Slains Castle

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I will tell you, this season I had the opportunity to visit some pretty amazing and creepy places around the world. Of all the spooky spots I will say this one takes the cake. Said to be the spot that inspired Bram Stoker to write Dracula, Slains Castle is now a ruin south of Aberdeen, Scotland. There are no gates or tolls or a even a sign saying “Slains Castle this way”. Nope, just word of mouth is how I found this one.

I was playing golf at the impossible Cruden Bay golf course losing more balls than my dogs when I noticed a castle way off in the distance from the 9th hole. My caddie informed me that was the infamous Slains Castle and was one of the creepiest place in Scotland so be sure to never visit. He obviously didn’t know who he was talking to and for the rest of the game I hammered him with questions. When he said it was the castle that inspired Bram Stoker to write Dracula, I damn near threw my golf clubs into the sea and ran directly there.

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The next day I set out to visit Slains Castle before, what I thought to be, a mass tourist exodus. Before I get to that, can I tell you how amazed I was that for the entire trip and over 300 miles driving, I drove a manual transmission on the opposite side without incident? That was a shocker.

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The castle was not as easy to find as I had imagined. Like I said earlier, there were no signs or huge billboards like we have in the states. The ruins I saw were way off in the distance so to find the way there was pretty much a guessing game using a sense of direction. When I found a small dirt road, it didn’t feel like the way to a famous castle but like everything else on these trips, the real thing is always more impressive than your expectation little to no fanfare.

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Slains Castle is, in fact, not a tourist attraction. Actually, I don’t even think I was allowed to be there but there was absolutely no one around for miles and miles which made this visit all the more creepy. Oddly enough, later that evening I was reading up on the history of Slains Castle and there were a lot of people who die visiting there! No kidding, a woman was found dead there not long before my visit and in the recent years past people have fallen off the sea cliffs and all sorts of bizarre deaths. Kinda glad I read that after my trip.

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To be there was surreal and absolutely unnerving. It wasn’t like visiting a burnt out old building with urban legends from kids in the neighborhood. No, this was a ruin from the 14th Century that even in it’s prime was creepy enough to inspire the story of Dracula. The sounds of the North Sea crashing against the cliffs were almost completely silenced when inside the open stucture. To add to the lore, a murder of crows flew in and out of holes in the walls and some just perched staring down at you. It was as if hundreds of eyes were on you and not just the crows.

You’ll notice at the beginning of video I enter and quickly turn around. I was a little overwhelmed for some reason. Maybe it was the fact I was walking into a castle for the first time or maybe I heard something, I can’t truly recall. I do remember being shaken right away and you can clearly see that when I did a 180.

I spent roughly an hour walking through the ruins without sign of a single human. No car sounds in the distance. Not even a boat to be seen out at sea. It was such a sensory overload I had to walk out just to collect my thoughts. When navigating the halls it kinda felt like R2D2 as he(?) was stalked by Jawas. It all felt just a little too much.

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Leaving these kind of places is always weird like backing out of the driveway of the Amityville house. It is empty, you know that and I know that but deep down it feels like it isn’t. You get this sense that something is watching you leave and that dreaded sense or foreboding loneliness setting back in. Maybe I am being overly sensitive, I don’t know, but it is a real feeling that even now as I write this in bed, I get goosebumps and the hairs stand on end.

Watch my visit to Slains Castle! Sorry not sorry about the bagpipes.

 

The Banshee Labyrinth

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Oh Scotland, you have my heart. From scenery that would make the most complaisant person weep to history so rich and dark it makes every step sacred as you walk along the same streets as the Jacobites. It humbles you. That’s all I can really say. I am so enamored with history that I often wonder how I am in the business of selling the future.

Today, as we spend the last few days of the Halloween season, I take you to the self-described “most haunted bar in Scotland”, The Banshee Labyrinth. Center in the Edinburgh New City, it is a multilayered pub that offers a little something for everyone. It is only open after 4:30 but I heard it has great food, music and even a cinema. But really, at the end of the day, it is all about the atmosphere. This place is amazing and makes you feel as if you are the etherial plane, between this world and the next.

I lucked out and got a private tour from one of the managers. I knew from his Cramps t-shirt we would be best friends if I was a resident but I will take a personalized tour just the same. He goes into the darker realms of the Labyrinth and shares his stories about all the ghostly happenings in this bar. There is even a coven of witches which is said to have sealed a demonic force in a stone circle that is right above a section of the underground pool rooms. You can enter but you have to leave the same way or you risk getting really hurt. I didn’t take any chances.

