgh Castle.

Ten Facts You May Not Know About Edinburgh Castle title meme

Most Besieged Place in Europe

Edinburgh Castle squared off against hostile forces a remarkable 23 times!

Notable sieges include the Longshanks Siege of 1296 when Edward I plundered the castle and sent its treasures to London. And during the Lang Siege, a government resistance from 1571 – 73, the castle declared its support for Mary Queen of Scots.

The last siege occurred during the Jacobite Rising in 1745, when Bonny Prince Charlie tried to take the fortress. He failed.

Sits Atop a Volcano

The volcanic explosion that created Castle Rock occurred millions of years ago.  Archaeological evidence shows that humans settled on the rock around 850 BC.

Builders constructed the castle in the 12th century, over the plug of the volcano’s vent.

Ten Facts You May Not Know About Edinburgh Castle rock
Ten facts you may not know about Edinburgh Castle – castle rock was once a volcano

The Castle is Haunted

It’s no surprise that this ancient structure claims to house a few ghosts. After all, the city of Edinburgh is considered one of the most haunted places in the world.

When tunnels were discovered beneath the castle and the Royal Mile, a young piper entered the passages, playing his bagpipes as he walked. Above ground, people tracked his progress by following the sound of the pipes. Suddenly, the pipes fell silent about half way down the Mile. Rescuers searched the tunnels but never found the piper. Today the faint sound of his bagpipes occasionally echoes through the tunnels beneath the castle and the Royal Mile.

In the castle dungeons, watch for the headless drummer boy who haunts that area. Other mysterious occurrences include misty figures that appear, sudden drops in temperature and invisible hands that tug at clothing and hair.

Oldest Building in Scotland

Due to battles in and around the castle, most sections have been destroyed and rebuilt. However, St Margaret’s Chapel remains intact, making it the oldest building in the country.

Queen Margaret married Scottish King Malcolm III around 1070. She was considered a good woman who cared about others. When Malcolm died in battle, Margaret died of a broken heart, a few days later. Their son, David I, built the chapel to honor his mother.

When Robert the Bruce captured the castle in 1314, it’s the only structure he spared.

Ten Facts You May Not Know About Edinburgh Castle St Margarets
Ten facts you may not know about Edinburgh Castle – St Margaret’s chapel is the oldest building

The Castle Grounds Contain a Dog Cemetery

Tucked into a garden, visible from the Argyle Battery, is a canine cemetery. This small patch of ground is dedicated to the dogs of the Scottish battalions. There lies Jess, the mascot of the Black Watch 42nd Highlanders and Dobbler, who accompanied the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders from  Sri Lanka to South Africa.

The dogs buried here are honored for their loyalty and service. Visitors cannot enter the cemetery however it can be viewed from above.

Time Keeping Gun

Since 1861, a gun fired from the castle grounds allowed sailors passing by in the Firth of Forth to adjust their chronometers to the correct time. Indeed, the whole city could set their clocks and watches by the castle gun.

Although no longer needed today by sailors, the ritual is now a tradition. The gun is fired daily at 1:00 pm, much to the delight of visitors.

Ten Facts You May Not Know About Edinburgh Castle gun
Today the gun is an L118 Light Gun, put into use in 2001.

An Elephant Once Lived at the Castle

In 1838, the 78th Highlanders returned to Edinburgh with an elephant. The elephant lived in the castle stables while his comrades lived in the barracks. He marched at the head of the band in regimental parades and developed a fondness for beer.

It’s told that the elephant reached into the canteen each night, for a beer before retiring. The memorial to the 78th Highlanders, on display in the esplanade, features an elephant carved into a stone at the foot of a Celtic cross.

The Scottish Crown Jewels Were Hidden Too Well in the Castle

Known as the Honours of Scotland, the Crown, the Sceptre and the Sword of State were used in Scottish coronations. However, after Scotland and England united under one crown in 1707, the Honours were locked into a chest for safe keeping and hidden away in the castle.

A hundred years passed and the location of the crown jewels was forgotten.

A party of searchers, that included Sir Walter Scott, found the chest in 1818. The Honours are on display again, in a protected room in the castle.

Sculpture depicting the crown jewels
Ten facts you may not know about Edinburgh Castle – the crown jewels were hidden away…and it took 100 years to find them again.

University of Edinburgh Students Will Not Enter the Gates

There’s a story told down through the years that if a University of Edinburgh student enters the castle gates, he or she will fail their final exam.

While it’s just a legend, many students are unwilling to visit the castle while studying at the university. They prefer to wait until they graduate!

The Castle Dungeons Held Many Prisoners of War

Edinburgh Castle dungeons housed at least 1,000 prisoners in the 18th and early 19th centuries. Prisoners from the Seven Years’ War, the American War of Independence and the Napoleonic Wars all occupied the dungeons.

Interestingly, 21 pirates of the Caribbean were found guilty of piracy and held there while awaiting execution. They were hung off the coast of Leith.

Ten Facts You May Not Know About Edinburgh Castle dungeoons
Ten facts you may not know about Edinburgh Castle – the dungeons held more than 1000 prisoners over the years.

Visit Edinburgh Castle

I enjoyed both of my visits to the castle. As one with Scottish DNA, it is a moving experience for me. There’s so much history and many stories to absorb while wandering that large complex.

The castle is open again and welcoming visitors from 9:30 am to 6:00 pm. Tickets MUST be purchased in advance through their website.

You can explore the grounds on your own or join a guide for an in depth tour. There’s a wonderful tea house on the grounds along with a cafe.

Any trip to Edinburgh, for those new to the city, should include a stop at Edinburgh Castle. Located at the top of the Royal Mile, the castle is impossible to miss. In fact, one of the things that I love about Edinburgh is stopping occasionally as I wander to orient myself by locating the castle. It’s a symbol of the city and therefore, significant to me.

Have you been to Edinburgh Castle? Did you learn something new about that fortress?

Me with the castle behind me
The castle behind me.

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Top Ten Places to Visit in Glasgow

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Glasgow, Scotland. It began as an industrial city on the River Clyde and transitioned into the cultural center of Scotland. While Edinburgh is the country’s capital, Glasgow is known for its Victorian and art nouveau architecture, and a rich legacy due to trade and shipbuilding.

Glasgow is home to the Scottish Opera, Scottish Ballet and National Theatre of Scotland. Additionally the grand old city boasts acclaimed museums and a thriving music industry.

While Edinburgh feels like home to me, I’d consider Glasgow the high energy weekend getaway city. Glasgow possesses a larger nightlife, with more night clubs, bars and pubs.

When planning a trip to Scotland, check out this exciting city and these top ten places to visit in Glasgow.

Top Ten Places to Visit in Glasgow title meme

A Few Things to Know Before You Go

Glasgow is the largest city in Scotland and the fourth largest in the UK. The people of Glasgow are Glaswegians. And don’t get off on the wrong foot by mispronouncing the city’s name. Glasgow is pronounced glaz – go. The word means “green hollow”.

Glasgow is a big sports city, with two major league football (soccer) clubs and a rugby club.

Add these top ten places to visit in Glasgow to your list of must see sites.

Glasgow Cathedral

This 12th century cathedral is also called St. Mungo Cathedral and the High Kirk (church) of Glasgow. It is the oldest cathedral in mainland Scotland and the oldest building in Glasgow.

The cathedral has never been unroofed and the medieval structure has continuously offered services within its walls for more than 800 years. The cathedral contains the finest collection of stained glass windows in Britain.

Beneath the cathedral lies the crypt, which predates the structure above it. The crypt houses the tomb of Saint Mungo, buried there in the 7th century.

Top Ten Places to Visit in Glasgow Cathedral
Top ten places to visit in Glasgow – Glasgow Cathedral

Necropolis

Near the Cathedral is the Necropolis, a gothic Victorian cemetery that covers 37 acres. It is nicknamed the “city of the dead”. More than 50,000 Glaswegians are buried here, in the cemetery based on the famous Paris Pere Lachaise cemetery.

Burials began in 1832. There are 3,500 memorial stones and structures in the cemetery and also sculptures and buildings. It is an atmospheric place to walk among the monuments, with beautiful views of the Cathedral and the city.

Top Ten Places to Visit in Glasgow Necropolis
Top ten places to visit in Glasgow – Necropolis

George Square

This square lies at the heart of the city. It features 12 statues of famous people associated with Glasgow, including Robbie Burns, Walter Scott and Queen Victoria. Town Hall dominates the east end of the square, with it 230 foot tower.

Just south of George Square lies the merchant district, a trendy area offering a host of unique cafes, restaurants and boutique shops.

