Chasing Ghosts in Edinburgh
The streets of Edinburgh were deserted, a light mist fell, the only light coming from the glare of the moon on the slick streets… No, my night of chasing ghosts in Edinburgh did not begin with a scripted atmospheric stroll through the streets. Oddly enough, it had been a beautiful sunny and warm day and in the middle of summer when I strolled from my Castle Street hotel down Princes Street and over to the Royal Mile, around 7 at night, to meet up with the guide for my Double Dead Tour with City of the Dead, one of Edinburgh’s leading ghost tour companies, it was still light out. But never let the light and tranquility of a summer evening fool you!
The Double Dead Tour takes you to two of the most haunted places in the world, the underground vaults and the Covenanter’s Prison in Greyfriars Graveyard. A crowd gathered at the meeting spot near St. Giles Cathedral, before us stood a tall, thin man draped in a black trench and solid black boots that grounded him in the present but all I could think was how he reminded me of a strangely modern yet confident Ichabod Crane. He draws us near for his instructions and his deck of cards of which we each took one, a magic show this will be not. With his dominant and thundering voice he guides us away from the safety of Edinburgh’s lively streets and takes us to our first stop, the vaults.
The vaults are the aftermath of the South Bridge’s 19 arches that all but one, Cowgate, are now enclosed. These approximately 120 rooms or vaults were first built and used in the 18th century by business man as storage cellars and workshops but as conditions started to deteriorate they moved out. Due to the poor construction of the bridge the vaults became damp from the seepage of rain water and the darkness became home to the poorest and retched of people. Murder and other horrid crimes plagued the vaults, even Burke & Hare, the infamous murderers of Edinburgh, are thought to have stalked victims there.
The vaults became known as Damnation alley. Were we damned to enter its haunted depths? We entered the vaults, at our own risk, through an inconspicuous door down an alley and were immediately surrounded by a damp, dark and eerie passageway that would lead us deep into the vaults. Shivering, perhaps from the chill in the air after leaving the warmth of the summer night or maybe because of our minds already beginning to play tricks on us as to what may be lurking in the corners. Our guide lead us by torch light to one of these famed vaults where he told us morbid tales of what had happened here hundreds of years ago but also touched on strange happenings that haunt the modern residence above our heads and even stranger stories of what has happened to those, like us, chasing ghosts within these dripping walls. After a warning he cut the light, murmurings, everyone huddled close. And the light turned back on prematurely as an older gentleman grew faint, as though something was stealing the precious air of the living, and had to sit down. He regained his composer and was fine.
After a slick, shuffled wander through the vaults we alighted again to clean, fresh air and began our march to Greyfriars Graveyard. The Greyfriars Graveyard, where the church is literally built on bodies, is from the 16th century. Sir George Mackenzie, a Scottish political minister at the time, imprisoned 1200 Presbyterian Covenanters in a small field south of the churchyard. Some were executed but 100’s died of maltreatment, starvation, poor condition and because of Mackenzie’s treatment of the Covenanters he was nicknamed Bloody Mackenzie. Through the gates of the Greyfriars Graveyard we anxiously trudged. Walking through graveyards always brings on a feeling of unease but as we approached the grand ole’ tomb of Mackenzie himself there was a hush over us. Our guide told us the wicked story of ‘Bloody Mackenzie’ and how this area of the graveyard as well as the Covenanters Prison is known as the lair of the Mackenzie poltergeist. This poltergeist is now the best documented supernatural case in history, responsible for 100’s of ‘attacks’ from bruises to burns and countless other occurrences. Which is why the part of the graveyard known as the Covenanters Prison is now locked. But we would enter the gates of the Covenanters Prison one by one, giving up our card and locked in and left to wonder would we make it out alive and untouched…