Vampire Graves Dug Up In Bulgaria

vampire
Bulgarian archaeologists have discovered two vampire graves in the city of Sozopol on the Black Sea. The burials, which are about 700 years old, were each held down with a massive iron stake through the chest. One vampire was buried in the apse of a church – a spot usually reserved for aristocrats – and showed evidence of multiple stab wounds.

Bozhidar Dimitrov, head of the Bulgarian National Museum of History, says more than a hundred vampire graves have been found in Bulgaria. He says that most suspected vampires were aristocrats or clergy. Interestingly, none were women.

One possible explanation for the vampire myth comes from anthropologist Paul Barber in his book “Vampires, Burial, and Death.” He posits the vampire legend started because people didn’t know how bodies decomposed. Rigor mortis is only temporary. After a few days the muscles ease up and expanding gases in the body will actually shift it within the coffin. Blood seeps out of the mouth and the face and belly get a flushed and puffy look. So. . .a guy dies, they bury him, and shortly thereafter several more people die. The villagers decide the first guy is a vampire, and when they open up his grave they find he’s moved, looks fat and flush with life, and has bloody teeth. When you drive a stake through a body filled with corpse gas it lets out a shriek.

There are several good vampire attractions in Europe, such as Dracula’s Castle in Romania, the Vampire Museum in Paris and Highgate Cemetery in London, scene of a wave of vampire sightings in the 1970s.

Vampires have long captured the imagination. Vampire stories were popular in the nineteenth century and some of the best early horror films are vampire tales. “Nosferatu” (1922), a still of which is shown here in the Wikimedia Commons image, sticks close to the Bram Stoker novel. A different take can be found in the film “Vampyr” (1932). Both monsters are spooky, kick-ass killers, not the angsty pretty-boy teens of today’s vampire craze. As Bart Simpson once said, “Girls ruin everything, even vampires!”

The World’s 10 Scariest Haunted Castles

haunted castles

From a Czech forest castle reported to house the gates of hell to a gargantuan castle right here in the United States, the world’s most haunted castles boast histories rich with frightening details. Specters haunt the halls of these old castles and travelers visit to experience brushes with the paranormal. Some of these castles possess secrets darker than a moonless night, and when darkness comes, the spirits stir.

These are the ten places to go and meet ghosts. Covering nine countries, each of these castles has a past that may just try and make a ghostly impression on your present.


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haunted castles

Edinburgh Castle
Country: Scotland
Built: 12th century
Haunting: Do you believe in ghosts? Edinburgh is one of those places where skeptics cross the threshold and start saying yes. A few years ago, Time Magazine set out to name the ten most haunted places in the world and included Edinburgh Castle on that list. For starters, a headless drummer has been seen and heard in the castle halls beginning around 1650. Lady Glamis, accused of witchcraft in 1537 and burned at the stake while her young son watched, is also known to prowl the dark halls. A ghost dog has even been seen delicately prancing through the misty graveyard.

There have been so many hauntings for so long that Edinburgh Castle attracted one of the most thorough paranormal investigations ever. In 2001, an English doctor enlisted roughly 240 volunteers to spend 10 days in and around the castle. The volunteers were all screened to insure that none of them knew anything about the castle. The findings? The place is a paranormal hot spot. Many of the volunteer experiences were consistent with past sightings at the castle. There were burning sensations, phantom gropes, shadowy figures and a specter in a leather apron seen in the same spot he was seen by unrelated individuals before the study. Its ancient dungeons and cobbled corridors are home to some serious creepiness.

Visiting: Fly to Edinburgh from London for under $100 round trip. Buy tickets to visit the castle here.

haunted castles

Chillingham Castle
Country: England
Built: 12th century
Haunting: The appropriately named Chillingham Castle is located in the northern corner of England and has been haunting guests for a very long time. The castle served as a fortress to repel attacks from the Scots in the north and has thus seen a great deal of bloodshed. Chillingham has been featured on at least six ghost-related shows, and the webs are rife with strange pictures of its ghosts and orby videos.

