Written by Richard Felix
Published by Breedon Books
America is a relatively young country with documented history going back only around two hundred fifty years or so. Even so, there are ghost stories around every corner dating back to before recorded history. But while we in America think of a building that has reached its two-hundred-year mark as being old, it does not compare with the age of Europe, from which most of our ancestors came. There histories run further back than centuries, leading one to believe, and rightfully so, that older countries with very storied pasts would have a significant number of ghost stories. To that end, Richard Felix, of “Most Haunted” fame, brings together The Ghost Tour of Great Britain: Scotland as a guide for travelers in search of more macabre points of interest. Sadly, however, this book leaves a great deal to be desired.
To begin with, this book is painfully short, a scant 160 pages, in which are stories of only twenty-eight locations. The first sixty-four pages of the book, however, are not dedicated to the sites or locations of the paranormal but focus on the author’s own views on how to find ghosts, the author’s theories on why ghosts appear, and even nearly thirty pages of “glossary,” in which terms are spelled out for the most uninformed novices. Sixty-four pages later, and the reader is left with less than one hundred pages in which, if the title of the book is to be believed, the author hopes to detail every haunted site in Scotland. If it sounds impossible, especially given that there are only twenty-eight locations covered, you are correct.
Once all the “how-to”s and “why-are”s are taken care of, the book does bring forth some interesting sites accompanied by some interesting photos of each place. However, coverage of each location is cursory at best. In a country with a history dating back to before medieval times, surely there is more history than merits one or two sentences. The cursory nature of the articles provide little insight and little appreciation of the history of the sites. Other than stating that someone died and how gruesome it was, many of the accounts read like unsubstantiated folklore. The ghosts, when discussed, are given little more than acknowledgement before the section ends and the reader is sent off with less than half the story. While that may be fine for the run-of-the-mill tourist, most who seek out truly haunted sites prefer more in-depth looks.
Included in this tour book are stories of Culloden Moor, Buckholm Tower, and the Cross Keys Hotel. There are brief descriptions of castles, hermitages, cathedrals, and even haunted pubs. Of the historic figures discussed, several make repeat appearances. Mary, Queen of Scots, seems to be at the root level of several hauntings with many castles reporting the presence of “Green Ladies.” While most of the stories are, at best, glossed over, there are a few in the book that leave the reader wanting to know more about the area. For example, Craithes Castle in Grampian is a tragic story about a young daughter of the castle’s family who became pregnant by a servant. She disappeared in the 18th Century, only to be rediscovered a hundred years later buried, with her newborn, under the fireplace hearth, murdered by her own family. Another interesting story tells a chilling story about Bell’s Wynd on the Royal Mile. Perhaps the most interesting story deals with William “Deacon” Broadie, upon whom Robert Lewis Stevenson is reputed to have based the characters of Henry Jekyll and Edward Hyde.
The real downfall of this book is simply that there is far too much to be covered in one thin-spine book. One finds it impossible to believe that, in all of Scotland, with all its bloody battles and horrific deaths, there are only twenty-eight places that were deemed worthy of mention. Granted, those places mentioned are the most often referred to, but there are so many more places to be seen, far more than such a tiny guide could cover.
For the typical tourist, however, the book does an adequate job of introducing the past of Scotland. With its conversational style, it is the type of book that someone might pick up for a few minor thrills and memories of walking past a place and shivering. Concentrating more on the atmosphere than on any evidence, it plays more toward the easily frightened than those sincerely interested in the paranormal.
On the plus side, The Ghost Tour of Great Britain: Scotland does contain some beautiful photographs of breathtaking architecture as well as some stories that would sound good told around a campfire to a group of skittish cub scouts. It does serve as a good beginning point for those interested in the folklore and history of Scotland, and some of the stories do intrigue enough to send the reader looking for more information. However, there just isn’t enough substance to keep anyone but casual tourists interested.
2 out of 5