Unsolved Scottish mysteries

Many mystery writers use Scotland as the setting for their novels, like The Balmoral Incident and Out of Bounds. Besides the many legends and myths about supernatural creatures, there are plenty of real events that remain unexplained today…

 

Dundee’s mystery hangman

 

Photo courtesy of Dark Dundee (2017)

 

A criminal gang known as the Black Band terrorised Dundee throughout the 1830s with break-ins, robberies and riots. An Irish member, Mark Devlin, was captured in 1835 and sentenced to death by hanging. Unfortunately, Dundee didn’t have a hangman, so they had to call for an executioner from Edinburgh. The executioner failed to show up, so officials were forced to ask for volunteers from the townspeople. The volunteer identified himself as local showman James Livingstone, but requested that he wear a mask during the execution. As it turns out, the real James Livingstone had been 15 miles away, in the town of Forfar, at the time of the incident. Needless to say, James was pretty upset, and gathered several reliable witness accounts to prove it wasn’t him. 180 yeas later, no one knows who hung Mark Devlin.

 

The Great Mull airplane mystery

 

Photo courtesy of Mystery Ink (2016)

In December 1975, former Royal Air Force pilot Peter Gibbs drank whisky and a bottle of bordeaux at a hotel in the small Isle of Mull. Him and his girlfriend left swiftly, announcing to hotel staff that he was going to fly a rented Cessna plane. The staff protested, worried that flying at night after drinking was unsafe, to which Peter responded:

 “I am not asking for permission, I just thought it was courtesy to let you know.”

Upon Peter’s instructions, his girlfriend Felicity remained on the ground and held up two torchlights to guide the airplane as there were no landing lights. He told Felicity that he would land once in Glen Forsa, to prove that night landing was possible, and then return to her after a few minutes. Two hours later, Peter had still not returned, and a 72 hour storm broke loose. Gibbs’ body was not found until 4 months later on a hillside, but apart from a small cut on his leg he had suffered no other injuries. He did not look like a man who had crashed his plane into a hill, nor was there any evidence to suggest his body had been in contact wit sea water. The aircraft was found between Mull and the mainland 11 years later, but the doors were locked and the engine, wheels and wings had been detached, suggesting a serious crash had happened. Many questions remain: why wasn’t his body found during the police search in the first 4 months? Mull is a very small island, making it relatively difficult to completely lose a human (let alone a plane). Why was the plane in such terrible condition, meanwhile Gibbs only suffered a small cut on his leg? Why did he decide to fly that night at all? To this day, the mystery remains unresolved.

 

 

Bluejacket Boy

Photo courtesy of Alistair Munro (2014)

In 1949, a woman found a stamped letter behind her fireplace in the Orkney Islands, although she had no idea how it got there. The letter was dated 1916 and was addressed to Wales, with the sender identifying himself simply as Bluejacket Boy. The intended recipient, John Williams, has been identified as a member of the navy in World War I. In the letter, Bluejacket Boy mentions several family members, and that he sent a handkerchief with a photo of a sailor on it to someone named Ethel.

Photo courtesy of Orkney Library & Archive

 

Decades later, the Orkney library conducted a search on the 1911 Census and were eventually able to uncover the identity of Bluejacket Boy: a man named Dai Phillips, pictured above. Dai’s granddaughter, Minnie, has also been traced and will be collecting the letter from Orkney one day. We still don’t know how the letter ended up behind that fireplace, but at least we finally know who Bluejacket Boy is.

 

 

Bible John & The Barrowland Killings

 

Photo courtesy of Ron McKay (2017)

 

In the late 1960s, three women named Patricia Docker, Jemima McDonald and Helen Puttock were picked up from the Barrowland Ballroom in Glasgow by an unidentified man, on separate occasions. The women were all raped and strangled with their own stockings. The most unsettling part of the story is that all three women were menstruating at the time of the murders, and their bodies were found with used sanitary towels and tampons near their bodies. The bodies were found in different locations, however they had all been murdered the same way, and gotten their handbags stolen – although their belongings were left by their corpses. Witness accounts allowed police to create a sketch of what they think Bible John might look like, but 50 years later, we still don’t know who was responsible for the rape and murders of the Barrowland Ballroom.

