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SCOTLAND'S SCARIEST PLACE; The Covenanters' Prison is one of the 10 most spooky sites in the world and even the birds steer well clear of it these days.

Byline: GARY RALSTON

COLIN GRANT clasps his late father's Bible to his chest like a shield and closes his eyes as he mutters a quiet prayer.

He is standing in a crypt on the most evil piece of land in Scotland to directly confront over 300 years of horror.

His father performed the same exorcism little more than a year ago and died six weeks later from a heart attack.

In the aftermath of his death it was claimed his collapse was caused by the stress of opening a door to darkness behind which lurked terror even he could not have imagined.

Colin, a psychic like his dad, does not agree - but there is unfinished family business to which he must attend.

That is why he has been lured back to a quiet corner of Greyfriars Kirk in Edinburgh - to a haunted site that housed one of the world's first concentration camps.

America's Fox Television are filming a documentary series on the scariest places in the world and asked Colin to show them the Covenanters' Prison at Greyfriars.

Last year he agreed to a similar request from the Discovery Channel, only to find himself unable to set foot through the padlocked gate for reasons he still cannot understand.

The worldwide interest in the dark side of Edinburgh comes as Britain's premier ghostbuster, psychologist Dr Richard Wiseman, prepares to ask for the public's help with a series of scientific tests to prove if the capital really is riddled with spectres.

By sheer coincidence, Colin's first visit to Greyfriars last weekend came on the first anniversary of his father's death.

He returned earlier this week with the Record to the tranquil churchyard, with birds and the distant noise of traffic competing for the evening soundtrack.

But in the top left hand corner, at the Covenanters' Prison, the atmosphere is so eerie that it would make hair stand up on the head of Telly Savalas.

It looks like a medieval village that has been abandoned. A passageway 20 feet wide stretches 150 yards to a wall and on either side stand 30 crypts, some locked, but most open to the elements.

There is no litter or graffiti. The seclusion makes it an ideal hideout for vandals, but there is not enough booze in the world to tempt anyone to linger longer here than is necessary.

The branches of ancient trees overhang from the church but nests, plentiful elsewhere, are nowhere to be seen and even the birds have stopped chirping.

Colin stepped into a crypt with the rest of us - me, the photographer and his assistant - no more than five yards behind, our initial bravado having long since been deposited at the gate.

Colin said: "You can't help but feel unnerved by the atmosphere. It's one of the most malevolent I've experienced. At least 15 people, including children, died or were tortured in here."

All is still for a few minutes and afterwards he reveals he has said a silent exorcism, explaining: "I asked for the area to be sealed, calmed and to make sure no one came to harm, including myself. Once you open a can of worms you don't know what you're letting out."

The site has a gruesome history and housed over 1200 religious prisoners in the late 17th century when it was just a flat plain surrounded by four high walls.

They were left to fend for themselves for more than five months and though hundreds escaped or were freed, hundreds more died.

Only 269 survived incarceration and were shipped from Leith to be sold as slaves in the West Indies. But their vessel, The Crown, ran aground in Orkney and more than 200 drowned. The spirits of those who died are said to lie trapped at the Covenanters' Prison.

The site is visited by dozens of people every night as part of tours such as City of the Dead.

Organiser Jan Henderson said: "In the last two years 66 people have felt a presence there and 24 have collapsed unconscious.

"We've had several psychics, including Colin, say there is ghost and poltergeist activity. It was used as an early concentration camp - and is frightening."

Colin Grant senior, who was one of the most respected mediums in Scotland, collapsed at his shop in St Mary's Street last February after a heart attack.

Colin junior, 47, an IT manager in Edinburgh, now carries on his work as a spiritualist from his base in Dunfermline, where he lives with his wife and son. He has been psychic since the age of 14 and carries out personal readings and performs spiritualist services. He also works as a healer with disabled groups.

Exorcisms make up only a small part of the spiritualist's work, but not long before his death at the age of 66, his father accepted an invitation to work at the Covenanters' Prison and succeeded at first before recoiling at the extent of the psychic activity in the area.

Colin said: "People linked my father's passing to his work at the Covenanters' Prison, but the family believe it was not related.

"It would be a brave man who felt he could handle all the prison in one go as it is one of the biggest challenges for any spiritualist.