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The most famous story was from a group of workers who were renovating parts of the Labyrinth and heard faint crying from one area. When they went to investigate they found a girl with long black hair weeping in the corner with her face buried in her hands. They approached her and she looked up. This is when I would have shit twice and died on the spot. She had no eyes and let out a blood-curdling scream causing the workers to flee from the building for their lives. But that isn’t the worst of it. Later in the day they all received calls informing them someone in their families had died that very afternoon. Hence the Banshee.

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So, come take a tour with me and Drew as we should you Edinburgh and Scotland’s most haunted pub, The Banshee Labyrinth.

CoD Visits Greyfriars Kirkland Cemetery!

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Holy cats, my friends! I have been to a lot of freaky locations but this one is a doozy. Smack in the center of Edinburgh, Scotland is one of the most notorious cemeteries for the macabre and bizarre not to mention widely regarded as the most haunted in the entire world. THE WORLD! This place is Greyfriars Kirkland Cemetery and though I have heard of it in the papers and watched it on travel documentaries, it almost completely overwhelmed me in person. That is really saying something because I am usually an underwhelmed sort of guy. It’s my nature.

I couldn’t believe how easy it was to find because, well, I wasn’t looking for it at that exact time. Everything in Edinburgh looks so mysterious and spooky it isn’t hard to accidentally pass a notably haunted dungeon or spooky pub when looking for something  specific. Along any search you will find so many other places. It is as if God created a holy land for weirdos like myself because around every corner is breathtaking beauty with a touch of evil.

Established in 1560, the cemetery has seen quite a lot of turmoil in the old days of Scotland. Some of the capital punishments were so insane, movies today would probably not get an ‘R’ rating if they were truly accurate. The most notorious was the judge and death-dealer George Mackenzie who got his evil notoriety for the persecution of Scottish Covenanters, a Presbyterian movement in the 17th century. He would take delight in sentencing thousands to torture and beheadings, impaling the said heads on the cemetery gate spikes. He is now located in the Greyfrair cemetery inside the Black Mausoleum but that is not where his story ends.

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Not in the 1600’s or 1700’s or even in the 1800’s but as recent as 1999 a homeless guy was caught in the brutal Scottish winter and sought shelter anywhere he could find it. In desperation he broke into the MacKenzie Black Mausoleum to escape the icy rain. While in the tomb he began to break into the coffins to see if there were any valuables worth taking to sell. He took a step backwards and the entire floor gave way below. The vagabond landed in a long forgotten sealed room but this room was not empty at all. It was full of half-decayed corpses so well-preserved from the airtight vault most still had their skin and hair even after two hundred years.

The homeless guy, obviously panicked and covered in what can only be imagined, crawled his way out of the vault and through the mausoleum. He ran screaming out of the cemetery where he was met by a police officer who was terrified by the vision he was witnessing. What emerged from the tomb ever since that night is said to be something dark and malevolent and speculated to be the ghost of George MacKenzie himself!

The locals call it the MacKenzie Poltergeist and as of today there have been hundreds of people who have lost consciousness around the Black Mausoleum and many more reporting violent attacks especially when provoking…whatever resides in this tomb. I saw the tomb with my own eyes and brother, it is as evil as you can believe. Especially at night! I’ll get to that soon.

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Walking around the grave yard was a little spooky but mostly a trip back in time. Every chiseled mural is a look back in time to when death was around every corner. From wars to occupation to the Black Plague, it is all here. There are even bars over the ground to thwart grave robbers and ghoulish doctors from exhuming fresh corpses for study. Or…whatever they did with the bodies.

Here is a short little video of my daytime visit to the Greyfriar Cemetery where you can see the black tomb and other macabre visuals. And as a bonus they had a dog blessing in the cemetery at the same time!

So, long story short…I missed my train back to Aberdeen. I was waiting on the wrong track or had a few beers or whatever. The point is I missed my ride and had to stay a night in Edinburgh. Oh shucks.

What does one do in a beautiful city with such a tortured history that predates the United States by a thousand years? One goes back to the Greyfriar Kirkland Cemetery to see if the ol’ MacKenzie Poltergeist is real, of course! And that is exactly what I did.

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Thank goodness for liquid courage because had I done this without some “spirits” I may have pissed myself. Every scene was something out of the mind of Washington Irving. From silent crows staring from the walls while strolling closer to the gates to the ghostly howl of the wind, everything was shaping up perfectly to be found in the morning, babbling like a crazy person, huddled in a crypt.