Top Ten Places to Visit in Glasgow George Square
Top ten places to visit in Glasgow – George Square

Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum

In Glasgow’s West End lies a neighborhood of cafes, restaurants, high end shops, beautiful hotels…and the Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum. Since its opening in 1901, Kelvingrove offers fine collections of paintings including Van Gogh’s portrait of Glaswegian art collector Alexander Reid.

Other exhibits include Scottish archeological finds such as Bronze Age tools and jewelry, weapons from the 15th and 16th centuries and Flemish tapestries.

Top Ten Places to Visit in Glasgow Kelvingrove Art Gallery
Top ten places to visit in Glasgow – Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum

Glasgow Science Centre

The Science Centre, located near the Riverside Museum, is a popular place for families to gather. This hands-on centre, housed in a modern looking titanium clad structure, contains many exhibits and stations where kids…and adults…can learn.

The Science Centre also offers a planetarium, Imax theater and a science theater, where talks and lectures are regularly presented. And finally, check out the Glasgow Tower, the tallest freely rotating tower in the world.

Top Ten Places to Visit Glasgow Science Centre
Top ten places to visit in Glasgow – Science Centre

Riverside Museum and Tall Ship

This award winning museum includes exhibits from the city’s former Transport Museum. Exhibits include model ships, trams, locomotives, vintage cars and horse drawn carriages, most of which were Glasgow built.

The Tall Ship, docked outside, gives visitors a chance to explore the Glenlee, a restored three mast ship, also built in Glasgow.

Top Ten Places to Visit in Glasgow Riverside Museum
Top ten places to visit in Glasgow – Riverside Museum and Tall Ship

Buchanan Street

Buchanan Street is one of the main shopping thoroughfares in Glasgow. It forms the core of Glasgow’s famous shopping district with its upscale shops. Buchanan Galleries, what we in the US would call a mall, houses 80 retail stores. There are also many cafes and restaurants available along Buchanan Street, when shoppers need a break.

The street is named after a famous Glaswegian merchant, Andrew Buchanan, a successful tobacco plantation owner.

Top Ten Places to Visit in Glasgow Buchanan Street
Top ten places to visit in Glasgow – Buchanan Street

Kibble Palace and Glasgow Botanical Gardens

Kibble Palace, built in 1873, is one of the largest glasshouses in the UK. It houses rare orchids, tree ferns from Australia and New Zealand, and plants from Africa, the Americas and the Far East.

The glass palace is part of the Glasgow Botanical Gardens, where visitors explore extensive grounds and greenhouses and appreciate Victorian sculptures. There is also a garden tearoom to enjoy.

Top Ten Places to Visit in Glasgow Kibble Palace
Top ten places to visit in Glasgow – Kibble Palace and Glasgow Botanical Gardens

Gallery of Modern Art

Also called GoMA, this Romanesque building offers a changing roster of exhibits featuring local and international artists. Workshops and lectures take place here too.

Look for a traffic cone on the head of the equestrian statue of the Duke of Wellington in front of the gallery. It’s a playfully irreverent Glaswegian attitude on display. Local authorities don’t even attempt to remove the cone anymore.

Top Ten Places to Visit in Glasgow Gallery of Modern Art
Top ten places to visit in Glasgow – Gallery of Modern Art

Glasgow Green and the People’s Palace

Established in 1662, Glasgow Green is the oldest park in the city. It’s an easy walk to the park, from George Square.

One of the park’s main attractions is the People’s Palace, a museum built in 1898 that tells Glasgow’s story, from 1750 to the 20th century.

In the Winter Garden, a large conservatory located at the back of the palace, find a collection of tropical and subtropical plants. And the Doulton Fountain is the world’s largest terracotta fountain. Built to commemorate Queen Victoria’s Golden Jubilee, the fountain is 46 feet high and 70 feet across.

Top Ten Places to Visit in Glasgow Green
Top ten places to visit in Glasgow – Glasgow Green and the People’s Palace

Bonus Attraction

I love the lively spirit that pervades Glasgow. The people are friendly and very willing to talk about their love for their city. Although I didn’t make it to Glasgow on my most recent trip to Scotland, I’ve visited the city twice. As with Edinburgh, there is always more that I want to do and see when I visit. That just means I need to make more trips to Scotland!

One last bonus attraction awaits, for lovers of the British television series Doctor Who. If you are a fan, this spot, located near the Glasgow Cathedral, needs no explanation. I’ve taken a photo here twice. My last visit is documented below.

Which of these top ten places to visit in Glasgow are on your travel list? Or if you’ve visited this magical city, which ones did you see?

Top Ten Places to Visit in Glasgow police box
Is it the TARDIS?

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Ten Scottish Superstitions

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Superstition is defined as a belief or practice that’s not necessarily based in science. Instead, it’s a magical belief, a supernatural influence or a practice that’s passed down through generations.

I had fun researching good luck traditions in Italy and Ireland. When it came time to look at Scotland, I quickly realized superstition was a better word. Truthfully, most families hold to generational superstitions. Throwing spilled salt over the shoulder, not walking under ladders, knocking on wood or not opening an umbrella indoors are all superstitions I learned about in my family.

Scottish superstitions are deeply rooted. After all, Scotland is home to the Loch Ness monster and the country’s national animal is the unicorn. Magic abounds in Scotland as do fun superstitions.

Check out these ten Scottish superstitions and see how many you recognize or practice in your family.

Ten Scottish Superstitions title meme

May Morning Dew

On the first day of May, each year, Scottish women seek out the early morning dew. Applied to the skin, May morning dew becomes the ultimate moisturizer.

This practice harkens back to the ancient festival of Beltane. May dew is holy water. The druids thought of it as a source of beauty, vitality and good fortune.

In recent years, not as many women collect May dew. However, some Scottish women still rise with the sun to dab this elixir on their faces, hoping for a year of beautiful complexion.

Ten Scottish Superstitions may dew
Ten Scottish Superstitions – May morning dew

Black Sheep

The well known saying, “black sheep of the family”, originates from a traditional superstition among Scottish farmers and shepherds. The color black, long associated with Satan, means the birth of a black lamb foretells disaster for the rest of the flock.

Twin lambs, with black faces, indicates a poor lambing season ahead.

Ten Scottish Superstitions black sheep
Ten Scottish Superstitions – black sheep

Guising

Many Halloween traditions originate from the Celtic festival of Samhain. During Samhain, the Scots believe the veil between this world and the spirit world grows thin, allowing spirits to more easily pass through.

The Celts practice guising, putting on disguises, to pass unrecognized among the spirits. They also offer food as an appeasement, a forerunner of today’s trick or treating.

Ten Scottish Superstitions guises
Ten Scottish Superstitions – guising

White Heather

Purple heather covers the Scottish hills and mountains, blooming in early summer and again in late summer/early fall. The less common white heather, considered a lucky talisman, is worn by grooms on their wedding days.

The traditions comes from the folktale of Malvina, whose lover Oscar dies in battle. Before his death he asks his messenger to deliver a sprig of purple heather to Malvina, as a symbol of his eternal love.

Malvina weeps, her tears falling on the heather, which turns white in response. She proclaims, “May the white heather, symbol of my sorrow, bring good fortune to all who find it.”

Ten Scottish Superstitions white heather
Ten Scottish Superstitions – white heather

Birth of a Baby

Up until the 1950s, Scottish midwives attended the home birth of babies. They performed rituals, to ease the birthing process. The midwife unlocks doors and windows and ensures that no one in the house sits with arms or legs crossed, all to help a new baby into the world.

Ten Scottish Superstitions - baby
Ten Scottish Superstitions – new baby

Handselling

Another tradition connected to babies is handselling. A piece of silver, placed into the palm of a newborn, determines her future relationship with money.

If the baby grabs the silver item tightly, she will become frugal with her finances. And if she drops the silver quickly, she is destined to spend her money freely.

Ten Scottish Superstitions silver key
Ten Scottish Superstitions – handselling

Rowan Tree

The Scots plant rowan trees, with their bright red berries, on their properties to ward off evil. This tree is sacred to the Celts. It protects from all mischievous spirits and the “evil eye”. Plus, cooked rowan berries offer special properties for pregnant women. They protect the unborn baby.

Ten Scottish Superstitions rowan tree
Ten Scottish Superstitions – rowan tree

Fishing Boats

The fishing villages in the Outer Hebrides and Fife have strict traditions. If a fisherman passes a minister or a red haired girl, it’s a bad omen. The fisherman might choose to stay ashore that day.

He also won’t say the words “pig” or “rabbit” while onboard his ship. Both bring bad luck. Instead, if mention of these animals enter the conversation, they go by “curly tail” or “bob tail”.

