graves of the unwanted

Craig Dunain, old lunatic asylum Inverness

Do places keep a sense of pain, a sense of the fear and anger that was once felt there? Can fear linger in stone and wood?

Old Craigs Inverness (23)

Old Craigs Inverness (42)Can a house keep the horror that once was felt there?


Does an abandoned lunatic asylum still hold some sense of insanity?

Some places certainly feel different, more scary perhaps, more sad and alone. But maybe that is just our imagination, trained by the entertainment industry, horror movies and stories. We fear what we don’t understand. The Victorians certainly had no real understanding for mental illness and psychology. Treatment was insufficient if not cruel. Craig Dunain will not have felt like a place of safety for all the inhabitants.

Above Inverness towers the ruined Craig Dunain hospital, the new one was built a few meters down the road. “Old Craigs”, opened 1864, fifty years after the asylum in Edinburgh. The Northern Counties District Lunatic Asylum was an impressive building overlooking the Caledonian Canal in true Victorian grandeur.

Old Craigs Inverness (70)

Now an impressive ruin. (1)

Old Craigs Inverness (50)As is the more secluded Superintendent’s house. Blocked and boarded up it has been vandalized, windows broken. The past unveiled with a stones’s throw.


But not only the buildings remain, the stories of some of the patients do, too.

On May 19, 1864, Inverness mariner Donald Donaldson became Craig Dunain’s first patient. According to the hospital’s ‘Register of Lunatics’, his bodily condition was “insecure”, his disease was “paralysis” and his form of mental disorder was “dementia”. He died just a few months later of what were described as “pecuniary losses”. (2)

Scary insights into the way the system dealt with problematic patients are offered by the records. They make the possibility of ending up in a lunatic asylum come uncomfortably close to those who feel far from mad.

The hospital’s records have now been made available to the public in the Highland Archive Centre. They contain the details of hundreds of patients whose cause of admission ranged from “disappointment in marriage” to losing a Highland Games competition. (3)

Old Craigs Inverness (6)Craig Dunain cared for up to 300 patients but was terribly overcrowded by 1880. Various extensions were built.

One of the patients was Angus McPhee a stricken man from a croft in South Uist who fought in World War II and became mentally ill.

He was diagnosed with schizophrenia in 1946 and spent much of the rest of his life in Craig Dunain Hospital. (4)

McPhee did not speak for nearly fifty years an turned into an artist, expressing himself through horses and other objects he made out of grass, twigs and wool. He became famous as “the silent weaver”. McPhee would walk around the park of Old Craigs often. He would have been to the graveyard, too. It belongs to the asylum and is not used anymore. McPhee is not buried there, the ground took those had nowhere else to go in death. A graveyard of the unwanted. A burial ground for the forgotten.

Old Craigs Inverness (3)


The graveyard was closed in 1895 because it was full, only three headstones remain within the walls. There will have been wooden crosses now long gone. The space has kept a special atmosphere of serenity that is peculiar to graveyards.

Old Craigs Inverness (14)


A fourth stone is right outside the walls, the grave of Sgt. James Munro of the 93rd Highlanders who died as a patient of Craig Dunain Hospital on 15th February 1871. He was 45 years old.

The mental wound he received in battle proved deadly.



Old Craigs Inverness (1)The small enclosure in the former hospital park seems a peaceful but slightly eerie place. Not far away people have buried their pets in the woods. They are very much missed.


The old gravesOld Craigs Inverness (15) of the former patients will have fewer visitors.

They seem a sad end to a life led in an asylum.

Here rest those who were unwanted.

In life and in death.




1) The Ruin of Old Craigs Hospital

(2) Craig Dunains 150 years history

(3) Archives reveal life in Edinburgh and Inverness asylums

(4) Roger Hutchinson; The Silent Weaver. pub.Birlinn, 2011

Liked the post? There’s more here…

graveyard travel guide

Scotland is a country full of history, stories and secrets. Often, the three cannot be separated. That is what makes this country so wonderful and unique. These stories have been discovered and gathered for Erkenbach’s blog, Graveyards of Scotland, over many years. Her main sources were historical travel guides from the 18th and 19th centuries, where the finds were scary, beautiful, funny, and sometimes, cruel. This unusual approach to a country’s history has produced amazing results. You don’t have to share the author’s passion for cemeteries to enjoy this book; only a small number of the stories in this collection take place in graveyards, though they do all end in them, so perhaps it helps.

The fairy hill in Inverness, a nitrate murder on Shetland, a family of left-handers, wolves, Robert the Bruce and William Wallace shown in a new light, the secret bay of the writer Gavin Maxwell, a murdering poet and everything about Scotland except whisky, sheep and tartan.

Scotland for Quiet Moments is available as ebook and paperback on Amazon.

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