So what haunts this medieval castle that appears to be plucked from Westeros? Most notably a childlike ghost, called the blue boy. The blue boy is seen regularly in the pink room as a flash of blue light and also above guests’ beds as a blue halo following a loud cry. Perhaps most creepy is one of the castle’s ghostly apparitions who wanders the dank halls late at night – John Sage. John Sage has a terrifyingly ridiculous backstory and was hung by Longshanks during the war with the Scots. He can be heard dragging bodies here and there.

Visiting: The Chillingham homepage states, “Tours last about 2 hours, depending on psychic activity.” The castle also accepts brave overnight guests. To get there, fly into Newcastle or Edinburgh and travel 70 miles to reach the castle.

haunted castles

Houska Castle
Country: Czech Republic
Built: 13th century
Haunting: Located in the forests north of Prague, Houska castle was never a strategic battle location. It also appears to have no function of outside fortification. It was not built to repel attacks or to keep things out. It was built to hold something in. It was built to close the gateway to hell.

The castle is built upon a fabled bottomless pit from which winged creatures and half-man-half-beasts allegedly exited. Demonic activity persisted at this site and eventually, Bohemian rulers decided to seal up the gateway with a castle. Before sealing off Hell’s realm, it is said that nearby prisoners were granted pardons if they would agree to be lowered by a rope into the hole. The story goes that the first lowered prisoner let out a yell after entering the hole. When he was raised up, he appeared to have aged over 30 years. He died of unknown causes just days later.

Wait, it gets stranger. During the 1930s, the Nazis took over the castle to conduct occult experiments with dimensional portals. Hitler, a paranormal enthusiast, was known to dabble in the occult, and it is uncertain what the scientists learned from Housksa Castle. Years later, during renovations, several Nazi officer skeletons were found, and it appeared they were killed execution style.

The recurring ghosts at Houska are plentiful, and include a giant bulldog/frog/human, a headless black horse and a woman in an old dress who is frequently seen peaking out of the top floor windows. Beneath the cellar there is said to be some nonhuman remains of the beasts that emerged from the hole.

Visiting: Houska Castle is just north of Prague and day trips to this spot are easy.

haunted castles

Belcourt Castle
Country: United States
Built: 1894
Haunting: In adjusted today dollars, Belcourt Castle cost its owner over $100 million back in the 19th century. Oliver Belmont, namesake of the Belmont stakes, heir to the Belmont family empire and poster child for turn of the century trustfund champions, built this behemoth. On its completion, Oliver chose to instead travel the world, collecting artifacts for the castle, which sounds like a pretty cool thing to do after building a gigantic home. The years were not kind to the castle and disrepair plagued it for much of the 20th century. In 1956, the mansion was sold to the Tinney family for $25,000 ($200,000 in today dollars), or about a fifth of a penny on the dollar (adjusted for inflation).

The Tinneys got a beat-up fading mansion with massive infrastructural needs – and a few ghosts. The strangest thing about Belcourt is that the hauntings allegedly come from the vast assortment of artifacts rather than the actual house. There is a haunted 15th century set of armor that lets out a blood-curdling scream every March, said to be the time that its medieval owner took a spear through the eye. In the Gothic ballroom there are haunted chairs that many claim to have been pushed out of while sitting by unknown forces.

Visiting: The owner of Belcourt Castle gives ghost tours and this May, he will be giving them on Friday and Saturday evenings. It is also open for weddings and other events. Belcourt Mansion is roughly an hour-and-a-half drive from Boston down 95 South.

haunted castles

Brissac Castle
Country: France
Built: 11th century
Haunting: The stylish French château is over seven-stories tall with around 200 rooms and is considered the tallest château in all of the Loire Valley. After a rich history, beginning with the Counts of Anjou in the 11th century, the domain was purchased by a noble husband and wife named Jacques and Charlotte. Charlotte enjoyed tormenting her husband by having noisy sex with randoms. She would keep her husband up all night with her lovers and eventually her husband snapped.

The affair ended when both the lover and Charlotte the wife disappeared. Jacques was likely behind it, but after their death, the lovers’ moans did not stop – they grew louder. The moans persisted and Jacques was forced to sell the castle, tormented by the ghosts of his past. Today, it is said that in the early morning the lovers’ moans persist.

