Edinburgh has a whole lot of haunted places to explore: ghost walks, creepy castles, sites of witch burnings. But this city in Scotland also has what some consider to be the most haunted graveyard in the world — Greyfriars Kirkyard. In fact, some swear it’s one of the most haunted places in the world.
Most of the hauntings are linked to the ghost of George Mackenzie — a merciless judge who presided over the trials of the Presbyterian Covenanters in the 1670s. The Covenanters had petitioned the King to allow freedom to practice their religion without interference. To crush this rebellion against the Crown, “Bloody Mackenzie” was brutal in his out punishments and imprisoned 1,200 Covenanters in a field next to Greyfriars Kirkyard.
The prisoners spent over four months outside in the graveyard, awaiting trial. They had no shelter, and were given a daily food allowance of just 4oz of bread. Conditions were so inhumane that the Covenanters’ Prison is often described as the world’s first concentration camp. In the end, many prisoners were executed and hundreds died of maltreatment.
In a twist of fate, George Mackenzie was buried in the Black Mausoleum (above) in Greyfriars, just around the corner from Covenanters’ Prison. Today, Bloody Mackenzie may be dead and gone, but his spirit is said to live on — and physically attack people.
The attacks started in 1999, after a homeless man broke into Mackenzie’s vault — and allegedly unleashed an evil force. When the man tried to break into the casket too, he stepped backwards and fell into an old pit containing the rotting remains of Plague victims from centuries earlier. He ran screaming from the Black Mausoleum.
Since then, Greyfriars Churchyard has been the centre of strange events linked to the Mackenzie Poltergeist. Visitors have left the cemetery with bruises, scratches, bite marks, and burns. Some have passed out or gotten sick. Most attacks have occurred near the Black Mausoleum and the Covenanters’ Prison. There have even been two failed attempts at an exorcism in Greyfriars. Strangely, one of the exorcists died a week later from a heart attack.
The attacks escalated to the point whereby the City of Edinburgh closed off the Covenanters’ Prison from the public. Now, the City only allows controlled visits to that section as part of the City of the Dead ghost walk. We stood in a tomb while our guide told us stories about the cemetery, the assaults, and instructions on what to do if someone on the tour passed out (yes, this happens). While I didn’t experience any assaults, my legs turned icy cold from the knee to my feet. And this was in July…very strange.
Want to take the tour? Beware: the company warns that “The Mackenzie Poltergeist can cause genuine physical and mental distress. Join the tour at your own risk.”
Shanon SInn says
This is a great article. Better images than a lot of other Mackenzie Poltergeist reports as well.
Rubbish, no such things as ghost……………angels, gods, fairies, etc…..
Rubbish…I’ve seen ghosts firsthand
Bob Edinburgh says
My mother often took us, her children, to this churchyard to play. Any ghosts, ghouls, eeeries headless bagpipers, or Blackfrianrs Bobbie would have been welcome to join us, all we ever caught was a cold ………
This article states the occurrences didn’t start happening until 1999, so if you were a child then…
Greyfriars has had supernatural association since the 18th (and certainly 19th century). Robert Louis Stevenson wrote about it in Picturesque Notes of Edinburgh
Eat Drink Travel Editor says
Has anyone ever experienced anything first hand at Greyfriar’s? We’d love to hear your stories.
Neil Davison says
I did this tour in Feb2007, along with the Edinburgh Crypts.
One of the ladies on the tour, took sick and was about to pass out when she was escorted out of the graveyard by a guide and her husband.
Not long after, we were stood in one of the open tombs, in a semi circular fashion facing the door way whilst the guide spoke to us; In the door way of the tomb opposite appeared a small boy peering around the entrance, he then proceeded to run between a few of the door ways and then disappeared inside one of them not to be seen again.
There were a few screams and screeches from people on the tour, the guide seemed visibly shaken but then quite happy that something had happened on her tour. All in it added to the night time tour and once over the shock off experiencing these things, everyone was buzzing!
We visited the graveyard only as we were diverted due to the fire opposite and the road and pathway were closed in September 2021, I’m not into ghost stories or believe much at all about haunting and the like and have no knowledge of this graveyard and its history.
We took a little diversion off the main path at the front after walking past a ghost tour and I overheard one of them mention about a grave linked to someone in the harry potter stories so we went on a look about just for the fact we were not in any hurry to be anywhere. We went to the far side past all the tombs and down a hill to the bottom corner to the right of the private school behind the graveyard.
everything was normal and we were having a bit of a laugh and fooling about on the way doing the usual scary stuff to each other until we got to the bottom where I got out my phone to use the torch and look at the stones and to see if we could see anything.
We came across a stone with graffiti on making some joke out of the harry potter characters so we thought it had to be there or around that area and kept looking. We got to the bottom corner and suddenly while standing there got this horrible feeling right at the same time as each other, like a sickly fuzzy feeling that was very uncomfortable. I just didn’t want to be there at all. I stepped back and walked a few meters the way we came in and it went away.
Feeling ok I walked near or just past the area again as I wanted to walk the rest of the way only about 10 meters to complete the path back to where we came in as it was a square and the path went around and back to the entrance to this particular part of the grave yard.