Ten Scottish Superstitions - fishing
Ten Scottish Superstitions – fishing boats

Shoes on the Table

In Scotland, don’t put shoes on a table. This superstition actually comes from England. After a miner’s death, his boots rested on a table, as a show of respect.

Eventually, placing shoes on a table invited death to come, to the individual or his family. This tradition spread to Scotland.

Ten Scottish Superstitions shoes
Ten Scottish Superstitions – no shoes on the table. The bed is okay.

First Footing

First footing takes place immediately after the clock strikes twelve, on New Year’s Eve…or Hogmanay. According to tradition, the first person through the door, after midnight, should be a dark haired man bearing gifts of salt, whisky, shortbread, coal or a black bun. This dark haired man brings good luck to the household with him too.

It’s bad luck for a blond man to enter the house during first footing, as he is associated with the Vikings from ancient times, who were NOT welcome. After the first footing, anyone is allowed to enter, to exchange gifts and share food and drink.

Ten Scottish Superstitions dark haired man
Ten Scottish Superstitions – first footing

Do You Practice Any Superstitions?

Do you and your family practice any superstitions? Which ones passed down through the generations in your family?

I didn’t realize, until I did the research for this post, that “black sheep of the family” originated in Scotland. I’ll most definitely keep my shoes on the floor. And with the month of May approaching, I intend to collect morning dew from my garden, for my complexion.

I hope you enjoyed this peek into Scottish culture. It’s fun to learn about other countries and their peoples through their cultures, traditions and superstitions.

Check out Italy’s Good Luck Traditions and The Luck of the Irish posts too.

 

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Learn About Isle of Skye

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Have you heard of Isle of Skye? This beautifully rugged island off the northwest coast of Scotland is known for it picturesque landscapes, fishing villages and Highland sheep and cows. It’s the largest island in the Inner Hebrides archipelago. The coastline features peninsulas, narrow lochs and craggy cliffs, all radiating out from a mountainous center.

Skye connects to Scotland by way of the Skye Bridge and the Malaig – Armadale Ferry.

Those are the bare facts. There’s so much more to know. Come with me, over the sea, and learn about Isle of Skye and the magic that waits there for you.

Learn About Isle of Skye title meme

Watch Out for Sheep

More sheep than people call Isle of Skye home. Approximately 100,000 sheep roam the island, compared to a population of 10,000 people. Walking, hiking or driving, one must give way occasionally to herds of sheep as they cross a path or road. You can find the shaggy Highland coo wandering about too.

And another well known animal originated here. The Skye Terrier was initially bred as an exterminator on the island in the 16th century. Greyfriars Bobby is the most famous Skye Terrier.

Learn About Isle of Skye sheep
Learn About Isle of Skye – sheep outnumber people. Photo by Liam Riby on Unsplash.

Capital City

Portree, the capital of Skye, is also the largest town with 2300 inhabitants. Colorful houses line a harbor fringed by high cliffs. The tiny town began life as a fishing village early in the 19th century. Its name, Portree, is Gaelic for “Port on the Slope”.

Learn About Isle of Skye Portree
Learn About Isle of Skye – Portree

What’s In a Name

I’m always interested in word origins and the meanings behind names. Skye comes from the Norse words ski meaning “cloud” and ey meaning “island”. The island’s  history includes times of Pictish, Celtic and Norse rule.

I like the poetry of the literal name, “cloud island”.

Learn About Isle of Skye Glenbrittle
Learn About Isle of Skye – “Cloud Island”

Jurassic Park

Even earlier inhabits once occupied the island, back in the Middle Jurassic Age. Near Staffin, dinosaur footprints trail along the beach. Visible during low tide, these prints belong to the herbivorous ornithopods. Other footprints belonging to sauropods are located in nearby Brother’s Point.

Recently, however, new footprints connect to the fiercest of dinosaurs, meat eaters! This new series of prints, also discovered at Brother’s Point, belong to bipedal carnivores, smaller, older cousins of the T-Rex.

Stop by the Staffin Dinosaur Museum and then head out to find the tracks.

Learn About Isle of Skye dinosaur footprint
Learn About Isle of Skye – dinosaurs walked here

Oldest Continuously Occupied Castle in the Highlands

Isle of Skye is home to Dunvegan Castle, the only Highland fortress continuously occupied by the same family for 800 years. Located one mile north of the village of Dunvegan, the castle is the seat of Clan MacLeod and home to the Chief.

The castle’s architecture is unique in that it contains the work of at least ten building periods, ranging from the 1200s to the 1850s. In the 1840s and 50s, the 25th Chief completed a restoration to unify the various structures. Under the updates however remains five separate buildings, each with its own character and historical stories.

Learn About Isle of Skye Dunvegan Castle
Learn About Isle of Skye – Dunvegan Castle

Eternal Beauty

Skye is a magical place, full of history and stories. One legend says that if you stick your face in the water under Old Sligachan Bridge for seven seconds and let the water dry naturally, eternal beauty is yours.

The story goes that a mighty female warrior on Skye named Scathach fought Ireland’s favorite warrior Cu Chulainn for weeks and weeks. Scathach’s daughter grew tired of the battle. She journeyed to the Sligachan River, eyes filled with tears, and begged for the fighting to stop. The faeries heard her and instructed her to place her face in the water for seven seconds and she’d find her solution.

She did. The daughter prepared a wonderful feast. The smell of the food caused Scathach and Cu Chulainn to stop fighting. As a guest dining in Scathach’s home, Cu Chulain could do no harm to the host, ever. Because of the tears of love that spilled into the river, anyone who places their face in the water receives eternal beauty.

Learn About Isle of Skye waterfall
Learn About Isle of Skye – eternal beauty

Old Man of Storr

One of Isle of Skye’s most popular hikes takes the adventurer to Old Man of Storr, a magnificent pinnacle of rock in the northern part of the island.

The name comes from another ancient story. The old man of Storr was a giant who lived in Trotternish Ridge, an area in the north. He eventually died and when buried, his thumb and hand protruded from the ground, creating the famous jagged rock formation.

Learn About Isle of Skye Old Man of Storr
Learn About Isle of Skye – Old Man of Storr. Photo by Anna Jahn on Unsplash.

Speaking Gaelic

Until recently, Skye contained the largest Gaelic speaking population in Scotland. Through the 1900s, 90% of the residents of Skye spoke Gaelic. Although that percentage is much lower now, efforts to preserve the language are underway.

 

Learn About Isle of Skye mountain
Learn About Isle of Skye – Gaelic still learned here. Photo by Morgane Le Breton on Unsplash

Fairy Pools

One of Skye’s most popular destinations is the series of pools and waterfalls in Glenbrittle. Known as the Fairy Pools, these rock pools of clear spring water draw many hikers.

Glenbrittle is a valley through which River Glenbrittle flows. Many tributaries run down from the nearby mountains and into the glen (valley), including a stream of cascading waterfalls that form the Fairy Pools. The adventurous can swim in the pools although a wet suit is recommended. The water is icy cold.

Learn About Isle of Skye Fairy Pools
Learn About Isle of Skye – Fairy Pools

Popular Filming Location

Due to its beautiful landscapes, Skye is a popular filming location. Movies such as MacBeth, Stardust, King Arthur Legend of the Sword, The BFG, Transformers: The Last Knight and Snow White and the Huntsman all shot scenes on Skye.

Learn About Isle of Skye The BFG
Learn About Isle of Skye – popular filming location

Bonnie Prince Charlie

The famous Skye Boat Song, which serves as the theme song for Outlander, owes its origins to a young Highland woman. Fiona MacDonald risked her life to aid Bonnie Prince Charlie after he fled in defeat from the 1746 Battle of Culloden.

While hunters searched throughout the Highlands, Jacobite supporters created a plan to smuggle the Prince to Skye. Fiona agreed to help by disguising Prince Charles as an Irish maid and conducting him to Skye. They sailed “over the sea to Skye” with the Prince dressed in a calico gown, quilted petticoats and a headdress to cover his face. The Prince eventually escaped to France.

For her part in the plot, Fiona spent time in the Tower of London. After her release she married and emigrated to North Carolina where she lived for a time before returning to her beloved Skye. She’s buried not far from where she came ashore with the “lad who was born to be king”.

Fiona MacDonald
Learn About Isle of Skye – Fiona MacDonald

The Northern Lights

Northern Scotland, including Isle of Skye, lies in the same latitude as Stavanger in Norway, meaning the aurora borealis is oft times visible from the island. Late autumn and winter are the best times to experience the amazing displays. Cold, clear nights with limited light pollution and increased solar activity create optimal viewing conditions.

