Danny Robins, comedian and host of the hit Radio 4 podcast, Uncanny, has described Scotland as “certainly one of the most haunted places in the world”.

“I would say that there are regions of the UK – Wales, Scotland and the North East of England, which is where I from – which have suffered a lot.," he said. "They have gone through tragedy and I think that does breed a lot of ghost stories.”

Two of the podcast’s Christmas specials have been set in Scotland. One featured the story of Luibeilt, a remote bothy in the Highlands where, in the 1970s, terrifying things happened when a hiker and his friend stumbled on the deserted house, its table laid with crackers as if left just before a Christmas dinner. Another was a story in which a witch, the personification of the Cailleach, appears at the end of a bed.

“There are certain regions of the UK,"  Mr Robins said, "that have more ghost stories and probably more ghost belief and Scotland is definitely one of those. Usually that goes hand in hand with having a tragic past - a past where there’s been a sense of injustice and unfair deaths and sadness."

There are, he said, several ways of explaining this. "A sceptic would tell you that ghosts are a way of processing that. We invent ghosts to try and ward off the horrific realisation of that tragedy. Then believers would tell you that we get ghosts because so many people have died there – and when people die tragedy, they come back with unfinished business. Whether you are a believer or a sceptic you can see real reasons why Scotland is so ghost-rich.”

The bothy at  Luibeilt, is he observed in an area "deeply scarred by tragedy".  "The clearances,  Glencoe massacre. Lots of things have happened in that area that might leave a tragic imprint. It’s knee-deep in ghosts.”

Next Tuesday, Mr Robins’ theatre show, 2.22: A Ghost Story,  makes its Scottish debut at Edinburgh Festival Theatre as part of its tour. The play, which was a sell-out in London, was written at the start of the comedian’s journey into the uncanny, inspired by a particular conversation he had with a friend.

“She told me her ghost story and it was the first time in my life,"  he recalled, "where I really was forced to confront the fact that it could be real. It just felt so compelling and so different to anything I’d heard before. That got me thinking about how our friends would react to her and the fact that some of our friends would laugh at her or mock her or be irritated by her. I just thought, if you can take that problem and dramatise it in a relationship, how does that work?”

“The debate," he said, "in the play between Jenny the believer, and Sam the sceptic, and their friends that they try to enlist to their sides, is the debate that rages at the heart of me. I find myself torn. I find myself not sure. So, in the play you have me living out my inner turmoil – but I think it’s what all of us are going through. We’re living in this moment where people are fascinated by ghost stories and all of us are asking those questions.”

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The podcaster believes that ghost stories become particularly prominent in times of insecurity and trauma, and that we are going through one of these right now. The phenomenal popularity of not just his podcast, but play and recently published book Into The Uncanny, appear to be testimony to that.

 "I would draw parallels with the time after the First and Second World War when we were in a time of uncertainty and death.I think we find ourselves in that situation now. We’ve got Covid. We’ve got the threat of climate change. We’ve got war increasingly getting closer to us. I think all of these things make you start thinking about death and I then you start thinking about the hope that death  might not be the end. It forces us to think about these questions.”

The Herald: Danny Robins

What is remarkable, however, is that Mr Robins has not himself ever had a full-blown paranormal experience.

“I’ve not even had a half-blown one,” he jokes. “I’ve never had an experience at all that I would confidently call paranormal and so I find myself living vicariously through the people who tell me their stories. I find myself in supposedly haunted locations willing it and going, 'Come on, let something fly across the room!'"

It's his scepticism blended with open-mindedness about the possibility of the existence of ghosts that has made him such an engaging guide to the world of the uncanny. 

These days he is is a kind of therapist, a listening ear to anyone who happens to have a paranormal tale they are longing to share. 

What matters is that he listens - and without judgment. Uncanny, in some ways, is not just about belief or disbelief in the existence of ghost. It’s about the possibility, in a deeply polarised culture, of having an open mind.

“There’s a tendency," said Mr Robins, "in society to force definite positions on us. If you go on social media you need to know who you hate, what you love, what you disagree with. And actually maybe it’s okay to be in the middle and say I’m not sure and try and come to a conclusion but acknowledge that I’m not actually sure. These are really strange and uncertain mysteries and to say I don’t know what is going on is maybe a great place to be and exciting.”