St Andrews is home to the oldest university in Scotland and indeed the third oldest university in the English-speaking world. You are probably aware of the grand old age of the town from your obligatory visit to the cathedral and castle with your parents when you first arrived – and have since begun to take the medieval walkways (complete with the initials of victims of the stake – like the famously unlucky PH) around you for granted. Undeniably, there is a certain romanticism about town, embodied by the gorgeous gardens, cobbled streets and medieval ruins dotted all over.
But don’t be fooled: Behind the beauty and romance lies the true and very dark history of St Andrews where religious rivalry, dreadful disease and murderous sentiment ravaged the town and perhaps contributed to the (reportedly over 400) locations where ghosts are said to roam in this incredibly “haunted” area of Scotland.
Whether you’re a total sceptic or fanatic for all things spooky, here’s a mere outline of some of the creepiest ghosts and most haunted locations in St Andrews. So keep this in mind when you consider a taxi or a drunken stroll home this Halloween, because under the veil of costume, the line may be blurred between friend and phantom.
The White Lady
If you’ve exhausted the St Andrews dating pool and are looking for eternal love, you may be in luck, because down by the cathedral you can find the strikingly beautiful “White Lady.” She is said to have died of a broken heart, and so might be on the rebound. She is probably the most famous ghost of St Andrews, with many sightings of her dating back to the 1800s.
She is seen around the cathedral grounds and is said to come from the small square watchtower that looks over the harbour – which later became a family mausoleum, and finally was closed off and neglected. Her lover was beheaded in St Andrews, an event from which she seemingly never recovered, as she died alone in her nunnery. Years later, when workmen were repairing the wall for the church, they found a woman lying in a coffin absent of the lid that fitted her description perfectly. She wears a long flowing white dress, has long dark hair past her waist and according to one witness has the most “divinely beautiful face on this earth.” She is said to be luminous when seen in the dark.
Nun’s Walk and The Pends
This street going down from South Street to East Sands used to be a vaulted entrance into the monastery and was the checkpoint for the pilgrims coming from all over to visit the Cathedral. Many pilgrims were actually turned away as they had caught the plague, and so were left to die in St Andrews. Several people report feeling watched when walking down here, and describe dogs cowering from an invisible energy on the path. But this energy isn’t merely invisible, as there are reports of a nun haunting this road – a woman who wears a black veil and carries a lamp.
The story varies, but typically goes that, in life, she was an extremely beautiful and intelligent woman who many men wanted to marry. She finally agreed marry one of them, but her chosen lover either died or fell in love with somebody else before they reached the alter. She was left so bitter and heartbroken that, in order to ensure no man would look at her again, she sliced off her ears, eyelids, nose and lips and branded her cheeks with hot irons. She then became a nun, and eventually died of her wounds.
It is said that if you come across her, she will lift her veil and use her lamp to illuminate her face – a sight even more shocking and disturbing than the thousands of drunk, half-naked students that also parade down this street at 5 am every may dip. So, beautiful and intelligent ladies of St Andrews, you may wish to avoid a romantic walk with your boo down here as the nun may reveal her face to you – green with jealousy of your love.
The castle has always been a hotspot for tipsy star gazing, but historically it is also a hotspot for murder and torture – even sporting its own dungeon. Just outside the castle you will see the initials GH on the road. This is the spot where protestant protestor George Wishart was burned at the stake by Cardinal Beaton (who lived in the castle). It was made quite a spectacle, with a feast held within the castle to celebrate, and gunpowder thrown on the fire, causing an excruciating death. As a result, a band of protestants found the Cardinal’s behaviour so disgraceful that they stormed the castle, stabbed him to death, and hung his naked body on a St Andrews cross from the exterior. The Cardinal is said to still live in the castle, and may be seen roaming the grounds in his robes – so I would avoid trespassing the castle because he obviously doesn’t take kindly to rebellion.
All of these ghost stories may be taken with a pinch of salt, but in St Andrews of all places, maybe it’s worth keeping your eyes peeled this Halloween – you might see more than sexy nurses and vampires.