Greyfriars Kirkyard – the Most Haunted Spot in Edinburgh

It might come as no surprise that the most haunted spot in Edinburgh is a cemetery. Greyfriars Kirkyard in the Old Town is a favourite haunt for the city’s famous ghost walks.

Even if you don’t believe in ghosts or, like me, are on the fence about supernatural subjects, a walk around this historic graveyard is still interesting.

Burials have taken place at Greyfriars Kirkyard since the 16th century. Mary Queen of Scots gave permission for the convent garden surrounding Greyfriar Kirk to be used as a cemetery in 1562.

Since then, numerous notable characters have been laid to rest here.

This includes a man known as Scotland’s worst poet, William McGonnagal, and Sir Walter Scott’s father.

But the most famous grave belongs to a dog.

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Greyfriars Bobby – one of the graveyard’s most famous residents.

If there is anything that best demonstates the validity of a dog being a man’s best friend, then it is the tragic yet heartwarming story of Greyfriars Bobby.

Bobby, a tenacious Skye Terrier, was a loyal watch dog to Victorian police constable, John Gray.

When John died in 1858, Bobby stayed besides his owner’s grave until his own death 14 years later.

A memorial to this compassionate canine is located in front of Greyfriars Kirkyard and is always popular with visitors.

The words on it read:

“A tribute to the affectionate fidelity of Greyfriars Bobby. In 1858 this faithful dog followed the remains of his master to Greyfriars Churchyard and lingered near the spot until his death in 1872.”

People are always leaving flowers on Bobby’s grave…

While Greyfriars Bobby is rather a fluffy story about a dog’s undying love for its owner, this graveyard is also associated with tales of hauntings and strange goings on.

As a blanket of darkness turns this already spooky setting into an even more terrifying scene, it is time for the ghost walks.

The south section of the cemetery is a popular location to visit as part of these tours, because this is where the old Covenanters Prison can be found. More than a thousand Presbyterian supporters who were defeated by Government forces at the Battle of Bothwell Brig in 1679 were imprisoned here in awful conditions, caged up without any shelter. Many died.

Today, this area is covered with a number of monuments that did not exist at the time of the prison.

A man known as George ‘Bloody’ MacKenzie, who persecuted many of the Covenanters, is also buried in Greyfriars Kirkyard and his restless spirit is said to haunt the cemetery.

One of the graves that stands out is that of George Buchanan (1506-1582). This is because the headstone features a rather spooky face sculpture and there were freshly laid flowers.

Buchanan was considered to be one of the most distinguished Scottish humanists of the 16th century.

He was a Latin scholar who tutored Mary Queen of Scots before later going on to become a key figure against her rule, which ended when she abdicated in 1567.

He went on to tutor Mary’s four-year-old son – the infant King James VI of Scotland and future King James I of England – working to turn him against his mother by painting a picture of her as an adulteress and murderer.

The scariest parts of the cemetery are the monuments lining the walls. They are covered with evil-looking carvings.

A remaining section of the Flodden Wall can be found in Greyfriars Kirkyard.

This wall was part of a defensive structure built around the city, after the disastrous Battle of Flodden in 1513 where King James IV was killed.

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12 Comments

  1. March 4, 2012 / 23:28

    This is so cool. I love cemetaries and this one looks fascinating! I must visit it one day. Thanks for sharing these awesome pictures Alison.

    • March 6, 2012 / 20:34

      Cheers Darlene, it was spooky as hell but this was part of the appeal. Admittedly, I didn’t find out about some of the people buried here and the stories until I googled afterwards and then I was like “damn I missed this and that”.

    • March 6, 2012 / 20:30

      Thanks Abhijit, glad you want to visit Edinburgh – it’s such a cool city!

    • March 7, 2012 / 18:53

      Hi Payje, glad you liked the dog story and pics! It’s definitely a peculiar story that you don’t hear every day, which makes it interesting :-)
      Alison recently posted..Twenty Things To Do In EdinburghMy Profile

  2. July 22, 2015 / 21:48

    Great pictures I would love to visit the grave yard it looks absolutely fascinating .I have always had ghosts around me so I would not be at all scared .I loved the true story of Greyfriars Bobby such a faithful little dog x

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