“ Address: 45 Niddry Street Edinburgh EH1 1LG / Scotland „
Auld Reekie have been running tours of the South Bridge Vaults in Edinburgh since 1995. They offer a range of guided tours throughout the year and special Halloween tours and overnight tours. Daily tours include those who go underground and others go above ground and underground.
Auld Reekie Tours
45 Niddry Wynd
0131 557 4700
*Ghost and Torture Tour*
This tour takes place above and below ground in the evening. It departs from the Tron Kirk on the Royal Mile. It can be prebooked (recommended) or paid for at the ticket office which you will visit at the start of the tour.
This tour lasts 1hr 15mins (approx) and departs at 6pm, 7pm, 8pm and 9pm. The tour guide will take you around the closes and wynds in Edinburgh and tell the story of Edinburghs grim past including stories of death, body snatching and the plague! You will also be taken to the underground Vaults where thousands of homeless people would flock to in order to escape the streets and threat of death as it was illegal to be sleeping on the streets in the past.
The tour is not really suitable for those who are disabled (wheelchair bound) as there are steep hills, stairs and uneven surfaces to negotiate. The Vaults are supposedly the most haunted place in Edinburgh and Auld Reekie take no responsibility for injury or death (!) inflicted by anyone 'present' in the Vaults. Your ticket also includes entry to the Torture Museum and a free Whisky and shortbread in the Banshee Labyrinth (most haunted pub) after the tour.
The other tours are similar. Children are welcome but at your own risk as they may get scared. You do need sensible footwear on this tour. There is a minimum of 4 people required for the tour and it is priced at £9.50 per person.
*Booking and Customer Service*
Our most recent visit was booked through the website which is easy to navigate. We opted for a 7pm tour on a Friday night. I paid by card and booked our place but when I received my confirmation, I realised I hadn't selected the correct date. I called the company and a friendly lady said it wouldn't be a problem and they would change it for us. I received an email confirming it had been changed in the diary and to just bring the original printed invoice.
The lady taking our tour was a young girl named Erin. She was friendly yet professional and could 'act' well. She had her own personality and was very informative. She was dressed in a stunning black coat and looked the part. She was professional despite the pouring rain and kept the group together. We were part of a group of various aged people and there were around 25 of us. We took the steep hill walk to the ticket office in Niddry Wynd and presented our invoice to be checked. Cannot fault the service.
*Why We Chose This Tour*
We had a few ghost tour options and wished to participate in a mid-evening tour. I have been on an Auld Reekie tour with my college class before and it was a day time tour but I really feel with it being dark and wet, it does make it all the more enticing and scary (if a bit slippy!). If you are participating in the above and below ground tours, I recommend the evening or night time tour - I quite fancy the overnight tour! You can actually book out the full Vaults for overnight tours. That would be fun!
Anyway, we arrived bang on 7pm and the tour was getting ready to leave so be there sharpish to avoid getting lost! It was heavily raining - it is Scotland afterall so were wise to wear a hooded jacket and warm, flat shoes as the pavements are very uneven. If you tire easily, definitely take a bottle of water with you - trust me! So, we chose this tour as my sister hadn't been to the Vaults before and fancied trying them out! She is very into paranormal and ghosty stuff whereas I am a little more sceptical.
*The Closes, Wynds and Above Ground*
Edinburgh is known for its steep closes where buildings are built high around narrow pavements. Our tour guide took this opportunity to tell us about the sort of people who used to live in the high buildings in the closes. Erin knew her stuff and told us about the lack of drainage systems in Edinburgh many years ago. Therefore any 'waste' was thrown out into the closes once a night - not pleasant and you can imagine the smell. It all seemed very realistic even though the buildings have long since been replaced. The close we walked up was practically vertical and tiring to climb!
Erin led us back on to the Royal Mile and we stopped at the St Gyles Cathedral to hear some more stories. We had to all 'spit' for good luck into a heart design on the ground which used to be the entrance to the Toll Booth Jail. The stories we were told could well be 'enhanced' for entertainment but were daunting and interesting to listen too especially about the bodysnatchers. It was a little uncomfortable hearing about children being murdered though. I believe we wandered around for 40 minutes or so before heading to the Vaults.
