Edinburgh Castle is said to be home to many a ghostly spectre, none of the reported paranormal castle dwellers are more famous than those of the phantom musicians that visitors still claim to witness to this day.
Edinburgh Castle has seen more than its fair share of drama and tragedy over the centuries. No doubt there are more ghostly tales to be told about the fortress that stands so proudly on the rock above the city, but the two most famous stories concern a phantom piper and a (sometimes headless) drummer. Both are fitting tales to tell about Edinburgh Castle - the sound of pipes and drums is inextricably linked with the castle in modern times, for it is the venue of the world-famous Edinburgh Military Tattoo, in which massed bands from regiments all over the world thrill audiences of several hundred a night for three weeks every year.
The Phantom Piper
Edinburgh Castle has seen many alterations and additions since it first came into being as a fortified stronghold. The oldest surviving building on Castle Rock is St Margaret's Chapel, built in the twelfth century, but over the following centuries, walls, ramparts, vaults, batteries, and a cluster of buildings with both grand and prosaic functions were added until the whole finally came to resemble the castle as people can see it today, complete with a modern visitor centre.
The story goes that in the course of some of those building works, workmen came upon the entrance to a tunnel that appeared to be leading down through Castle Rock, underneath the Royal Mile. In order to establish how long the tunnel was and where it went, a piper was dispatched to walk as far as he could, playing his pipes as he went, thereby allowing those who remained above ground to follow the sounds of his music and trace the tunnel's route. It seemed like a good plan at the time. The piper set off, and the people above waited and listened. The sound of playing bagpipes could be heard, albeit faintly, and the sound was moving down the Royal Mile, much as everybody had expected it would.
The people above ground kept listening and following the sound. Suddenly, getting towards halfway down the Royal Mile, the piping stopped. There seems to be no record of anybody having gone to look for the hapless piper; perhaps they were all too scared. Rather than take the investigations any further, it was decided to seal the tunnel once more and forget all about it.
To this day, it is said, if you listen hard enough above the sounds of the traffic on the stretch of the Royal Mile that leads from Edinburgh Castle to South Bridge, you might just hear the sound of subterranean bagpipe music, for the ghost of the piper is said to still play in the tunnel below the street.
The Ghostly Drummer
The story of the drummer at Edinburgh Castle appears to date from the middle of the seventeenth century. Soldiers were garrisoned at the castle under the command of the governor at the time, Colonel Walter Dundas.
One night the sentry on guard duty was startled by the sound of a military drum being played. On looking up, he saw a drummer marching on the battlements, beating out a warning of an impending attack. The sentry fired his musket and raised the alarm. When others came to his aid, nothing could be seen or heard of the drummer, and the sentry was locked up, suspected of being under the influence of drink while on duty.
On subsequent nights, however, the drummer was seen again by different sentries and was heard playing his drum by the governor of the Castle himself. The drummer was obviously a spectre of some sort, but no one knew why the figure kept appearing.
Perhaps the drummer was trying to tell the occupants of the Castle something. Later that year, when the Castle was besieged by Cromwell's troops, the appearance of the ghostly drummer was perceived, with hindsight, to have been a warning of such an occurrence. To this day, there are claims that the drummer still appears from time to time, disturbing the peace of the night with the noise of his drumbeat. Some people who claim to have seen the ghost claim that the drummer is headless.