Learn About Isle of Skye aurora borealis
Learn About Isle of Skye – aurora borealis Photo by Joshua Harvey on Unsplash

Add Isle of Skye to Your Travel List

I hope this peek at Isle of Skye tickles your curiosity. I visited in 2017 during a family girls’ trip through the UK. We loved the rugged beauty of this island. It feels wild and unspoiled.

You can drive around the island in half a day…and spend months exploring its terrain and learning its stories.

Have you visited Isle of Skye? Would you like to? I look forward to a return visit someday.

Eilean Donan Castle
Standing in front of Eilean Donan Castle before driving across the bridge…the Skye.

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Movies That Inspire a Trip to Scotland

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Fourth in the Movies That Inspire Travel series, these are the movies that inspire a trip to Scotland. I’ve greatly enjoyed writing this series of travel related posts. Check out the movie inspirations from Italy, Ireland and England too.

If you’ve followed my blog for very long, you know that Scotland is dear to me. I grew up with an intense longing to explore this gorgeous country, after I learned about my Scottish roots as a young child. My dreams became reality in 2014, with my first trip to Scotland. I returned in 2017 and 2019. Truthfully, I think about my ancestral homeland daily. Scotland calls to me continually. I feel more myself, more at home there, than I do anywhere else in the world.

This collection of movies inspired me through the years, while I yet dreamed of visiting Scotland. And today they stir fond memories and ease…a tiny bit…the ache to return home.

Movies That Inspire a Trip to Scotland title meme

The Three Lives of Thomasina 1963

This early Disney live action drama stars Patrick McGoohan, Susan Hampshire, Matthew Garber and Karen Dotrice.

In this fantasy meets reality film, a young Scottish girl’s cat, Thomasina, helps bring a family together through her mysterious death and magical resurrection. Set in 1912 Scotland, this tender movie enchants both children and adults.

Fun fact: As is usual in films featuring animals, several cats played the role of Thomasina. One of the felines held up filming for two days by absolutely refusing to perform a stunt she had trained for.

Purchase The Three Lives of Thomasina

Movies That Inspire a Trip to Scotland the three lives of thomasina
Movies that inspire a trip to Scotland – The Three Lives of Thomasina

Local Hero 1983

This comedy drama stars Burt Lancaster, Peter Riegert, Peter Capaldi and Denis Lawson.

An oil billionaire sends his representative to a remote Scottish village, to secure property rights for a proposed refinery. While the villagers initially seem excited by the prospect of a cash windfall, the eccentric local hermit doesn’t share in the enthusiasm. He refuses to sell his portion of the beach where he lives. This is the story of a materialistic man who discovers the incredible beauty of a simpler life.

Fun fact: After the movie released in 1983, many people came looking for the quaint village featured in the film. The Scottish village is Pennan on the Moray Coast.

Rent Local Hero on Amazon Prime

Movies That Inspire a Trip to Scotland local hero
Movies That Inspire a Trip to Scotland – Local Hero

Rob Roy 1995

Liam Neeson, Jessica Lange, John Hurt and Tim Roth star in this historical drama.

In the Highlands of Scotland, in 1713, Rob Roy McGregor attempts to better the lives of those dwelling in his small village. He borrows money from a nobleman to purchase cattle to herd to market. When the money is stolen, Rob Roy becomes a Scottish Robin Hood to defend his family and his honor.

Fun fact: Actor Tim Roth feared losing the role because he played Archibald Cunningham as too eccentric. He even asked his agent to start looking for another part for him. Instead, the director encouraged Roth, asking him to up the level of eccentricity. Roth later received an Oscar nomination for his performance.

Rent Rob Roy on Amazon Prime

Movies That Inspire a Trip to Scotland rob roy
Movies that inspire a trip to Scotland – Rob Roy

Braveheart 1995

Mel Gibson, Sophie Marceau, Patrick McGoohand and Angus Macfadyen star in this historical drama.

Scottish rebel William Wallace leads an uprising against the English king, Edward Longshanks, who covets the crown of Scotland. With the assistance of Robert the Bruce and the clansmen of the Highlands, Wallace seeks freedom for all of Scotland.

Fun fact: When asked by a Scotsman why the Battle of Stirling Bridge was filmed on an open plain, Gibson answered, “The bridge got in the way”. “Aye,” the local responded, “that’s what the English found too.”

Watch for free on Starz or rent Braveheart on Prime

Movies That Inspire a Trip to Scotland braveheart
Movies that inspire a trip to Scotland – Braveheart

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone 2001

This fantasy adventure stars Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint, Emma Watson, Alan Rickman, Maggie Smith and Richard Harris….plus a huge ensemble cast.

Harry Potter, an orphaned boy, discovers the truth about himself at the magical Hogwarts School for Witchcraft and Wizardry.  Famous for an incident that happened shortly after birth, Harry learns that the wizarding world is more dangerous than he ever imagined.

Although Hogwarts attracts students from across Europe, the school is located in the Scottish Highlands.

Fun fact: Author JK Rowling hand picked Alan Rickman to play the role of Snape. Rickman privately received special instructions about the character from Rowling that shaped the actor’s portrayal. Those details about Snape’s backstory were not revealed until the final novel and film.

Rent the Harry Potter films on Amazon Prime

Movies That Inspire a Trip to Scotland - Harry Potter
Movies that inspire a trip to Scotland – Harry Potter

Dear Frankie 2004

Gerard Butler, Emily Mortimer and Jack McElhone star in this romantic drama.

Nine year old Frankie and his mum Lizzie continually move from place to place. Their most recent stopping spot is a small seaside Scottish village. Wanting to protect her deaf son from the truth about his father, Lizzie creates a false story. She writes Frankie letters that the boy believes are from his father, who is supposedly away at sea. When Frankie discovers the ship his “father” is on is due to dock in his town, Lizzie chooses to hire a stranger to play Frankie’s dad, rather than tell him the truth.

Fun fact: The actor who plays Frankie is not deaf. However, he worked with a speech coach so that his one spoken line sounded correct.

Watch Dear Frankie on CBS All Access or rent on Prime

Movies That Inspire a Trip to Scotland dear frankie
Movies that inspire a trip to Scotland – Dear Frankie

Stone of Destiny 2008

Charlie Cox, Stephen Cole, Ciaron Kelly, Kate Mara and Billy Boyd star in this comedy adventure based on a true story.

The films tells the fascinating and true story of four young Glaswegian students who, in 1951, successfully take back Scotland’s stone of destiny.  The 300 pound sandstone block is the stone that the kings of Scotland sat upon for their coronations. It was taken to Westminster Abbey in England as a spoil of war in 1296. Centuries later, these students outwit British authorities to return Scotland’s pride to its rightful place.

Fun fact: One of the real life students, Ian Hamilton, makes a cameo in the film, as an “older sour faced Englishman”. Ian passes the actor portraying him as he gets out or a car, shortly before he enters Westminster Abbey.

Watch Stone of Destiny free on IMDb TV

Movies That Inspire a Trip to Scotland stone of destiny
Movies that inspire a trip to Scotland – Stone of Destiny

Brave 2012

This animated film features the voices of Kelly Macdonald, Billy Connolly, Emma Thompson, Kevin McKidd and Julie Waters.

Determined to make her own way in life, Scottish princess Merida defies long held traditions, bringing chaos to her family and kingdom. Granted one wish, Merida must rely on her bravery and her archery skills to undo a curse.

Fun fact: Kevin McKidd, who voices Young MacGuffin, enjoyed working on this film. It was the first time in years that he used his natural Scottish accent in a movie.

Rent Brave on Amazon Prime

Movies That Inspire a Trip to Scotland brave
Movies that inspire a trip to Scotland – Brave

Macbeth 2015

Michael Fassbender, Marion Cotillard and Jack Madigan star in this drama inspired by Shakespeare.

Macbeth, Thane of Glamis, receives a prophecy from a trio of witches. They claim that one day, he will become King of Scotland. Spurred on by ambition and his wife, Macbeth murders the king and takes the throne for himself.

Fun fact: During filming on the Isle of Skye in Scotland, visibility became so poor that Marion Cotillard strayed into a bog and disappeared from view. It took two crew members to free her from the mud that sucked at her feet.

Watch Macbeth free with a Prime membership

Movies That Inspire a Trip to Scotland macbeth
Movies that inspire a trip to Scotland – Macbeth

Outlaw King 2018

Chris Pine, Stephen Dillane and Rebecca Robin star in this historical drama.

After receiving the declaration of “outlaw” by the English, Robert the Bruce raises an army of Scottish warriors in rebellion. He uses cunning and bravery to defeat the much larger and better equipped English army occupying Scottish soil.

Fun fact: After a screening of the film, the director cut 20 minutes from the movie. Included in the edits…a scene with an encounter between Robert the Bruce and William Wallace.

