Where the dead come calling...

Prisoners of War vaults in Edinburgh. Pic credit: Crash via flickr
The night has been unruly: where we lay,
Our chimneys were blown down; and, as they say,
Lamentings heard i' the air; strange screams of death,
And prophesying with accents terrible
Of dire combustion and confused events
New hatch'd to the woeful time: the obscure bird
Clamour'd the livelong night: some say, the earth
Was feverous and did shake.

(Macbeth, Shakespeare)

I have always been a fan of everything horror and scary - be it novels, movies, television shows or documentaries. So much so that when I was in school, I used to keep a copy of R.L Stine’s Goosebumps inside my school course books (to hide them from my mom) and read during my exam days. The thing is, I love horror, and I rarely leave a chance to read or experience it in any form, so when we (me and my friends) contemplated a plan to visit Scotland, I was all up for it and in fact suggested Edinburgh as our one stop destination.

Now anyone, who is even vaguely interested in spine-chilling and hair-raising stuff and activities would know what sort of an importance Edinburgh holds or rather commands. Known as the city of the dead, Edinburgh has also earned the reputation of being one of the most haunted cities in the entire Europe, and rightly so, as we found out while taking part in some of the many ghost tours the city offers. Regardless of whether you believe in ghosts or not, these tours take you on an adventure that will not only teach you a part of Edinburgh’s history, but also leave you with a feeling of ‘being watched’.

One of the most popular ghost tours the city offers is through the underground vaults. The vaults that were built in the late 18th century under the South Bridge (a part of Old Edinburgh) were used as storage space and workshops for businesses. But owing to poor construction of the bridge, the owners of those vaults had to face serious water leakage and seepage problems, hence they abandoned the vaults. The abandoned vaults then turned into slums and later into brothels and pubs, which in turn attracted city’s poor and homeless, who made these vaults their home, with a single room housing more than ten people. Crimes, including robbery and murder, soon plagued the vaults. Soon the poor too deserted these vaults making way for criminals and killers to use these vaults as the perfect place to conduct crime. Rumour has it that the infamous serial killers, Burke and Hare, who sold corpses to medical schools for money, hunted for their victims in these vaults. These vaults remained abandoned for almost 200 years, and were later discovered in the 20th century. Since then, these vaults have been a place of interest for tourists and ghost hunters.

The vault that we visited was also the one that’s known to be the most haunted - Mary King’s Close - it is inside these vaults that our ‘jumpy’ tour guide started narrating various horror stories that have now become a part of Edinburgh’s history. One such story was that of a small girl who died during the plague of 1645 and is known to be looking for her lost doll. More such creepy stories followed and some of the tourists started complaining about feeling a little sick and nauseated inside those vaults - now all this was due to less air and ventilation inside the vaults or due to the presence of an evil spirit, I can't say that for sure.

Greyfriars cemetery. Pic credit: Suruchi Sharma Diwan
Another interesting ghost experience happened at another tour, known as the MacKenzie Poltergeist tour, which takes you through Greyfriars Cemetery. The MacKenzie poltergeist is the most famous of Edinburgh’s ghosts. The tour guide briefed us about George MacKenzie, saying that he was in charge of the local prison in the 17th Century and loved killing prisoners on the basis of their religion. The man was so ruthless that he became famous, rather infamous, for the manner in which he used to send his prisoners to the gallows. After he died, he was buried near the prison cemetery, but a man accidentally opened his coffin in late 1998, and since then his ghost is supposedly haunting the area. Apart from that the guide shared that the cemetery's history is filled with horrific incidents ranging from deliberate headstone removal and debasement, body snatching and live burial, to witch burnings and mass imprisonment and killings.

This tour happens after 9pm so you can very well imagine how it would be, walking in a cemetery, in the dead of the night, and listening to  ghost stories. And the tour guide, who was having extreme pleasure in startling his group members through weird noises and out of the dark appearances, wasn’t helping much, especially for the weak hearted.

Being the self-confessed horror freaks, we did take two more tours, but I don’t want to spoil the fun (of prospective travellers) by sharing each and every detail -  as it is said, the greatest fear is the fear of the unknown.
Go figure.