A Scottish Halloween – gothic dining, a haunted house and horrible history

“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).

Edinburgh Old Town

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.

The Witchery by the CastleThe Witchery by the Castle

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.

The Witchery by the Castle

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.

The Hairy Coo, Scottish Halloween

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.

Haunted History Bus, Edinburgh

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.

Edinburgh Haunted History Bus

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.

Haunted History tour Edinburgh

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.

Greyfriars Kirkyard

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.

Yikes!

Edinburgh Haunted History TourEdinburgh Haunted History Bus Tour

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.

Boleskine HouseBoleskine House

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.

Turnip Lanterns

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.

Scottish Halloween Scottish Halloween

Guising

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.

Scottish Halloween

Dookin’

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.

Arnprior Pumpkins Arnprior Pumpkins

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 …..

22 thoughts on “A Scottish Halloween – gothic dining, a haunted house and horrible history

  1. Carving lanterns: reminds of when I was a schoolkid and we took a sugar beet that fell off the back of a lorry (in York) and tried to carve it for Hallowe’en. We broke at least one knife and probably gave up. Scots neeps must be softer.

    1. Ha ha – no Scots neeps are rock hard. Every Scottish household was full of bent spoons and broken knives at Halloween. 😂

  2. Always great to hear a body snatching story for Halloween, and good on you for being brave enough to go into Greyfriars too! Great post, and kudos for saying Burke and Hare were murders!

    1. I love Greyfriars, it’s always been my favourite place in Edinburgh. And with a maiden name like Burke, Williams murderous deeds have always been known to me. 💀

  3. Wasnt Boleskin House offered for sale awhile ago?
    Seems I saw that somewhere… guess it caught fire again to scare any new owners or stop a new purchase:)!
    Love the creepy blog, just missed Samhain there, left on the 29th, but took a great spooky pic of the kirkyard in Inverness before I left!

    1. Someone bought it just before it caught fire and it wasn’t insured so they’re trying to raise funds to restore it. Apparently they’ll make it available to followers of Crowley! It’ll cost a fortune to restore as it’s a Georgian listed building so has to be restored to its original design.

  4. OMGoodness…thank you for taking me on this spooky, informative Halloween tour. I felt like I was there with you and wished I had been. And, the childhood stories were delightful. And, what wonderful costuming on your sweet WWD and his Goofball nephew! I have known a few goofball Westies in my time and enjoyed every minute of them. Now I am waiting to hear what wonderful stories you will have for us during Christmas. You should write a book of your travels.

    1. Thank you so much for your lovely comment. We have many more adventures planned and some Christmas fun too so stay tuned.

  5. Sounds like a wickedly fun evening!
    And your story telling is,as usual,
    terrific!!! Casper looks spooooooky too!!

  6. Don’t know when I last saw a turnip lantern! Pumpkins are really not the same. Neither is Trick or Treating the same as guising when we had to do a proper party piece before getting our bags filled with goodies. I’m feeling old!

    1. I loved making turnip lanterns and guising was one of the highlights of the year as a child. It’s sad to see the old traditions disappear.

  7. Sounds like you all had a great Halloween.
    We went on a ghost tour of the vaults which ended up on Canongate Kirkyard. Couldn’t concentrate on the stories as we were too frightened – I think I gave an overactive imagination lol!
    Love the photos of the WWD in the pumpkin patch, muddy paws are cute. Fabulous range of bandanas too.

    1. Ha ha, it’s hard not to be spooked in Edinburgh’s old kirkyard after night fall. I love the Canongate too. It’s where Dickens came up with the idea for Ebenezer Scrooge.

      The boy has more bandanas than you can shake a stick at.

  8. Fun post, I was just thinking I should have done a Halloween post! I’ve been tempted to do the Ghost Bus Tour (for the name lol) but I’m not quite sold on it yet – the one you did looks really fun though! I’ve done a vaults tour and that’s really well worth doing (we also visited the kirkyard first). Love all the photos of Casper – he’s even got the perfect name for Halloween!

    1. He’s named after Casper the ghost. It was either that or Zero after Jack Skellington’s wee ghost dog. I’ve done both ghost bus tours in Edinburgh and Enjoyed them both. This one I preferred story wise as the history was factual. You definitely need to check them out. I’ve not visited the vaults yet but love Mary King’s Close. 👻

      1. Omg Zero!!!!! <3 That's amazing! Mary King's Close is really good but it's definitely more factual and less scary. The vaults are really interesting but pretty horrifying and of course it's a little more dramatised on the tours. Definitely worth doing though!

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