As I walked past the point again bearing in mind it was a few meters away the horrid feeling came back again and same with my partner at the same time again as we walked past that point, straight away we stepped back the way we came and didn’t end up completing the rest of the path which was a shorter distance back to where we came in then going back around the way we came.
Claire Whelan says
My husband and I visited Edinburbh over ten years ago now close to Christmas so it was very cold but fantastic city. We waked miles while there and took one bus tour out towards the Firth of Forth bridge where Her Majesty the Queen ship had been moored after being retired. We didn’t go into the ship and were disappointed with the mod area it was in after coming from such an ancient city as Edinburgh. We visited Greyfriars Kirkyard cemetary on a misty cold day but to see Blackfriars Bobby grave or sculpure. We had seen that fantastic film beforehand and we had a rescue dog who was the mirror image of the dog in the film so wanted to see anything associated to him. If we get to visit Edinburgh again we will go on a tour of the graveyard on a nicer day and in more depth.
Edinburgh golden mile and castle is amazing and the camera building by the castle and the cresent of old stunning buildings out towards Murrayfield Stadium and so so so much more including Venners (am I correct with the name?) shop which when we were there had a huge high Christmas tree reaching up over two stories inside the shop. Just a wonderful place to visit. Of course the people are fantastic too very friendly.
Eat Drink Travel Editor says
Thanks Claire! Edinburgh is a great city.
Amanda-Jane Wileman says
Me and my partner watch Ghost Adventures on TV, one night the Ghost team where doing a lock down in the Edinburgh Vaults at night but during the day they visited Greyfriars graveyard. I said that looks like a place we could visit one day as it only a few hours from where we live, my partner booked us an overnight stay as a surprise for me and we visited the graveyard. All went well with out anything happening but once we had looked at George McKenzie tomb i smelled a sweet sickly smell for the rest of the walk around the graveyard partner smelled nothing. We did not go through the gates to the Covenanter’s Prison part of the graveyard as they where locked, spent the rest of the eveing walking and having a few drinks in bars in Edinburgh town and what a town it is. Such a beautiful place day or night will be back again soon.
Prarthana Perera says
I went to Edimburgh during a school trip and I’m very disappointed that we didn’t visit this place…
Crazy Joe says
All the stories and experience were GREAT, question even with the plaque going on,are the tours still going on.Godbless everyone.
I was fingered by a ghost at greyfriars cemetary in july 2020.
My family & I visited the churchyard yesterday evening. We were listening to a tour guide giving a talk about the graveyard & wandering around on our own, we didn’t really take much notice to be honest. My daughter & I peered into the mausoleum through the iron grates & a stone hit the doors from inside the doors, making us jump. We thought it was a bird trapped inside or something so peered in again, only to have what sounded like a handful of stones being thrown at us from inside again. As we stepped away the air around us suddenly felt ice cold & my daughter gave out a loud yell – there was nothing around us apart from myself & her. Her hair had been pulled really hard from behind & she was nearly in tears as it was so painful. Her side was also hurting, so I lifted her sweat top to find what looked like a large, red wheal on her side & a deep scratch that was bleeding. We were both stunned & still cant find a reasonable explanation for any of this……
Janice Marks says
I wish I had know about this when I was there in 2019. My 8th great-grandfather Thomas ‘The Martyr” Harkness was in prison there for just a few days before being put to death. He was one of the Convenanters.
stuart crosbie says
Hello there, I’m looking for a bit of advice, how do i go about getting access to the key for the covenanters prison? I am seriously drawn to this graveyard, i need tto research, but i will not find peace until i have walked and studied every part of the covenanters prison…
Bill Dryden says
That place scares the **** out of me.
I would never go in there in the dark or own my own.
Even though MacKenzie is a fellow Dundonian.
sean Roberts says
I did a tour last Thursday and took random shots, later when reviewing pics I spotted I have captured a ghostly figure of a skeletal lady in a shroud between gravestones.
I can add the pic onto site if someone tells me how…
Sasha Anderson says
Good article and pictures. Watching a documentary re: this place ..looked it up. And yes, this does exist… If we are to believe in great Good, then there also exists a huge evil. And I have seen my share of otherworldly entities in my lifetime.
I cant figure out why but it was like something knew we were there or didn’t want us going any further along that path, maybe it was just that point in the path and if we had continued then it would have passed but the feeling was so uncomfortable that I just didn’t want to risk it. I have never experienced this kind of thing before and I cant explain why this happened, I have walked round graveyards before and never battered an eyelid but this event really got to me and Ill never forget it.
I have since mentioned it and people think I was messing around but I wasn’t and I don’t want to experience it again although I have suggested at sometime we re visit with others just to see if it happens again to prove my story. I had my phone on video at the time and do have the clip where things went all weird although pitch black and just another phone for light here and there I re watched it a few times and we both turned around at the same time and said we didn’t feel right.
After that we made our way out towards the entrance and back to the path but along the way we came across some ghost hunters at a tomb trying to talk to ghosts, yeah looked legit like the ones on tv shows lol.
Its an interesting place and worth a visit if your near or passing through and if anyone does visit where we did and gets that strange feeling then please make comment.