Visiting: Château de Brissac is open to tours and even has two suites and two rooms to stay in overnight. The price for the overnight stay is not cheap, starting at 390 Euros with availability from May through September. Reach Brissac from Paris by high-speed train, taking just an hour and a half to reach nearby Angers.

haunted castles

Eltz Castle
Country: Germany
Built: 1157
Haunting: A picturesque castle with one of the richest interiors in all of Deutschland, Eltz rises up out of the surrounding Mosel forest as if boasting its longevity to the surrounding environs. A testament to its strength as a stronghold, Eltz Castle is one of few castles in the region that has never been destroyed. It is also one of just a few German castles that is said to be haunted. Allegedly, the ghosts of medieval knights still patrol the castle, which, 33 generations later, is still owned by the same original family. Imagine living in the same house as your Great X 30 grandmother.

Visiting: Reach Eltz Castle by flying into Frankfurt Hahn airport and traveling by bus or taxi for the final 15 miles to the city of Cochem.

haunted castles

Castle of Bardi (or Landi Castle)
Country: Italy
Built: 900, ish
Haunting: Built on a spur of red jasper, Bardi towers over the Emilia-Romagna valley. Bardi’s etymological impetus began with Hannibal and his cavalry of war elephants. The last elephant, named Bardus, allegedly died here during the march to Rome. Unfortunately, the castle is not haunted by a menacing ghost elephant.

A sad old story explains the real ghosts of this incredible fortress. Instead of Romeo and Juliet, we have a tale of Moroello and Soleste. Soleste was the daughter of the castle’s lord, and she was in love with Moroello, the captain of the knights. During a long battle, Soleste waited for Moroello to return, perched on the edge of her family fortress, eyes locked on the distant horizon. Eventually, she saw riders galloping back from the battlefront. When the soldiers reached her eyesight, she noticed they were riding with enemy colors. She was overcome with grief at the possibility of Moroello’s death and threw herself off of the castle’s edge. In a sad twist of irony, the riders were in fact Moroello and his soldiers, and they were just wearing the enemy colors to boast. Moroello found his love dead on the ground and immediately realized what he had done and killed himself. The ghost of Moroello haunts the castle to his day, wandering the grounds searching for his lost love.

Visiting: Bardi is located in Emilia-Romagna in northern Italy. The easiest way to reach the region is by plane to Parma or by train from nearby Bologna or Milan.

haunted castles

Dragsholm Castle
Country: Denmark
Built: 1215
Haunting: Some places are simply haunted by a ghost or two, but Dragsholm, located on an islet in Denmark, is allegedly home to 100 ghosts. How anyone came to take inventory on the ghosts and find such a round number was likely done with some relation to Dragsholm tourism development, but the place is wicked haunted, having functioned as both a prison and a battle fortification. Some consider it the most haunted castle in the world.

Of the many stories about Dragsholm’s ghosts, perhaps the most terrifying origin ghost tale involves the White Lady. Before she wandered the castle halls as a ghost, the White Lady was just a girl – a girl who was in love with one of the castle laborers. As a member of nobility, her father, and owner of the castle, condemned the relationship, but the affair persisted. Eventually, the father grew so angry about the ongoing affair that he imprisoned his daughter in the walls of the castle. She was not seen again until hundreds of years later. In the 20th century, during some routine castle remodeling, workers found a skeleton in one of the walls. The skeleton was wearing a white gown.

Visiting: Dragsholm Castle is open to overnight visitors, so if you want to stay in a really creepy castle this is probably the one. To get there, take a train from Copenhagen through Hillerød to Odsherred. The castle also has a restaurant.

haunted castles

Moosham Castle
Country: Austria
Built: 1208
Haunting: Built by the Prince-Bishops of Salzburg, Moosham Castle has a strange and sinister past. Hundreds of witches were beheaded within the walls of Moosham, and many still haunt the Austrian castle. Due to these hauntings, the castle is known colloquially as the Witches Castle.

In addition to being home to a coven of creepy witch ghosts, Moosham is also allegedly the lair of the werewolf. During the 1800′s, Moosham saw a sudden preponderance of mutilated cattle and deer corpses. As a consequence of this, several Moosham residents were tried and imprisoned as werewolves.

