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The Real Mary King's Close (Edinburgh)

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8 Reviews

‚Äú The Real Mary King¬ís Close consists of a number of closes which were originally narrow streets with houses on either side, stretching up to seven storeys high. In 1753, the Burgh Council decided to develop a new building on this site, the Royal Exchange (now the City Chambers). The houses at the top of the closes were knocked down and part of the lower sections were kept and used as the foundations for the Royal Exchange. The remnants of the closes were left beneath the building, dark and ancient dwellings steeped in mystery. ‚Äě

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      10.02.2014 15:45
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      eerie and interesting

      ===Going Underground===

      I've have wanted to do some new things recently, so when I was presented with the opportunity to have a weekend away in Edinburgh I snatched it up and dragged along my partner Allan and his cousin Sloan. I've had many weekends in Edinburgh but I've never done a ghost tour or been to the "underground city". It was time to change that. We booked two tours, one a ghost tour and the other was The Real Mary King's Close.

      ===Getting there===

      The Real Mary Kings Close is situated on the Royal Mile in Edinburgh's Old Town, directly across from St Giles Cathedral. The Old Town is a bit of a nightmare to drive through, much like the new town. I hate driving anywhere in Edinburgh though. If you are driving, you won't be able to get right up to this as the area around it is pedestrianised, but you might be lucky enough to find parking nearby. If you're getting a bus, plenty of busses service the area and the nearby Princes Street which is within a walking distance of about five mintues. The Waverly Train Station is also a five minute walk away. If you're disabled, you'll probably have a little bit of trouble with this attraction as you will be "underground" in tight spaces that weren't ever made with wheelchairs or comfortable footing in mind. That being said, it might be worth your time contacting them first of all to discuss your needs to see if they can't arrange something for you as the staff seem like they'd be more than happy to help.

      If you are walking up the Royal Mile towards the castle, this attraction is on your right hand side through a stone archway and quite hidden from view. Once you get through the arch there's a small café area which you go into and then to your right you'll find the ticket office. If you've bought your tickets online you can simply make your way round to the waiting area on the far side of the room (back right corner once you've entered the room).

      ===Choose a tour===

      Real Mary King's Close has tours throughout the day every 15 minutes from 10am to 9pm so you can really choose whichever time is best for you. That being said, they do a Gold Experience at 3pm which costs a little bit more and includes a walking tour of the Royal Mile. Being that we wanted to have the best experience we could, we'd booked our tickets for the Gold Experience. They do suggest that you book your tickets to avoid disappointment along with a request to arrive ten minutes early for your tour so as not to hold up the group.

      For the main tours you'll be just under £13 for adults, just under £12 for students and just under £8 for children. For the Gold Experience you'll be a little more, coming in just under £17 while kids remain at the £8 mark and students jump to £15.

      The Gold Experience lasts two hours and fifteen minutes with a little break in the middle so it's really not for people who can't stand or walk for long periods.

      ===Pole Position===

      You need to go through the gift shop area to get to the waiting area, though we were pointed to the area and skipped over a barrier without realising we were queue skipping. When we realised we were a little bit mortified and tried our best to let everyone go in front of us, but the guide took our tickets and waved us through into the first room of the tour in front of everyone. As it turns out, however, we felt a lot less guilty when we ended up at the back of the room. If you'd prefer to be at the front, you'd be best to be the last one in to the first room. As our guide was absolutely gorgeous with a voice that all three of us could listen to for hours, we were possibly a little upset that we weren't closer to the front.

      You'll start by the guide introducing themselves in character and clothes that resemble what they'd have worn in the 17th century. Our Guide Robin (like the Bird) was playing the part of a "Foul Clenger" who were the unfortunate people who cleared out the houses of the victims of the plague in the 1600's. You can get one of six characters as guides, ranging from a Maid to Government Envoys so each tour could be a bit different depending on who you get. Each character is based on characters from the actual history of the Close too, so you don't have to worry about being fed total rubbish either!

