I have always believed in ghosts. As a child, I think it’s just natural to believe in these sorts of things, but I recall the precise moment when my belief in ghosts was solidified. It was Day of the Dead and my mom had decided it would be fun to take me and my sister to a cemetery to celebrate. She packed a picnic lunch and toted us off to find a random grave to dine with. It was a beautiful cemetery, the old kind, a little unkempt and filled with aged tombstones. There were large oak trees that twisted their barren branches through the pathways as we walked, the crush of their fallen leaves underfoot. We found our way to a cluster of graves that were encircled in a short stone wall. This was the spot. We sat down on the wall and unpacked our sandwiches. We were contentedly munching away when suddenly a bottle of sparkling water fell off the wall onto the ground, spilling into the earth. My mom leaned down to pick it up and nonchalantly said “Well, I guess the ghosts were thirsty.” And from that moment I knew, ghosts were real. If even adults believed, they must exist!
Fast forward 20some years later and I was headed on vacation to Scotland. I had been Instagram stalking Old Man Storr for a little over a year and it was time to turn my fantasies into reality. In addition to Old Man Storr, I had plans to check out the cemeteries in Scotland. I love cemeteries, maybe it was my young Day of the Dead experience, or maybe it’s because I’m a closet goth who loves all things dark and mysterious, but I find cemeteries to be enchanting and peaceful. Scotland is the perfect place to go see cemeteries, they are not only gorgeous but are also full of ghosts! It just so happened that my time off landed me in Scotland during Halloween, the time when some say the veil between the worlds of the living and the dead is thinnest. A time when the ghosts don’t just haunt us at night, but walk among us in the daylight indistinguishable from those of us who have not yet passed over.
Halloween was a beautiful sunny day. I was driving to Edinburgh after my time in the mountains and, not wanting to spend too much time in the city, I decided I would include some interesting stops on route. There were some castles, some little forest walks, and what turned out to be the most interesting of all – Old Kilmadock Cemetery, in Doune. Old Kilmadock is situated in one of those places where Google Maps will tell you that you have arrived when in fact you are in the middle of the road and there is absolutely nowhere to stop. I rolled my eyes at Google and, frustrated, parked 5 minutes up the road at an old farm. My map was useless and I couldn’t tell where I was supposed to be. I tried some more searching, but it was useless. Maybe this place didn’t even really exist. Frustrated, I slumped into the seat of my car and let out a sigh. When I looked up, I noticed a little path across the road. It was a nice day, I might as well take a walk.
It was a beautiful walk. The path led me through the woods along a gently flowing river. I just wandered along, enjoying the sun splashing through what was left of the fall foliage. Then, suddenly, the forest ended and I found myself staring into a huge field. And in the center of the field there was a cemetery. Old Kilmadock Cemetery, the place I had been searching for. It was eerie to put it mildly. I hadn’t seen a single person along this path and now suddenly, it was as if I was transported to somewhere else entirely. I walked slowly towards the entrance, looking at the plants around me. I couldn’t quite tell what they were, but there were thousands. And what were they doing here? In the middle of nowhere? On the edge of a forest? Surrounding a cemetery? There didn’t appear to be a farm, just a field. As I got closer I saw that just inside the gate, there was a man. He appeared to be trimming the grass. I always feel weird playing tourist in cemeteries. There is a part of me that feels it is a little disrespectful to go exploring the final resting place of strangers, but I had made it this far and he didn’t look like the kind of person who would mind, so I kept going.
I arrived at the gate, the cemetery was guarded by a large oak tree. It was beautiful, peaceful, and welcoming in the light of the afternoon sun. The man was now hidden at the far end. I opened the gate and walked in. I meandered through the gravestones, wondering about the stories of the people living here. Some had been young, some old, families together, and others alone. Each had a life, a death, a story, but who was there to tell it? Towards the back of the cemetery I saw a tall gravestone with a draped urn covered in lichens. I love draped urns, they always stand out so confidently but also with a delicate class. I walked over to it and started examining the lichens when all of a sudden to my left an old woman appeared. “We’re trying to clean the lichens off, restore everything here” she said. I was startled to say the least, but responded “I think it’s beautiful. It gives a sense of age and time.” She smiled and told me she would give me a tour.
We walked side by side among the graves, as she told stories about each one. She took me to visit the grave of the housekeeper of one of the lords who was buried here many years ago. She told me that when the housekeeper passed everyone gossiped about whether or not she was ‘just’ a housekeeper because her headstone was so nice. She took me to visit some of the oldest graves, and explained that the symbols on the gravestones had to do with the professions they held during life. Then, she told me about her husband, the man trimming the grass. She said they had researched his genealogy and learned that his family came from a long line of turnip farmers. “Funny that, you think about your history, who your family could have been. And us? We’re just a couple of turnip farmers. But, good enough I suppose. We have a good life together, that’s really all you can want. I’ll let you get back to your wandering, I have more graves to clean before sundown.” And with that, she left. I gave her a wave and thanked her, but she was gone almost as quickly as she appeared – quick for an old lady, I thought.
I wandered a while longer, letting the experience settle in and thinking about the lives of everyone resting there. As I reached the gate to leave, I turned around and looked back. I could see at the far end the woman and the man still contentedly going about their business. I wondered how they got there, had they walked in like me? It seemed a long walk, but there was no other way. I glanced around once more, somehow finding it hard to leave this place. It felt magical, almost alive, but it was time. I opened the gate and began my journey back to the road.
I passed the oak tree and started out along the path, surrounded once again by the giant planted crops. Passing one, I noticed something I hadn’t seen before. At the base of its leaves, one plant had a large head just exposed from the dirt – it was a turnip! The mystery plants were turnips! The cemetery was sitting in the middle of a field of turnips! My skin was suddenly covered in goosebumps. The turnip farmer… I was afraid to look back again, but I did and when I turned around I saw the turnip farmer and his wife, smiling at me from the cemetery. I smiled back, pausing for a moment. I had so many questions, but in my heart I already had all the answers, so I kept walking, still covered in goosebumps but with a little smile on my face.