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APART from an empty crisp packet rustling in the breeze, Greyfriars Kirkyard was eerily quiet.

It was 7.00pm and dark - not really an ideal time to take a stroll around the historic graves, especially as there have been reports of strange goings-on - and that's just in daylight.

More than 50 visitors to the Edinburgh graveyard have told of spooky experiences.

Some have fainted, while others claim they have been scratched or pushed by an unseen force.

The problems seem to be centred on the Covenanters Prison in the graveyard, also known as the Black Mausoleum. It is said to be full of the spirits of men killed in battle against Charles II at Bothwell Bridge in 1679.

The body of the Lord Advocate, George "Bloody" Mackenzie, responsible for the execution of many Covenanters, is said to be buried there, near many of the men he sent to the gallows.

Psychics say this has caused unrest amongst the people buried there.

Now ghostbusters have launched an investigation into the site and psychics claim a service should be held to help the lost souls they say are trapped there.

Brian Allan, of the Scottish branch of Strange Phenomena Investigations, paid a day-time visit to the site with two psychics and revealed some strange findings.

But I decided I had to check this out for myself.

I've sat through a screening of The Blair Witch Project and survived, but the thought of a night-time visit to a graveyard still filled me with dread.

I admit I was pretty scared as I started my graveyard shift, but I was more concerned about the prospect of being mugged than seeing any ghosts.

The graveyard is only yards from a bustling street, but it felt very isolated at night, even if I did have a photographer for company.

Then I spotted two figures looming out of the darkness carrying some-thing as they walked towards the kirk. I tried to clear my mind of stories about Edinburgh's early 19th century grave robbers, Burke and Hare.

Thankfully, the two people turned out to be congregation members, husband and wife Bert and Isobel Hutchings, who were bringing trays of sandwiches into the church for a meeting that night. They laughed at the suggestion of anything spooky going on.

Isobel said: "I've been a member of the church for more than 30 years and I've never heard or seen anything strange.

"I've wandered through the graveyard at night and have never noticed anything - maybe I'm just not psychic."

Bert added: "There have only been a few tours of the Covenanters Prison, so I don't know when all these attacks are meant to have happened.

"I've been on a couple of tours myself and never experienced anything untoward."

Feeling safer and braver, I headed off to check out the Covenanters Prison to see what all the fuss was about.

Bert had said the gate would be locked, so I felt bolstered by the thought I wouldn't be able to get into the main fright zone.

Unfortunately, the gate was open, so I felt obliged to take a look inside.

It was a dead-end with just the gate at the entrance as an escape route, so wasn't the most pleasant of locations to go sight-seeing at night.

Besides, there's not an awful lot you can see in the dark.

There was a strange smell, very difficult to describe, but I told myself it could have been coming from the flats nearby, or maybe it was the hops from the nearby brewery.

There were mausoleums on either side, some with skulls carved into the stonework.

One even had a wooden park bench inside, though even if it had been daylight, it would have taken a lot to persuade me to use this as a picnic spot.

As I neared the far end of the Covenanters Prison, I spotted a dark figure coming in through the gate. I held my breath: was this my first contact with the spirits?

My first thought was that he was a homeless man looking for somewhere to doss down, but I didn't want to hang around to find out for sure.

The figure sprang from the shadows, but it was a huge relief to see it was Bert, who had returned to secure the gate.

As Bert pulled the gate shut, I mentioned the strange smell, but he simply said cheerily: "It's probably just rotting wood."

Back in the main section of the cemetery, it was still creepy because of the shadows falling on the gravestones ... but not as scary as being hemmed in the Covenanters' Prison.

Psychics Anne Marie Sneddon and Jim Lochhead joined Brian Allan, of Strange Phenomena Investigations, on a day-time visit to the graveyard.

Their aim was to figure out why tourists claim they have been attacked there.

Brian, who sets out to find scientific explanations to strange phenomena, said he surveyed the area with equipment measuring magnetic fields.

Whenever the psychics pointed to an area where they felt a presence, he said he found a higher reading.

Brian said: "There was one moment when Anne Marie and Jim said there were spirits moving past and the needle shot right off the scale on my meter, then dropped back again.

"I don't know if that was just a coincidence."

Anne Marie and Jim told me they'd seen various spirits around the Covenanters prison.

The psychics picked up negative vibes of people left to die there and said they could smell the stench of rotting bodies in that section.

They also claim there is unrest because the body of Lord Advocate George 'Bloody' Mackenzie is buried near the men he executed.

Anne Marie said: "I saw a gentleman in the bottom right-hand corner who was wearing a grey robe.

"He told me the reason some visitors have had experiences there is because the spirits don't want the public in there. They're trying to frighten people off.

"It would be nice if there was some kind of service carried out there for the lost souls to send them on their way. The rest of the graveyard is so peaceful."

Jim believes bodies may have been piled on top of each other in the past.

He said:"I saw a man in a grey-and-blue striped nightdress who looked terrified - he was probably getting ready to go on to the heap.

"The feeling is they don't want anyone to go there.

"I wouldn't say people should stay away - it's not dangerous - but it would be nice to hold a re-dedication ceremony."

The graveyard is said to have inspired Charles Dickens to write his ghost story A Christmas Carol.

But perhaps the site has its own, far spookier, true-life tale.
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Title Annotation:Features
Author:Croce, Maria
Publication:Daily Record (Glasgow, Scotland)
Date:Mar 9, 2000
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