The South Bridge Vaults were originally used for storage but there was a major damp problem. The bridge was opened in 1788. The vendors vacated and many thousands of homeless people took refuge underground - often hundreds in each Vault. The Vaults were closed back up We were led up a steep stair case and were assured that we were infact 'underground'. The Vaults were rediscovered in the 1980s. Access to this part of the Vaults is next door to the ticket office in Niddry Wynd.
We arrived in the Torture Museum which was a stuffy, small little room which was very dark. It featured various displays behind glass panels. We were told about the various contraptions and many brought a tear to my eye just thinking about them. The majority of the contraptions were originals including a 'ball crusher' and chasity belts which never got removed from the wearer. This part of the tour took 5 minutes and we headed into the Vaults.
I suppose you really need to have an open mind for this type of tour. The Vaults are said to be haunted and frequented by a little boy looking for a blonde haired female to 'befriend'. A man is also said to wander the Vaults jingling his keys - possibly security in the past but who knows. The Vaults are cold and very wet. As we visited during a heavy rainfall, puddles were everywhere and drips were common. There is a small amount of lighting in the Vaults and Erin did have a torch.
I enjoyed visiting the Vaults. We were taken to three or four rooms - I can't quite remember but some rooms are off limits to visitors. It is fine to take pictures in most of the rooms but they recommend that you do not take pictures in some rooms as it is so dark, the flash may blind someone! There isn't a great deal to actually see in the Vaults so emphasis is on the stories told by the guide.
We weren't disappointed. We spent a relatively short length of time in the Vaults. The Vaults are very spacious but it is difficult to imagine so many homeless people and their families sleeping, eating and doing their 'business' is such horrible conditions. One particular Vault was previously used for witch craft and featured a stone circle. No one was brave enough to risk entering the circle! Other Vaults were empty but the atmosphere and stories were enough to give anyone a chill down their spine. The Vaults are very echoey but this is often overpowered by the noisy bars underneath and it doesn't ruin the atmosphere a little.
My favourite Vault was right at the start of the row of Vaults but is not allowed to be accessed by the general public. This Vault is actually still used today for witch craft activity and is used by a coven of white witches (good witches). They do not like the public being brought down on tours but the owner would not allow them to rent out the full Vaults on a permanent basis. Unfortuantely no witches were there at the time of the tour but we did get to see various cloaks and pentagrams. There is a number you can call to join the coven but I am not quite ready for that transition yet!
Whilst we didn't experience any ghost or paranomal activity during our tour, I did feel generally freaked out and uneasy like there was 'something' there. The Vaults are incredibly dark and the stories are gruesome. You can imagine how many people were there - how many people died there. I sort of hoped for some form of activity. It is common for people to experience scratches or burns after leaving the tour. Erin told us about a girl who used to work there who had awful dreams. After a paranomal investigator visited and learned of a story, she got freaked out and quit as a tour guide as this 'Entity' had an issue with her.
We left the Vaults and went for our free drink and shortbread. The Banshee isn't what I would call a typical 'haunted' pub. It is more of a nightclub but I do believe it got the haunted titled after builders came across a screaming lady and ran! The Whisky (according to my sister as I hate the stuff) was cheap and nasty but the shortbread finger was lovely. The toilets were clean too.
I was happy to pay £9.50 for this tour. It was well thought out, well guided and eerie. We managed to get a few pictures. It isn't the scariest tour we have been on but it does have a 'chill factor' in my opinion and is worth going on. I wouldn't recommend it for children under 12 but that is up to the parent! I suppose it depends on the level of activity whether you experience anything sinister as there have been valid reports. We just weren't as lucky - or perhaps we were too lucky depending on which way you look at it!
Thanks for reading :)
*This review was originally posted on ciao in June 2012 where it appears with pictures -thanks!