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Vaults, a Graveyard, a Prison and a Super Guide!
City of The Dead Tour (Edinburgh)
Member Name: angelboouk
City of The Dead Tour (Edinburgh)
Advantages: guide, price, informative, two tours in one
Disadvantages: weather could pose a problem, not for everyone
*Please note that I am reviewing the Double Dead Tour by Blackhart (City of the Dead) - dooyoo have asked that I put my review here as a variation rather than in a new category*
Black Hart Entertainment was founded in Edinburgh in 1999. They offer 'City of the Dead' tours around Edinburgh. They offer a few different tours in and around Edinburgh including Gilmerton Coves, children's tours and murder tours. The most popular tours offered are the 'Underground City of the Dead' and the 'Haunted Graveyard'. They have won awards for their tours and have had excellent feedback.
The Double Dead tour combines both the Underground and Graveyard tours into one tour. It also includes a tour of Covenanters Prison. You will visit the South Bridge Vaults followed by Greyfriars Graveyard and the prison. Your tour guide will tell stories of living conditions, murderers and prisoners during the tour. The Mackenzie Poltergeist will also be discussed and further information about this entity can be found on www.blackhart.uk.com. The tours were researched by novelist J. A. Henderson.
Double Dead departs from outside St Giles Cathedral which is located on the Royal Mile in Edinburgh. Buses/taxis stop nearby and it isn't too far from Waverley train station. This particular tour is a night time tour. During the Summer months, the tours run at 8pm and 10pm. Winter tours depart 7.30pm and 9pm. The tour takes approx 1hr 45mins and it is recommended that you wear sensible footgear. Due to the nature of the tours, it is not suitable for wheelchair users.
~Booking The Tour~
0131 225 9044
There is a ticket office on the Royal Mile but it is recommended that you book your tour online (www.blackhart.uk.com). This is an incredibly easy process and they accept various debit and credit cards. You can choose a time and date and will receive an email with a booking code. This can be printed off or written down and presented to your tour guide.
Blackhart offer for 2 for 1 deals on certain midweek days but this only applies to the single tours. The Double Dead tour is priced at £13.00 per adult. Students/concessions are £11.00. Children can go if with an adult but I wouldn't recommend it!
~Why We Chose This Tour~
My sister had suggested this tour after a friend recommended it. We decided to make a night of it and book in to a hotel in the city as we wanted to go to the 10pm tour. It would leave it too late for us to get a train home again. We booked this tour and also the Auld Reekie tour and hoped that we wouldn't be visiting the same part of the Vaults twice in one evening.
My sister is very much a fan of paranomal activity - I am a little more sceptical but fairly open minded. I was a little scared of going on this tour but I will try most things once so we booked. We had some drinks in a nearby bar before heading to meet our group. At the time, several groups were standing around with different tour companies. This is the only tour company (that I know of) that allows access to the prison and that was our top priority hence booking with them! I was happy to pay the £13.00 fee.
~Our Tour Guide~
Our tour guide was a brilliant friendly (but spooky at the same time) guy called Iain. We found out he was previously a psychologist before taking up a career as a ghost tour guide! We also met another man (who I cannot recall his name) and I believe he was a medium. He was with us throughout the tour and it made me feel a little at ease knowing someone was in front and behind us in the tour!
Iain is a fantastic guide and very enthusiastic without being OTT. He knew when to 'act' and when to take a step back. He also had a comical side which felt a little sinister at times. He knew his stuff and was open to any questions. Our tour group consisted of around 30 people of various ages and he kept the group together well and kept everyone involved. Iain was aptly dressed for the tour in a long black coat. He carried on professionally at all times despite the heavy rain we were walking around in and adapted the tour slightly to ensure we got the the Vaults (and cover) a little quicker which was appreciated.
We were very pleased with our tour guide.
~Part One - The Vaults~
Our tour set off around 10.10pm on Friday night. We chose the later tour as I thought it would be better to do the tour in the dark. This wouldn't be an issue in the Winter as it would be dark anyway! I asked if the Vaults part of the tour would be the same Vaults that Auld Reekie use. Iain confirmed that there are lots of Vaults in the South Bridge shared between the various companies. We would be visiting the Vaults at the opposite end of the bridge.
Some of this tour takes you around the same areas as the Auld Reekie tours and the stories are similar but Iain made them sound much more 'real'. We wandered down the same steep close we originally went up which was daunting as it was slippy from the awful rain. Iain kept this part of the tour to a minimum to ensure we had more time inside the Vaults but did tell us about those who used to live in the buildings and how disgusting the closes were with waste due to the lack of drainage. Edinburgh was a very smell city!
The Underground Vaults were originally used for shop storage until the damp issue became too much. Homeless people flocked to the Vaults to seek refuge after it became illegal to be homeless in Edinburgh. The part of the Vaults which we visited are known as 'Damnation Alley' and are often stalked by the South Bridge Entity. The gates were locked once we were all in for our own safety - no way out except to go on through the Vaults.
