After leaving the castle, I walked back down the hill on Lawnmarket, turned down George IV Bridge road, and headed toward the exit portals on Candlemaker Row to the vaults, hoping to get some photographs. I was a bit hungry, and happened to spot the Greyfriars Bobby and Bar on George IV Bridge. I stopped by for lunch and have to admit there’s nothing like fish ‘n chips in a Scottish pub. During lunch, I struck up a conversation with the server, asking him if there was anything close that was purportedly haunted. And he laughed at me and said in a strong Scottish brogue, “Surely you’re joking, man, you’re in Edinburgh, everything here is haunted!” He pointed me to the church almost directly behind the pub, the Greyfriars Kirkyard and cemetery.
What a find! It turned out to be a 12th century cemetery nestled between an old 16th to 19th century prison on one side and an old hospital named after its founder, George Heriot’s Hospital at Greyfriars Church, on the other. The hospital was at one time an infirmary used for tuberculosis patients and before closing, it was a hospital and also served as a home for the mentally insane. Today, it houses facilities used by the city and university. Eureka, jackpot! Both building complexes looked as if they were straight out of a horror movie set. The clouds, leafless trees and mossy monuments provided the perfect ambiance for a great picnic!
The cemetery offered me a spectacular view of the Edinburgh Castle and St. Giles Cathedral from the kirkyard (Gaelic for churchyard,) not to mention being able to see the prison and hospital over the moss-covered stone walls.
I was in shock to see what the tourists had done with their empty beer cans and candy wrappers. They were littered everywhere. Being the professional I am, I happened to have tall kitchen garbage bags in my camera pack and began collecting the trash as I walked about touring the cemetery.
When the caretaker spotted me, he stopped to thank me for what I was doing, and mentioned that it is quite rare to see someone collecting rubbish, instead of depositing it carelessly, as he pointed out the many waste baskets throughout the pathways.
We chatted a bit and as luck would have it, he also turned out to be one of the tour guides, and as we chatted for all of five minutes he gave me a quick rundown on the cemetery’s history before his tour group emerged from one of the crypts.
The prison over the wall was known as Covenanter’s Prison (a covenanter being one who, by solemn agreement, pledges to uphold Presbyterianism, especially an adherent of the National Covenant or the Solemn League and Covenant). Mary Queen of Scots had granted the area surrounding the Greyfriar’s Kirk to be used as a burial ground in 1562 for its congregation. There are many famous Scots said to be buried here, including Sir Walter Scott’s father; William McGonnegal, Scotland’s worst poet; George Heriot, founder of the school next door to Greyfriar’s, and James Craig, designer of Edinburgh’s New Town. William Adam lies in a mausoleum designed by his son; architect John Adam, the brother of Robert Adam.
But perhaps the most famous resident of all is Greyfriar’s Bobby, the loyal Skye terrier dog owned by ‘Auld Jock’ (John Gray). Bobby was so loyal to his master that when Auld Jock died of tuberculosis on 15th February in 1858, it is said that Bobby kept a daily vigil over his master’s grave for over 14 years until his own death on 14th January 1872. The dog was buried in an unmarked grave within Greyfriar’s Kirkyard, and today there is still a daily one-o’clock bell that rings to commemorate the hour at which locals would feed Bobby. There are many reports of hearing Bobby’s ghost barking within the walls at the Greyfriar’s Cemetary.
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