Me and my friend are both 17, and were looking forward to a good chilling session of gruesome, historic information about Edinburgh. After the many good reviews, we went for the Mercat Tour Gallows of Graveyard. The tour guide was dressed up and was really in character, the group we were with took a while to get used to the acting, but over all was interacting. The tour guide used a few people to tell of the characters back in the day (including myself!). It was very informative and good stories however I found myself day dreaming and drifting off as it wasn't as creepy and gruesome a sI thought it might've been. Towards the end, we were very excited as it was now the chance to walk in the graveyard..however..it was locked.
The fact the tour was called "Gallows in the GRAVEYARD" was very silly as the graveyard gates were closed. When she said this I thought she was joking but infact was not. Instead she took it down an alleyway, said a story and let us leave. I felt as if I wasted £9 of my money on a tour that didn't give what it said it would. I would not recommend this and I was just waiting to get home.
There are many tours located within edinburgh where people can go and see the underground vaults and learn the history behind them. The two main walks are auld reekie and mercat tours, and both are very different and excellent for different reasons, so firstly if you are intending on going on a guided tour then attend both as you will see different vaults in both and have different information.
The mercat tours are based by the main cross by st giles cathedral in edinburgh and run daily at various times throughout the day. Booking is advised however dont feel it completly necessery unless it is the height of summer when tours will be at their busiest. Simply go along to the meeting point, speak to the guide and they will list your name and you pay your fee.
The mercat tours will take you as a group of people and one guide on a walk around edinburgh city centre which lasts for approx. 30 minutes. This explains the history of the landmarks, the many closes and the initial understanding of the vaults and what they are.
The walk can seem a little long and in some areas a little boring to, but well advised to go as you get to see things you wouldnt if you were going around on your own and of course it is interesting to understand the history before you enter the vaults, wrap up warm however as walking around edinburgh is certainly not a cosy warm experience.
After the inital walk you are taken down to the vaults which are located in blair street, and upon entering be aware that these vaults are very dark, oppressive, damp and slippery in some areas. The areas are lit by emergency lighting and candlelight which is in fact incredible as it enhances the experience but wear suitable warm clothing and gripped shoes. I would also recommend taking a stick chair with you, a little odd, however the guide can go on for several minutes in each area and whilst standing there you can get quite cramped up so a stick chair to be seated whilst listening can make you more comfortable and more observant also.
The guide leads you into each vaulted area of blair street and explains the history behind each one, regarding the uses, the initial reasoning for the vaults and the torture and crime that went on. Please note the main walking daily tours are based upon the history of the vaults and if you wish to learn about the spiritual activity then make sure you book one of their paranormal or ghost walk tours, these are far more exciting and will explain alot more about the paranormal activity based within blair street vaults.
Overall an incredible experience and albiet the auld reekie tours are a little more inventive and theatrical they will take you into specific vaults and mercat lead you into other areas, which are incredibly dramatic just to view, the talking can go on a little but be prepared and definately book, as its an experience and viewing not to be missed.
While I am not a fan of guided tours, there are some places that cannot be visited unless you are part of an organised group. In Edinburgh I was interested in visiting the old vaults and the only way to do this was by taking a guided tour with Mercat Tours. Mercat Tours offer several tours that put the spotlight on different historical aspect of Edinburgh, mainly things with a sinister edge.
It's easy to book a place on one of their tours. You can contact the company directly by telephone (in which case you will need to pay in advance by credit card) or by means of their website, or through the Tourist Information Centres in Edinburgh. It's also possible to turn up at the departure point on spec but there may not be places left in the height of summer when Edinburgh hits its tourism peak. If you do join a tour this way you can pay by cash or credit card.
We tried to book at the TIC but it was before 10.00am so the staff couldn't phone Mercat Tours to check on availability. We were given a phone number for the company but when we phoned them it was then that we learned they required credit card details for phone reservations and we were reluctant to give them out as we were in a busy place at the time. After 10 we went back to the TIC and booked the tickets there. No booking fee is charged by the TIC for this service. We were given a map on which the meeting place for the tour was highlighted. It was also pointed out to us that the tour involved some steep steps and walking in dark, narrow passageways.
