To mark Halloween, we asked Sophia Kingshill, the co-author of a new book, The Lore Of Scotland: A Guide To Scottish Legends, to take us on a tour of the spookiest places in the country.

Alloway, Ayrshire

Even before Robert Burns sent his drunken hero Tam o’ Shanter galloping away from a “hellish legion” of witches, legends flourished about the Ayrshire village of Alloway. In 1791, the historian Francis Grose wrote that Alloway kirk was notorious as a place where witches and warlocks would dance “to the pipes of the muckle-horned Deel”.

The idea of Satan piping for revellers has a long history. The Greek god Pan, a prototype of the goat-legged Devil, is traditionally shown playing a flute with seven reeds, and in 17th-century Scotland, the bagpipes were often said to be the Devil’s favourite instrument. In 1679, witches burned at Bo’ness were accused of meeting near Kinneil where “they all danced, and the Devil acted as piper”, and in the 1650s a woman from Dalmeny in Midlothian confessed to having danced on the Pentland hills with the Devil leading the way in the likeness of a rough brown dog, playing on a pair of pipes and carrying a candle stuck under his wagging tail.

Burns’ 1790 poem Tam o’ Shanter draws on such traditions. His protagonist is a tipsy young man who spies on a coven at the kirk. The witches pursue him to the River Doon, which he reaches just in time to escape, since they cannot pass running water. The site of his crossing is not named in the poem, but is clearly Brig o’ Doon, a medieval bridge south of Alloway whose name has become famous as that of the fictional village that appears only once each century.

Southern Necropolis, Glasgow

On the evening of September 23, 1954, PC Alex Deeprose was called to an incident at the Southern Necropolis in the Gorbals. There had been some vandalism at the cemetery and the constable was expecting something similar. Instead, he found hundreds of children, aged between five and 12, many of them carrying primitive weapons. They told him they’d gathered to hunt a “vampire with iron teeth” which had killed and eaten two boys.

The children dispersed as darkness fell, but the following evening a similar crowd assembled. Newspapers around the world picked up on local press reports and many commentators said the event was caused by the harmful influence of American “horror comics” although no example was found of any comic featuring a vampire with iron teeth. In the Old Testament we find a “beast, terrible and dreadful and exceedingly strong; and it had great iron teeth” (Daniel 7:7). Was this the creature the children were hunting?

Uisinis, South Uist

The peninsula of Uisinis on the east coast of South Uist is now uninhabited, but 350 years ago, so the story goes, a couple named MacPhail lived here, with their son and his wife, and their daughter, a 12-year-old dumb girl.

When old MacPhail died, his son went to the town to prepare for the funeral, leaving the three women alone in the house with the corpse. At around 1am, MacPhail’s wife was astonished to hear the dumb girl speak: “Granny, Granny, my grandfather’s getting up! He’ll eat you and he won’t touch me!”

Sure enough, the dead man was sitting upright. His widow jumped back and closed the bedroom door on him, but he was pushing from the other side, so she piled boxes in front of the door. He then began to dig his way through the earth underneath the door. His head and shoulders had just emerged when the cock crowed three times, whereupon the undead man fell lifeless.

Old MacPhail was then buried, but the hole underneath the doorway could be seen for centuries in the ruins of the house. The cavity was known as “MacPhail’s pit”, and although it was said that on several occasions people tried to fill it with stones and earth, the next day it would be as before, “a foul, dank mire” where not a single blade of grass would grow.

Mull of Galloway, Wigtownshire

Several accounts have been given from this area of encounters with fairies, including the tale of a man in Kirkmaiden whose wife had just given birth when he received an urgent summons from his master at Cardoness Castle.

When he set out it was late on the last day of October – Halloween. As the man made his way north along the western shore of Luce Bay towards the Loup of Grennan, a place with an uncanny reputation, he saw a faint glimmer of light from the direction of the sea.

As it drew nearer, it gradually resolved itself into a coach lit with blue lamps and drawn by six horses. As it passed, he saw it was crowded with elfin figures, and guarded by horsemen.

