The City of Edinburgh, the capital of Scotland, and has long been considered one of the most haunted cities in the world. The topography of the center of the city and the main street also known as the “Royal Mile” consists of a long ridge known as a “crag” and stems from Castle Rock, where Castle Edinburgh sits perched high above the city. Like most cities in Europe, Edinburgh was built on hills and ridges to gain an advantage over invading tribes. The ridges could be dug into and essentially encase an underground city. Over the years these ground levels (literally) were built on top of again and again making layers of tenement-like structures, only underground.
One of the reasons that Edinburgh is considered to be so haunted is that Scotland has had a very rough and barbaric history. It was also, like the rest of medieval Europe, an unequal class system – there was the uber rich and the uber poor and the poor didn’t have Medicaid or food stamps to lean on. Instead they had underground dark, dank dungeons filled with disease and crime with no hope of escape. Child labor (abuse) was rampant, tortuous even, for any worker no matter the age.
The point is, there were centuries of human pain and suffering that lived and worked in these underground cities which were not dismantled over time, but simply capped like a landfill and built over. Stories abound of haunted basements (or vaults as they are referred to), with hundreds of tourists claiming to be “molested” in a variety of ways by these leftover spirits of the underground. Does this make for an enterprising opportunity by tour companies? – you betcha!
On my arrival in Edinburgh this is the first thing that I wanted to check out. After unloading my things at my Airbnb, I took the first tour available that I could find. It was the evening and the last tour for the night (remember this detail) was about to embark. It was probably somewhere around 7:30pm. It was a walking tour of about 20 people and while we all huddled outside on the Royal Mile waiting to depart, out pops a man dressed as a court jester. This was our tour guide?? Trying to be lively and funny, his jokes mostly fell flat with this group of international tourists. Actually, I think he may even have been the emergency fill in tour guide, kind of like when The Tonight Show has a local comedian on standby in case Russell Crowe gets arrested for punching a concierge and has to spend the night in the clinker or if Kanye West is being…I dunno Kanye West. Needless to say, he wasn’t one of their first-string tour guides.
He gives us the history of this particular basement/vault/underground mold factory that he’s about to take us into and tells us stories of multiple apparition sightings and encourages us to snap away with our cameras to try to catch one. All of the tales of this particular location have blended together in my mind since, but they all revolved around some sort of mistreatment of people (lots of children) and various instances of crime and punishment that happened within these very moist walls. Little Patrick was hung by a meat hook, little Jennie was accidentally decapitated, yadda yadda, you get the point – this was not Santa’s Village.
We descend about 2-3 stories below street level on a very narrow, creaky set of stairs and into a level with several different rooms. It’s obviously been outfitted to welcome tourists as it is wired for lighting and contains a few “Watch your step” signs. At this point he regales us with more stories and specifically tells us to feel free to wander around and get lost within this underground series of doorways and rooms. So of course, I take off wandering into corners and crevices snapping away with my iPhone (flash on) trying to come up with anything (I didn’t). Keep in mind I was probably the only person by themselves on this tour. There were a couple of large families and a few couples, but no other individual parties, so I had no tether to the group.
Not even 5 minutes into my solo excursion I hear from the main section the sound of shuffling feet and a large loud THUD. Making my way back to the group I discover – there is no group. The loud thud was the door being shut! I run over to the door and try to open it, but it’s locked solid. I put my ear to the door and hear footsteps walking upstairs which are getting quieter by the second as the group reaches street level. I start banging on the door and yelling as loud as I can. Eventually the faint footstep sounds stop, and the only thing I can hear is my own voice and thumping heartbeat. It’s pitch black down here.
My first thought is calm down, just wait for the next tour to come through in a half an hour or so. Then I remembered there is no next tour for the night! This was the last one! I’m going to have to spend the night down here and bunk with the ghost of little armless Timmy or whoever the fuck got their arm ripped off 1,400 years ago.
Quickly my fear turns to anger and I think to myself FUCK these guys and FUCK this place – I’m busting out. Using the flashlight on my phone I start roaming around looking for things to use as battering rams, crowbars, window breakers, whatever. I am going to go apeshit on this place, breaking everything in sight. I don’t care if I have to burn the place down! (Good luck burning down a wet, STONE, basement genius.) I don’t care. I’m seeing red. Then rationale takes over – I still have the brochure for the tour company in my pocket. I can call them! But I’m 3 levels below street level, there’s no way that I could have reception down here. I look at my phone – 1 bar! I call the office. Someone answers. Trying to remain composed I say, “Hello, I just took your tour and…” Before I could explain my situation the gentleman on the other end interrupts me thinking that I’m calling to give a review or more likely a complaint. (DUH!!) I calmly (somehow) say to him, “Well sir, I’m still on your tour.” “What you mean?” he says in his Scottish brogue. “I’m still HERE. Still DOWN here.” There’s a pause on the other end and I hear him talking to someone else in a muffled tone. “Hang on,” he says and then hangs up on me. Fantastic.
About 5 minutes later I hear footsteps running down the stairs on the other side of the thick door. As they get louder, I’m contemplating how much I’m gonna rip this guy a new one and if he gives me ANY shit for not following directions, etc…, I’m going to take off his curved shoe with a bell on it and literally beat him senseless with it. He opens the door and his face is as white as a ghost. He looks like he’s about to cry. My anger immediately subsides, and I essentially start consoling him as he can’t get enough apologies out fast enough.
We walk back upstairs together. This poor, substandard, adult tour guide dressed in a court jester outfit has finally caught his breath. We stand there in the crisp May night on the Royal Mile and once he’s somewhat relieved that I am not livid, have no intent to sue (or even complain to his boss), and that I haven’t kicked his ass, we part ways. I figure he’s paid the price and I have a funny story to tell.
Check out these other selections from Manopause:
Traveling The World: What Could Go Wrong? by Alex Langford
Quarantined In Paradise by James Brownold