Edinburgh Ghost Tours: Enjoying Scotland's Haunted Capital
Edinburgh has a long and often grisly history.
Edinburgh Castle has balanced precariously on the edge of a cliff for over 2,000 years. It has been the site of many battles, sieges and murders. It is unsurprising that there have been reports of a ghostly piper moving around the Castle and the Royal Mile, appearing to be lost.
In 1645 Edinburgh's population was dealt a horrific blow by the Great Plague of Edinburgh. Conditions were cramped and unsanitary allowing the bubonic plague (later known as the Black Death) to run rife, killing approximately half of the population of Edinburgh. Some of the unorthodox ways of dealing with the Great Plague of Edinburgh were particularly gruesome- it is believed that over 300 residents were sealed into their homes in Mary Kings Close and abandoned. Legend has it that Mary King's Close is still haunted by some of those poor souls.
More recent, but no less grisly, are the stories that surround two of Edinburgh's most infamous residents- Burke and Hare. The infamous grave robbers and murderers operated in Edinburgh between 1827 and 1828. Medical students needed human cadavers to learn from, and the only cadavers allowed for use were those of criminals executed by the State. As the Judgment of Death Act 1823 reduced the amount of crimes where the death penalty was available, Resurrectionists turned to more extreme methods to find fresh bodies to supply to colleges. Watch towers were installed in church yards to try and prevent bodies being removed during the night and wealthy families paid to have graves enclosed in metal cages. With a lack of fresh bodies, Burke and Hare took it one step further and began a spree of murders.
There are free ghost tours that run throughout the city, both day and night. However, we opted for a paid tour with City of the Dead Tours.
For £14 per adult you can join their very popular "Double Dead Tour" - visiting both the Underground City and Greyfriars Kirkyard containing the Convenanters Prison.
Tours meet outside St Giles Cathedral and are led by informative and funny guides who know the history of the city and its residents like the back of their own hands. Our tour was led by David, a natural storyteller full of enthusiasm and sound advice such as "in times of panic, just shout my ID number 644330". Tours are not recommended for pregnant women or those with mobility issues given the uneven grounds and steps that you will be required to climb.
One of the benefits of joining a City of Double Dead Tour is that you gain access to the South Bridge Vaults which form part of the Underground City. The majority of the Underground City is now owned by private companies and so it is not possible to get into them to search for ghosts and ghouls without a guide.
The South Bridge Vaults are reportedly one of the most haunted locations in Edinburgh. Initially built to house shops and work spaces in 1788, the cheap building materials meant that the vaults flooded, and they were soon abandoned by traders and taken over as a living space for the poorest and most vulnerable of Edinburgh's residents. For fear of spoiling the tour I will not go any further at this point, other than to say that the South Bridge Vaults were certainly entertaining and spine tingling and I made sure that I was back safely into my Travelling Buddy at all times!
The tour then moves on to Greyfriars Kirkyard, home to two more infamous stories of Edinburgh residents: the cute and cuddly story of Greyfriars Bobby, the terrier dog who remained at his masters grave for his entire life, and the creepier and ghastlier story of the most active poltergeist in Edinburgh- McKenzie's Poltergeist.
We thoroughly enjoyed our entertaining and informative evening with City of the Dead Tours. The tour itself had a fabulous balance of heartbreaking human history and mild terror. David expertly guided us through some of the saddest periods of Scottish history with tact and, when appropriate, a bit of dark humour.
I am not ashamed to admit that after the tour we went for a restorative whisky (this is, incidentally, the time that I learnt that too much whisky means you can not climb stairs anymore) and to compare stories of what we had seen. It certainly helped me to sleep better and keep at bay the things that go bump in the night!
If you plan on spending more than just the night in Edinburgh then there are many other, less ghoulish, activities to take your mind off of the ghost tour including climbing Arthurs Seat and enjoying some of the top attractions.
I would love to hear from you if you have experienced any of the ghostly goings on in Edinburgh, or anywhere else for that matter!