All of the tours offered by Mercat start at he Mercat Cross situated next to St Giles Cathedral at the top of the Royal Mile. This is easy to find, right in the heart of old Edinburgh. The Mercat staff member was easy to spot and checked our ticket against the names on his list before asking us to wait nearby while we waited for other members of our group and our tour guide. The tour started promptly at the appointed time and Jodie, our friendly guide put everyone at ease immediately. I could easily have done without the enforced joviality but nobody else seemed to mind it.
First we were taken a little way down the Royal Mile into one of the "closes", the narrow lanes that provide access to the tenement buildings; here Jodie explained the geography of the city and why it looks like it does. It was really fascinating and she explained it brilliantly.
We were then taken to the vaults and on the way Jodie pointed out how the road the vaults now lie under was once a bridge and that in the 18th century the vaults were created by filling in the arches to provide commercial accommodation for the city's craftsmen such as bookbinders, jewellery makers and metal workers. In the 1980s the landlord of the Tron pub wanted to enlarge his cellar and discovered that one of the walls of his own cellar was in fact hollow. Behind it was a series of vaults, some had been separated with rough walls made of rubble. He approached the local council, to find out who owned the vaults and was able to buy the whole lot for just £100. Needless to say the man is now a millionaire, imagine the money one can make selling all that space in a city like Edinburgh! Some of the vaults have been made into nightclubs and bars and part is now used by Mercat Tours.
As soon as you go in you are plunged into darkness. There are a few candles and a couple of electric lights but it takes a while to adjust to the light (or lack of it). As we moved from vault to vault Jodie told us stories about how the vaults were used and really brought the place to life. She explained how the vaults were originally lit by "cruise lamps" that burned fish oil and gave off the faintest of light as well as a very unpleasant aroma. She told us how parts of the vaults became office for lawyers; Edinburgh was well known as a centre for the legal profession but the men who practiced law did not have their own offices and so they operated from the drinking holes in the vaults, mostly under the influence of claret which was *the* drink of the time.
From time to time Jodie involved group members as she illustrated different points and kept everyone engaged. One vault is pretty much like the next; they are all completely empty and any items of note found during the excavations have been removed to museums or to the Mercat Tours "Interpretation Centre" upstairs.
I'm not sure exactly what I was expecting from this tour but I was a bit disappointed. I learned lots but I didn't feel like I'd *seen* much. The tour was also fifteen minutes shorter than the hour and a quarter advertised.
The "Interpretation Centre" turned out to be a single room with a few boards on the wall mostly repeating what Jodie had told us. There was a replica of a sedan chair and a glass case containing a few of the items found in the vaults. Next door was the inevitable gift shop.
At £6.50 each for adults the price seemed just about fair; any more would certainly have been too much. There were about twelve people on our tour which was a good number given that some of the vaults were very small indeed.
Our guide was very good although I did feel she over-used some expressions ("Not pleasant!") which became quite irritating after a while. The background information she gave was excellent and she expertly mixed factual stuff with some good anecdotes; some of the stories are a little risqué, this tour is not really suitable for under-thirteens, I would say.
It was a fun and interesting way to spend an hour, especially if you have visited Edinburgh before and are now looking for something a bit different to do. However, I probably wouldn't recommend it if you are a first-timer because there are much better things to see in the city.
