The first night in Edinburgh I had booked us in for one of the many ghost tours that frequent the streets. We used the Mercat tour called Doomed, Dead and Buried and our hooded guide, Faith led us into many of the locations from the capital’s rich and dark history. I love a good ghost tour – probably because from a young age I adored hearing spooky stories. I haven’t done many – in fact this is my fourth after doing the York ghost tour (again, one of many to choose from), the New Orleans Ghost tour and the London Haunted bus tour – all of which I highly recommend).
*Apologies for the lack of pictures – my camera is new and I struggled with the night settings so none of them actually came out right, as you can see in this photo which is spoiled by dust particles (or are they ghostly orbs?).
As we were walking down one of the narrow closes, trying to see in the dark and enjoying being spooked out, my poor mum was the unfortunate victim of a pooping pigeon from up above. This is obviously nowhere as bad as the buckets of excrement that used to be flushed down the streets once upon a time, but my mum wasn’t particularly amused (although I was – and I had to clean it out with a tissue). Besides, I reminded her, being pooed on by a pigeon is supposed to be good luck and bring good fortune, so it’s not all bad (sidenote: I can’t actually recall if I have ever had good luck after being shat on by a generous bird – I just remember being pretty peeved, particularly when a pigeon did an epic splatter all over my dinner on my honeymoon).
One of the most exciting parts of the tour, and the part I was most anticipating, was seeing the underground vaults. Oh yeah, that’s another thing I love; subterranean spaces and abandoned places. I suppose it goes hand in skeletal hand with the fascination with ghost stories, the gothic and the supernatural.
If you want to know more about this fascinating part of Edinburgh’s history then I highly recommend this book . This is my first foray into reading about the Vaults, so I’m certainly no expert, but for a long time the area around the Royal Mile was walled- in to prevent English invaders. The city’s population was growing, especially due to immigration and the influx of people fleeing their homes due to the Highland Clearances and the Irish Potato famine (many of these people obviously chose to go further afield to places such as America, Canada, Australia and New Zealand, but I can understand those not wanting to move far from home – I get homesick from Scotland and I’m only an hour’s flight away).
The Vaults were used for storage and for business by tailors and cobblers and such but also by Edinburgh’s notorious grave robbers. Our guide told us how many visitors feel or see things unexplainable, and although I’m a sceptic, I’m still always on the look-out. Apparently some people feel breath on their neck, or a tug on their clothes, and cameras and other electrical equipment stop working and strange shadows are seen. She told one particularly frightening story about a room used as a temple by a pagan coven in 1996. The coven leader placed a large mirror in one corner of the room as it was required for certain ceremonies. Not long after, he started sensing an evil presence in the vaults and bravely decided to spend the night alone in the temple to challenge the entity. Late into the night, he heard something crawling from the mirror. On other occasions visitors to the temple saw a white figure in the mirror, and even claimed that the figure stepped out of it.
Well I felt changes in temperature but that could be normal, and my camera took one bad photo then refused to work, but it’s new and I’m still getting to grips with it. I did see a shadow a man against a far wall, and even the tour guide seemed distracted by it, but it turned out to be a trick of the light, a shadow thrown by a candelabra. However, I did later get the creeps late at night as I lay awake in bed, thinking about the mirror that hung on the wall and imagining something crawling out of it.
The tour ended in the Canongate Kirk – a graveyard which still bears the evidence of grave robbery; some tombs have metal bars above them to stop people getting in (or out!). Read further about the grave robbers here. Again, I was swept away by the atmospheric surroundings and thought I saw an ominous hooded figure standing on a grave stone under a tree. Of course, when the guide flashed her torch in that direction, it turned out to be part of the tombstone. Damn you, imagination! But it’s good that my mind played those tricks on me, especially as I enjoy writing supernatural stories so it gave me food for thought.