City of the dead

Edinburgh photo by the author

There are some amazing things about Edinburgh, but, if you know anything about me, you can imagine that all the ghost stories were something that brought me some interest. One of the things that I had to do was participate in a tour by City of the dead tours, and let me tell you, this was not the best idea when you’re as wuss as I am.

So, how did this go, you ask?

First of all, I was staying at an amazing hostel, in which my room had a view of the Greyfriars Kirkyard — after this, let’s say that it wasn’t as simple to fall asleep.

The tour was scheduled for the early morning — well early for those of us that like to sleep in the morning — and the first destiny was the stone vaults.

As I’ve been talking here and here, Edinburgh ended up creating a kind of underground city — one of the only ways to grow while being confined to such a small space while growing in population — this underground city was mainly a bunch of stone vaults that were either used as warehouses, or as houses for the lower layers of the population.

At this tour, they explained to us the reason why these vaults were created, but more than that, they shared stories — real or not — about the people living down there.

So, here we were, walking around these vaults while they were telling us they used to be used by the lower ends of the population, and in many cases by beggars, thieves, and prostitutes.

In some of the most complicated years, one living there had to almost sleep with one eye open, or else it would be way too easy to be dead in the morning, either because someone passed that place during the night and had an interest in one of their possessions, or just because. The problem in that place is that there were so many people who just killed for killing that it had become very unsafe to live there.

Edinburgh photo by the author

Imagine then, a small group of people — we were around 15 probably — going through a dark tunnel — only the guide had a flashlight — passing from vault to vault, and listening to all the stories of people dying there — let’s say that it was a bit spooky.

And then we get to another vault, the guy starts to explain that in that vault someone else died — surprise surprise!! I started to get the idea that there was absolutely no vault without a death /ghost story — and that there were reports of hearing scratches on the wall, and even in some of the people that ended up visiting that vault, after that one of the girls in our group starts to say that she wasn’t feeling well. it was something that everyone could understand, it was hot, moist, dark, and anyone with just a bit of claustrophobia would be very close to a seizure.

Result of this?

The guide had to take this girl out, and we ended up getting stuck in that vault with no flashlight. Automatically some anxiety starts to build, we weren’t able to see anything — there was only a bit of light from everyone’s phones — we were stuck somewhere under the city, and — of course, this had to happen — we start to hear sounds of something scratching the wall.

Edinburgh photo by the author

Everyone starts to get closer together, and at some point, someone grabs my arm, — is this becoming one of these ghost stories? -I was almost at the point of starting to run out of there. — but the first to run is always the first to die in the horror movies, right?

It seems that the girls next to me were even more afraid than me, that’s why they grabbed my arm — if only they knew how much of a wuss I am.

I still think that this was organized by the tour — and if it was, well it was an amazing idea. But if it wasn’t … argh, let’s say that I won’t go there again by myself — although I could try to take this tour again.

Edinburgh photo by the author

You would think that after this adrenaline rush the tour is over, but no, now we go to the graveyard, and wow, that’s what I have to say WOW …

Not so much because of any frightening story, they did tell a lot of them, but I think that being out in the open, and during the day, helped us — or at least helped me — to not go in another anxiety peak. However they also do this tour at night … It’s on my to-do list for my next trip to Edinburgh, although it will probably make me not sleep for a long time. And I have to take someone with me, grabbing someone in a dark and haunted space it’s probably not the best way to meet someone. Although the girls that grabbed me in the vault, happened to be staying in the same hostel as me, and we ended up laughing about this on the pub crawl that night.

Edinburgh photo by the author

But let’s go back to the stories in the graveyard, I talk about it in more detail here, but on this day this was what they told us:

  • Although it’s not a huge graveyard, it was the main one in Edinburgh, especially because it was inside the walls, that and the growing population, made it grow in unusual circumstances. That meant that instead of acquiring more land for it, they had to grow up and down, as the city itself. Not only did they got soil from other parts of the city and put it on top of what was already buried there, creating several floors of graves, but they also dug deeper with the same goal, to bury the biggest amount of people possible in the same space. This meant that nowadays it’s calculated that there are at least 4x more bodies buried in Greyfriars Kirkyard than the number of graves that exist.
  • Bloody Mackenzie — well, his story is already a horror story, even for those that like me try — it’s not always possible for me — to see history with the eyes of someone that lived in that time, but in this graveyard, there are 2 especially grim stories that are shared constantly:
  • Bloody Mackenzie Mausoleum — obviously in the city with more ghost stories in the world and the more haunted graveyard of that city, the Mausoleum of such a controversial figure, would bring us some kind of haunting moments. there are several reports of a Mackenzie poltergeist action, being it due to noises, seeing some white figure, or even the numerous reports of visitors that appeared to have sustained some bruises or scratches with no recollection
Edinburgh photo by the author
  • And then just next to this Mausoleum, there’s a gated space — that is closed due to those numerous cases that have been talked about before — this space was where every member of the Covenanters was kept, and where many of them died. So more ghosts!!!

As you may imagine, even if this tour was done by day, the truth is that some of these stories were scary enough to keep me thinking about them, and if you remember the beginning of this post, well, my room had a window to this graveyard — although the pub crawl helped me sleep and not think too much in the ghosts that can or not exit just next door.

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