The first Vault we arrived in we spent a short while hearing about how many people would have lived here through desperation and about the various deaseases that would have been present. The Vaults are incredibly dark and wet but we did have a small amount of lantern light within them. They were incredibly spooky. The stairs leading up to the higher floors weren't the most secure and steady. We were able to see what remains of the highest floors - simple ruins that looked like they could give way at anytime.
We visited a few Vaults here and I found them more interesting that the Vaults that Auld Reekie took us too. They were empty mostly but varied in size and shape. One particular Vault barely held us all in. Iain took time to explain a typical scenario. Unmarried woman were often cast out into the streets if they fell pregnant and had no option but to take refuge in the Vaults. They would be befriended by a stranger and their child taken either to be murdered (to avoid any additional population increase in the overcrowded city) by snapping their backs or necks (this made me feel ill) or selling them on to be slaves or worse - used for sexual acts. The Mother would have her throat slit after birth and left to rot.
The largest Vault we visited was massive and very misty. I felt incredibly uneasy in this Vault and was constantly aware of a presence. Iain went on to tell us more stories and would turn any light source off to add atmosphere. He did use the odd cheap trick by scaring a few people which was rather funny - I wouldn't have liked him doing it to me though! I can say I was glad to get out of those Vaults as I founded them incredibly creepy!
~Part Two - The Graveyard and Prison~
The part we were most looking forward too! The graveyard is a good 10 minute walk from the Vaults and we found ourselves heading up that way around 11.15pm. Greyfriar's Kirk is open during the day. The on site church was opened in 1620. The graveyard is most commonly remembered because of the story of the little dog who sat at the grave of his master for 14yrs. Iain informed us that although the gravestone is near the entrance of the graveyard, the story is not quite accurate. I will leave that yourselves to find out!
I am not in the habit of frequenting graveyards late at night. I find them decidedly freaky. The actual church in the Kirk overshadows the graveyard. The exterior is stunning and beautifully lit at the front which did 'open' up the graveyard somewhat. The stainglass windows were stunning but we were not permitted entry during our tour. As we wandered around the dark and incredibly splodgy pavements, Iain gave us a little history lesson. Bars were still erected over some graves due to grave robbing in the past. He warned that we were walking across several hundreds of bodies and bones may pop up - not sure if true but we were warned not to touch as the plague never dies!
The tomb stones of course, will be clearer during the day but in the evening and at night, they dominate the graveyard and I found myself feeling rather claustrophobic as some of stones were massive. We wandered around (me clinging to my sister) for 10 minutes or so before heading to Covenanters Prison at the far end of the graveyard.
Covenanters Prison is under lock and key. Iain explained that those who chose not to believe in the religion dictated to them were brought to this prison which is now ruined and mainly open air. The prison extends far down a grassy hill and features various 'rooms' - some are accessible, others are not. Iain went on to tell us about the Battle of Bothwell Brig and the type of prisoners were brought here to rot or await being murdered.
Our tour of the prison was fairly short and we did not explore everywhere. We were encouraged into a closed over room and told not to stand against the back wall. Some guy (being a smart ar*e) decided to do so and soon moved away! Here we learned of the McKenzie poltergeist who has been responsible for many injuries and fainting incidents in this very room. You can read more about him online. We took a few pictures in this room but didn't think much of it. Although no one in our group fainted, I did feel like something was taking energy from me - sounds weird I know but I didn't feel 'right'.
It wasn't until we returned home and uploaded pictures we had took. My sister had caught something though what you choose to make of it is up to you! I have provided the picture but have been warned (by a dear friend who knows her stuff) to delete it from my mobile and computer asap as it is not as it seems. The picture was taken in pitch black on an iPhone so please have a look and let me know what you think. I was really glad to leave the prison though as I started to feel very uneasy and scared. Thankfully neither myself or my sister suffered from bruises or cuts thanks to the poltergeist.
Most attractions have shops these days but you do not expect them in a graveyard! 'The Creepy Wee Shop In The Graveyard' is located at the entrance and Iain let us in to his 'office' as he calls it. It is a tiny little room - half office, half shop. Most of our group had left by this point so we had room to look about. They offered little trinkets with angels and fairies, skull ornaments and various pictures. They weren't very expensive - £5.00 for a fairly large ornament for example. I actually bought three little bottles of fragrance oils (dewberry, spiced apple and vanilla) and these were priced at 3 for £2.00 or 80 odd pence each. They smell amazing and I am using the apple one in my tart burner just now!
I cannot really fault this tour. Going a night increases the atmosphere and the tour was fun, scary and educational at the same time. Iain and the other guy were brilliant and he really does make it more worth trekking around Edinburgh in the pouring rain! If visiting Edinburgh, I can highly recommend this tour. I am leaning more to being a 'believer' after this particular tour and it is definitely the best out of the tours I have been on. It is well worth doing the Double Dead tour if you have time.
Thanks for reading and feel free to leave any comments/experiences as I am very interested to hear them x
This review was originally posted on dooyoo in June 2012.
Summary: be prepared to walk...a lot!