Short stories

The MacKenzie Poltergeist, Greyfriars Graveyard, Edinburgh

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The MacKenzie Mausoleum in Edinburgh’s Greyfriars Graveyard became the final resting place of Sir George MacKenzie in 1691. During his lifetime ‘Bloody MacKenzie’ was the Lord Advocate for Scotland during the reign of Charles II. He was responsible for the persecution and abominable treatment of the Presbyterian Covenanters during a period in history known as the killing times. In total 18,000 Covenanters lost their lives for their faith. After the Covenanters fought and lost a battle with government troops at the Battle of Bothwell Brig in 1679, 1,200 Presbyterian prisoners of war were incarcerated in the infamous Covenanters Prison. The Covenanters Prison was heavily fortified but open-aired and is regarded one of the world’s first concentration camps. The conditions were appalling and prisoners were treated with utter brutality and cruelty, as a consequence most of them perished due to maltreatment or were executed. The prison used to be located directly next to the graveyard, but the site is now situated within the graveyard, following a later expansion of the burial grounds. The MacKenzie Mausoleum is positioned right next to what was the boundary wall. George MacKenzie requested this site for burial, his reason being that he was very proud of what he had accomplished in his persecution of the Covenanters.

The MacKenzie Poltergeist and the tormented souls of his victims are said to haunt Greyfriars. There are literally hundreds of accounts of sightings of ghostly apparitions, strange phenomena and poltergeist attacks, with many visitors to the graveyard having encountered some sort of paranormal activity, sustaining bruises, bites and scratches, having the sensation of being followed, and/or being knocked to the ground sometimes resulting in the individual being rendered unconscious. Even homes built next to the graveyard are plagued by crockery smashing, objects moving and unidentified laughter. The hauntings are said to have intensified in more recent years following the Mausoleum being broken into several times and George’s burial chamber and remains being disturbed. One incident in 1999 involved a homeless man breaking into the Mausoleum. He descended the staircase to the lower burial chamber containing the MacKenzie family coffins to seek shelter, he tripped in the pitch darkness, fell and crashed straight through the weak floor. He fell some distance and landed on something bumpy, not knowing what was around him he flicked on his lighter and realised to his horror he had fallen into a hidden room below, an ossuary filled with unidentified skeletons speculated to be a plague burial pit.

Want to hear more fascinating stories about the remarkable 16th century Greyfriars Graveyard? There are many tales to tell, some gory, some surprising and some endearing. Our expert guides will walk you around this legendary cemetery and share the intriguing and sometimes sinister history behind the time-worn tombstones. Following this, onward to the infamous and most haunted Niddry Street underground vaults, once an innocent subterranean street of shops and workshops, it soon fell from grace and descended into a filthy overcrowded slum and a playground of the destitute, prostitutes, criminals and witches….

Join us on one of Edinburgh’s most popular walking tours, The Vaults and Graveyard Tour… Make your booking at

Deacon Brodie, the real life inspiration for Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde

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The legendary Deacon Brodie (1741-1788), one of Edinburgh’s most fascinating characters, the real life inspiration for Robert Louis Stevenson’s book Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde. 

Living a polar opposite double life, on the surface he was a respected gentleman, a city councillor, Deacon of the Incorporation of Wrights and a professional cabinet maker and locksmith with a wife and children. Beneath the surface he drank and gambled excessively, had two mistresses and 5 illegitimate children. This hidden life was expensive to maintain, having drained his inheritance and running out of money he turned to crime to fund it… 

Part of his professional life involved him fitting and repairing locks, he would use this knowledge to burgle his wealthiest customers. One technique was to take their keys and impress them into putty so that he could later make a copy for himself to gain access to their properties. For long enough he went undetected, no one suspected such a respected member of society until one night he got greedy…

Brodie along with accomplices made a botched attempted to rob The Excise Office in Chessel’s Court. This led to his down fall, the game was up, he fled to Amsterdam but was arrested there and brought back to Edinburgh. With evidence mounted against him, he was trialed, convicted and sentenced to hang on the 1st October 1788 age 47 at the old tollbooth jail.

In an ironic twist of fate, he was executed on a new more effective style of hangman’s gallows, the new structure was of Brodie’s own design.

One of the stops in our Hidden Secrets of Edinburgh’s Royal Mile and Sinister Old Town Tour, is Brodie’s Close, his old workshop and home. Well, one of his homes. Do you want to know why this was only one of his homes? Join us for the tour, and you will find out more about this legendary burglar.

The mosaic heart on Royal Mile, UK No.1 spitting spot?!

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Ever wondered why there is a mosaic heart on Edinburgh’s Royal Mile and why it is traditional to spit on the heart as you walk past? 

This is the Heart of Midlothian.

Situated next to St Giles Cathedral, this was the site for over 400 years until its demolition in 1817 of Edinburgh‘s infamous, hated and much feared Tollbooth Jail. As well as being imprisoned in appalling conditions often falsely accused, criminals were brutally tortured and executed here. The balcony of the prison served as a means to carry out punishments and executions publicly. Criminals body parts would then be displayed on spikes protruding from the jail as a warning and deterrent, also on public display were offenders chained up in iron collars attached to the outer walls. Many notable figures of Edinburgh’s past were incarcerated here, such as Deacon Brodie, Major Thomas Weir, Sawney Bean, James Douglas 4th Earl of Morton and John Porteous of the Porteous riots along with witches… lots of witches. 

This building wasn’t just a jail, it was also a booth for collecting tolls hence the name, a court house, council chamber and meeting place for Parliament. It’s a wonder these latter mentioned institutions could concentrate for the the shrill of anguished screams! 

So why spit on the heart? The criminals used to spit on it to show their contempt for the atrocities that went on here for centuries… But nowadays, people spit on it purely for good luck! It’s not the most hygienic way to get good luck, but this is the only place in Britain where it’s legal to spit in public. So if you want to, please feel free to spit away!

In our Hidden Secrets of Edinburgh’s Royal Mile Tour, as well as our Sinister Old Town Tour, our professional costumed tour guide will tell you more gory stories about the infamous Old Tollbooth Jail and those “legendary” prisoners…

An authentic Wiccan Witches Coven in South Bridge’s vaults

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A true hidden gem in Auld Reekie’s vaults…

A perfectly preserved witch temple

A time capsule…

If you’ve never been on our tours, you probably don’t know, in Auld Reekie’s vaults, there is a GENUINE witch coven.

As part of our vaults inclusive tours you will see the AUTHENTIC Wiccan Witches Coven named The Source Coven of The Blue Dragon. Now inactive it remains in the same condition with the alter and space set for ritual, untouched like a time capsule following the death of the High Priest George Cameron aka The Hermit. George and his High Priestess, Lady Felina, officiated the UK’s first legal Wiccan marriage in these vaults in 2004 following the the repeal of the Witchcraft Act in 1951. The Source Coven is truly one of our capitals hidden gems. Situated in a subterranean underworld, once you have visited and heard the tales, you will never forget this place….

Please note, in order to protect the coven, visitors are not allowed to step inside this specific vault. But you can get close enough to see all the details that are left untouched. The dragon on the wall, the alter, the cauldron and all the “magic potions”… So many things to look at.

As a matter of fact, this is not the vault that George Cameron first picked! He picked another vault just a little bit further up the street, aptly named “The Stone Circle Vault”. So what changed his mind? And why do we ask people NEVER to step inside the stone circle?

You will find out on our tours….

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