IMG-1516Once again, I found myself in the place few venture alone. There was no one in the cemetery and it was well after midnight on a weekday so the random daredevils and curious ghost hobbyists were most likely doing something more productive. The only noises were the slight breezes moving through the dead leaves that were still hanging in the low branches. It was a scene that will forever stay with me and for that I am grateful.

There it is! The infamous Black Mausoleum right in front of me in the dead of night. The place were hundreds of documented attacks and injuries were reported by some invisible force. The spot where thousands were walled up and died a torturous death. The resting spot for one of the most evil beings ever to walk the Earth. The place were hundreds were executed in ways we couldn’t imagine. And it was there in front of me as time seemed to stop.

I sat there for a while nervously watching and listening to any odd changes that seemed out-of-place to the norms of the night. I tried to get the famous nursery rhyme that is said to enrage the MacKenzie Poltergeist into acts of violence out of my head. “Bluidy Mackingie, come oot if ye daur, lift the sneck and draw the bar!”. 

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I summoned up the courage to get closer and peered into the crypt, praying that red eyes wouldn’t be staring back from the blackness. I took the pictures and shot the video (which is too dark to see) and after a few more minutes decided I had over stayed my welcome. The feelings of overwhelming dread came over me. I have had this happen before in very few places. The only way I can describe it is like standing in the ocean on a sandbar and staring off the edge into the blackness of the sea. Nothing is there that you see but there might be something that can see you. It causes you to walk a little quicker with a purpose to find a way out. No rational explanation other than the fight or flight defense that is deep within our DNA.

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I got out unscathed. For the rational and non believers this might seem like a “no kidding” moment but I challenge anyone to peer into the blackness of the Black Mausoleum that has been the source of so much violent activity, the government has a UK warning of danger in this cemetery. Something is going on.

Thanks for coming a long with me to visit the Greyfriars Kirkland Cemetery in Ediburgh! Like the Japanese haunted forest, it was something I had to do and I am glad I get to share it.

Stay tuned for the next crazy place I found! This one will blow your mind!

Halloween!

A Day In the Aokigahara Forest

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 Note: I want to mention that this post deals with the topic of suicide. Mental illness is a disease that comes with an unfair stigma unlike any other disease. Those that suffer, do so silently and often the way out is of their own accord. Please, if you feel this way talk, reach out and ask for help. It always gets better. Always.

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Over the years I have visited many spooky places across the country and all but a couple have left something to be desired. I am a big optimist and fall for folklore and urban legends because I want to believe. I love the stories of the lone tragic dead bride who is cursed to wander the halls of a Holiday Inn for all eternity. So many places jump on the ghost story wagon and when you’re a gullible tourist, like myself, you should walk away disappointed when you don’t get the willies even though almost all the stories are greatly exaggerated.

There is a place, however, which exceeds any folklore or spooky yarn. It is so dark and disturbing, Hollywood and authors alike have tried to capture the essence of this destination but have not even touched what I experienced. Even the Japanese people themselves do not talk about it and if you, as an outsider, bring this into conversation you will be met with judging eyes and uncomfortable body language. This is the place people enter and they do not plan to come out. It is said to be cursed and full of vengeful spirits that float on the periphery of the eye to lure visitors to their doom. It’s name is the Aokigahara Forest but is also called the Sea of Trees, Sea of Forest, Japan’s Demon Forest but is most commonly referred to as the Japanese Suicide Forest.

I spent an entire day inside this forest and even though I successfully found my way out, it has not left me. I do not believe it ever will.

The dark history of this forest goes back to almost twelve hundred years to a period of famine in Japan. To reduce the number of mouths to feed, families would abandon their elderly in the forest knowing they would have no way of finding their way out and would eventually die of starvation or exposure. In the sixties, a the book Kuroi Kaiju (Black Sea of Trees) became a very popular story which ends with the two lovers in the story committing suicide inside the forest. This is speculated to be the reason many people sought the forest to be a final destination and the book, itself, has been found many times inside the forest.

The Japanese government would post the numbers of deaths inside the Aokigahara Forest but after the financial crisis of 2008, there was a dramatic spike that only increased over the following years. After 2013, it was decided the stats were not to be published for fear it would only draw more attention to this macabre destination. As of this year the average is thought to be as many as two per day.