      ===Google Map===

      Once the guide has went over a few ground rules (no pictures is the one you'll be most disappointed with, apparently the council don't want their foundations being easy to scope out on the internet), you'll be shown a map of the walled city of Edinburgh in the 1600's and told a little bit about the construction of the time. Buildings were packed tightly with the streets between hardly even looking like a street. You'd be hard pushed to drive a car down them even with them being completely empty. As they were short on space within the city walls, they built upwards so if you were down on the ground, no natural light would penetrate. Only those in the houses near the top of the buildings (above the 12 storey mark) got sunlight. In the street below, despite its cramped size, were stalls and markets and thousands of people.

      Even in the 1600's I imagine in the streets it felt much like being underground already. Now, However, it actually IS underground. In 1753 a huge area had the buildings cut in half and used as foundations for the Royal Exchange, covering up hundreds of households and several "closes" or streets.

      ===Rock Bottom===

      Once you've seen the map, you'll be taken down the stairs and deep into the forgotten streets of Edinburgh. The first room you visit is a laigh house (or a low house) and this is where the poorest families would sleep with hardly a button for the darkness and horrible smelly conditions.

      The guide told us that the closes were built on a hill so that if you dropped something on the ground at the top of the hill (for example raw sewage), it would roll all the way down the hill and into the Nor Loch (North Loch). The Nor Loch was situated where Princes Street Gardens now are and was eventually filled to the brim with human waste. It was also full of bodies of criminals and witches meaning they had a lot of fun digging up bones when building Waverly train station.

      ===Straight to the top===

      Next we were taken to another room with a display of how the richer residents lived with a few mannequins to illustrate the story of the murder of Alexander Cant in 1545 who was suing his murderous mother-in-law Alison Rough for not paying the promised dowry (or Tochar) for her daughter. Apparently arrests were commission based back then so everyone in the house at the time (both mother and daughter) was arrested for it. A few of the features of the room were highlighted such as the lavish tapestries hung on the wall to keep the heat in and engraved wood panels. We'd been stood a little to the side so didn't have the best view but Robin was really great at allowing everyone to get in and have a proper look around before moving on to the next area, even pointing out who was who for us again as we lagged behind for a look.

      One thing I would say is that if you are particularly prim and proper about what information your kids are given, you might have a problem with the tour as some of the stories are a little gruesome, especially the punishment of Rough which involved rolling all the way down the close and into a Loch thick with human waste. There are also a couple of moments throughout where the guide scares the group so if you have a child who's easily upset by the dark or a scare or two, it might not be a great idea to take them down here. My own opinion is that it's all incredibly educational and completely suitable for kids but others may not agree. The team at Real Mary Kings Close seem to agree with that as kids are welcome as long as they are over 5 years of age.

      ===History comes alive===

      One of the rooms I found a bit strange was a room that has large paintings of former residents of the close on the wall. It turns out the paintings interrupt the guide telling you the story of the close and then all have a conversation together. It was interesting and there were a couple of funny and gross things you learn from it, though I did get a little bit bored with one of the paintings probably because I couldn't see it too brilliantly thanks to the crowd. This room was only added in 2013 and, while strange, does add a little something different to the tour which on the whole is good.

      Other rooms have mannequins in them to aid with the stories the guide was telling, such as a family with the plague and a plague Dr in a full leather coat and creepy bird like face mask. I preferred this method of story telling as the guide was really able to interact with the group instead of having to fit a script to match up to the videos. There are a couple of other rooms and features within the tour that I'm not going to go into so as not to ruin the whole thing for you, needless to say, however, the tour of the underground closes was fascinating and the guide really made the history of the place jump out and come alive for all three of us. The only thing we weren't happy about was that we had to leave that gorgeous man Robin behind. Swoon, faint etc.

