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The Phantom Ghost of Belsyde Cemetery

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By Pat Mestern
February 22, 2012

During the 1950's and 60's, on frequent visits to Belsyde Cemetery with mother, she used to tell the story of piper James Campbell who, during the 1840's trekked from Kingston to Fergus, wearing the plaid and playing his pipes as he walked. Mr. Campbell, who had fought in the Napoleonic War, was a piper par excellence who in future years, played his bagpipes on many an occasion in Fergus and area. Although he always expressed the desire to return to Scotland, he never had the opportunity to do so. Piper Campbell succumbed to pneumonia before he could accumulate enough money to make the return journey. Mr. Campbell belonged to St. Andrew's Presbyterian Church in Fergus. His body was one of the first to be interred in the new Belsyde Cemetery.
Mother always said that as she passed James Campbell's grave, she could "hear the pipes". I rarely believed her as I'd, on occasion, seen and heard, several members of the Fergus Pipe Band practising in a back yard on the hill to the south of the cemetery. But, I learned in my youth to kept an open mind to such stories. Mother was "fay" to some extent and I inherited the ability to experience "things" - although sometimes didn't understand them.
The anomaly that became known as the "Phantom Piper of Belsyde Cemetery" began in earnest one slightly foggy summer evening in 1990 when several people visiting in the area were wandering around the oldest part of the graveyard looking for headstones that pertained to their ancestors. Both individuals heard the sounds of a lone piper. As the music seemed to be coming from the area of the chapel, they walked along a tree-lined lane toward the sound, thinking that whoever was playing the pipes might know something about the cemetery's burials, information which could assist in their search for ancestral graves.
As they neared the chapel, the sound of the pipes moved, as though the piper had begun to walk away from them, along one of the rows of old grave stones some distance from the lane - the same row that the grave of James Campbell could be found, in fact. Looking around the burial ground, they saw no one playing bagpipes.
Perplexed, the couple walked along the lane to the newer section of the cemetery where they met a man and women who were tidying a grave. When the visitors asked if the couple had heard, or seen a piper, the answer was . . . interesting. The couple had indeed heard the sound of pipes and even thought that they'd seen a piper, whose outfit didn't match what the local pipe band usually wore. It appeared to be a version of what a old Scottish highlander might wear - a large plaid blanket of some sort was the way they described the outfit. Everyone agreed that the tune was unfamiliar and had a strange echo to it, as though the pipes were muffled in some way.
When the four individuals arrived at my door for a little chat - I'm known locally as the collector of ghost stories and have done a lot of research into phenomenon - the answers to questions I asked seemed to confirm that James Campbell, the old Highland piper, might indeed be an integral part of Belsyde Cemetery. Those members of the pipe band that used to live in the area did practice in their back yards, thus accounting for some of the music heard. But, on some occasions, for special people, Piper Campbell seems to like to play his pipes. He appears to be perpetually "trapped" in Belsyde Cemetery as his wish to return to Scotland was not fulfilled. If you do hear the pipes in the cemetery, by all means salute the old gentleman, and leave a penny on his grave.



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