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A walk through history
Mercat Tours (Edinburgh)
Member Name: ADBoyce
Mercat Tours (Edinburgh)
Date: 07/03/02, updated on 27/09/02 (244 review reads)
Advantages: Educational & fun., Inexpensive, Operates all year round
Disadvantages: Perhaps not accessible for disabled people
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
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
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.
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