Author seeks paranormal tales of Edinburgh after terrifying supernatural encounter
As the phantom hound bounded towards him late one night in The Witchery, Graeme Milne felt a chill run through him. Now the author is asking the people of Edinburgh to share their own terrifying tales of the Capital with him.
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Recalling his encounter with the canine apparition, the 57-year-old who is also a guide with the tour company Edinburgh Explorers, recalls, "When my wife Carol and I got married at the Castle in 2013, we stayed at The Witchery for our wedding night.
"The next day, when I went to check out, the chap told me our pals had phoned up and booked us a second night as a surprise. We were really delighted because The Witchery is obviously very expensive.
“On that second night I had a weird experience. We were in the same rooms, the Armoury Suite, only now there was a strange atmosphere. It was different. Heavy. Carol, who is a spiritual healer and quite sensitive to these things, wasn't very happy. Feeling unnerved she went to bed, while I stayed up to make some tea.
“The suite had a long corridor leading to a kitchen. On the way back, as I was carrying two big mugs of tea, I was trying to open the bedroom door with my elbow when, suddenly, I could her a dog scraping its claws on the stone floor. Then the dog appeared in front of me out of nowhere - it was a great big, skinny Irish wolfhound.
"It bolted towards me and was upon me in about three seconds, the tea went up in the air, but as it reached me the hound just vanished. That was a scary one."
It's just one of a number of paranormal experiences Aberdeen-born Milne has had and, although always keen to debunk a ghost story if he can, he admits, "I do believe there is evidence to support the idea of life continuing after we pass, but I don't think this can be backed up by just storytelling.
"Edinburgh has a rich history of that, particularly spooky tales. They are fun to listen to and people find them enjoyable but during my research there have been a few that, on the face of it, sound terrifying but have been greatly exaggerated or are simply untrue.
"Sometimes guides repeat tales they’ve read despite the source material being wrong. Sometimes, they make it up. It's just entertainment for most folk, so the truth gets twisted over time."
Which is why Milne believes that "scratching beneath the surface is sometimes more interesting".
He continues, "A good example is the ghost of John Chiesley, who allegedly haunted Dalry and some of the closes on the High Street.
"He was executed for killing a magistrate after which his body was secreted in Dalry, where his ghost was later seen. Many guides describe how, in 1965, a male skeleton was dug up during a refurbishment in Dalry and, when the remains were re-buried, the haunting ceased.
"The year was probably plucked from the air as I discovered the story was mentioned in a letter written by Walter Scott in the 1820s, which mentioned a male skeleton being found in a Dalry house owned by one of his relatives.
"I do have an account of a ghost being seen there in the 1950s, which came from an elderly lady who took one of my tours, but the sightings in the old town were made up."
Another staple tale of haunted Edinburgh is that of Mary King's Close. Again, Milne, who lives in Comely Bank with his family, is not so convinced.
"Stories about early hauntings in Mary King's Close were mentioned in a book called Satan's Invisible World, in which an occupant described outlandish ghostly visitations, but the book was pretty much a religious tract and suggested anyone not being devout could potentially see ghosts."
Published in 1685, the book was the work of Presbyterian professor of philosophy, George Sinclair. It claimed to prove the existence of Satan, witchcraft and apparitions through a collection of 'true' stories.
Milne continues, "The original hauntings were described by someone who was possibly ill or suffering from religious fervour and likely embellished. However, I do believe that the location is quite possibly haunted because of more recent reports… the older ones must be taken with a pinch of salt."
Another well known tale, to catch his attention is that of 'occultist' Major Thomas Weir of the West Bow, who lived from 1599 to 1670, when he was executed for bestiality, incest and adultery.
"Burned at the stake for witchcraft, his poor sister suffered the same fate," says Milne, continuing, "But in the trial transcripts, it comes to light that she had been abused by her brother for years and that her fragile mental state was her undoing.
"Also, their supposed ‘house of horrors’ on West Bow was supposedly shunned and remained so till it was partially demolished. However, the ghostly candlelight often reported could well have come from a successive owner, known to be reclusive, who probably inadvertently caused the 'haunting’. Apparently in all the time he stayed there, he experienced nothing untoward."
Due out next February, Confessions of an Edinburgh Ghost Tour Guide is currently two-thirds complete and Milne is on the search for more their ghostly experiences to complete it.
He says, “My book will cast doubt on a few of the old faithfuls though I’m also incorporating a lot of what I consider to be genuine material, so readers will be able to read new accounts of strange happenings in the city, including one of ghostly kids seen outside the Tron by two police officers.
"The book will also look at why people believe in ghosts and I'd like to hear from anyone who has had supernatural or paranormal experiences in Edinburgh themselves. They can contact me on my Facebook page here.