Paranormal pubs and insidious inns - some of Scotland's most haunted locals
Featuring The Saracen Head in Glasgow, The Coylet Inn in Dunoon and The Burns Tavern in Motherwell
Scotland can be a spooky country. Perhaps it’s the cold stone and dark closes of our cities, the gloam that clings to our barren moors and crags, or our history that brims with a thick and bloody mixture of terrible deeds committed by truly awful characters. For whatever reason, there are many locations in Scotland famous for their spirits – and none of these are fine malts.
This Hallowe'en, explore haunted Scotland, and venture to some of the country’s most haunted pubs and inns, where you can share a pint with a poltergeist, grab a Guinness with a ghoul or maybe even sit down for a meal with a wicked deil.
The Saracen Head, Gallowgate, Glasgow
The Saracen Head, a popular haunt of many in Glasgow’s East End, is famed for its history – some of which appears to disregard the gap between past and present. Built in 1775 (now across the street from its original location), the pub boasts an array of curiosities, including a poem hand-written by Robert Burns and the skull of Maggie Wall, who in 1657 became the last woman accused of witchcraft to be burnt at the stake in Scotland. The pub was owned by the same family for over 100 years, and there are rumors that the previous landlord still patrols the bar from beyond the grave.
Current owner Anne McGuigan shared some of the ghostly happenings that have become a regular occurrence. 'We had a boy in from The Herald, and we were on the communication [Ouija] board. Unfortunately, his mum hadn’t long died. The glass kept going over to him and the boy on the board said, ‘Whatever it is, it wants to speak to you’. Apparently it was his Grandad. It asked how his mum was, and he said: ‘My mum, Mary?’ The glass went ballistic and spelled out Anne. He went chalk white and said, "My mum’s name wasn’t Mary, it was Anne"'. Sneaky journalists, eh?
'I used to get the feeling someone was there,' owner Anne continues. 'We had a light above the puggy, and I was waiting on the electricians coming out to fix it one night. The gent’s toilet is right beside the puggy, and I felt someone walked past me but no-one was there. Then the light came on above me and it hadn’t worked for 20 years. I said to myself, "Right, time I was home"'.
This isn't the only story linked to the haunted puggy. 'When you leave the bar you switch all the lights off, but when I come in some mornings, the puggy machine is on, even though I switched it off at the wall,' says Anne. 'The other two barmaids don’t like being in by themselves, but it doesn’t bother me.'
The Coylet Inn, Dunoon
With the silver waters of Loch Eck quietly lapping at the shore across the road, The Coylet Inn is the perfect picture of traditional Scottish hospitality. But, for all of its rustic charm and the natural beauty of the surroundings, the inn holds a tragic story from the past – the story of 'the blue boy'.
'The BBC filmed a TV movie about it in 1994, with Emma Thomson,' remembers Coylet Inn staff member Craig Wilson. 'It was about a boy that sleepwalked and fell into the loch and drowned. He runs around the corridors, and we do hear reports from people that someone was in the room watching them. I don’t exactly believe in it – too many people come back with similar stories over the last 40 or 50 years. I generally get people coming to the hotel to stay in room number four where the ghost is meant to be'.
The Drovers Inn, Argyll
On the northern road past Loch Lomond towards Crainlarich, The Drovers Inn looks almost exactly the same as it did when it served as a stop-off for weary farmers leading their cattle off the glens on the way to market. A fascinating building, every nook and cranny of The Drovers tells a story, and the collection of stuffed animals (including a bear, a shark and a wolf) lends a particularly unique atmosphere. However, as the sun sets and the moon casts it’s reflection over the loch, the inn reveals a murkier character. Receptionist Reneé Sears reveals the dark side of The Drovers:
'There’s a rumour of a little girl that haunts the hallway. I was going through emails in reception and there was a flap on the door with a lock on it. It came slamming down with real force behind it, and it’s a big heavy piece of wood. I thought some of the boys must have been winding me up, but I checked and there was no-one there. I needed a cup of tea after that'.
There are some occasions though when a cup of tea just won't cut it. 'A couple came in for breakfast and the woman had a face like thunder,' Reneé tells us. 'Turns out she’d slept in the car all night because she refused to sleep in the hotel. She said she’d gone white, her hair stood up on end and she felt really cold. She’d wanted to continue home that night but the husband told her not to be silly and stayed in the room anyway. She wasn’t happy.'
The Drovers is making the most of its haunted premises by hosting a special Hallowe'en Party on Sat 2 Nov.
The White Hart Inn, Grassmarket, Edinburgh
Edinburgh’s Grassmarket, now a bustling collection of pubs and cafes, was once a seedy and dangerous place populated by criminals, prostitutes, as well as being the location of the city’s gallows. The Grassmarket was also the hunting grounds of two of the city’s most infamous sons: a Mr William Burke and his accomplice, Mr William Hare. The White Hart Inn, which has been a famous Grassmarket drinking den since the 18th century, was where the two would fill their victims with grog before taking them on a journey that would end upon the anatomy table of Dr John Robert Knox. The pub has a few more peculiar stories to tell – it was officially voted Scotland’s Most Haunted Pub in 2005 – as acting manager Michael Johnson is only too keen to share.
'We had a girl leave because she thought her hair was pulled, and there’s a big magazine from London coming up to do a ghost feature – it’s pretty crazy. We have people coming from all over the world taking random photos and having all these special devices to pick up sounds and stuff. It’s all good for business', he said.
'I haven’t seen anything but all the other staff has, but I think they’re just trying to wind me up.'
The Burns Tavern, Motherwell
The unassuming traditional pub that sits on Merry Street is said to be one of the most spiritually active in the country, with paranormal detectives Spirit Finders Scotland conducting an investigation back in 2009. Their results alleged that the building was riddled with ghosts – unsurprising given that parts of the pub date back to 1880. With much of its history still relatively unclear, few know exactly why the Burns Tavern is so phantom friendly.