Watch Outlaw King on Netflix

Movies That Inspire a Trip to Scotland outlaw king
Movies that inspire a trip to Scotland – Outlaw King

When You Can’t Travel, Watch a Movie

The Three Lives of Thomasina, which I watched many times as a child, ignited a desire within my heart to visit Scotland. The other films, and more like them, kept that fire stoked. Even after my trips to Scotland, watching a film set in that amazing country creates a deep longing to return.

I am willing to feel the homesickness, as I watch movies that capture the rugged mountains and narrow glens of Scotland. And I willingly allow tears to fill my eyes when I hear bagpipes or that delightful Scottish brogue. These are invitations to return, from a land I consider home. When travel restrictions ease, I intend to answer that call.

How many of these films have you seen? And have you visited Scotland yet?

Movies That Inspire a Trip to Scotland eilean donan castle
I am home.

 

 

 

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Fun Scottish Expressions and What They Mean

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Ah, Scotland. For me, the most beautiful country in the world. And Edinburgh, the capital city, is my favorite place to explore. The bagpipes, the castles, the green, green hills covered with heather in the summer and the language all pierce my heart. If you’ve ever watched the popular series Outlander, you’ve perhaps appreciated listening to the soft Scottish brogue too.

It takes me about 24 hours, in the country, to begin to understand that wonderful Scottish accent. And the phrases and slang are both endearing and amusing. Sit in a pub and listen to the locals talking to each other and you’ll understand why it’s one of my favorite things to do while touring the country.

These fun Scottish expressions and what they mean will help you decipher what’s said.

Fun Scottish Expressions title meme

Fun Scottish Expressions and What They Mean

Although the Scots speak English, their language is influenced by Gaelic, an older language that harkens back to the 13th century. Like other countries, there are different dialects present, from the northern Highlands to the southern Borders. However, all Scots are experts at turning a phrase, from humorous slang to hilarious cutting insults.

Lang may yer lum leek

While this phrase may sound inappropriate, it literally means “long may your chimney smoke”. It’s used as a toast to health, wishing one a long and healthy life.

Failing means yer playin’

An encouraging expression that means “at least you are trying”.

Whit’s fur ye’ll no go by ye

This expression translates to “what’s for you will no go by you”, meaning what’s meant to be, will be. I love this one.

Haste ye back

Used as a farewell, this one means “come back with speed” or “hurry back”.

Ah dinnae ken

Heard frequently in Scotland and on the series Outlander, this expression means “I don’t/didn’t know”. I use ah dinnae ken often when I’m speaking aloud to myself.

Fun Scottish Expressions Highlands
Fun Scottish Expressions – Ah dinnae ken how beautiful the Highlands are, until I traveled through them.

We’re a Jock Tamson’s bairns

This one means we are all God’s children. No one is better than anyone else. We are all equals.

Noo jist haud on

No, just hold on, meaning wait a minute, take your time or you are speaking too fast.

Is the cat deid?

This unusual expression means, “your trousers are too short”. Why, ah dinnae ken!

Haud yer wheesht

If you hear this expression, you need to shut up!

Och, it’s a dreich day

A reference to the weather, this means it’s a cold, wet, gloomy day. Scotland definitely has it’s share of dreich days.

Fun Scottish Expressions Glasgow
Fun Scottish Expressions – a dreich day in Glasgow

I’m fair puckled

I’m out of breath. Try this phrase next time you climb flights of stairs!

Gonnae no’ da that

Don’t do that!

Yer bum’s oot the windae

Literally, “your butt is out the window”. This one makes me laugh because I get such a visual image. It means you are lying or exaggerating.

Ma heid’s mince

“My head is mince”, meaning I’m a bit confused or mixed up.

Mony a mickle maks a muckle

I love this phrase too. Say it fast several times. It translates to “small amounts of savings soon build up to large amounts.” What a great saying to write on a travel savings jar!

Fun Scottish Expressions lass
Fun Scottish Expressions – this lass believes in mony a mickle maks a muckle. My heart longs to return to Scotland.

Aye mate, nae bother

Yes, friend, no problem. I absolutely love the Scottish “aye”.

That’s pure boggin

When something is boggin, it’s disgusting. That’s pure boggin means “that’s really disgusting”.

She’s a bonnie lass

You might know this one, as we use bonnie somewhat in the US. It means “she’s a beautiful woman”.

Dinnae be a wee clipe

This one means “don’t be a tattle tell”.

Yer oot yer face

Another one that makes me laugh, this one means “you are extremely drunk”.

Fun Scottish Expressions cheers
Fun Scottish Expressions – we dinnae get oot our faces in Edinburgh!

Mad wae it

This means “drunk”, as in Ian wiz so mad wae it.

Och, yer talking oot yer arse

You might guess this one! It means you are talking nonsense or making something up.

Peely-wally

This expression is used when someone doesn’t look 100% his best or seems out of sorts. Yer lookin’ a bit peely-wally.

Wur tearin’ the tartan

When enjoying a riveting, gossipy conversation, people are tearin’ the tartan.

Dinnae fash yerself

Outlander fans are familiar with this phrase. Jamie utters it to Claire frequently. It means “don’t worry yourself” as in, don’t get stressed or annoyed over a situation. Jamie calls Claire Sasanach. In case you wonder, that word translates to “English born” or it can refer to someone born in the Scottish lowlands or borders as opposed to the Highlands.

Fun Scottish Expressions Eilean Donan Castle
Fun Scottish Expressions – dinnae fash yerself when you visit Scotland

Which of the Fun Scottish Expressions is Your Favorite?

Did you pick out a favorite expressions? Truthfully, I love all of them and use several, privately. I enjoy Scottish films. The background scenery, the city shots and especially hearing the language all tug me energetically back toward Scotland.

Reading these expressions as I typed the words, I could mentally “hear” them spoken with a Scottish accent. It makes me feel homesick. I trust travel restrictions will ease someday and I’ll get back there.

I’ll leave you with one more fun phrase.

Better tae bust oot than rust oot.

Translation: Live every moment of life to the absolute fullest before you die.

Aye!

Fun Scottish Expressions flags

Other fun posts in this series:

English expressions

Irish expressions

 

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Ten Fun Facts About Loch Ness

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Loch Ness in the Highlands of Scotland is a large, deep freshwater loch extending approximately 37 kilometers southwest of Inverness. It is one in a series of interconnected bodies of water in Scotland that extends from the east to the west coasts.

Loch is the Gaelic word for lake and Scotland has over 31,000 of them.

Loch Ness is best known for alleged sightings of the Loch Ness Monster, affectionately called Nessie. However, there’s more to this mysterious body of water than a sea monster.

Check out these ten fun facts about Loch Ness.

Ten Fun Facts about Loch Ness title meme

Ten Fun Facts About Loch Ness

Visitors travel to this beautiful area to enjoy the amazing scenery and to hopefully catch a glimpse of the loch’s famous monster. The loch and surrounding area are shrouded in mystery and history. Discover these interesting facts about Loch Ness that you may not know.

Largest Lake, by Volume, in the UK

It’s Scotland’s second deepest loch, however due to its size AND depth, Loch Ness contains more water than all of the lakes in England and Wales, combined! The loch contains 253 billion cubic feet of water.

Year Around Temperature

Loch Ness remains a steady 6 degrees Celsius year around. That’s a chilly 42.8 degrees Fahrenheit.  On warm summer days, the loch never warms up, making it too cold for swimmers. And even on very cold days in Scotland, the loch never freezes over. In fact, on those frigid days, steam rises from the loch, as it is warmer than the surrounding air.

Dark Water

The waters of Loch Ness are very dark and murky, due to the presence of peat washed from the hills by rain. The poor visibility underwater perhaps hides an ancient occupant. However, that murky water also hinders scientists in their attempts to locate Nessie. They have discovered thousands and thousands of golf balls though!

Ten Fun Facts about Loch Ness on the water
Ten Fun Facts About Loch Ness – the water is very dark and murky

Great Glen Fault Line

The loch is one of four in the Great Glen Valley. Glaciers carved this valley during the last ice age. Underneath the valley lies the Great Glen Fault Line. Although scientists sometimes detect seismic activity, earthquakes in the area are relatively rare. The last known tremor occurred in September 1901 and registered as a 5.0 magnitude quake. As a precaution, seismic buffers steady Kessock Bridge carrying the A9 highway out of Inverness.

Caledonian Canal

Loch Ness is part of the 60 mile long Caledonian Canal, built in the 19th century to allow ships to travel from the North Sea to the Atlantic without having to face the dangers of the Pentland Firth. The canal connects the east coast, at Inverness, with the west coast at Corpach, near Fort William.

