An unexpected find in a mysterious and rural location
Driving along a silent road through the woods on the south shore of Loch Ness, I screeched the car to a halt - here was a graveyard, sitting silent next to the Loch in the half dark. I've been in a lot of grave yards and this one appeared particularly spooky. But I went in to look around anyway. I didn't know anything about this grave yard but, certain that it would have a story, I took photos. The light soon failed and I left, to drive back to the bright lights and comfort of my hotel up the road at Foyers. But I went back the next morning to watch the sun shining over the Loch, and this graveyard sitting quietly by, holding onto it's secrets as the Loch would silently hold onto it's myths of monsters.
It turns out of course that the Boleskine Burial Ground DOES have a story. As I knew it would. Usually, what I would do upon finding something like this would be to use my phone to Google it, to see what's going on. Unfortunately, my phone service out there in the middle of nowhere was zero. I reluctantly left, knowing that there was bound to be something awesome that I was missing.
This is what I missed:- sitting somewhere up on the hill above the graveyard and presumably on the other side of the road is Boleskine House, an old house, built in 1760, shrouded in mystery and odd goings on. It was owned by a magician during the 19th century and until recently by Jimmy Page of Led Zeppelin. There was also a church near the graveyard, which was medieval and disappeared a long time ago. The only thing remaining to mark it's location is a mort house, which I didn't see.
The gravestones in the cemetery, as one might imagine, are very old, mostly covered in moss, and some are completely unreadable. The dates on them range from A Long Time Ago to A Very Long Time Ago, with some more recent ones thrown in for good measure. The oddest thing about this graveyard was a grave showing something I have never before seen in a cemetery - a grave bearing people's names and dates of birth, but not their date of death. Meaning, presumably, that the grave is ready for them when they do choose to depart this life. Usually if somebody had a family plot, there would be space left on the stone for them but their name would not be added until they actually died. This was new to me and demonstrated a level of preparedness that was rather impressive. I took a photo of it but don't feel quite comfortable about posting it. I guess seeing the names of people who appear to be still alive on a gravestone isn't quite right somehow.
Having said that, I do like the idea of being able to view my name on a gravestone before I need to use it, just to be sure it looks nice.
There are legends about the graveyard. Supposedly there is a tunnel that links Boleskine House to the graveyard. The story goes that the graveyard is also a hangout for witches. But these sorts of stories and superstitions exist about burial sites all over Scotland so who knows? There is something very Macbeth about Boleskine and Loch Ness though, and standing in the graveyard in the half dark, overlooking the most mysterious Loch in all of Scotland, I could well believe it - and half expected to see a coven of witches loom out of the darkness!
The next morning, when the sky was clear and the sun was up, I felt much less creeped out to be walking around the small space taking everything in. Many of the stones bore the same set of surnames - there were maybe 2 or 3 traditional Scottish names that cropped up often. It does follow that this being a very rural area, many generations and offshoots of the same family would end up here.
The magician who owned Boleskine was Aleister Crowley, a famous occultist who moved to the area in 1900, aged 25. He took up the house hoping to have a quiet place to practice cultish stuff - it is said that he did numerous things whilst at Boleskine, including summoning the devil and holding the black mass. Fun stuff. He was described by a fellow cult member as 'an unspeakably mad person' so I think we can be fairly certain that he wasn't the best neighbour to have. Luckily, living out there in the wilderness meant that he could get up to his strange deeds undisturbed, although he admitted to sending housemaids fleeing and workmen insane through conjuring various spirits and demons.
As I wrote the above, I found myself wondering aloud why Jimmy Page would want to buy a property which such a haunting past. My boyfriend Dan, who is a walking music trivia encyclopaedia, overheard and said 'well, Jimmy Page was into the occult, wasn't he?' Yes he was. A fan of Aleister Crowley, he bought Boleskine House in 1970.
As for the graveyard, nowadays it's managed by the Highland Council and cared for by the South Loch Ness Heritage Group, who have been busy tidying it up and mapping it to record all the known graves, as these records just don't exist.
I knew someone had recently been there, looking after the pretty little burial ground as it was full of freshly cut grass clumps, most of which came home with me on my shoes! But standing here in this clearing in the middle of nowhere, next to the silent waters of the largest body of fresh water in the UK, it was easy to imagine that I was the only one who had ever, ever stumbled upon this mysterious site.
All photographs © Christina Owen 2016.
The correct word for a cemetery enthusiast is a 'taphophile' and I used to think I was the only one. Now I know that there are others out there who find cemeteries to be peaceful and fascinating places. This section of the blog is called 'The Cemetery Diaries' and it covers traditional cemeteries as well as dead spaces of all kinds, which are found everywhere, all the time. The past is never too far away, and these dead spaces are often more alive than you'd think. Check back here for a record of all things Cemetery and my adventures in finding life and blazing colour in the most unlikely of places.