      ===Out and about===

      After a fifteen minute break, the second part of the Gold Experience begins in the outdoor café area at the front door. We got a new guide for this section, also in character and dressed appropriately for the time period, though maybe not so much the weather. He did have a modern jacket on, which I'm glad his employers allowed as it was a really cold day and it would have been horrible for him otherwise! Make sure you dress appropriately for being outside if you are going on this tour; the weather can really effect this part of the tour. Our new guide was Keith, though I can't recall much about his character; it was possibly something to do with writing and there is a poet character so that could make sense. Either way his character wasn't too important to the tour. Keith was also decent looking, though I'd still prefer to listen to Robin all day (Sorry Keith! It was close!).

      Keith began by taking us across to the Mercat cross and telling us all about its bloody and at times ironic history, from there we moved around the back of St Giles Cathedral to a car park which also happens to be a graveyard. We got a lot of history about the buildings and monuments in that area, including a hilarious story about a urinating horse.

      We moved up and down the Royal Mile having a lot of the markings on the street explained to us (there are areas that are outlined with bricks to mark where the giant Edinburgh Tolbooth (a prison and piggy bank both) stood. There are also other markings such as the Heart of Midlothian making it clear where prisoners were held and executed. It's also covered in spit from people wanting good luck.

      Keith was very good at making sure his pace wasn't too fast when moving between places and making sure everyone got across the roads safely. No one was left behind and he did a headcount every time we moved elsewhere to make sure we'd all arrived before he began telling us about the next area. I hadn't realised this till the tour we took later which was a complete mad dash that left a lot of people behind. Keith also gave us all a lot of really interesting information about the streets of Edinburgh and the things that went on there which made us realise just how lacking the later tour we booked elsewhere was in historical information.

      ===Was it worth it?===

      I'd say that the Gold Experience is definitely worth it. It's only a little more than the normal tours and includes both the underground closes and the walking tour of the Royal Mile. While there are free walking tours of the Royal Mile, that segment of the tour simply means not having to worry about booking with other companies and being able to trust the information you're given. The gift shop is much of a muchness. As with most gift shops the stuff is a little overpriced but it also has a really cool range of nik-naks to choose from. I would say that they are a little cheeky in selling photos of your group for £6 for a basic photo and I would have loved to have been able to take pictures on the tour myself but that really is my only gripe. It couldn't have bothered me that much though, as we still bought a photo from them. It's still coming in quite similar in price to a lot of other tours in Edinburgh and giving you a much more interesting place to look around with very professional guides.

      ===The Verdict===

      All three of us really loved this tour. It was something completely different and very interesting. Robin being a total hottie was just gravy on the experience. Even if our guide was butt ugly or a girl (eww) it would have been well worth the money. The history was fascinating, weird and humbling at times and it was great to learn so much about a city that I've been to a million times before. Though we left quite tired and cold, I'd definitely recommend it... just remember to leave your poor camera at home. Five stars out of five from all three of us!

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        27.06.2010 20:53
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        This is one you must visit!

        Whilst Dave has been working up here in Edinburgh again I have been staying with him for a couple of weeks. He asked some friends at work to tell him some of the good places to visit and one of the recommended ones was The Real Mary King's Close.

        Where is it?

        The address of the Real Mary King's Close is 2, Warriston's Close, High Street, Edinburgh EH1 1PG. Despite the address the attraction is situated opposite St Giles Cathedral on the Royal Mile in the centre of Edinburgh.

        The web site address is: http://www.realmarykingsclose.com/ where you can find all the information that you need for your visit and you can also book online here too if you want to.

        When is it open and how much does it cost?

        It is open from 10am until 9pm during the summer apart from August when it opens at 9am. During the winter it opens at 10am every day and closes at 5pm from Sunday and Thursday and closes at 9pm on Friday and Saturday.

        It costs £11 for adults, £10 for senior citizens and students and £6 for children between 5 and 15 years of age. Children under 5 are not allowed in this attraction.

        There are special rates for groups of fifteen or more visitors and the whole attraction can be hired for the evening for a private event during the winter.

        What is it?

