Thursday, November 17, 2011

Double Dead Tour in Edinburgh

Friday night my sister and I went on one of the many ghost tours available in Edinburgh. We chose the City of the Dead's Double Dead Walk. This walk includes the highlights of their two regular and exclusive tours, one for the South Bridge Vaults and the other for the Covenanter's Prison. We met our guide at the eastern end of St. Giles' Cathedral.

Our tour guide was a lovely Aussie named Ariadne, after the famous figure in Greek mythology who helped Theseus escape from the Minotaur Labyrinth. She (our guide, that is) has a completely unsqueamish interest in human bones and the paranormal. She claims no psychic or paranormal abilities but is fascinated with both and asked us to report anything we felt or experienced during the walk. Her enthusiasm for the subject and storytelling skills made the tour quite fun.

Ariadne does her worst to us in the South Bridge Vaults

The South Bridge Vaults is an area of the South Bridge that was originally used for storage by merchants who had their shops nearby or above. When they realized that sewage (including human waste) was seeping through the sandstone bridge and covering their wares, they moved it all elsewhere. The area became a haven for the poor (who couldn't afford to live in parts not ankle-deep in sewage), which eventually attracted criminals to the area. The area became so dangerous that the police would no longer come there. The boldness of the criminals increased. The average life expectancy for a male who moved into the South Bridge Vaults was six months, less for women and children. Between the sewage spreading disease, the graverobbers looking for fresher fare, and the baby farmers exploiting pregnant women, the area hosted a lot of suffering and many miserable deaths.

Ariadne's stories stuck mostly with authenticated history and her personal experiences of being a tour guide for seven years. She's seen a lot of people's strange reactions, including passing out (two people on tours were left behind overnight!), injuries explainable and unexplainable, people feeling "cold spots" or being touched (though she did admit often the touching was by "horrid buggers" on the tour trying to freak out their friends).

No way back, so we had to go on to the next stop....

Our next stop on the tour was the Covenanters' Prison in Greyfriars Graveyard, home of the Mackenzie Poltergeist. The Covenanters were a group of Scotsmen in the 17th century AD who protested being forced to become Anglicans by the English King. They were eventually defeated and a thousand of them were imprisoned in this part of the churchyard with no shelter and hardly any rations. Dying from the harsh conditions (exposure, starvation, intolerant guards shooting prisoners with little or no justification), this area also hosted a lot of suffering and many miserable deaths. After the prisoners left in 1679, the area was used for burials. Many mausoleums were built along the walls, including one for George Mackenzie.

This burial chamber, dubbed the "Black Mausoleum," is home to the Mackenzie Poltergeist. The mausoleum and the nearby churchyard experienced so many unexplained phenomena and attacks that the Edinburgh council had it locked, presumably to get rid of the complaints. The tour company organizer has since made a deal to allow groups in to see it, allowing them to pin all the complaints on the tour company. Ariadne told us that on a previous tour a man thought his chums were hitting him while in the tomb. She took him outside and looked at his back which had five large welts under his clothes. Another time a small boy came out of the tomb with blood all over his face. He told his mom and Ariadne that he felt someone touching his face and assumed that was part of the tour. The mom was understandably furious, though Ariadne admired the boy's pluck.

A quiet night in the mausoleum, mostly.

Our tour alas did not have any supernatural or unexplainable manifestations, though there were three "jump" moments provided by Ariadne's expert storytelling and other helpful sound effects. The tour was a lot of fun, even if a cold drizzle started halfway through. We enjoyed the stories but had no problem sleeping that night.

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