Other Mercat Tours include: (Details can be found on their website)
Secrets of the Royal Mile
Gallows to Graveyard
Edinburgh is an amazing city. For my money, it's architecturally the most beautiful in Britain and it has a history that is truly fascinating. I go there every August for the comedy festival and normally see only the shops, the bars and the comedy venues. This year, however, I was determined to get up earlier than usual and give myself time to take some of the tourist trails. After scouring the net and reading some guide books, my mate and I decided that one thing we must do was take the guided tour of Edinburgh's hidden underground vaults run by Mercat Tours. Edinburgh's underground vaults have only recently been uncovered after lying abandoned and full of waste for many years. Now open to the public on accompanied viewings only, accessible only via huge locked doors which look like any others in the city's winding old streets, they are a real treat - a wander back into the city's history and a VERY spooky experience. The underground vaults (which are the arches beneath a long-gone bridge which have now been built over) are basically slum dwellings and workshops which were once inhabited - or I should say vastly OVERinhabited - by the city's poor. Down there in the bowels of the earth people worked, lived and 'played' (I use inverted commas for played for reasons which will become clear later) in appalling conditions. Cast your imaginations around this scene: The vaults are permanently dark, and full of damp and mould. The Edinburgh rain seeps through and drips from the ceilings and walls relentlessly. There is no light and no fresh air. In one small room, which is accessible only via a labyrinth of other similar rooms, a cobbler works without a fire, moulding his leather with the help of horse urine which is steaming fresh from the horse he keeps in the corner. In the next small room, the poor gather at the oyster bar to eat oysters and fish - not necessarily fres
h - which cook all day long in vast pots. Next to that is a room the size of an average terraced living room. A three-generational family live there: mother, father, eight children and two sets of grandparents. They carry out their work in that room as well as their lives. There are no such things as toilets. People do their 'nastiness' (the Edinburgh term of the 18th century) in a bucket in the corner which is emptied ONTO the street above once or maybe twice a day. The rain from the streets above dilutes the nastiness to such a texture that it seeps back down into the walls again on its way to the sewer in the middle valley of the city. The Edinburgh sewer is also the Edinburgh drinking water. People are riddled with disease in the vaults and infant mortality is about forty per cent. The average lifespan is 32 years. Later, as sanitation and social awareness increases, people move out of the vaults. They are then taken over for other purposes - illegal stills and drinking dens, for one. It is thought that the vaults also served as storage for the corpses taken by the bodysnatchers, later to be sold to the university for experimentation. It is also rumoured that the infamous 'Monday Club', a bunch of decadent aristocratic young men, meet there and practise devil worship and sacrifice. Homeless people still seek refuge there, until at last one day the vaults are closed off, bolted, and left to rot. It is hard to believe today that people existed, never mind co-existed, in such conditions. Hard to believe, that is, until you take this tour. Led around in a party of about 20 people by a guide who really knows her stuff, you can almost smell the smells and hear the voices as you learn of Edinburgh's hidden history. The vaults are lit by candles and dim electric lights. You walk on floors of volcanic rock and find yourself constantly tripping if you d
on't watch out. You have to follow the guide closely, as even she doesn't know the full layout of the place and follows only the lighted paths. It's slightly claustrophobic in places, but in others the ceilings have been destroyed and there is plenty of room to breathe. But wherever you are the air is very, very strange. Musty and oxygenless. Your chest gets more and more wheezy as you pass through. You are told not to touch the walls, because of the infamous damp. Along the way you get to see and touch artifacts that were found when the vaults were cleared out - an enormous kettle that an 8 year old child would have to take to the well and carry back, bits of shoes the cobblers made, oyster shells that are someone's long-discarded dinner. The tour lasts about 75 minutes, and ends in a little museum room where you see more artifacts and get to read about some of the characters and events of the vaults. You also have time here to chat to the professional and friendly guide and ask questions. It is a fascinating and unforgettable experience, and while you're down there it's so easy to forget that above you is one of the most vibrant, cosmopolitan and fashionable cities in the UK. Coming back up to it after your tour is over is almost a culture-shock. The underground vaults tour costs £6 and is worth every penny. Tours run throughout the year, with 2 per day in winter and 6 per day in summer. You do not have to pre-book, just join the tour at the Mercat Tours sign in High Street in the centre of the old town. For the very brave, the tour can be taken at night, as part of the Ghosts and Ghouls Tour which will also take you around Edinburgh's graveyards and to some of its most haunted places. I didn't have time for that one this year, but next year it's an absolute must. Find out more about the underground vaults and other Mercat tours at www.mercattours