        It is one of many seventeenth century closes which were built over in 1753 when the old town of Edinburgh was modernised. The houses were many storeys high and the top storeys were removed and the bottom storeys served as the foundation for The Royal Exchange as it then was - it is now The City Chambers. The site then lay undisturbed until being reopened to the public in April 2003.

        You are taken on an organised tour of the site by a guide in groups of about a dozen at a time, leaving from and returning to the gift shop. The tour lasts about an hour.

        What is it like?

        Well we both thought that it was absolutely brilliant!

        Each of the four guides takes on the persona and appearance of someone who actually lived in the street and our guide, Robert, was Walter King who was a 'foulis clenger' which was a person employed by the borough to clean out the houses of plague victims.

        He took us through the various houses telling us about the inhabitants and how they lived back in the seventeenth century. He told us about the plague, sanitation, employment, punishment, home life etc.

        He was excellent in his story telling, keeping us all interested and he generally teased all of us in the process. He was brilliant though as he knew exactly where to draw the line so that his remarks were always funny but NEVER offensive in any way. I think this is worth mentioning as I would say that this is quite a skill. How many times have you laughed politely at someone cracking unfunny jokes or cringed when they have overstepped the mark with a badly thought out comment?

        There was also the occasional scare down there but only things that made us jump rather than really terrifying anyone. We did get to hear a good ghost story too!

        I don't want to go into too much detail about the tour itself here as it will spoil it for anyone who wants to try it out.

        Towards the end of the tour there was the now obligatory photo taken although as this was in a dark alleyway I don't think that it was good enough to warrant purchasing, but that is the only thing that I can criticize about the whole experience.

        The Gift Shop

        This contained the usual mix of pens, notebooks, fridge magnets etc. together with items specific to Mary King's Close and to the general nature of the tour such as ghost and history books and various masks.

        There is also a small model of the site in the gift shop so that you can get an idea of how the whole thing looks in relation to the modern street. It gives you an idea of the perspective of the whole thing.

        Things of Special Note

        Since the closes are over two hundred and fifty years old the surface that you will be walking on is uneven and even very steep in places so wear sensible footwear.

        There are also a few sets of steps to negotiate so sadly this is unsuitable for wheelchairs. As I said earlier it is also unsuitable for the under fives for obvious reasons and so they are not allowed in this attraction.

        You are asked to be in the gift shop at least ten minutes before the time that your tour is set to start and if you are late you will not be allowed to join the tour.

        Because this tour is so popular you are advised to book in advance, especially during the busy season.

        Final Thoughts

        Well I agree with the person who recommended this to us - it was absolutely brilliant! We both thoroughly enjoyed it. It was good fun, educational, scary at times and really quite amazing seeing how real people lived back in plague ridden Edinburgh in the seventeenth century.

        If you visit Edinburgh I would definitely recommend that you make time for this amazing tour!

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          25.04.2010 16:40
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          worth a visit

          Mary Kings close is situated under the now city chambers , and is very often sold out so it is best to pre book your tickets either via the web site which you can google , or via phone , or indeed by person in the attraction gift shop

          the entrance is more accessible from the royal mile , rather than taking the 100 odd steps ( stairs) from cockburn street

          there are a number of 'ghost' and paranormal trips available in edinburgh , however the real mary kings close is not sold as this , whilst there are many reported events and the close has been shown on shows such as most haunted , the guides provide a more historical and rather light hearted tour of the under ground streets , they do mention that there are areas that are claimed to be haunted but no big issue is really made of it

          whilst this tour is of interest to a lot of people it is not suitable for disabled people , or the infirm as the lighting is aimed at creating an atmosphere , and as the walk ways are still the original ones then care at times needs to be taken

          the guides dress in period costume and explain the history of the streets ( closes) as best they can in the hour period the tour takes .

          the fact is this street was hidden from view for so long and now is an important part of history and has been preserved so much so at times you can imagine how those living here must have felt , there is even washing still hung up in part of the streets

          the only down side of the tour is that photography is not allowed in the close , as they claim the reason being that you are under a government building yet your picture is taken by the guide which of course you can then buy at the end of the tour !! now call me cynical but in my opinion that is just a clever marketing ploy which isnt really required .

          in relation to it being haunted ? well ill leave you to make your own mind up but i certinaly thought it was

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            04.01.2010 12:55
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            The best attraction in Edinburgh for full experience of its history

            An incredible and rather magical experience and attraction which has to be gone to if you intend on going to edinburgh.