Visiting: Take bus #270 from the Salzburg bus station to reach Moosham. The trip takes about two hours.

haunted castles

Warwick Castle
Country: England
Built: 1068
Haunting: First built in the 11th century by none other than William the Conqueror, Warwick has seen more battles than perhaps any other castle in Europe. It has found peace in recent years, but the spirits still linger. Its eroded walls and faded battlements tell the tale of a long hard life for the spirits that now walk its halls.


The ghost tower is said to be one of the castle’s most haunted areas, as Sir Fulke Greville still wanders its interior. Murdered by his manservant in 1628, he is said to materialize from his portrait late on cold evenings. The castle dungeon, home to all sorts of past torment, also seems to be quite haunted. Many visitors complain of vertigo and nausea upon touching the dungeon apparatuses.

Visiting: Warwick Castle is very tourist accessible and is open every day except Christmas. Warwick Castle is located just 40 minutes from Birmingham airport.

Honorable mention:

haunted castles

Castle Bran or Dracula’s Castle
Country: Romania
Built: 1212
Haunting: In the heart of old Transylvania, deep in the Carpathian wilderness, is a castle named for a ruler from the 15th century – Vlad III Dracul. After Vlad’s father was assassinated and his brother was buried alive, he set out to become more ruthless than anyone in fiction could believably create. He makes pint-sized tyrants like Joffrey Baratheon look like equitable play dates.

It all began at an Easter feast when Vlad asked his nobles how many princes they had survived, insinuating that they conspired against past rulers. The story goes that he arrested all of them. He impaled the older ones and their families and made the younger nobles into slaves for a wave of ambitious improvements to the castle. All told, Vlad impaled tens of thousands of people, earning the nickname Vlad the Impaler, and the tales get so ridiculous that it is difficult to sift the myths from the truth. In fact, Vlad never actually lived in Castle Bran, though the castle has come to be associated with the “Son of the Dragon.”

Visiting: The easiest way to reach the castle is by traveling by train from Bucharest, Romania to Brasov, Romania. Many tour companies in Bucharest can arrange a day trip for well under 100 Euros.

[Top image of Brissac Castle via flickr image user @lain G]

The East Highland Way day six: strange sculptures and cursed castles


It’s the last day of my hike along the East Highland Way and the trail has given me a special wake-up treat, namely this view of Loch Insh in the early morning. I love this photo because it captures the most alluring aspect of Scottish lochs–the way their placid waters reflect and soften the light. Lochs are the magic mirrors of the Highlands, capturing the surrounding trees and hills and turning them into something ethereal.

Like all the villages I’ve stayed in, Kincraig vanishes within minutes of me setting out. I’m soon back in the countryside. Well, almost. First I have to negotiate a farmer’s field made squishy from yesterday’s rain and then stop to admire the Frank Bruce Sculpture Trail. This local artist, who sadly died last year, carved eerie human images out of trees. He left much of the tree in its original shape, so it looks like the people are growing naturally out of the wood. Sorrowful faces, giant hands, and struggling bodies rise out of the ground between living trees in a quiet woodland. It feels like I’m in the middle of a forest in which some of the trees have suddenly come to life. Bruce’s work is social commentary too. A grieving Third World mother holds her starving baby in front of some fat rich men, while nearby two patriots are locked in a life-or-death struggle.

It’s effective and more than a little creepy. The images stay in my mind until something more troubling occupies my thoughts. The route is taking me through an undulating, forested valley between several hills. Trails crisscross the area and I have to be careful to take the correct one. Soon I run into trouble. I come across a paved road where none appears on the map. I know I’m on the right spot judging from the relative position of the surrounding hills, so this road is a bit of a mystery. Next a few houses appear, also not on the map. For the past five days the Ordnance Survey maps have been meticulously accurate, yet now they show glaring lapses. The explanation is simple–this particular section hasn’t been fully updated since 1998. I was aware of this beforehand, but what could I do? The land has changed drastically. New trails are everywhere, curving away out of sight into the woods going who-knows-where.

%Gallery-100361%Time for a compass reading. I know where I’m headed–a small loch called Loch Gamhna and a bigger one just north of it called Loch an Eilein. From there I head pretty much due north to Aviemore, the final stop on the East Highland Way. Studying the topography (with the reasonable assumption that the shape of the hills hasn’t changed!) I see my route will take me through the gap between two hills ENE of my position. If I follow my compass reading I can get there even if the hills are out of view behind trees.