Bona Lighthouse

Scotland’s smallest manned lighthouse, Bona Lighthouse watched over Loch Ness for more than a century. The lighthouse keeper put a lantern in the bay window, on the upper story, to guide ships from Loch Ness into Loch Dochfour. Today Bona Lighthouse serves as a charming holiday home.

Ten Fun Facts about Loch Ness
Ten Fun Facts About Loch Ness – the loch lies along the Great Glen Fault Line

Urquhart Bay

Urquhart Bay on Loch Ness and the surrounding woods near Drumnadrochit make up one of the UK’s last swamp woodlands. It is designated a Site of Special Scientific Interest and serves as a haven for birds.

Urquhart Castle

Located on the shores of Loch Ness, near Strone Point, this castle dates back to the 13th century. Alan Durward, son-in-law of King Alexander II built it. During its history, the English invaded it on several occasions. For a time it served as a stronghold for Robert the Bruce after he became king in 1306.

Upon his death, the castle passed back and forth between the Crown and the MacDonald Clan.

In the 1509 the castle passed to the Grant Clan who repaired it and brought it back into use. They added the five story tower.

In 1692 English forces blew it up to thwart the Jacobites. The ruins are cared for today by Historic Scotland and open to the public.

World Water Records

On September 29, 1952, John Cobb lost his life trying to gain the world water speed record. Traveling at 206 mph on Loch Ness in his boat Crusader, tragedy struck when Cobb hit an unexplained wake on the surface of the water. Because of the Englishman’s popularity with the people of Glen Urquhart, a memorial cairn is erected near the site of his accident.

Brenda Sherratt first swam the length of Loch Ness on July 28, 1966. It took her 31 hours and 27 minutes to complete the swim.

On August 31, 1974 David Scott Munro became the first person in the world to water ski the entire length of the loch. He covered 48 miles in 77 minutes at an average speed of 37 mph.

Ten Fun Facts about Loch Ness castle ruins
Ten Fun Facts About Loch Ness – the ruins of Castle Urquhart

The Loch Ness Monster

Of course I have to mention Nessie. After all, it’s what Loch Ness is most famous for.

The first recorded sighting of the Loch Ness Monster happened in 565 AD. Saint Columba supposedly came face to face with the monster, claiming the beast rose from the loch and tried to grab his servant. According to legend, Saint Columba commanded the sea monster to go back into the loch. It obeyed.

In 1933 builders completed a road adjacent to Loch Ness, offering unobstructed views of the water. Numerous sightings came in about a large “dragon or prehistoric monster”. One couple reported they saw the creature cross the road in front of their car and disappear into the water.

Monster hunters and scientists from around the world used sonar and other scientific equipment over the years, attempting to locate Nessie. None were successful. What they DID discover is that the loch is full of eels. It’s possible that Nessie is an oversized eel that occasionally appears near the surface.

Most photos of the supposed Nessie, including the famous one from 1934, are proven hoaxes. To this day, no solid evidence of the Loch Ness Monster exists, however the creature remains popular and certainly helps to boosts Scotland’s economy.

Ten Fun Facts about Loch Ness dark water
Ten Fun Facts About Loch Ness – it’s not hard to imagine that a sea creature lurks in this dark water

Visiting Loch Ness

I visited Loch Ness for the first time in 2014 and again in 2017. Nestled deep within the Highlands, this beautiful loch is well worth a visit.

One can drive in from Glasgow, Edinburgh or Inverness. Or there are many companies that included Loch Ness as a stop on their Highlands bus tours. I joined a Rabbie’s Tour in 2014 and enjoyed the day spent in this magical region.

Included with the tour was a boat ride on Loch Ness. Seated at the front of the boat, with the wind blowing my hair, I fell in love with the beauty and mystery of the loch. And I could easily imagine a creature swimming deep within the loch although I saw no signs of Nessie.

And in 2017, on the girls’ UK trip, my sisters, mother, niece and I drove along the loch, stopping several times to take in the wonder of the area. Quoting myself, I wrote then:

“This region is so wildly beautiful that it makes my heart ache and brings tears to my eyes.”

That is still true. I didn’t visit Loch Ness on my last trip to Scotland, in 2019, however the entire country haunts me and calls to me. I can’t wait for travel restrictions to lift, so I can “go home” to Scotland.

Have you visited Loch Ness?

Ten Fun Facts about Loch Ness Urquharg Castle Tower
Ten Fun Facts About Loch Ness – Urquhart Castle Tower

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Ghost Stories from Edinburgh

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Off to Edinburgh, Scotland for the third installment in the October Ghost Story Series. I decided to hold off for another week on my own hometown spooky tale.

Ah Edinburgh, my favorite city in the world. The capital of Scotland, this magical city offers much to enchant the visitor. With its charming cobblestone streets, medieval castle and historical stone buildings, Old Town delights while it hides a few secrets.

Check out these ghost stories from Edinburgh.

Ghost Stories from Edinburgh title meme

Edinburgh’s Long History

This city, nicknamed Auld Reekie, possesses a long, colorful history full of acts of bravery and the macabre. A center for education, philosophy, arts, literature, science and engineering, Edinburgh typically attracts millions of visitors a year. In fact, it is the second most visited city in the UK, right behind London.

Ghost hunters considered it a hot spot for paranormal activity. That’s not surprising considering its history that spans thousands of years and the labyrinth of passageways and rooms hidden beneath the streets and bridges of Old Town. I find the energy of Edinburgh electrifying and interesting, rather than frightening or dark.

“Scotland incorporates magic so thoroughly into its everyday life that the official national animal is the unicorn and its capital city, Edinburgh, counts “being haunted” among its local industries.” Unknown

Check out these five tales. And as a three time visitor to Edinburgh, I’ll share a couple of my own ghostly encounters.

Ghost Stories from Edinburgh unicorn
Magical Scotland claims the unicorn as its national animal so you know anything can happen here!

Greyfriars Kirkyard

This kirkyard, Scottish for churchyard or cemetery, is known to house a number of ghosts. Among the most famous, and on opposite ends of the scary spectrum, are Greyfriars Bobby and Bloody MacKenzie.

Greyfriars Bobby

Greyfriars Bobby is the small Skye Terrier dog that loyally remained at his owner’s grave, long after the man passed away. For 14 years the pup stayed nearby, surviving due to the kindness of the fine people of Edinburgh, until he too died and was buried in the kirkyard. Today visitors wandering in the kirkyard tell of hearing a small dog barking, near Bobby’s grave, when no dog is present. It seems that Bobby guards his owner’s resting place still.

Bloody MacKenzie

And then there is the more frightening ghost of the man called Bloody MacKenzie. A wealthy lord and lawyer, George MacKenzie punished thousands of Scots in the late 1600s, who refused to change their religion to the national one. It’s believed he’s personally responsible for more than 18,000 gruesome deaths, earning him the name Bloody MacKenzie.

MacKenzie rests in his mausoleum in Greyfriars Kirkyard. Or at least, he did until his tomb was disturbed by a homeless man who broke in late one night. The frightened man fell through the floor of the mausoleum, into a mass grave filled with plague victims from centuries before.

Since that night, MacKenzie prowls the graveyard. And although his mausoleum is closed to the public, ghost tours routinely take people inside. More than 450 people claim vicious attacks occurred, from an invisible assailant, while they were inside the building. Injuries include bruises, burns, scratches, lacerations and even broken bones. One woman passed out when unseen hands strangled her.

Others report hearing strange noises near the mausoleum or feeling nauseated as they walk by it. An exorcism was attempted at the mausoleum, in 2000, by minister Colin Grant. He claimed he felt the torment of hundreds of souls and the presence of evil. He left Greyfriars Kirkyard, distressed, and died a few weeks later of a heart attack.

Ghost Stories from Edinburgh MacKenzie Mausoleum
Ghost stories from Edinburgh – Bloody MacKenzie’s mausoleum

Grassmarket

Every medieval town used a square for public executions. This is true for Edinburgh as well. Nestled in the heart of Old Town, with fine views of nearby Edinburgh Castle, Grassmarket’s history includes a dark side.

Hundreds of criminals and people accused of witchcraft died there, up until 1886.

As you might imagine, especially for those labeled as witches, many people were innocent of their supposed crimes. Women thought to practice witchcraft suffered sleep deprivation until they finally confessed to crimes they did not do. As a result, the punishment was hanging or worse, burning alive.

Those innocents now haunt the Grassmarket area, sighing and sobbing over their unjust deaths.

Additionally, the White Hart Inn, located in Grassmarket, is one of Edinburgh’s oldest, and most haunted pubs. Parts of the pub date back to 1516. Paranormal activity there includes accounts of hair pulling, bottle throwing and apparitions captured in photos. Staff often hear footsteps upstairs, after the bar closes, and ghost hunters recorded a voice in that space saying “help me”.

