Ghosts, Ghouls, & The Dead of Edinburgh – Edinburgh, Scotland, UK

Ghosts, Ghouls, & The Dead of Edinburgh
Edinburgh, Scotland, UK

As the ghosts of the old year bid adieu, I spent some time getting to know the spirits of Edinburgh, Scotland. Arriving with the desire to go on a ghost tour, I quickly discovered such was a commodity this place held in abundance. On one short block of the Royal Mile, there were at least five options advertised. Several tours actually left from an area adjacent to the Mercat Cross. Having some time to kill, I went on three of these tours.

Mercat Tours in the Vault
Mercat Tours in the Vault
The first night, I went on Blackhart Storytellers City of the Dead Graveyard Tour. I had actually seen a short clip about this tour on the Travel channel a month or two before my trip. I also ventured out for Mercat ToursGhosts and Ghouls walking tour. The last tour was all in one place, beneath Edinburgh’s City Chambers. The city itself currently operates tours of The Real Mary King’s Close, which are historical in nature but nonetheless include a hint of ghosts. All three tours could be said to have an historical edge. On each one, the guide either told stories about Edinburgh’s past in general or at least set the stage for the places we would be visiting. As any old world city should, Edinburgh must have a multitude of stories about the dark and mysterious. The city boasts graveyards where bones slowly pop out of the damp soil, while in other places entire churchyards have been paved over for public parking. And the city hall itself is parked over the lower floors of entire neighborhoods where citizens of old lived, worked, and died.

Although the overall subject matter was similar, each tour had its own drawing attraction. The City of the Dead tour spotlighted the apparent emergence of the MacKenzie Poltergeist in a tomb in Greyfriars Graveyard. The Ghost and Ghouls tour comes to rest in previously abandoned and possibly haunted vaults beneath the old city streets. While only having one location to visit, The Real Mary King’s Close is entirely built around the buried neighborhood itself. While there was some overlap of stories about old Edinburgh from one tour to the next, each was ultimately unique enough to justify going.

Mercat Cross at Night
Mercat Cross at Night
The guides, being masters at their craft, each did their best to unnerve the audience a bit. While I’m sure they all used their own tricks to disorient the audience, they all took advantage, as any good ghost story should, of lighting. While it might be hard to light a graveyard, either the Vaults or Mary King’s Close could surely be as brightly lit as any modern building, but then, who would want to visit? In fact, the city’s own tour of Mary King’s Close was probably the most high tech of the three, having many different lighting effects, including a few minute recorded ghost story complete with mood music and various imagery. This was one of two tours, which included costumed guides, it was the only one where guides purported to be from the era of their outfits.

Each group purported to have had various spiritual and psychic experts visit their sites and verify the haunting. I believe this to be the more modern approach to the telling of ghost stories. Not that long ago, the audience would have been content to hear the stories of sightings and, when known, the circumstances that brought about the apparition. Today, audiences have more belief when they hear about the scientific study that has taken place.

If ghosts or at least macabre history is your thing, be sure to try out the various ghost tours that Edinburgh has to offer. Based on this writer’s experience, it would be hard to leave any one of them disappointed. You will have the opportunity to hear tales of body snatchers, public torture, and executions. And when you least expect, your tour may include a jumper-ooter (the local term for someone who intends to scare the audience out of their collective cargo pants by appearing suddenly during the tour). I will not spoil it by telling you which tours use them – find out for yourself as I did!

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