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Stirling is well known for its importance in Scottish history, with the Battle of Stirling Bridge, the Battle of Bannockburn and Stirling Castle. Yet, there is another side to this part of Scotland. The Old Town in Stirling has previously been said to be, “the most densely populated supernatural square mile in Scotland”. The list of buildings known for unexplained activity is extensive, including the Tollbooth, Hangman’s Close, Holy Rude Church and graveyard, the Auld Kirkyard, Nicky Tom’s Bar and, of course, Stirling Castle.
Stirling Castle is one of the most important castles in Scotland. Sitting atop of Castle Hill, downstream on the River Forth, the castle’s location provided it with a strong defensive position.
In its present state, there are a few buildings that date back to the 14th century, but the majority of the castle’s buildings are from the 15th and 16th centuries. The castle was used by Scottish monarchs as a royal residence. Several Scottish rulers, including Mary Queen of Scots, were crowned at Stirling Castle. Many other monarchs were born in the castle, while some died there.
With such an impressive historical pedigree, it is hardly surprising that the castle has been involved in at least eight sieges, many during the Wars of Independence with England.
Due to its active past, there are said to be many spirits haunting Stirling Castle.
One of the spirits seen in the castle is a green lady. She is said to have been the daughter of a commander. It is stated that her father did not allow her to be romanced by a common soldier, and so had the man shot. Out of sadness, she threw herself from the tower onto the rocks below.
Supposedly, the castle is also home to the spirit of Mary Queen of Scots’ servant. As Mary slept, a lit candle accidentally set the bed linen alight. The servant managed to wake the Queen and get her to safety, but unfortunately did not survive herself. It is said that she can be seen wandering the castle’s corridors.
In the Old Town, just below the castle, is Cowane’s Hospital. Also known as the Guildhall, it was built in the 17th century for the Guild of Merchants. On his deathbed, the Dean of the guild, John Cowane, left 40,000 merks for its construction, so that it may function as an almshouse for elderly guild members to live out the remainder of their lives rent free.
Throughout its life, the building has also been used as a school and as a hospital during cholera outbreaks. Today, the building is still used by the Merchant Guild, and is mainly used as an arts location.
It is the building’s founder that has given the building its supernatural reputation. A statue to John Cowane, also known as Auld Staney Breeks, was built onto the front of the building. Local legend says that at midnight on Hogmanay (the Scottish term for New Year’s Eve), Cowane’s statue comes to life, jumps down into the courtyard and does a jig.
Nicky-Tams is one of the oldest pubs in Stirling, having first opened its doors in 1718. The family crest of the original owner, Laird Graigengalt, can still be seen above the doors.
When the pub was renovated in 1999, numerous reports of apparitions were made.
There were also reports of strange things happening after a photograph of a clergyman was discovered walled up in a cupboard beneath a staircase. Between 1999 and 2000, three clairvoyants visited and explored the pub. They claimed that there were numerous spirits within the pub. Although the majority were described as being friendly spirits, they announced that they felt the presence of a more negative, aggressive spirit. They said this may have been the clergyman, possibly explaining the link between his photograph and the inexplicable occurrences that happened at the pub.
Anew Tolbooth was ordered to be built in Stirling by the local government in 1689. Construction work began in 1703, and was completed two years later. Between 1806 and 1811, a jail and courthouse were added. Prisoners who were convicted of the worst crimes were then held in the clock tower of the building before being hung outside. It is said that some victims were – and still are – buried under the building’s foundations.
In the early 1800s, inspectors declared that the prison’s conditions were the worst in all of Scotland. As such, the prison and its prisoners were moved elsewhere in Stirling, but the council continued to use the building to hold their meetings until the late 1800s.
It is said that the terrible conditions of the prison are what have made the Tolbooth very haunted. Extreme temperature changes are one of the many inexplicable things described by visitors. Most terrifying, however, are the footsteps which have been heard upstairs when there is no one there.
This article was written by David Barrett, the Scottish paranormal investigator. To find out more about his research, purchase his book, “My Life As A Scottish Paranormal Investigator”, here.
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