During our time in Edinburgh, Scotland we visited Greyfriars Kirkyard which is a cemetery with ornate tombstones and mausoleums. When asking around for cool places to check out, everyone we spoke to recommended this cemetery, as it has an incredible history, ties to the Harry Potter films, and lots intrigue throughout its nearly 500 year history, but they all warned us not to go anywhere it at night. No one really wanted to say why we should never go there after the sun starts to go down, and at the time we didn’t think much of it. We were in nearby Edinburgh Old Town, and found ourselves near Greyfriars Kirkyard, so we decided to check it out and see what all the commotion was about.
The kirkyard, or church graveyard, which is at the southern edge of Edinburgh Old Town, is a beautiful realm of contradictions. Filled with the dead and visited frequently by the living, we enjoyed strolling through and admiring the fantastically ornate, weathered headstones and mausoleums that were covered in verdant, plush moss, creeping ivy, and gorgeous wild flowers growing in abundance. The motifs of the tombstones was eerie, covered in a blend of cherubs, skulls and cross bones, and worn statues of the interred, as was common during the time fresh graves would have been dug during the mid-1500s to mid 1800s when burials in the Kirkyard ceased.
Allegedly, this graveyard was the source of much of J.K. Rowling’s inspiration for her Harry Potter series while she lived in Edinburgh. The name ‘Potter’ can be found on a large family grave at the north end of the cemetery, a grave for one Thomas Riddell (his grave is marked on Google Maps) whose name was borrowed for the series main antagonist is located in the cemetery, and many of the graves in the graveyard scene in the film adaptation of Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, were modeled after various ornate graves in Greyfriars Kirkyard.
While we were there, we saw people picnicking on the outskirts of the cemetery and participating in haunted tours. We overheard tour guides talking about the terrifying rash of grave robbing that terrorized Edinburgh during the early 1800s when the town’s medical school was one of the largest draws in the area. The medical students required cadavers for direction to study anatomy while writing textbooks or acquiring their medical licenses, and as such, grave robbers took it upon themselves to pillage the graves of the wealthy occupants of Greyfriars Kirkyard and sell them to the school under the table, which led families to build gates around many of the tombstones and mausoleums. When gates made grave robbing too challenging, grave robbers then took to murdering visitors to the graveyard, or unsuspecting passersby to meet the body count necessary to fuel the medical school’s thirst for corpses. As a result, it is believed by some that this graveyard is haunted by the souls of the dead who we’re not allowed to rest in peace, making it one of Britain’s most haunted places.
One of the tour guides that passed by mentioned that she stopped giving tours at night after she was wrapping up a tour and was walking alone through the cemetery when she was violently shoved down for behind, which caused her to break her arm. When she looked around, there was no one around, and yet she had two hand shaped bruises on her back the day after the supposed spectral assault. While neither my husband nor I believe in ghosts, her story and the sincere tone of her voice with which she told her tale to her captive audience when warning them about visiting at night sent shivers down my spine.
Similar tales of spooky spectral sightings, violent assaults when seemingly no one else was around, and even tales of a loyal pet dog who slept on his owners grave everyday for 13 years until his eventual death have all earned Greyfriars Kirkyard such a haunting reputation. Whether you find cemeteries like this one to simply be hauntingly beautiful or believe them to be truly haunted, Greyfriars Kirkyard played in important part in Edinburgh Old Town’s history and is definitely worth a visit when in Edinburgh.
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