            Not to pricey for a good hours experience at £10 per person, with live actors one being the main guide which shows you around and stays in character the whole way through with histories and stories of the underground close and its inhabitants.

            The area is a collection of closes which were livable through the 16th and 17 centuries, however when the plague came and the government decided to build on top of the city with further buildings they literally cut the roofs off the houses and used the buildings as foundations for further buildings on top. The inhabitants were left in their closes to die.

            The air is incredibly musty and oppresive and all the smells add to the experience, where you tread on shattered pathways, crooked steps and through each and every close in a very dark environment.

            Strong advise to the elderly and people whom have difficulty in walking this is not the attraction for you, as it consists of walking down very steep steps, rubbled ground and is uneasy on foot throughout as well as slippery. High gripped shoes should be worn.

            There is dulled lighting throughout however make sure you stick close to your guide as some parts are incredibly dark.

            The closes are haunted and some have experienced such when visiting, so again a great attraction for people interested in the paranormal.

            Overall a fabulous attraction, overwhelming and rather magical to see first hand the underground and lost city of edinburgh. Do not miss out on going.

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              17.10.2009 14:07
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              This is somewhere that offers simply fantastic tours and brings the history to life

              The Real Mary King's Close is a fantastic tourist attraction right at the heart of Edinburgh city centre and I have been to it on a couple of occassions now with my wife and both of us have found it an amazing experience on both of our visits.
              The experience itself is one that few places can offer now with people heading underground to the old narrow streets of Edinburgh which were left to stand as the councils of well over 150 years ago took the decision to evict the people from the multi storey houses of the time and use the structures for the foundations of the new developments including the Royal Exchange.
              The buildings of the time though thankfully still stand under ground as do the streets that people walked and on your way around with your group and tour guide you get to see the sights whilst having a great amount of history explained to you including the names of those who lived the streets you are walking and even provide you with things like the work they did.
              The guides are dressed in clothing of the time era being shown and help to give an excellent experience aswell as a huge amount of information without making it a boring or overloading experience.
              If you want to visit then phone ahead and book as this is a hugely popular attraction and when you do this you can pay over the phone using your debit or credit card and this is the way I normally go about doing this when I am going to visit and I recommend it to anyone looking to visit.

              Positives:

              - Value for money
              - Excellent tour guides
              - Amazing experience not able to be offered in many places in the world
              - A tour that may not be available in years to come due to the fact that more people walking its paths will cause the area to be worn away and as it is foundations for the building above this is something they can't have
              - Well placed in the city centre area
              - Transport links are very close with a train station and bus stop just about 10 minute walk away
              - Gift shop with excellent merchandise

              Negatives:

              - None

              This is a tour I have to recommend anybody who gets a chance sees.

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              15.01.2009 17:58
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              A really unique attraction, highly recommended

              My husband and I visited Edinburgh in August 2006 and we had heard such great things about this place that we decided to visit ourselves. And we were not disappointed! It was a fantastic place, with lots of visitor interaction and some great acting from the staff.

              It is essential to book ahead for the guided tour; we went in and paid, had a bite to eat while we waited then went back for the tour.

              I think it would have been great to be able to explore Mary King's Close at your own pace without having to follow a group; however I can understand that this is not possible due to the nature of the attraction. It would also have been great to be able to take some pictures, but alas camera and camcorders are nor permitted.

              I did find the part where we visited the room where the little girl was supposedly left to die of the plague very very sad, I actually got quite upset and had to leave the room; mainly because our daughter was the same age at the time!