Just as I finish my reading a middle-aged man appears along the trail with his young daughter.

“Are you lost?” he asks.

“No, thanks. I just needed to take a reading because these maps are outdated.”

“Well,” he says in a haughty voice, “You should spend a little extra for the most up-to-date version.”

“I did, but–”

“Nature is a work in progress, you know,” he interrupts.

“Yeah. I was wondering which of these new trails can take me to–”

“Don’t you have a compass?”

It’s still in my hand. I hold it up.

“I’ve taken a reading, what I’m wondering is–”

“If you’re having trouble reading it I’ll check my GPS for you.”

“Never mind, have a nice day,” I say as I turn and leave.

It’s obvious this guy isn’t going to be any help. He’s playing a game of one-upmanship to impress me and his little girl. She doesn’t look impressed, only bored. I know how she feels.

So off I go following my compass readings. Now and then I get glimpses of the two hills I’m shooting for and I see I’m on track. It would be nice to have confidence in the trail I’m on, though. So far it’s been heading in the right direction, but if it veers off on another course I’ll have to slog through the woods. As I’m taking another reading an elderly man on a mountain bike appears. His face looks about seventy but his body appears half that age.

“Do you need any help?” he asks as he pulls up beside me.

“I’m headed to Loch Gamhna. I’ve taken a reading so I know where I’m going but I was wondering if this trail actually leads there.”

I feel grateful he lets me finish my sentence, unlike the previous guy.

“Yes, the OS maps are all wrong for this area nowadays. I’ve spent many an hour lost around here. If you follow this trail for another mile you’ll come to a cairn at a fork on the trail. Take the righthand path downhill and over a stream. Keep following it and you’ll get there. I see the route on your map has you going on the eastern shore of Loch an Eilein. I suggest following the western shore. There’s a good trail and you’ll get a better view of the castle.”

I thank him and he pedals off. That’s how people should treat one another out in the wilderness. Helpful and no attitude. The first guy was useless. If I had truly been lost, Mr. Superiority could have been downright dangerous.

I follow my friend’s directions and they’re right on target. Over the river and through the woods to Loch Gamhna I go. It’s a marshy little loch with tall grass growing in its shallows. The stalks wave in the increasing wind. Just past it is the large Loch an Eilein. As it comes into view its sparkling waters turn dull. The sky has clouded over. Great gray clouds swoop in from the north. I take the mountainbiker’s advice and head along the western shore to a spot across from a small island. Taking up almost the entire island is a low castle built in the 14th century by Alexander Stewart, the infamous Wolf of Badenoch.

During the Middle Ages he was the terror of Scotland, ruthlessly destroying the opposition in order to assert his authority over much of the Highlands. When the Church opposed him, he even sacked the cathedral at Elgin. This devil in armor is said to still haunt his island stronghold. A local woman tells me that as a child she used to row out to the castle with her family and it always felt uncomfortable there. Someone else tells me the castle gives off a strange echo. I try it, standing directly opposite the gate and giving a short, sharp shout. The shout comes back to me a second later, too slow for it to have bounced off the castle. It must have bounced off the opposite shore, but it sounds like it’s coming from within the battlements. Even stranger, the echo sounds louder than my original shout. I shout again and the echo comes back even louder.

Just then the sky opens up in a torrential downpour. I’ve woken the Wolf of Badenoch in his lair and he’s seriously pissed! I hurriedly don my rain gear and slosh on to Aviemore.

And there my hike ends, at a friendly little village at the heart of Scotland’s hiking culture. People with backpacks are everywhere, converging on this spot from a dozen different trails. Yet I have seen none of them on Scotland’s newest trail–the East Highland Way.

I always feel a tug of regret when finishing a good hike, especially one that has given me six days of serene nature, historic wonders, and insights into my own past. I enjoyed it even more than last year’s journey along the Hadrian’s Wall Path. I always treat myself to a long-distance hike around my birthday to cheer myself up, and when I turn 42 (ugh!) next year you can bet I’ll be back in the Scottish Highlands.

Coming up next: Hiking the East Highland Way, the practicalities.

