‘Scotland’s saddest battlefield is haunted by a tall Highlander with a pale, tired face. He whispers ‘defeated’ to all.’

In Supernatural Scotland children can discover many weird and wonderful stories, from beasts and brownies, to selkies and storm witches. This extract on ghosts and graveyards introduces supernatural spirits including an undead sailor in Sutherland and the Ghost of Culloden moor.

Extract from Supernatural Scotland
Part of the Scotties series for children
By Eileen Dunlop
Published by NMS Publishing

Ghosts and Graveyards

Since the beginning of time, people have believed that the spirits of the dead haunt places where they lived. Every country in the world has its own ghost stories.

In Scotland, the belief flourished in the ill-lit streets of the towns and cities, and the lonely glens and hills, where it was easy to imagine on a dark winter night that a ghost might be flitting behind you. Ghosts did not appear simply to frighten people – sometimes they came to right a wrong done in life, like stealing money or cheating a relative out of a title or property. Sometimes they were murderers who had been denied Christian burial and could not rest in their lonely graves.

Naturally ghosts were associated with graveyards, and memorial stones were carved with skulls and other symbols of death. It was believed that although spirits were allowed to haunt by night, they must return to their coffins when the cock crowed at dawn.

The weeping tombstone. In the churchyard of Inchnadamph in Sutherland is a vault, unused since the early 20th century, which holds the bodies of the MacLeod chiefs of Assynt. On one of the flat tombstones there is a spot of damp about ten centimetres across, which never dries out – even in spells of hot weather. The roof is in good repair, the ground is not waterlogged, and no other stone shows any sign of damp. Local tradition claims that before a major catastrophe, such as a war, the moisture turns to blood.

Ghost of Culloden. Culloden Moor, Scotland’s saddest battlefield, is haunted by a tall Highlander with a pale, tired face. He whispers ‘defeated’ to all those he meets.

The undead sailor. Three hundred years ago, a Polish ship was wrecked at Sandwood Bay in Sutherland. Many sailors drowned. It is said that the ghost of one of them often knocks at the door of a certain cottage. Anyone foolish enough to open the door sees a horrifying sight – a headless man outlined against the grey, stormy sea.

Eileen Dunlop has written over 20 novels and works of non-fiction for children, including Saints of Scotland in the Scotties series. Scotties are exciting, full-colour, Scottish information books for young readers, for children living in Scotland or for visitors. Each title has 40 full-colour pages plus an eight-page black/white facts and puzzle section (photocopiable for classroom use), and contains a wealth of interesting facts, stimulating activities, websites, and suggestions for places to visit.

Supernatural Scotland by Eileen Dunlop is out now published by NMS Publishing. In it you can find out about:

  • Ghosts and Graveyards – including the Undead Sailor, and the Weeping Tombstone
  • Haunted Houses – such as Haddington House with its ghostly horse
  • Witches – for example, Morag the Storm Witch who sold good winds to sailors for sixpence
  • Halloween – guising, and Mischief Night (as Halloween was called in the Hebrides)
  • Fairies – fallen angels, household helpers, changelings, and more
  • Glaistigs and Brownies – a glaistig is a thin woman with a face like ‘a grey stone overgrown with lichen’
  • Merfolk – from golden-haired mermaids to the Blue Men of the Minch
  • Beasts Great and Small – like The Fairy Dog. The fairy dog (Gaelic: Cù Sith) had a dark green coat. He was kept as a watchdog in the fairy hills and feared by all humans…

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