Legends of Eerie Edinburgh19th Oct 2015
To visit Edinburgh is to be surrounded by history. Our old town is entrenched in the past, with tales of the figures of times gone in every close, court and wynd. But within the historically traceable facts are the legends and myths of the town.
Some based around actual historical events, and many more elaborate works of imagination. With Halloween fast approaching, let’s revisit some of the more chilling legends of old Edinburgh.
On March 6th, 1566, the heavily pregnant Mary, Queen of Scots was having dinner in her apartments at the Palace of Holyroodhouse. Joining her that evening was her personal secretary and close friend, David Rizzio, who had come to Scotland from the Italian court where he had worked as a musician. Mary’s husband, Henry, Lord Darnley, was said to have been extremely jealous of the close relationship between the queen and the courtier, and decided to take revenge. He burst into the chamber with a group of assailants and dragged the screaming Rizzio from behind Mary’s skirts, onto which he was said to have clung. Rizzio was stabbed 54 times in front of the queen, dying in agony at her feet. On the floor of the chamber in which the murder happened is a dark stain, claimed to be the blood of Rizzio. Whatever attempts were made to remove the stain, it would always reappear. Perhaps the dead courtier is determined to be indelibly ingrained into the palace’s history for the rest of time.
The Death Coach
In the Canongate Kirkyard there is a fascinating gravestone, erected to the memory of the Company of Coachdrivers, a society that operated in Edinburgh in the 1760’s. The society may have been real, but the story of the coach that hurtles passed the graveyard is most definitely the stuff of legend. It is said that The Death Coach; a black carriage pulled by headless black horses and driven by the Devil himself can be seen on dark and gloomy nights. Be careful not to catch sight of it, or you might find you’re taken to your grave a little sooner than expected.
The Coffins of Arthur’s Seat
In 1836, five young boys were hunting rabbits on Arthur’s Seat when they made a macabre discovery. Buried in the soil were 17 miniature coffins around 10cm long, each containing a carefully carved and dressed wooden figure. No one has ever been able to successfully conclude who placed them there, or why.
Some say they were placed on the hill by witches, as part of a curse. Others have claimed they were left there by sailors as talismans by sailors, as a means of preventing death on the perilous high seas. One of the more popular theories is that they may have been left there as memorials to the victims of serial killers William Burke and William Hare, who suffocated at least 16 people to sell their bodies to the doctors at the medical school for dissection. As the victims were denied a proper burial, it’s been suggested that the tiny coffins are symbolic memorials to those who perished. We will simply never know the truth behind the mysterious coffins, but they have at least been preserved for us to wonder over, in the National Museum of Scotland.
The Ghostly Piper
Edinburgh has plenty of mysterious underground areas to explore, but one that you can’t pay a visit to is the legendary tunnel that is said to run under the Royal Mile from Edinburgh Castle, to the Palace of Holyroodhouse. No one knows if it actually exists, but there is a well known legend about soldiers in Victorian times that accidentally rediscovered it. After a night of drinking and high spirits in their barracks at Edinburgh Castle, they decided to play a prank on the townsfolk by firing the one o’clock gun in the dead of night. The unsecured gun misfired and blasted a chasm into the ground, revealing an entrance to the fabled tunnel. The regimental piper, a young and nervous boy, was coerced into the tunnel with his bagpipes and ordered to play his way along the shaft whilst the soldiers followed the sounds from above to determine how far the tunnel went. They listened for several minutes until the sound from beneath their feet abruptly stopped. The piper was never seen again, and when the soldiers investigated the tunnel for themselves, finding nothing but a dead end where the piper had last been heard. Still it is said that on quiet nights the distant sounds of subterranean bagpipes can still be heard from beneath the Mile. Why not have a listen this Halloween? You just don’t know what you might hear.