"My father said he felt presences there and released several hundred psychic footprints over the main path, but he never looked in the crypts.

"I've never felt the need to come here in the past, but when the Discovery Channel asked me, I could only get as far as the gate. I don't know what held me back, though it wasn't fear. It was simply a spooky coincidence that I returned on the anniversary of my father's death.

"I felt uncomfortable in two or three of those crypts and that's why I asked for them to be cleansed and calmed. I also felt my father close to me. I'm glad I came back, as it was very comforting to feel the evidence of the good work he did there and that I'm continuing it in some way. There are no longer any disturbances in the area where my father worked and I've calmed some of the activity in the crypts.

"I don't feel drawn to return in future, though I feel I somehow will be back."

Before we left, the photographer asked Colin to pose in the path while I crouched behind him in an exposed crypt and aimed a flash gun at his back.

I was wearing a thick overcoat that, until then, had kept out the cold. But suddenly there was a chill on my neck.

I looked behind me into the darkness, but saw nothing except my breath crystallising from my nose and mouth.

I stepped two yards on to the path, but my now laboured breathing was no longer visible. We immediately decided we had taken enough photographs and walked quickly to the gate.

No one looked behind them as the padlock was snapped back in place.

WESTMINSTER PRESBYTERIAN CHURCHYARD - BALTIMORE

Horror writer Edgar Allan Poe is buried here but his legacy of terror lives on in the catacombs under the church. The organ mysteriously plays in the middle of the night, screams have been heard and people have been called by name when no-one's around. Workers now refuse to lock up alone at night.

DORSEY MANSION - SANTA FE

Dorsey Mansion, in New Mexico, is 36 miles from the nearest town. It was a former sanatorium built by crook and fraudster Stephen Dorsey 120 years ago for use as a bolthole.There are several spooks around the place, including a Mexican labourer who was murdered and buried in one of the walls.

CHILLINGHAM CASTLE, NORTHUMBERLAND

Reputed to be the most haunted castle in England, it is stalked by the Grey Lady, who killed herself when her husband Lord Grey ran off with her sister. The Radiant Boy is a ghost who has appeared as a blue flash from a fireplace. Workmen renovating the fireplace recently discovered the bones of a boy.

ORANMORE CASTLE, GALWAY BAY

Oranmore Castle, in Ireland, is so spooky that the owner sleeps surrounded by cats to ward off evil. One former resident was so despicable that when he died locals buried him, then dug him up a few days later and hung him. No one will dare to sleep in the North Cell bedroom because of its past horrors.

FORT PULASKI - GEORGIA

This fort in Savannah, Georgia, was the scene of a battle during the American Civil War in which only one soldier was killed. Later, 14 of his colleagues were captured by the Yankees, locked away and left to die of disease and malnutrition. Spooked guards have heard the sound of coughs and moaning.

THE QUEEN MARY

The Clyde-built liner is now berthed at Long Beach, California, and its bottom deck is crammed with angry spirits. They inhabit the spot where the Queen Mary rammed the military cruiser HMS Curacoa off the cost of Ireland in 1942. The Queen Mary was under orders not to stop and 300 drowned.

CATACOMBS - PARIS

The catacombs of Paris is a city under a city and still contains the remains of missing persons who died after venturing into the tunnels. One documentary maker, Lizar, made it his life's work to plot the underground world but mysteriously disappeared and searchers found only his video camera.

ALCATRAZ - SAN FRANCISCO

An area under the former prison buildings is known as The Citadel and was used by the US military a century ago to hold thieves, rapists and murderers. The ghosts of these evil men are said to have tortured the modern-day prisoners of Alcatraz, until the prison was finally closed down in 1963.

OHIO UNIVERSITY

The whole town of Athens, Ohio, sits in the centre of a large satanic pentagram, formed by five occult cemeteries dating back centuries. One dorm, where a student commited suicide, is haunted and ghostly sightings have been reported. Many students have tried to live in the room, but none has lasted long.

GREYFRIARS KIRK

The Covenanters' Prison is associated with Greyfriars Bobby. The dog sat on the grave of his master for 14 years, but might not have hung around had he known about the McKenzie poltergeist. Advocate George McKenzie, who died in 1691, convicted many of those who died just over the wall from where he now lies.
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:Daily Record (Glasgow, Scotland)
Date:Feb 24, 2001
Words:1734
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