              It is essential that you wear sensible footwear on the tour; the floor is very uneven in places. The tour would not be suitable for very young children, or disabled people, or those who suffer from claustrophobia. The experience was well worth the admission fee, and I would recommend it to anyone visiting this beautiful city. I would love to visit again myself.

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                12.01.2009 23:16
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                A brilliant tour, perfect if you're looking for something a bit different!

                A year or so ago I found myself in Edinburgh for the weekend with a friend and her daughter, and, having found we had a spare evening, decided to look for something a little different to do. Edinburgh is famous for it's many 'Ghost Tours' and 'Haunted Walks' but we were worried these might be a bit too scary, so were pleased when we stumbled across information for 'The Real Mary King's Close'. Although not actually associated with ghosts, this was still in-keeping with the scary sort of evening entertainment we were looking for!

                You have to phone ahead and book to get onto one of the tours, as they are very popular, and each tour has limited numbers. I believe they are open all day, and tours can be taken in the morning or afternoon, but for the best experience and atmoshere, I'd definately recommend booking an evening tour. Our tour started around 7pm, which was a good time, although I believe you can book later again.

                We went in and met our guide, who was dressed (and acted as!) a charater from the time of the Close, which was a nice touch.
                She was lovely, and very nice, albeit with a slightly spooky air to her!
                She explained the history of the close, and then took us downstairs to start the tour.

                Basically, Mary King's Close is an underground street, a set of houses which were sealed up and built on top of in the 1750s. They were inhabited during the Plague, and a lot of people died in the close. This has led to many ghost stories, which the guide was brilliant at explaining to us.

                You are guided round the old houses and work buildings, which are still mostly intact - it's amazing to see the different rooms in the houses, and the old work-places. These have some (scarily life-like!) models put in to hel you imagine how people lived.
                The atmsphere is brilliant, very electric, due to the huge number of reorted ghost-sightings. This is helped along slightly by the guide - at one point the tour were ushered into a room, in pitch darkness, and a ghost story told, along with sound effects - we were terrified!!

                Another very interesting point was in one of the houses, where there apparently lived a little girl called Annie. Her ghost has been sighted many times, and it is said she's sad because she lost her doll. Since this was found out, many people have brought little dolls and toys for her, which they leave in her room to make her happy again. This room had the strongest atmoshere, and some people in our tour didn't even want to enter it, if I remember correctly.

                Overall, I was very impressed with the attraction, and would quite like to go back and visit again. It was qujite good value for money, with an adult ticket costing around £10. There is also a good little gift shop when you go back upstrairs again, full of lovely unusual little things!

                This was an absolutely fabulous tour, definately one not to be missed if you're going to be in Edinburgh.

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                  17.07.2006 22:40
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                  It's worth it just to say you've been!

                  Edinburgh, home to some very fine (and strangely Disneyesque) architecture, the Edinburgh Castle, endless Stag and Hen nights and, more recently, my little brother. I took it upon myself to visit him last week and see if he was really doing his own washing and cooking. There are plenty of great sights to see in Edinburgh and ¬ĎThe Real Mary King¬ís Close¬í is marketed as Edinburgh¬ís deepest secret.

                  Thanks to the publicity it can hardly be described as secret, but it certainly is deep. Five storeys below Edinburgh, a length of this street has survived the foundations of The Royal Exchange.
                  Edinburgh has a few main streets including the famous Princes¬í Street and The Royal Mile. These are linked by tiny, narrow, medieval streets known as ¬Ďwynds¬í.
                  These wynds often have steps and archways, leading between high houses to courtyards or other streets. Opposite St Giles Cathedral on the Royal Mile, Mary King’s Close was formerly one such wynd. The image of it, open to the skies and teeming with life is a good one to keep in your head as you descend the steps to it.

                  We booked our tour in advance, as it’s often a busy attraction and this is recommended. In fact the website states that pre-booking is essential. There would appear to be more than one kind of tour. My brother had previously been on a tour with my dad which had included live actors. However, the young guy at the desk seemed a little ill-informed and went so far as to deny that there had ever been any such tour. Looking at the website, supernatutural tours are available on Halloween and on Saturdays in winter, I’d like to go again and I think I’ll take my boyfriend as we love to ghost hunt!

