“It’s the most wonderful time of year.” Yes, that’s right Halloween is upon us again. What’s not to love about ghoulies and ghosties and long-leggedy beasties and things that go bump in the night? Forget pumpkin lanterns and trick or treat – Scotland has been observing Halloween or Samhain for longer than the good ole US of A has existed. That makes us Scots experts when it comes to the spookiest celebration of the year. Believe me, you’ve not experienced Halloween until you’ve experienced a Scottish Halloween.
So, sit for a while and let me regale you with tales of the spooktacular things we’ve been up to during this fiendishly fun month of October.
Dining with the devil – The Witchery by the Castle
Edinburgh is a city with a prim and proper New Town and a dark and sinister Old Town. Burke and Hare and Deacon Brodie once plied their wicked trade in the shadowy corners of Auld Reekie’s ancient closes. Real life characters who inspired fictional ones such as Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde (nice and not so nice – just like Edinburgh).
Mr G and I love a Halloween date night. Dinner, a couple of drinks, then a fright fest – what fun. We decided The Witchery by the Castle would be the venue for the dinner and drinks part of this year’s spooky date.
The Witchery is located in a 17th century close in the heart of Edinburgh’s Old Town. It’s the epitome of Gothic opulence. Think wood panelling, gilt, antique mirrors, tapestries, candelabras and Auld Nick.
We’d be wining and dining at The Witchery, before heading out into the night for the fright fest part of our date.
Frighteningly good food
Dutch courage would be needed, so we ordered a round of drinks before studying the menu.
We chose from the lunch/theatre supper menu which is available between 12 noon and 6pm and costs £25 per person for two courses. I started with garden pea & dill velouté with Anster cheese scones and Mr G had baked smoked haddock rarebit.
Pea soup would normally be the stuff of nightmares for me, but it was very tasty. Mr G’s fish dish was a real hit too.
For my main course I had mushroom risotto with parmesan custard and truffle oil. Mr G opted for fish pie. You can never have too many fish dishes in his book. Both dishes were superb.
We had time to spare, so decided to stay for dessert and another round of Dutch courage.
I have traumatic memories of being fed tapioca as a child. It looked like the spawn of the devil and tasted like it too. I was intrigued to find it on the menu, so ordered it in the spirit of Halloween. Mr G did too. Coconut tapioca with caramelised bananas. What have I been missing all these years? It was delicious and our stand out favourite course of the night.
As much as we’d have loved to linger with Beelzebub, drinking champagne by candlelight, we had to leave The Witchery.
Our night was about to get super creepy.
Haunted History Bus Tour – The
Scary Hairy Coo
You may remember I joined The
Scary Hairy Coo for a lovely Highland day tour in September? Well, they’d be supplying the scares for our Halloween date night. This time I’d be joining them on the Haunted History Bus for a terrifying tour.
Hopping aboard the bus on Waverley Bridge, we immediately regretted our foolhardiness.
We were ushered upstairs, before we had an opportunity to make a run for it.
Hopefully, we wouldn’t end up being chalked outlines on the floor like some poor soul before us had.
Our guide Olga, was a young lady from Russia. In life (I forgot to mention she was dead) she’d worked as an assistant to the notorious Doctor Knox. The very same Doctor who bought murdered cadavers from Burke and Hare. Even in the afterlife she was fiercely loyal to the dodgy doctor and refused to believe he was anything other than innocent. Hmmm.
Ghosts from Edinburgh’s past
No sooner had we set off on our tour, than the CCTV screens on the bus crackled and hissed and a ghostly apparition appeared on them. It was Maggie Dickson.
Maggie was born in Musselburgh (near Edinburgh) in 1702. She was a fishwife before moving to the Borders to work in an inn. While working at the inn Maggie had an affair with the innkeeper’s son and fell pregnant. She kept the pregnancy a secret.
Now here’s how she earned her place in the dark pages of Edinburgh’s history books. Maggie gave birth to a stillborn child (or so she claimed) and left the body wrapped in a blanket by the River Tweed. She was arrested and tried in Edinburgh. The court didn’t believe her version of events and Maggie was sentenced to death.
On 25th September 1725 she was hanged in public in Edinburgh’s Grassmarket. Maggie’s friends and family recovered her body to transport it to Musselburgh for burial. En route they heard knocking coming from the coffin. Maggie was still alive. As the court’s sentence had been carried out, she was allowed to live out her days as a free woman.
Today she’s known as half-hangit (half hanged) Maggie.
Maggie wasn’t the only ghostly apparition to join us on the tour that night. Murderer William Burke of Burke and Hare fame also made an appearance. Several other well kent Edinburgh faces of old did too, but I’ll keep them a secret. You may fancy hopping on the haunted history bus yourself one day.
As we travelled around town, our deceased guide recounted tales of murder most foul, plague and other botched executions.