Meanwhile, his wife, alone with her child in the cottage, was startled to hear around mid-night the tramping of horses, jingling of bridles and rattle of wheels, accompanied by a buzz of voices. Suddenly the door flew open, an eerie glow lit up the kitchen and a throng of tiny people dressed in green surrounded her bed, continually chattering. One taller and more finely clad than the rest waved his hand for silence and said to the terrified woman: “This is Halloween. We have come for your child, and him we must have.” “Oh, God forbid!” she shrieked, and at once there was darkness and silence “as of the grave”.

In her terror she fainted, but when she came to she got out of bed and lit a lamp. To her joy, the baby was still sleeping soundly, and nothing had been disturbed.

Haltadans Fetlar, Shetland

“Of all our hundred isles, big and little, Fetlar is perhaps the most eerie, as it certainly is where the folklore has been most carefully preserved,” wrote the Shetland author Jessie Saxby in 1932. She had heard many tales of trows, the fairy people of the Shetland and Orkney Islands. One such legend explained the origins of Haltadans, a circle of boulders surrounding two more stones. It was said that a group of trows, dancing to the music of two fiddle players, had gone on with their revels too long. Overtaken by the sunrise, they had been turned to stone. The name of the site means “halting dance”, referring to the way trows were said to limp and stumble as they moved.

The story demonstrates that trows are connected to trolls, grey misshapen beings of Scandinavian folklore reportedly brought to the islands by Norse settlers in the eighth and ninth centuries. Later the word “troll” was adapted to “trow”, and tales of the creatures became more like those told of the fairies, but the trows remained grey and kept other characteristics of their ogre ancestors – notably, that if the sun’s rays caught them, they would instantly be petrified.

Like fairies elsewhere in Scotland, they could be dangerous for young mothers and babies. Saxby told the story of a midwife who arrived at a house and saw “a small man in grey” crossing the yard, carrying a heavy burden on his back and a smaller one in his arms. When the woman entered the house, instead of the mother and child she found a mad wraith and a dead changeling.

Mary King’s Close, Edinburgh

In 1645 the plague struck Edinburgh, killing many residents of this crowded close. Once the pestilence had passed the houses of the dead were soon in use again, but were said to be haunted. In a 1685 book on witchcraft, George Sinclair told the terrifying story of what happened to the Colehearts, a couple who moved to the street.

When Tom Coleheart was warned that “if you live there you will have more company than yourselves”, he took the matter as a joke. He was soon to find out his mistake. The day they moved in, ghosts started appearing. First came an old grey-haired man who peered at Mrs Coleheart from a doorway, making her faint. Later that night her husband saw the same old man, a young child and a disembodied arm which tried to shake his hand. The couple prayed in terror, but the arm and hand came nearer, “after a courteous manner, with an offer of acquaintance”, according to Sinclair.

Next came a dog and a cat which began to play tricks, and soon “the hall [was] full of little creatures, dancing prettily”. The Colehearts endured their ordeal and even the next day they did not leave their new home, “concluding the worst was over”.

In the 18th century Mary King’s Close began to be built over, but the ghosts remained. Among these were a lady in a long dark dress, and a “short gentleman in a vaguely agitated state”, but the most famous apparition to haunt the area in modern times is that of a little girl said to have died of plague. A psychic who visited with a television company mentioned seeing the child, who apparently said she had lost her doll. A cameraman immediately went to buy a replacement doll, and there is now a collection of toys under the bricked-up window where the lonely little ghost appeared.

Hermitage Castle, Roxburghshire

It was once said of Hermitage Castle that the terrible deeds perpetrated there caused it through the centuries to sink ever deeper into the earth. In legend its owner, Lord Soulis, was a black magician and a man of terrible cruelty who treated his servants worse than animals, drilling holes in their shoulders to harness them to the carts on which they had to drag the stones for his castle.

As a familiar, Soulis had a redcap, a horrible Border bogle also known as Red-comb or Bloodycap. This spirit was given to murdering travellers and draining their blood into his cap, or removing their brains while they slept. With this demon Soulis was protected against injury from rope or steel; to summon the spirit he would tap three times on an iron chest, but was forbidden to look at the form he raised. Once, however, he failed to turn away, and his doom soon followed.

Robert the Bruce had received many complaints of the lord’s abominations. At last he exclaimed, “Boil him, if you please, but let me hear no more of him.” No sooner said than done: Soulis was seized, wrapped in a sheet of lead and taken to the ancient stone circle at Nine Stane Rig, near Hermitage Water, where he was seethed in a cauldron until dead.