Pub visitors also report seeing a pair of detached legs walking about and a ghost that hovers in the center of the cellar.

Historically, the murdering duo Burke and Hare lured victims away from the pub and killed them nearby. And a prostitute died in the pub in the 1800s.

Ghost Stories from Edinburgh Grassmarket
Ghost stories from Edinburgh – Grassmarket

Haunted Tolbooth Tavern

On the Royal Mile, Edinburgh’s Canongate area is home to one of the city’s iconic buildings, the Tolbooth. Dating back to 1591, tolls were collected here, from people traveling into the city.

The building housed an administrative center, courthouse and a prison before transforming into a pub in 1820.

Several ghosts, possibly the spirits of former prisoners, create havoc in the Tolbooth Tavern. Their antics include knocking pictures off the walls, flinging drinks from the tables and making banging and knocking noises.

Pub visitors report seeing ghosts dressed in old fashioned military uniforms. Historians speculate they are the departed spirits of jailer James Park and his assistant, who found themselves incarcerated in their own prison after helping prisoners escape.

Ghost Stories from Edinburgh Canongate Tolbooth
Ghost stories from Edinburgh – Tolbooth Tavern

Mary King’s Close

In Edinburgh, closes are narrow covered alleyways that branch off the Royal Mile. Mary King’s Close is named after a merchant burgess who resided on the close in the 17th century. Many people shared the close with Mary, packed into tall buildings. With no proper sewer system in the city, residents dumped waste into the streets, which attracted rats.

Those rats carried diseases such as the bubonic plague to the inhabitants, bringing death to Mary King’s Close. Legend says that the close was walled up, leaving the tenants to die horribly. In reality, the people were cared for as well as they could be, for those times. Many people died in the close, regardless of which story is true. The last occupant of Mary King’s Close moved out in 1902 and the area was sealed up.

The close lay abandoned and inaccessible for many years, buried beneath the Royal Exchange. Stories of hauntings began after workers reopened the area when they drilled down into the close accidently. The site is a popular tourist attraction today.

Annie’s Room

One of the most famous ghosts in the close is Annie. In 1992 a Japanese psychic picked up on feelings of hunger, sadness and pain inside a room. The psychic spoke to the ghost of a young girl named Annie, who claimed she was abandoned during the plague and died in the room. She said she couldn’t find her doll.

Feeling sad for Annie, the psychic purchased a new doll for the girl. Since that day, visitors from around the world honor Annie and try to make her happy by bringing her dolls, toys and jewelry. First responders such as police officers and firemen leave their badges as a sign of respect.

People that enter Annie’s Room report feeling inexplicable cold spots and claim a little hand grabs theirs.

Ghost Stories from Edinburgh Mary Kings Close
Ghost stories from Edinburgh – Mary King’s Close and Annie’s Room

Edinburgh Castle

High atop a volcanic rock, Edinburgh Castle perches majestically above the city. Surrounded by tall granite walls that shield 900 years of history, many ghosts supposedly haunt the castle grounds.

There’s the young piper who, two hundred years ago, set off to explore the castle’s hidden passageways that lead to the Royal Mile. He played his bagpipes so that people above ground knew his location. The music suddenly stopped and the boy disappeared without a trace. His body was never found but the haunting sounds of his bagpipe echo beneath the castle.

In the dungeons, a headless drummer boy wanders about. And a group of French soldiers, captured during the  Seven Years War, often make appearances in the dungeons as well.

Other activity includes shadowy figures walking around, sudden temperature drops and unseen hands tugging on shirt sleeves and trousers.

Ghost Stories from Edinburgh castle
Ghost stories from Edinburgh – the castle

My Own Ghost Stories from Edinburgh

I visited Edinburgh in 2014, 2017 and 2019. On two of those three visits, I experienced my own supernatural encounters.

Haunted Vaults

In 2014, two of my cousins and I explored Edinburgh’s underground on the Haunted Vaults Tour. Experienced primarily in the dark, with only the guide’s lantern for illumination, the vaults are extremely creepy. After leaving one of the vaults, the tour guide stopped talking as we all heard a loud crash from the dark room we’d just left. We all crept back into the room where she shone her light around, looking for the source of the sound. Nothing appeared out of order and no explanation for the noise was discovered. As I stood in the deep shadows at the back of the room, I felt a small cold hand take my right one. Surprised I turned to look. No one stood next to me on my right. I continued to feel that hand holding mine until we left the next room.

Shadow Figure in the Apartment

And in 2019, my sister and I shared a cute renovated apartment for the duration of our stay in Edinburgh. The building, hundreds of years old, formerly housed offices.

We experienced several instances of electrical things turning off on their own but we shrugged them off. However, one night, after a long day of walking in the city, I struggled to fall asleep. Restlessness overtook me. I began to hear popping noises in the kitchen and then the dining area and finally the living room. For me, restlessness and popping sounds are signs that spirit is with me.

Peering into the dimly lit living room, through the bedroom door, I saw the dark figure of a man walk by. He headed toward the window on the far side of the room, then suddenly changed directions and walked to the bedroom door. As I watched, the shadowy figure stopped at the door and looked around before turning away and disappearing. We slept with a light on in the living room, after that, so I could see better if the shadow man returned. He didn’t appear again.

However, I woke up a couple of mornings later, with two small burns on my left forearm, that weren’t there when I went to bed. I have no explanation for how I received those burns.

Will I visit Edinburgh again? Absolutely! I love this city with all my heart and I’d happily stay in the same apartment. For me, the veil between this world and the spirit world is thin. That fact no longer stops me from exploring and experiencing the world.

Ghost Stories from Edinburgh - burns
Unexplainable burns while in Edinburgh

More Ghost Stories

Check out these stories from Ireland and Italy:

Ghost Stories from Dublin

Ghost Stories from Venice

Do you have a ghost story to share? Add it to the comments below!

Ghosts Stories from Edinburgh group photo
Group photo in Greyfriars Kirkyard

 


 

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The Infamous Theft of the Stone of Destiny

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I first toured Edinburgh Castle in 2014, with my cousins Mindy and William. On that dreich day in August, we stood huddled around our tour guide Jonathan as he spoke passionately about Scotland’s Stone of Destiny, housed nearby in a room of the castle.

With his long red hair blowing in the wind and fire in his fierce blue eyes, Jonathan epitomized the proud Scots warrior, ready to defend his beloved country. I shivered as he spoke in his heavy Scottish brogue and it had nothing to do with the cold. He shared how the stone left Scotland for a time…a very long time…and eventually returned home where, he declared vehemently, it will remain.

And he intrigued me with a tale of the infamous theft of the Stone of Destiny.

When my cousins opted to leave the castle complex to attend a whiskey tasting, I chose to stay behind and see this Stone of Destiny that stirred such passion in our guide.

The Infamous Theft of the Stone of Destiny title meme

The Stone of Destiny Backstory

The Stone of Destiny, also known as the Stone of Scone and in England, the Coronation Stone, is an oblong block of red sandstone. This rather ordinary looking block of stone served for centuries as the coronation stone for the monarchs of Scotland.

The Scone Abbey near Perth, Scotland originally housed the artifact. Historian Walter Hemingford described the stone as “hollowed out as a chair on which future kings were placed for their coronation, according to custom.”

The stone measures 26 inches by 16.7 inches by 10.5 inches. A roughly etched cross decorates one surface while embedded iron rings aid with transport. It weighs 335 pounds.

In 1296 the English king Edward I took the stone as spoils of war and moved it to Westminster Abbey. A special wooden coronation chair became the stone’s resting place. Edward sought to claim status as the “Lord Paramount” of Scotland with the right to oversee its king.

All subsequent English monarchs sat in the chair, above the stone, when crowned. Queen Elizabeth II last used the coronation chair in 1953.

The Infamous Theft of the Stone of Destiny coronation chair
The Infamous Theft of the Stone of Destiny – illustration of the Coronation Chair with the Stone

A Daring Rescue Plan

In 1950, more than 650 years after the stone left Scotland, a group of Scottish college students concocted a bold plan…steal the Stone of Destiny and bring it home.

A law student at the University of Glasgow, Ian Hamilton joined with Alan Stuart, Kay Matheson and Gavin Vernon to break into Westminster Abbey and recover the stone.

Ian read everything he could find about the Abbey and scouted out the building several times. On one visit, he deliberately stayed past closing time, hiding near the Coronation Chair. A janitor discovered him and thinking the young man drunk, offered him a coin and let him out a side door.

During these surveillance trips, Ian found the side doors made of pine, making them easy to break into after hours.

