I realise this comes a bit too late for Halloween, but who’s to say you can’t enjoy a nice ghost story in November? And the best things is, this one really happened! Of course, my personal encounter with a ghost could not have happened anywhere other than Edinburgh, ghost capital of the world. Prepare to get spooked!
When I visited Edinburgh for the very first time this summer, I just knew I had to do a ghost tour. There are loads of different ones to choose from. After some internet research, I settled on Mercat Tours. The selling point for me was that they visited the Blair Street Underground Vaults. These are a part of a series of vaults formed under the arches of the South Bridge. In the late 18th and early 19th century, they were home to the city’s poor and hiding place for its criminals. Exactly the kind of location you expect to house ghosts.
The tour I settled on was called “Doomed, Dead and Buried“. Fitting name, if you ask me. I started having serious doubts whether it was really such a good idea for a coward like me who spooks at a lot less. But I had booked now, so I had to go through with it.
Diving into Edinburgh’s dark history
The meeting point was on the Royal Mile, next to St Giles Cathedral. A small group assembled around our guide, a tall and imposing man dressed in a red-and-black cloak. He introduced himself as Andrew. As I learned later he was educated in medieval literature and history, which qualified him perfectly for giving this tour. Truth be told though, I wouldn’t have been surprised had he turned out to be an actor. He has a talent for telling gripping stories, and for creating just the kind of spooky atmosphere a ghost tour needs.
It started harmless enough. Our first stop was in the parking lot behind the Cathedral. It’s built on a former graveyard. I wonder how many people parking their cars there are aware they’re standing on corpses? Continuing on our way through some of the narrow closes Andrew explained about life in medieval Edinburgh, which was anything but glamorous. He told us many stories of some of Edinburgh’s most infamous inhabitants.
Finally, we reached the main part of our tour: the vaults! The underground rooms were lit only by candles and were deserted except for the members of our group. In hushed tones, Andrew told us about the many ghost sightings that have happened down here. He describes in detail some of the things former visitors have seen, heard, or felt. Repeatedly he reminds us to let him know should we experience anything out of the ordinary. So far, the only thing I felt was a certain trepidation which was a perfectly natural reaction to being in a dimly lit underground space and told creepy ghost stories.
Mercat Tours guarantee they don’t use any tricks in the vaults. Everything people experience is real. Whether you really believe it’s a ghost or simply a trick of the mind is of course up to you. Often the guides are sceptical themselves when guests tell them about sightings that exactly match the ones they’ve described earlier in the tour. Sometimes, however, people tell them of other experiences than the ones they’ve been told about. Experiences that might have happened to earlier visitors, but were not mentioned during the tour. Those are the instances that point to someone really having had an out-of-this-world experience.
A ghost walks among us
In our group, nothing unusual happened for a very long time. Which was totally fine with me. To be honest I could live without having to face any of those ghosts. Not all of them sounded very pleasant. We passed through a hallway and into the next chamber, where Andrew told us about several ghosts sighted in here. While he talks, I noticed a sound in the hallway we just came through. It sounded like footsteps.
In the first moment, I didn’t even think much of it. My brain automatically disregarded it as a background noise, as you have them everywhere in a city. Until I remembered how Andrew pointed out on entering the vaults that down here you can’t hear any sounds from outside. It’s absolutely quiet, except for us. All of the group members were in the room with me. So who could possibly be walking through that corridor?
Andrew continued with his story, so I concentrated on him and hoped the sound was just my imagination going wild. After all, as long as he keeps talking without a sign of unease there can’t be anything wrong, can there? By the time Andrew finished, the sounds had stopped, and I had almost succeeded in making myself believe I had been imagining them. Until Andrew asked the group if anyone else had heard the footsteps, and several people nodded. It can’t have been my imagination after all. Those sounds had been real!
Now, I don’t know if there really was a ghost in that corridor. I don’t really believe in them, but I honestly don’t know what else it could have been. So I’ll leave it up to you to decide what you believe. Suffice it to say, I was hugely relieved when we made it out of the vaults without any further unexplainable sightings or sounds.
On to the graveyards
Back outside in the fresh night air, we continued on to Canongate Graveyard, our last stop. After surviving the vaults, walking around between the graves in the dark couldn’t scare us anymore. Not even with some more stories and historical anecdotes from Andrew.
After the tour finished, and people started to trail away into the night, I walked up to Andrew to thank him for the great evening. He was just talking to a couple from our group and I caught some of their conversation. The man told Andrew how he saw a ghost in one of the chambers and heard her speak. All I could think in that moment was I’m so glad it wasn’t me. I would have lost it.
Thus ended an educational, fun, and truly creepy Edinburgh ghost tour. I hope I haven’t put you off doing a ghost tour now if you should happen to be in the city because they are truly worth it. Just maybe don’t do the vaults if you scare easily. If you do them, please let me know if you had any ghost sightings. I would love to know I’m not the only one.
Just in case, let me leave you with Andrew’s final words of warning: if you ever walk Edinburgh’s streets at night and you hear footsteps behind you, but can’t see anyone there – run!
What about you? Have you done a ghost tour in Edinburgh, or somewhere else? Did you encounter any ghosts? Or do you think I lost my mind and imagined it all? Share in the comments!