Treasure was said to be hidden in or under Hermitage Castle, but guarded by the demon redcap. The dungeon was for centuries a place of terror, believed to be haunted by the spirit. If anyone even poked a twig through the door, such was the “active malignity of its inmate” that when the twig was pulled out it was stripped of its bark.

Glamis Castle, Angus

Glamis Castle’s reputation as the most haunted house in Scotland – perhaps in Britain – features a remarkable array of historical and romantic ghosts. One story connects the castle with Macbeth, whose spirit is said to haunt the castle in guilt for his murder of Duncan.

Janet Douglas, widow of the sixth Lord Glamis, was burnt for witchcraft in 1537, and is associated with appearances of a “grey lady” in the family chapel as well as the wraith of a witch, surrounded by the flames in which she died. Other ghosts with little or no background to explain their reputed presence include a black pageboy who sits outside one of the bedrooms, a tongueless woman tearing at her mouth and a lunatic spectre who walks along the rooftop. All these crop up in relatively modern accounts, but none has the resonance of the story of Glamis’s “secret chamber”.

Legend has it there is one room in the castle which has never been identified. A brief reference comes from Sir Walter Scott, who said that the castle contained a chamber whose entrance was known only to three people: the Earl of Strathmore, his heir and a single other person whom they might confide in. Other 19th-century writers give different explanations of the hidden room. One tells of gamblers turned to stone by the Devil and condemned to dice until Judgment Day in a room nobody can find, and another of refugees from a clan feud, given asylum but then left to starve, the sight of whose mouldering bones so horrified a later owner he had the room walled up.

The story most often repeated is that of a grotesque child born two or three centuries ago and concealed in a chamber built within the thickness of the walls. As each heir to the earldom came of age he was told the terrible truth and shown the monster, which was immensely strong with a hairy, barrel-like body, tiny arms and legs, and no neck. This unfortunate creature is said to have lived until the 1920s, for all that time the rightful earl, but never acknowledged or seen by anyone but the acting earl and a factor.

Ardvreck Castle, Assynt, Sutherland

Ruined Ardvreck or Ardvrock Castle stands on the shores of Loch Assynt. In the 18th century, according to legend, the tower-house was tenanted by a terrible old woman known as the Wicked Lady of Ardvrock.

This woman had made trouble between a neighbouring couple, spreading gossip about the wife and saying her child was fathered by another man. When the husband started threatening to kill the baby, his wife summoned her two brothers, who tracked the rumours to their source and confronted the Wicked Lady.

At the castle, the old woman appeared willing to reply to their questions. She even agreed when the younger brother proposed putting her accusations to the proof. He proceeded to write with his finger on the stone floor of the great hall where they sat, muttering in an unknown language. As he was doing this, the water of Assynt began to heave and give off from its surface a thick mist that spread over the sky. Then they saw a tall, black, shadowy figure standing beside the wall and the younger brother told the husband to question it – but quickly.

Nervously, the husband asked if his wife had been unfaithful and the shadow replied that she had. As it spoke a huge wave rose from the loch and dashed against the castle wall, breaking the hall windows, while a tempest lashed roof and turrets, and the floor seemed to rise and fall like a ship in a storm.

The younger brother now told the Wicked Lady that the spirit would not depart without a gift. The old woman opened the door, and a little orphan girl who was part of her household rushed into the room as if terrified by the tempest.

“Not the orphan!” exclaimed the shadow. “I dare not take her.” (The inference here is that the child had been baptised, and therefore could not be taken by the Devil.) Another huge wave came crashing in, half filling the hall, and the whole castle seemed on the point of falling. “Then take the old witch herself!” shouted the elder brother. “She is mine already,” said the shadow, “but her term is not over. I will take someone who your sister will miss more.”

Even as it spoke, it vanished. When the men got home, they were told of the death of the baby at the very moment the shadow disappeared. Some while after that, the castle of Ardvrock was consumed by a fire started by persons unknown, and the Wicked Lady perished in the flames.

The Lore Of Scotland: A Guide To Scottish Legends by Jennifer Westwood and Sophia Kingshill is published by Random House, priced £25.