The Aokigaraha Forest is located at the base of Mt. Fuji and has the most insane topography because the floor is formed from lava flows from the volcano. The trees are lush and grow in twisted, odd formations and thick moss covers almost everything. It is so dense that in the middle of the afternoon it can feel like the middle of the night so shadows will not cast. And the sound! I have never to an outside location where your ears feel almost compressed and it feels absolutely deafening. Your breath sounds like waves of noise and you have to stop to get your heartbeat under control just to listen for anything in the woods. I can understand the what those who come here might feel. The forest surrounds you and every sense you have is taken over.

As you will see in the video below, I get turned around a few times. It is about fourteen miles of forest and most of it is almost impossible to get to. If you leave the path it can be extremely dangerous because of the lava flow rock floor, caves and deep pockets are everywhere. You could be walking through and drop into a cavern, never to be heard from again. Also, hundreds of years of fallen foliage makes traversing the area a knee-deep slog what could hide almost anything underneath. I left the trail only a few times but just feet away, I lost my orientation and came close to my way losing the trail. The forest and trees have a way of wanting to keep you.

I did my best to keep track of where I was through simple land navigation tricks like measuring my stride and footsteps to figure out how far in I was and how long it would take to get back. The trail map, however, was definitely not calibrated to exact distance so a few hours in, it was clear I really turned around. To add a little stress to the situation, I had a bus home scheduled for 7pm. By the end of the day it was a race to not only get out of the forest but get out as close to where I started from. Not easy when all the signs are in Japanese characters.

There were times when I could not tell if my mind, ears or eyes were playing tricks on me. I saw absolutely no one the entire time I was in the forest. There were no hikers, workers or even the tourists with a curiosity like myself. I moved with a quickness to see as much of the forest as possible in the six hours I was in but occasionally I stopped dead in my tracks because I heard people having conversations off the trail. Knowing the dangers of leaving the trail I would quickly look in the direction I thought the voices were coming from and there was nothing. This seemed to happen more frequently the longer I was in the forest.

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They say, if you follow ropes in the Aokigahara, it will lead to something. It does. I made the decision not to publish completely what I found to show respect for whoever was there, the Japanese culture and the topic of suicide. I did not find a body but I did see an abandoned tent, blankets, empty pill cases and looped rope tied high in a tree. It was the most sinking feeling of utter hopelessness I have ever felt. And I don’t think that feeling will leave me for a long time. That’s all I have to say about that.

Eventually I made it out of the forest, though it was a little stressful finding the right stop that still had an active bus associated with it. When I realized the one I waited for was not an active stop, I had to go back into the forest to make it a stop that had a bus. That’s when my mind was the most paranoid and I really felt hundreds of eyes on me as I moved with a quickness to escape the dark. I can still distinctly remember hearing people out there but I know there were none.

Well, spoiler alert, I survived. I found my way out and made it home but even as I write this, I know that forest came with me. I think about it all the time and the feelings that permitted the trees, the ground and the silent air. Even I write this, I can hear that split second chattering out beyond the trails. There is something there. That I know.

I kept this video pretty raw because any music or editing would detract from what was happening. I am a bit annoyed by the GoPro Hero 5 I was using because apparently there is an audio port I couldn’t see so there is a lot of accidental finger rubbing over the microphone. To be honest, that camera is a pretty big disappointment for the cost.

I hope you get at least 1% of what I experienced from this video. It’s shaky and raw but hopefully it can bring you a little closer to the Sea of Trees: The Aokigahara Forest. With much respect to the culture of the Japanese people, thank you.

 

 

13 Days Of Christmas

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It’s 13 days till Christmas! It’s practically here!

That’s right, you freaks, we are creeping our way down to the day of Christmas when we get loaded on eggnog, open gifts and watch The Christmas Story 12 times in a row and smash the hand of anyone who dares change the channel. (Sorry about last year, Grandma) With the busy life and time of your’s truly and the crash landing of the Halloween Hell Show, I figured committing 13 days is way more doable than an entire month. But don’t fret, we have lots in store and 13 videos too! I can say that with certainty since most are already shot.

OH! I am also doing a few horror gift giveaways to brighten your Christmas season. Each will be different and announced on Twitter so if you don’t follow me, you might want to. Details will follow on the first prize announced tomorrow.

So, get ready for the unholy number of days as we countdown to Christmas day and have the time of our life doing it. Bring it in. I have hugs for you.

Until the official start (late tonight) spread your love of the holiday and checkout Matt’s annual holiday fantasmo over at DinosaurDracula. It’s tradition, mang.