On Christmas Eve, 1950, Ian and his companions drove to London in two separate cars. Arriving early on Christmas Day, the group parked near the Abbey. Kay remained in a running car, ready for a quick get away, while the boys stealthily entered the Abbey. That’s when the plan began to fall apart.

The Infamous Theft of the Stone of Destiny top view
The Infamous Theft of the Stone of Destiny – top view

Stealing the Stone of Destiny

The heavy stone rested in a chair made specifically for it. The young men found it difficult to remove the stone and ultimately broke part of the chair. Tugging the stone free at last, it fell to the floor, breaking toes on one of the men’s foot. More alarming to them, the stone broke in two.

Ian quickly grabbed the smaller piece and carried it to the car where Kay waited. He stashed the stone segment in the back seat. As he re-entered the Abbey, he heard a police officer approaching. Dashing back to Kay, Ian took her into his arms and kissed her. Questioned by the policeman, the pair claimed to be a couple searching for accommodations for the night.

Once the officer left, Kay drove off with the smaller stone segment hidden beneath a blanket. When Ian returned to the Abbey, he discovered the other men had fled. With great determination and ingenuity, the lad used his coat to laboriously drag the heavier stone segment out of the building.

As he heaved the stone into the trunk of the second car, his comrades returned. They all left together.

The theft discovered, roadblocks sprang up on all streets out of London. Kay did not draw suspicion, as a single girl driving a car. She made it through and crossed the border, taking her part of the stone to her family’s farm in Scotland.

The young men chose to hide the larger segment in England, fearing they could not make it across the closed border. They buried the stone in an empty field in Kent. Eventually they returned for the stone and successfully transported it to Scotland.

The Infamous Theft of the Stone of Destiny side view
The Infamous Theft of the Stone of Destiny – side view

Back to England

With the help of the Scottish National Party leader, the courageous college students had the stone repaired by a stone master. The theft made international headlines and brought a united sense of joy to the Scottish people.

As the investigation into the theft of the Destiny Stone came closer and closer to the perpetrators, the four decided that they had accomplished their purpose. By stealing the Stone of Destiny and bringing it home they raised awareness of Scotland’s subordination to England.

The four contacted two Arbroath town councilors and turned over the stone.

On April 11, 1951, the councilors helped the college students set up the stone on an altar in the abandoned Arbroath Abbey and called the authorities. The English got the stone back and returned it to the Coronation Chair. The students disbanded and never met again. Ian completed his studies and became a criminal lawyer.

The way was paved, however, for the stone to return to its rightful place in Scotland. In 1996 the English handed over the Stone of Destiny, on the condition that they may “borrow” it for any future coronations.

The Infamous Theft of the Stone of Destiny Robert the Bruce
The Infamous Theft of the Stone of Destiny – statue of Robert the Bruce

Viewing the Stone of Destiny

Twice I’ve viewed the Stone of Destiny in Edinburgh Castle. Both times I felt deeply moved.

The stone rests within a plexiglass case along with the Crown Jewels of Scotland. I can’t touch it yet I feel the hum of sacred energy that flows from it. My Scottish DNA responds, causing my eyes to fill with tears and my heart to beat faster. Photographs are not allowed so I spent several long minutes studying the stone, searing its image into my mind and soul.

What an amazing history this stone possesses. I love the courage and resourcefulness of the four young adults who accomplished what no one else dared. They took back what was rightfully theirs. That feat ultimately resulted in a permanent return of the stone and the Scottish are extremely protective of it now.

As an older adult, Ian said:

“When I lifted the stone in Westminster Abbey, I felt Scotland’s soul was in my hands.”

What a marvelous representation of Scotland’s hardy, warrior soul is the Stone of Destiny. Long may it remain in Edinburgh.

The Infamous Theft of the Stone of Destiny group photo
Group photo at Edinburgh Castle, September 2017

Want to watch a fun depiction of this true story? Check out the Stone of Destiny film, available through Amazon Prime. Click on photo to rent.

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Deacon Brodie Edinburgh’s Real Life Jekyll and Hyde

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There’s a fun, popular pub on the Royal Mile in Edinburgh. Called Deacon Brodie’s Tavern, the pub serves up classic Scottish and British fare, an assortment of cask ales and a rich history. The tavern bears the name of one of Edinburgh’s most fascinating residents, William Brodie. A respectable cabinet maker by day, Brodie led a sordid secret life by night.

In fact, he’s commonly referred to as Deacon Brodie Edinburgh’s real life Jekyll and Hyde.

Read his stranger than fiction story!

Deacon Brodie Edinburghs Real Life Jekyll and Hyde title meme

Who is Deacon Brodie?

Born in Edinburgh on September 28, 1741, William Brodie was the son of a successful cabinetmaker and the grandson of two renowned lawyers.

William grew up in the trade, becoming a fine craftsman specializing in domestic furniture such as cabinets and cupboards. Additionally, he was a skilled locksmith.

Because of his talents and his family connections, Brodie served as a representative, or deacon, of the guild and a city councillor. This position of influence brought him respect throughout the city…and a great deal of business.

Brodie socialized with the gentry of Edinburgh. He met poet Robert Burns and painter Henry Raeburn and enjoyed a membership at Edinburgh Cape Club.

When his father died in 1768, young Brodie inherited 10,000 pounds, a fortune in those days, along with four houses and the family cabinetmaking business.

Deacon Brodie Edinburgh's Real Life Jekyll and Hyde tavern sign
Deacon Brodie Edinburgh’s Real Life Jekyll and Hyde – one of two tavern signs

A Dark Secret

While Deacon Brodie garnered respect during the day, at night he shifted into a darker life of crime.

Because of his work he gained access to the homes of Edinburgh’s wealthy citizens. Making wax impressions of the household keys allowed him to fashion duplicates, which meant he could return at night or while the owners were away, and commit robbery.

For more than a decade he led a double life, craftsman by day and thief at night. However after his father’s death, he took his criminal activities up a notch.

In spite of his inheritance, Brodie required more and more money to fund his gambling habits and expensive lifestyle. He also supported two mistresses and five children that he kept hidden from society. As he continued to run up debts at night, his respectable daytime business failed to keep up.

Deacon Brodie teamed up with three other criminals. Together they preyed on businesses and large private homes in Old Town. Growing bolder, they eventually attempted to steal the revenues of Scotland, at the Excise Office in Chessel’s Court.

The botched robbery resulted in only 16 pounds and the gang disbanded. One of the members turned in two of the others for a reward, while Brodie fled the country. Authorities found him hiding in a cupboard in Holland. He returned to Edinburgh to stand trial.

Deacon Brodie Edinburgh's Real Life Jekyll and Hyde second sign
Deacon Brodie Edinburgh’s Real Life Jekyll and Hyde – alter ego

The Trial

Deacon Brodie stood trial for theft, along with one of his accomplices. The trial lasted 21 hours.

Found guilty, he was hung on October 1, 1788, in Lawnmarket, just steps from his birthplace and childhood home. A sizable crowd of 40,000 gathered for the hanging.

Deacon Brodie appeared for his execution in high style, sporting fine, tailored clothes and a powdered wig. One tale suggests Brodie also wore a silver tube around his neck, beneath his finery, in an attempt to survive the hanging. He supposedly bribed the hangman to ignore the tube and arranged for others to quickly remove his body and revive him.

The plan failed. Brodie’s body rests in an unmarked grave at St. Cuthbert’s Chapel. He was 47 years old at the time of his death.

Deacon Brodie Edinburgh's Real Life Jekyll and Hyde painting
Deacon Brodie Edinburgh’s Real Life Jekyll and Hyde – painting

The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde

Author Robert Louis Stevenson, whose father owned furniture made by Deacon Brodie, wrote a play called Deacon Brodie, The Double Life. Although the play was unsuccessful, Stevenson remained intrigued by Brodie’s double life. This paradox between the cabinetmaker’s light and dark personalities inspired him to write the novel, The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hydein 1886.

This tale became a classic, adapted throughout the years into films, musicals and plays.

In Edinburgh Deacon Brodie is remembered with the pub on the corner of Lawnmarket and Bank Street, and a close (covered alleyway) off of the Royal Mile called Brodie’s Close. The family’s residence and workshops were there.

Visit Deacon Brodie’s Tavern for a hearty, traditional meal and fascinating bits of Edinburgh’s darker history. The girls’ group I traveled with enjoyed a fun, leisurely dinner there and a couple of rounds of ale and cider.

The pub also serves breakfast and a delightful afternoon tea.

Have you heard of Deacon Brodie Edinburgh’s real life Jekyll and Hyde?

Deacon Brodie Edinburgh's Real Life Jekyll and Hyde drinks
Drinks and a meal at Deacon Brodie’s Tavern.

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