Edinburgh will always hold a special place in my heart. It was the first European city I ever visited, and I’ll never forget the feeling of awe that gripped me as I walked the cobbled streets, mesmerized by the gothic castles and enchanting kirks. It was a place I had only envisioned in stories–a world of ancient stone, garnished with a touch of delicate Scottish greenery.
Therefore, it came as no surprise that Edinburgh is home to several myths and legends.
Perhaps the best known is the tale of Arthur’s Seat, an extinct volcano that rises up at the edge of the city.
Take a hike up to the summit, and you’ll be rewarded with panoramic views of this historic metropolis.
Some say this ancient hill was a possible location for King Arthur’s Camelot.
Others insist the looming rock was once a ferocious dragon. According to legend, an enormous, fire-breathing monster once terrorized the area. It’s gluttony was endless, and it devoured the local livestock until it grew fat and lethargic. One day, the beast perched atop a nearby peak for a nap…and never awoke, becoming the mountain we see today!
Another myth revolves around the popular tourist site, Calton Hill.
Faery Hills, or hills within which faeries are said to dwell, can be commonly found in Scotland, and apparently, Calton Hill is one of them.
In the 1600’s, a sea captain named Captain Burton heard of a young boy who was famed for having the “second sight”, and arranged to meet him. The boy explained how, every Thursday night, he would take his drum to Calton Hill, slip through a pair of gates, and dance with the faeries until dawn. Driven by skepticism, the captain assembled his friends the following Thursday and met the boy, intending to keep him occupied all night to disprove his story. The boy managed to slip away, but they caught him en route to Calton Hill. However, he disappeared once more, and was never seen again.
Calton Hill has other magical connections as well. The name itself means “hill of the hazels”. The nuts of hazel trees are often used in divination, particularly on Halloween.
It is also the site of the Beltane Fire Festival–a modern arts event centered on mythology and drama from various cultures.
Edinburgh is also home to plenty of ghosts.
Among them is “Wee Anne”, who, during the 17th century, was quarantined with the Bubonic Plague in the vaults of Mary King’s Close, and cried relentlessly for her favorite doll.
Today, tourists can visit her room, located just off the Royal Mile, and add to the piles of dolls and teddy bears that have been left for her over the years. Stay long enough, and you just might feel an eerie, childlike presence…
More ghosts lurk within the bowels of Edinburgh Castle, particularly in the dungeons.
Among these is the Headless Drummer. Though the circumstances that led to his death are unknown, legend has it that he made his first appearance in 1650–the year that Oliver Cromwell invaded Scotland and captured Edinburgh Castle. Since then, the ghost has been considered a bad omen for the great fortress. Though Edinburgh no longer faces attack, the unmistakable sound of drums can be heard from time to time echoing around the grounds–a spectral reminder that the Headless Drummer still stands guard.
Travel details: You can either fly directly into Edinburgh, or take a roughly 4-hour train from London. The Airlink 100 is an express bus that will take you straight to the heart of the city, which I highly recommend. Be sure to take a stroll down the Royal Mile, and to visit Grassmarket and Princes Street. Stockbridge is one of my favorite areas–it’s truly breathtaking. Clarinda’s Tearoom is also lovely, and I always get a full Scottish breakfast at the Arcade Haggis and Whisky House. Don’t forget to try the haggis! And I must say, I NEVER miss an opportunity to order sticky toffee pudding.