                  We settled for a standard tour in the end, but I felt that this was pretty good in any case. At £8 for adults, £6 for children and £7 for students or senior citizens, this tour works out a little cheaper than some other attractions including the castle, which was £10.30. If anyone lives in or knows Reading well, there are some toilets below the Global Café in London St and, as these are about 5 storeys below the town, I think I may start offering tours. Any spooky stories are welcome!

                  Mary King’s close is open 7 days a week, though not Christmas Day. Presumably they have better things to do then and so should you! The tours depart every 20 minutes from 10am and end at 9pm during the summer (April to October) and 4pm in the winter (November to March), apart from Saturdays when they end at 9pm.

                  There are approximately 20 people on a tour and the space allocated at the start is a little cramped. The guide, quite rightly, asked us not to be selfish with our space and this, given the nature of the attraction is a continuing theme. By the end of the tour I felt quite close to our companions, so not one to go on if you’re claustrophobic. As it is necessary to follow the guide at all times, they don’t admit late arrivals and you have to be fairly punctual.

                  The guide is one of the characters, based on real people who lived and worked in Mary King¬ís Close in the 17th Century. The introduction was fairly funny. We had Agnes Chambers, a chambermaid for a wealthy family. There was no denying it, the girl took the part really seriously and remained in character throughout. She had a bossy but nice manner of crowd control from the off, telling people off for leaning on walls and asking if they ¬Ďcould support their own weight¬í.

                  After a short talk, your guide leads you down a set of steps into the darkness. The nature of this attraction means that it is totally inaccessible to pushchairs or wheelchairs. Children under 16 have to be accompanied and you are asked to alert your guide if you have epilepsy or asthma. The guides carry ¬Ďa form of witchcraft¬í in the shape of a walkie-talkie and you¬íll be asked to switch off modern forms of sorcery such as mobile phones.

                  Aside from the mentioned restrictions regarding pushchairs and wheelchairs, you are instructed to wear sturdy footwear. We were going out for a few drinks afterwards and my instincts told me that I did in fact want to wear high heeled sandals. My brother, despite his career with a certain footwear company, got fed up of my indecisive shoe-changing and announced that he was going to wear trainers and that they ¬Ďprobably¬í wouldn¬ít let me in wearing flip-flops. I wore trainers in the end and although the floor is uneven in places and there are a lot of stairs, I suspect the footwear rule is Health and Safety rather than necessity. I can safely say that I didn¬ít see anyone there in flimsy shoes, or indeed anywhere else. Edinburgh is one of those places where everyone wears flat shoes, probably because of the steep hills and cobbles. Bear this in mind if you visit!

                  At first appearances, the close you enter seems to be quite short. There is only 1/3rd of the original close remaining and accessible. The close looks much like Edinburgh’s modern day wynds, there are gas lights now lit by electricity and washing hung between the houses. Supposedly the close would have been quite dark in its heyday, the buildings were seven storeys high and very little sunlight would have reached the ground. All is not exactly as it was; the houses you visit would have had dirt floors, but wooden floors have now been provided to make this accessible and safe for tourists. There are also vaulted ceilings to support the weight of the modern building above, where originally the ceilings waould have been low and flat. One of the houses had a window which looked out into the close, I looked out of this and felt that it was one of the most worthwhile parts of the experience. There’s something about looking out of a window, underground, into a street. A couple of the houses have the original ceilings, so do look up. On the whole, you are fairly reliant on the guide to get a feel for the place.