Don’t miss the rest of my series on the East Highland Way!

Hadrian’s Wall Day Five: across the lowlands

Getting up early I take a last look at the crags that I crossed yesterday before heading west and towards Carlisle. I’m now in the lowlands and after scrabbling over steep rock for the past two days it’s very easy going. Add the fact that it’s sunny and I only have eleven miles to walk today, and I have an easy ramble ahead of me.

The countryside is more populated here, and I pass by hedges, fields, farms, even housing developments. Yet there are still wide swathes of untouched land. Rabbits hop into hedges as I approach and I spot the track of a fox in the mud. The Wall, sadly, has almost disappeared, quarried over the centuries for use in other buildings. I’m still along its course, though, as the ditch to the north and the Vallum to the south show me. They’ve survived better than the more durable stone.

The richness of this region made it a target for reivers, and I pass another pele tower, almost swallowed up by the more modern house built around it. There were probably more around here but they’re been quarried for stone just like the Wall was.

I stop by the side of the trail for a snack and meet some other hikers. I’ve met a few along this hike, but this group is different–it’s a whole family, including a ten-year-old boy and an eight-year-old girl. They’re doing the entire Hadrian’s Wall Path and have already made it all the way from Newcastle to this spot, more than sixty miles. They’re taking it slow, the kids carrying little day packs and being encouraged with a steady supply of treats, but they’re doing it. Hmmmm, perhaps I should have picked a more challenging hike for my midlife crisis. It helps that these are two of the coolest kids ever. I ask them if any of the other kids in their school have ever walked across England and they blush and smile and shake their heads no. Impressive. Once my kid is a bit bigger I’ll have to take him across the country too. At age three he’s already walking a kilometer each way to and from school.

Next I come to the River Eden, which flows westward to Solway Firth, my final destination. Thick bushes colored with purple wildflowers grow along its banks. It’s a peaceful spot, but I see the tops of buildings ahead.

It’s not long until the River Eden winds its way into suburban Carlisle. I pass through a city park and nod at someone passing the other direction. He gives me a confused, wary look and I realize that I’m off the trail, where conversation is easy and everyone is helpful, and back into the world of city attitude.

%Gallery-72022%Carlisle is the most northerly city in England (it would be hard to go further north without ending up in Scotland) and has a population of a little more than 100,000, although it feels much smaller. An ugly ring of modern sprawl surrounds a few winding historic streets with a soaring cathedral, a few very old buildings such as the Guildhall built in 1407, and a massive castle. Carlisle Castle is built atop a Roman fort and the oldest bits still visible were built by Henry I in the 1120s. It was actually finished by David I of Scotland, who captured Carlisle in 1136. This city and Newcastle, where I started my hike, were top prizes in the constant English-Scottish border wars. David was one of the great early kings of the Scots and helped unify the rival clans into something approaching a national identity. It took a lot of fighting to bring the proud families under the feudal yoke, and he was only partially successful, but the Scots loved him because he was good at killing Englishmen

In a pedestrian underpass in front of the castle is a large boulder of sculpted granite that has got to be the strangest example of public art I’ve ever seen. It’s a reproduction of a famous “cursing stone” made in 1525 and inscribed with a curse against the reivers by the Archbishop of Glasgow. It’s pretty nasty, going on for more than a thousand words and inscribed in a spiral around the entire stone. For sheer spiteful detail, it cannot be matched.

“I curse their head and all the hairs of their head; I curse their face, their brain, their mouth, their nose, their tongue, their teeth, their forehead, their shoulders, their breast, their heart, their stomach, their back, their womb, their arms, their leggs, their hands, their feet, and every part of their body, from the top of their head to the soles of their feet, before and behind, within and without. . . May all the malevolent wishes and curses ever known, since the beginning of the world, to this hour, light on them. May the malediction of God, that fell upon Lucifer and all his fellows, that cast them from the high Heaven to the deep hell, light upon them. . .

And on and on and on. It’s so creepy, in fact, that one local councilor has blamed it for everything from foot-and-mouth disease to floods and tried to have it removed.

Luckily reason won out over superstition and the cursing stone remains in place. But having read it and touched it, will my good luck on this hike hold out?

Read the entire series here.

Tomorrow: Finished!