You’d think that would be enough of a scare for one night, but Olga wasn’t done with us quite yet.
Into the haunted kirkyard we go
Greyfriars kirkyard is considered to be one of the most haunted graveyards in the world. So, where better to take a frightened tour group on a dark October night, than into the heart of haunted Edinburgh.
We huddled together for safety as we shuffled into the domain of the evil poltergeist Bloody MacKenzie.
Once inside the kirkyard, and in full view of the MacKenzie mausoleum, we listened nervously to tales of grave robbers, imprisoned Covenanters dying of cold and hunger and an evil spirit with a fondness for attacking tour parties aka The MacKenzie Poltergeist.
I’m happy to report that we all made it out of the haunted kirkyard and safely back onto the bus – phew.
Our ghostly tour flew by in the blink of a newt’s eye. It was factual, informative and hugely entertaining, with just the right amount of creepiness thrown in for good measure (we LOVED it). Olga, aka Polina was an excellent guide and storyteller.
The haunted history bus isn’t just for Halloween as Edinburgh’s ghosts linger all year round. So, the next time you’re in town and fancy a fright, get yourself booked onto a
Scary Hairy Coo tour. You can find out more and book here.
Halloween with Casper The Wee White Ghost
It’s not just Mr G and I who’ve been embracing the spirit of Halloween this ghastly month of October. The boy’s been involved in a whole host of Halloween shenanigans too. He even ventured where many wouldn’t dare to tread.
Boleskine House – enter if you dare
Boleskine House (or what’s left of it) is located on a quiet, leafy hillside near Loch Ness. It’s the sort of hillside where no one would hear you scream. The house was once the home of occultist Aleister Crowley, who came to be known as “the wickedest man in the world”. Boleskine has been damaged by a number of fires over the years, including one earlier this year. Weirdly, the house is said to have been built on the site of a medieval church that caught fire, killing the congregation inside.
Crowley used his secluded Highland home to practice magick rituals. In one particularly lengthy and complex ritual he’s believed to have summonsed terrifying, otherworldly creatures, before hastily leaving Boleskine and the demons behind.
One hundred years later, the house is still viewed with fear and suspicion.
Could Crowley’s demons still be roaming free at Boleskine House?
Who’d be daft enough to find out?
The Wee White Dug, that’s who.
Och, it was fine …
Well, other than the unexplained footsteps we heard coming from inside the ruins of the Crowley house, when there was no one there but us – Arghhhhhh.
Scottish Halloween traditions
Besides visiting haunted houses, the boy’s been learning about Scottish Halloween traditions. Don’t get me wrong, I love the costumes, house decorations and intricately carved pumpkins of an American Halloween, but the old Scottish Halloween traditions are dear to my heart.
Growing up in Scotland my Halloween lantern was made from a turnip not pumpkin. It took brute strength and determination to carve a turnip. As you probably know they’re hard and unwieldy. But, what a sense of satisfaction you got from seeing a creepy wee face light up your lantern, after you’d hacked away at it for hours with a knife and spoon.
I didn’t trick or treat either growing up, I went guising. Guising involved dressing up (usually in a home made costume) and going round the houses in the neighbourhood carrying your turnip lantern. To earn a treat (usually fruit, sweeties or small change), Scottish children would sing a song, recite a poem or tell a joke. We had to earn our goodies.
The boy and his Goofball Nephew thought guising sounded fun, so they decided to give it a try on a visit to Edinburgh’s Lauriston Castle.
Their first foray into traditional Scottish Halloween traditions paid dividends. Their guising efforts earned them a biscuit from the castle cafe.
Traditionally, once your turnip was carved and you’d been out guising, it was time for dookin’ (apple bobbing). In Scotland, we dooked for apples and monkey nuts (hands held behind the back and using our teeth). Dookin’ involved getting wet – very wet. And as for using forks. Pah, they were for wimps feard of water.
A nod to our friends across the pond
Ok, I know I said forget pumpkins earlier, but I was a massive fan of a little white dog called Snoopy as a child (I still am). The Great Pumpkin was very much part of my childhood, even though I’d never seen a real pumpkin back then.
That’s why I couldn’t resist taking The Wee White Dug to visit the pick your own pumpkin patch at Arnprior Farm near Stirling. They have pick your own neeps (turnips) too, for the traditionalists amongst us.
We didn’t meet the elusive Great Pumpkin during our visit, but as you can see the boy had a ball. Muddy feet and happy face = lots of fun.
And apparently, raw pumpkin is super tasty – blearghhh.
Happy Halloween from Scotland
I hope you’ve enjoyed this frightening little foray into a traditional Scottish Halloween.
However you celebrate this All Hallows Eve, I hope you have a ghoulishly good time – Mwahahahahaha.
Our tickets for the Haunted Edinburgh Tour with The
Scary Hairy Coo were provided on a complimentary basis, however all opinions are my own.
Until next time …..