A booming interest in death is breathing new life into old haunts.
The search for ghosts and all things paranormal has created a multi-billion pound industry with more than 60 per cent of people admitting they believe in the spirit world.
Where once hotels, visitor attractions and retailers would never admit to having a ghost or anything supernatural they are now queuing up to promote life after death experiences with charities, amateur ghost hunting groups and organised businesses all joining in.
“There’s certainly been a vastly increased interest in the paranormal, not necessarily an increased intellectual interest, but an increased general interest thanks to television,” said Richard Holland, Editor of Paranormal Magazine.
“Once upon a time the last thing a hotel would want you to know would be if the bedroom you were staying in was haunted for fear of driving off custom, now I’m sure they’d take out a double page advert to tell the world.
“Ten years ago the psychical research society counted something like 15 or 20 ghost hunting groups in the country, people who actually went out to try to find evidence of ghosts. Now there’s more than 300.
Among Scotland’s spookiest places open to the public for paranormal investigation is Inveraray Jail by the side of Loch Fyne in Argyll.
Over the years many visitors to the former Victorian jail and court house have complained of uneasy feelings, strange noises and, in some cases, taken photographs which later show unexplained images.
As the County Court anyone from the surrounding area sentenced to prison or transportation would have spent time in the jail where children as young as seven could be detained for minor crimes and subjected to whippings or pointless manual labour.
“The place in the prison that most people react to is cell 10. It doesn’t tend to be something people see so much as a feeling they get there. During the height of the X Files days we used to call it Cell X for obvious reasons,” said Gavin Dick, manager of Inveraray Jail.
“In the kitchen, which is the blandest and most unremarkable room we have had people sense that there’s someone cowering behind the door. There are various areas that cause reactions, and not just on ghost hunts.”
One woman, who visited the jail with her husband and young daughter complained of having sensed an unsettling presence in the prison and was surprised to discover a blurred image in one of her photographs which she didn’t notice when the picture was taken.
”We found the jail very interesting but for myself very scary,” she wrote to prison staff after the event.
”I felt really ill in the old jail. As soon as I walked in my chest tightened and I felt very sick and dizzy.
”I felt as if someone was with us all the way round and was watching us. I couldn’t wait to get out.
”When we got back to our guest house we looked at our photos and to our amazement there is a misty figure standing between the airing cells [in the court yard].
”We cannot explain things but we felt very strange. There is definitely something there. If we were uneasy in the daytime what must it be like at night in the pitch black?”
A recent event at Inveraray Jail, organised by Ghost Events Scotland – a business launched three years ago by self-styled paranormal research team Ghost Finders Scotland – uncovered what they believe to be good examples of Electronic Voice Phenomenon (EVP).
EVP, made famous in the film White Noise starring Michael Keating, are electronic recordings that reveal sounds resembling words which many paranormal investigators interpret as the voices of ghosts or spirits.
“EVP experiments date back to the early 20th century,” said Mark Turner, a paranormal investigator with Ghost Finders Scotland.
“Before that people like Thomas Edison, who invented the light bulb, believed that if people were going to communicate with the spirit world it would be through electronic means.
“He actually thought he would be able to design a devise which would enable him to communicate with the other side.
”Guglielmo Marconi, who invented the telegram, had the same idea about communicating with the spirit world but nothing came of it.”
EVP experiments started in the 1920s when Hereward Carrington, a psychic researcher stated experimenting but it wasn’t until 1959 that the first known case of EVP was reported.
“It happened to Friedrich Juergenson, a Swedish filmmaker. You have to remember that at the time Electronic Voice Phenomena (EVP) equipment wasn’t available to everyone, it was only the affluent of society with a lot of money or filmmakers who could afford it.” said Mr Turner.
“He was out in a field recording bird sounds for a production he was working on and he got home and analysed the results and what a shock he got when he heard a voice saying ‘my little friedel.’ which was his mother’s nickname for him when he was the child.
“His mother had died 25years earlier. So he undertook years and years of research into this subject. Since then there have been thousands of EVP researchers over the years.”
One recent convert to the cause is George Allison, 61, a works manager from Glasgow, who took part in a recent ghost hunt at Inveraray jail.
“People were talking about a ghost which had been running about in the corridor stabbing people. So I asked ‘are you the one that’s been running about in the corridor and have you stabbed anyone in the back?,” he said, still shaking at the thought.
“When we played it back it said very clearly ‘yes I have.’ It was really terrifying.”
However, according to scientists, people are likely to hear what they want to hear when they put themselves into a scary situation.
Those who watch programmes along the lines of Most Haunted and take an active belief in the paranormal are more likely to interpret these experiences as ghostly, claim the experts.
“If you are sitting waiting for something ghostly to happen in the dark, chances are you are going to get a bit scared; and by getting scared you become even more vigilant and jumpy, so the slightest little thing like a creak can have you jumping out of your skin,” said Dr. Caroline Watt, parapsychologist at the Koestler Parapsychology Unit in Edinburgh University.
“You would be almost guaranteed to have an unusual experience by going on one of these vigils.
“Some places have a reputation and it is hard to escape that. In Mary King’s Close in Edinburgh there is a room called Annie’s room, which is full of children’s toys – so if you know anything about Annie’s room then you expect that you will see or hear the ghost of a child in there.
“Knowing about the place you are going to can affect your interpretation of the experience, it does prime you.”
Among those benefiting from the renewed interest in the spirit world are charities which have found some people far more keen to take part in a sponsored ghost hunt rather than a parachute jump or fun run.
In just five nights Sense Scotland managed to raise more than £22,000 through their connections with Ghost Event Scotland.
“The first one sold out which set the scene for the rest, we’ve held five events with them now and raised over £22,000.” said Andy Hughes, events organiser with Sense Scotland.
“I knew when I decided to use them that programmes like Most Haunted had helped draw the paranormal to the attention of the public, so there was a growing interest in this type of thing among people who had probably never had the opportunity to experience anything like this directly.”