This opinion is not recommended for those of a nervous disposition. MARY KING'S CLOSE was a 17th century street in the old town of Edinburgh. Much of the Close is still intact and in its original state. Shops and houses can be inspected - and some ghostly figures have been experienced over the years in this 'Street of Sorrows.' Allegedly The Close runs from the High Street northwards underneath the present City Chambers. Before Cockburn Street was built, the close used to continue on down to Market Street where the northern-most exit is marked, these days, by the Hebrides Bar. Mary King's Close (formerly Alexander King's Close and Touris Close) is thought by some to be named after the daughter of Alexander King, owner of the property and Advocate to Mary Queen of Scots. Then again, in 1644 a woman called Marie King died there and left a will and inventory of her possessions. There are a number of tour guides who escort people round Mary King's Close and when we took the tour the guide was very knowledgeable and entertaining. We entered by a rear doorway with the towering City Chambers soaring above. The stonework of Mary King's Close are now the foundations for the City Chambers. Once we were off the 'street' of Mary King's Close, we were in a rabbit warren of interconnecting rooms. When they were occupied back in the 17th century, one room would have housed a large family, perhaps 10-12 people. This was where the guide's description of life in this environment brought the bare, whitewashed walls to life. With no running water or sanitation life was pretty grim. The graphic description of the chamber pots which were filled during the course of the day and the mass emptying of them into the street at 10pm with shouts of gardez lui (French for "look out!") was, er... colourful! The refuse from the windows of the many floors above a
ccumulated on the pathways below until it was swept up the next day. The stench would be unbearable; it was a haven for vermin and the spread of disease was inevitable. But the cause, so obvious today, was unknown then. -~-~-~-~-~-~ The Local Tavern -~-~-~-~-~-~ One of the rooms we entered (empty now of course - pity) had been a local tavern. The pubs and taverns of bygone Edinburgh were very different from the ones we know today. Tucked away down a dark alley you would enter a room with a low ceiling, lit by candles. On wooden tables, in front of a roaring fire, you would be served plates of oysters, tripe and haddock washed down with jugs of claret. A favourite tipple was the famous Younger's Edinburgh Ale which almost 'glued the lips of the drinker together'. Members of Edinburgh's legal profession were often to be found in this part of the city from early morning. It was not unusual "to find two or three most honourable Lords of Session mounting the bench in the forenoon the worse for wear." One eminent judge, Lord Newton, "considered himself as only better fitted for business that he had just imbibed six bottles of claret..." And it was certainly not strange for judges to take their bottles of wine into court with them. -~-~-~-~-~-~-~-~-~-~ The Black Death - and Ghosts! -~-~-~-~-~-~-~-~-~-~ The close was a thriving community of shops and homes and was occupied by the usual cross-section of city society. 1645 was the year of the worst visitation of the pestilence, which we know today as the Bubonic Plague, in the city of Edinburgh, Scotland. The arrival of black rats from ships in Leith docks brought the plague or Black Death. Picture if you can, this swill of raw sewage seeping down the steps of the city, imagine the smell. Rats inhabited this environment as well, enjoying the festering conditions and the tasty morsels, b
ut these rats carried the fleas which carried the pestilence. The pestilence was not a nice disease, not pretty or pleasant by any stretch of the imagination. Sufferers would become very ill and huge pustules and boils would break out all over them and they would be racked with pains and vomiting until they died an agonising death, whereupon they would turn a purply black, hence it's other name The Black Death. The Government of Edinburgh decided to quarantine all Edinburgh's plague victims into Mary Kings Close. A barbaric and ultimately futile measure as one third of the population of the city eventually died of the Plague that year. Another example of local government getting it right...NOT! So into the Close they were herded, where they were locked in and left to die. For weeks their screams and cries for water and food and mercy could be heard, but gradually it grew quiet. The foul smell of decaying corpses soon began to fill the streets of Edinburgh and two butchers who themselves had survived the Plague, were sent in to the Close to rid it of the bodies. These two butchers took those 400 corpses and cut them into sections, so that they could be neatly stacked into carts, sorted into arms, legs, torsos and heads. The Close had been cleaned up, but the souls of those 400 people were not at rest, and many maintain they still haunt the Close. Today stories of ghosts continue and there have been reports of cold spots. One visitor reported the appearance of a poorly dressed young girl accompanied by a dog. Tour guides say that in the area where the apparition of the little girl had appeared, a doll miraculously appeared overnight - and more toys and trinkets have kept appearing. In 1752 the architect Robert Adam drew up plans for a grand, much enlarged Royal Exchange, which eventually became today's City Chambers. Adam decided to incorporate the upper part of the close into the west side o
f the new building. It is thanks to him that we still have this reminder of what life was like in Edinburgh of old. Anchor Close is just a few streets along from Mary Kings. It shows what Mary Kings Close may have looked like until the 19th Century.This way you can see how narrow and claustrophobic these old closes are. I can highly recommend the tour, but make sure to prepare yourself for the sometimes overwhelming feeling of despair and claustrophobia. You'll have to go there and decide for yourself whether lost souls are still haunting the Close, and you'll get a lot out of the tour in terms of history. Mercat Tours run hour-long daily tours of Mary Kings Close at 11.30 am and (for the very brave) 9.30pm. The cost is £5 per person. You will need to ring and book as this is a popular tour and meets at the Mercat Cross in the Royal Mile. http://www.mercat-tours.co.uk/ footnote: Edinburgh has since cleaned itself up a bit and visitors to the Auld Toon are almost certain not to have the contents of a 'chantie', or chamber pot - emptied on their head from above. I cannot guarantee this of course. Thanks for reading and sweet dreams!
