Newest Review: ... private collection of rusty torture tools owned by the tour owner, hung from the wall of a single small room. I've been to actual torture m... more
Terror beneath the streets of Edinburgh?
Auld Reekie Terror Tour (Edinburgh)
Member Name: ilovemycat
Auld Reekie Terror Tour (Edinburgh)
Advantages: interesting history
Disadvantages: not really much to see
I took this tour back in March while on a short trip to Edinburgh. I took just the short tour, which encompassed just the vaults under the city rather than the full tour, which included a walk around some haunted streets. Our tour lasted 45 minutes and cost 8.50. A full tour lasted 1.5 hours and cost 11.50. There were about three tours daily, although the above ground tour only happened after dark.
Basically, below Edinburgh's most famous street, the Royal Mile, there are hundreds and hundreds of vaults and cellars originally intended to be used for storage. However, due the porosity of the rock above, everything stored in them got wet and so they were abandoned. As a result, hundreds of homeless and street people moved in, to escape from rigid city laws forbidding anyone to sleep on the streets.
After choosing a tour and meeting at the arranged time, we went down into the tour's office to pay. There, were told what the tour entailed, that we would go to a torture museum first and then into the vaults under the city. The guide was quick to point out that it was pretty scary, and that if we freaked out and wanted to leave it would be possible at any time but there would be no refund. Fair enough, I thought.
So, paid up, off we went. The "torture museum" turned out to be just a private collection of rusty torture tools owned by the tour owner, hung from the wall of a single small room. I've been to actual torture museums before (miserable places!) filled with racks and other nasty machines, so I was expecting a little more. In addition, the guide only explained the use of a couple of items and we weren't given time to look around.
Next, we moved down into the vaults. They were poorly lit, damp and creepy places, which immediately made you feel a little spooked. I thought we'd do a decent walking tour of the vaults but in actual fact we only looked inside three of them. Each one looked exactly the same except for one which had a stone circle inside.
The guide proceeded to tell us a creepy story in each one. The stories, apparently true, were all extremely grisly and concerned the people who used to live in the vaults. The tout on the street above had told us that children were allowed on the cellar tour, which surprised me because some of the tales involved children being exploited, raped, murdered, burned to death, etc.. The guide was extremely enthusiastic but you got the impression that this was just at attempt to creep us out, because of the vaults themselves there wasn't a great deal to see. The guide seemed happy to tell us about other tour customers who'd freaked out, acted strangely, or claimed to have seen ghosts. It was almost like an attempt at hypnotizing us into seeing more than we actually were.
However, I did have my own creepy experience in one vault. There were only six people on our tour, and in the last cellar, with my girlfriend's hand in my left hand I experienced what felt like a small hand tugging on my right upper arm. It lasted only a moment and I didn't say anything because I didn't want to play up to the guide's expectations, but it certainly was strange. I'm not a believer or a non-believer in such things, I just believe that we don't know everything about our world, and while it could have just been my coat settling suddenly or a psychological response to the guide's constant ghost stories, I won't rule out the possibility that I had a "ghostly" experience.
After that last cellar, we were taken up into a pub built into another section of the vaults, where we were given piece of shortcake and a free whiskey. It was a nice touch, I thought. We stayed around to talk to the other customers but the guide disappeared immediately rather than wait around for us to ask any questions.
Overall, I'm in two minds whether I got my money's worth. While it was interesting in terms of the historical content, we didn't actually see a great deal and I got the impression, having seen lots of touts about, that there were many companies, each with a lease to their own little section of the vaults, making a large buck out of tourists. Our group only had six people, but the guide said their biggest group ever was eighty-four, and to cram that many people on to a single tour and expect them to enjoy it sounded like a shameless cash grab.
One final point was that while I thought that the guide was engaging and knew his subject, he talked much too fast. Of our group of six, there were two Mexicans, an Italian, and my Japanese girlfriend, and from discussions in the pub afterwards none of them could easily follow what he said. As a tour that no doubt sees numerous foreign customers I thought that was something they ought to address.
It was pretty scary and I was quick happy for it to finish, but (ghostly experience aside!) mostly for what the guide told us rather than for what we saw. The Mexican woman in our group was so scared that she refused to go into the final vault but no one actually pulled out, although the guide said it was quite a common thing to happen.
I'd recommend this tour or one of the many similar ones on a visit to Edinburgh simply because the history was interesting, but don't get your expectations up to high.
The company website is
where you can find further information concerning times and prices.
Also on ciao under headofwords.
Summary: A tour of some of Edinburgh's allegedly haunted underground vaults