                  The tour is informative and some of the buildings contain waxworks or projected images of their former inhabitants, most of whom met a grisly end. There is even a tape of a ghost story at one point accompanied by flashing lights. Children under 16 are not permitted without an adult. I later spoke to some genuine locals about a school trip they¬íd taken there, it seems that they were more unruly than frightened. There are some surprises like a cowshed and original wallpaper, but the close seems to have a very limited scope. Bearing in mind that this was my brother¬ís second time, he said he ¬Ďwasn¬ít thrilled¬í about having to go again but that the tour had been a little different and that this had kept his attention. It would seem that if you get a different character you get a slightly different tour and I thought this was a nice touch. The guides have a penchant for making you jump with loud bangs and plastic rats. At times this could be a little trying, but most people seemed to enjoy it, judging by the screams and giggles. They also like the pantomime style shouting, which is fun for kids and gave a real sense of camaraderie when no-one on our tour would join in. They reminded my brother and I of the ¬ĎPerforming Arts¬í students we went to college with and affectionately termed ¬ĎThe Performing Tarts¬í. It looks like hard work dragging people round there and reciting all the stories. At ¬£8 per person and 20 people on a tour, I hope our guide got a reasonable portion of that ¬£160!

                  I don¬ít want to spoil this for you, so I¬íll leave the rest of the stories for your visit ¬Ė this one is worth knowing before you go, in case you want to join in. A Japanese psychic visited Mary King¬ís close as part of a documentary, hoping to find spirits. A little girl called Annie did appear to her, asking where her dolly was. The Japanese psychic sent someone out to buy a replacement dolly for Annie. They got a rather hideous Barbie in tartan, which now occupies the front row of a pile of gifts people have since given. You can take a gift and deposit it on the pile or just do what everyone else does and snigger at the crap-awful stuff people have bought. Even our guide found the Westlife CD a little strange. There is an opportunity to make a donation to the Children¬ís Hospital instead so that other children can have toys to play with too. This seemed a much better idea and Annie has raised ¬£3000 already.

                  After the city of Edinburgh suffered the plague, the upper storeys of the houses were demolished and the close was sealed off. There are rumours, which weren’t recounted by our guide or endorsed by any of the booklets in the gift shop, that the families who were dying of the plague were sealed in beneath the city. Effectively this would make it a labyrinthine tomb, perhaps not the caring image The City of Edinburgh Council wants to convey of its predecessors, but it adds to the spookiness.

                  I’ve also heard it recounted on TV since, that tourist’s cameras have failed to work down there. I’m not sure how this was revealed as the use of cameras and camcorders is not permitted in Mary King’s Close. Also, if documentaries have been made, then there’s clearly not too much of a problem with film. I like to go into situations with an open mind, but I can safely say I felt nothing in here, apart from a few concerns about the strength of the roof!

                  After an hour, you emerge, blinking, from the same door you entered and into the gift shop. This sells an array of homogenous tat, the only special twist being the super-tacky Mary King close sweets. Mr Chesney’s Fudge? Agnes Chambers fruit gums? Anyone? There is also a book you can buy, but most people were in a hurry to get out. The guide waited in the gift shop in case there were any questions, I had a few on the tour, but the whole thing is fairly choreographed and there was no gap in the schedule to ask them when they were relevant. As it was, I ended up not wanting to wait. There was an element of conveyor belt about the whole tour, I would have loved to have seen it at my own pace, but I fully appreciate why they can’t let people do that.


                  In short, this lived up to my expectations and was an interesting experience to relate when we visited relatives the next day. I’d love to go again on one of the supernatural tours and if anyone’s tried these I’d like to know what the difference is....

                  The official website is at www.realmarykingsclose.com

                  Mary King's Close is easily reached on foot from the Royal Mile, through Warriston Close. If you have to drive, the nearest car parks are: Niddry Street (beneath the SAS Radisson Hotel) or Castle Terrace.

                  The Address is;
                  2 Warristons Close,
                  Writers Court,
                  Edinburgh,
                  EH1 1PG.

                  The telephone booking number is 08702 430160.

                  Further tales of the spirits of Mary King's Close can be found in an interesting article from The Scotsman - check it out at: http://heritage.scotsman.com/myths.cfm?id=484332005.

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