Magical Places in the Highlands

  • Fairy Pools, Isle of Skye

Photo courtesy of Lam, K. (2017) Visit Scotland

The famous Fairy Pools are a truly magical phenomenon right in the Glen Brittle forest. The crystal clear water is so blue that you almost start to think you’ve accidentally wandered to Greece – but the moment you jump in, reality hits you like an ice bath. Don’t let it stop you though! It’s worth the trip just for the photos, and it makes for a pretty scenic walk. Want to really feel the magic? Stop by Talisker Distillery for some peaty, peaty goodness. In terms of accommodation, we’ve got you covered – book in at Skye Backpackers here.

 

Loch Ness

We may as well talk about the elephant in the room… Loch Ness is arguably Scotland’s most famous loch, but before you go, you might want to brush up on your knowledge of the proper pronunciation of loch (it’s not what you think). While you’re admiring the scenery, remember to bring your binoculars and try to spot the famous Loch Ness Monster, aka Nessie. Fun fact: the first sighting of Nessie dates as far back as 565 AD, and there have been dozens of official research expeditions aiming to find the monster. For the best viewing spot, get yourself a bed at the Lochside Hostel, located right on the edge of Loch Ness.

 

Finnich Glen

Photo courtesy of Reddit user @FocustoInfinity (2016)

You may recognise Finnich Glen, now commonly referred to as Devil’s Pulpit, from the TV series Outlander. Rumour has it, Finnich Glen was also a secret meeting place for the ancient Druids, and was also literally where Satan preached to the monks. Despite being located just 15 miles from Glasgow, the site is profoundly remote and peaceful. Finnich Glen is famous for its crimson red water streams that rise and fall to reveal the Devil’s Pulpit rock.

 

Enchanted Forest, Pitlochry

Photo courtesy of Angus Forbes (2017)

The Enchanted Forest is an outdoor light and sound festival set in Faskally Wood in Highland Perthshire, taking place from October 4th to November 4th in 2018. Renowned as Scotland’s premier light experience, the event aims to create a fairytale-esque experience using lights on the natural scenery, accompanied by live music and actors. This year’s show is named ‘Oir an Uisge’ (translation: ‘edge of the water’ in Gaelic’). To complete the experience, you can grab some mulled wine and head over to the Storytelling Yurt for some enchanting tales. At the end of the night, kick back with some hot chocolate and a game of pool at the Pitlochry Backpackers Hotel.

 

Callanish Stones

Photo courtesy of Visit Scotland (2016)

Scotland’s equivalent of the Stonehenge, also known as Stonehenge of the North, can be found near Loch Roag on the Isle of Lewis. The stones are made from the one of the oldest rocks in Britain, Lewisian gneiss, which dates back approximately 3000 million years. It remains unknown as to why the Callanish Stones were erected 5000 years ago, however it is known that it was a hotspot for ritual activity for 2000 years. Ancient folklore claims that the stones were giants who refused to convert to Christianity, and were petrified by St Kieran, effectively turning them to stone. Maybe by magic?

Glenfinnan Viaduct

Speaking of magical, let’s not forget the iconic Glenfinnan Viaduct, better known as The Harry Potter Bridge, where you can catch the Jacobite steam train, aka the Hogwarts Express. The viaduct was featured in Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, and the Prisoner of Azkaban, attracting thousands of visitors every year. The town, Mallaig, was actually considering closing the railway due to economic troubles – luckily, JK Rowling turned the Glenfinnan Viaduct into a tourist attraction and saved the jobs of many locomotive workers. For the ultimate experience, catch the Jacobite steam train from Fort William to Mallaig, and head out from the car park to get a good view.

You’re a wizard, Harry.