In the Scottish capital of Edinburgh, humankind’s love of the supernatural, paranormal and all things macabre, has given rise to a booming tourist industry in ghostly tours of the city’s haunted streets. Not one to miss the opportunity of a good ghost story and tales of murder and mayhem, strange as I am, I set out on an intrepid walk through cobbled streets and hidden crypts. Now you wouldn’t normally associate students with the events of medieval Scotland but ironically it was only through the actions of one group of students in particular that led to the discovery of one of the most important features of Edinburgh’s history. Beneath the streets of Europe’s most haunted city, lie a series of underground vaults that had been home to the poor folk ridden by the bubonic plague. Situated in the heart of the city’s student population some of the vaults were discovered purely by chance. A group of students in a drunken stupor decided to break down the wall of their digs only to find a series of rooms lurking behind. These were in fact the underground vaults of 18th century Edinburgh. In a city ridden with disease the vaults became refuge and a deathbed for thousands of people. History also records that the vaults provided a safe passage for murderers and body snatchers who would sell their victims to a nearby medical school. Since the best way for its students to learn was to practice on actual bodies the school took the decision to pay for freshly deceased bodies to those able to supply them. As the law decreed that only one body could be used in any year this gave rise to the murder and body snatching that was rife. Two Irishmen – Burke and Hare – became known as the most notorious serial killers of the time, plying their victims with drink, murdering them and transporting their bodies through the underground passageways that lined the vaults to the school above. This the reason for the vaults being so
haunted. At 10pm on a cold January’s evening I set out on a tour that would take me through the winding streets of the famous Royal Mile and into the haunted vaults that lie beneath. By candlelight you are taken through a succession of vaults each with its own story to tell. With an element of excitement I couldn’t help but wonder if I would see any ghosts or experience any of the paranormal activity of my predecessors. Since the tours began just under seven years ago, all manner of tourists have reported allsorts of weird and frightful goings on whilst travelling through the underground haunt. In recent times there has been intense interest in the record of apparitions on these trails and numerous experiments conducted to investigate their truth. One such experiment, conducted by Professor Richard Wiseman, confirmed the long held view that the vaults were certainly haunted – the experiment earning him a place in the forthcoming Guinness Book of Records. Whilst in the past the vaults had a gruesome purpose, today they form an important part in the cultural heritage of this majestic city. Playing host to tourists like myself, the vaults and the stories they tell have provided a form of entertainment unique to this city. Numerous companies operate walking tours of the old town of Edinburgh and each departs from the Royal Mile. I chose Mercat Tours as they have exclusive access to one of the most haunted parts of the city. Beneath what is the City Chambers today is Mary Kings Close. The name comes from a lady who reportedly owned a large number of properties in the city and the close has witnessed numerous apparitions throughout the centuries. For security reasons booking for this particular tour is essential. Mercat Tours meet at the Mercat Cross in the centre of the Royal Mile and details of tours are posted on large hoardings close by. Lasting approximately one hour the tours are excellent value for money and really
bring the old town to life. And, if like me, you find yourself drawn to tramping through darkened streets late at night in search of ghosts and ghouls then you’re sure to find Edinburgh the ideal ‘haunt.’ Full details of the tours can be found at www.mercattours.com or by calling 0131 5576464.