When I decided to go to Edinburgh, I knew there was a lot of history there, but I completely underestimated what a creepy city it is. Yes, everyone knows Jekyll and Hyde was written there (based on the true story of Burke and Hare). So was Harry Potter, so you’d figure there was a penchant for supernaturally stuff people would invent after consuming copious amounts of whisky. But no. It is way creepier than that.
For one thing, there were apparently gallows on every corner, sort of like a medieval Starbucks in case you got bloodthirsty walking up a hill. I went on two city tours and learned that executions took place in at least 3 locations. For reference, there is a little stone marker on the Royal Mile marking the spot of the last public execution. It is bad luck to step on the stone, and it will bring you bad luck if you do not spit on the spot as you pass by it. I did not spit on it, though, because I’ve lived 45 years with bad luck from a mirror I broke as a child, so Edinburgh ghosts really can’t hurt me.
To test this theory, I went on a tour of the city underground vaults. Several years ago, a bar owner was renovating a store room in his basement and discovered the entrance to this underground complex where tradesmen, prostitutes, and homeless people lived and worked and died. The place is supposedly pretty haunted. This tour was conducted by a woman with dreadlocks and wearing a cape, black lipstick and carrying a lantern. She was devoted to her character. So devoted in fact, she asked for volunteers she could flog at the famous Edinburgh flogging post. The lawyer in me couldn’t play along though, as I kept thinking there should be waivers involved in such audience participation. As the tour headed underground, it was virtually pitch black, on uneven dirt floors, and again I was questioning UK personal injury laws if I should break an ankle or get attacked by a ghost. And whether my travel insurance would cover a demonic attack.
Fortunately though, the ghosts left me alone, but it was not an enjoyable tour. The rooms were alternately ice cold or hot, clammy, and made my skin crawl. It really felt like you were not alone. There have been many ghosthunter shows that have captured supernatural activity in the vaults. I didn’t really see anything though. Until I checked the photos on my phone when I got home and saw this evil looking fucker:
Yeah. That spooked me. I sent the photo to the tour group to see if they had any back story on this particular spirit/demon/creature, and their response was that they had never seen or heard of anything like this horned looked thing with a staff. That was not reassuring. I contemplated spitting on my phone just in case there was some bad juju coming home with me, but decided on hand sanitizer instead. It seems to have worked.
As much as there are Harry Potter landmarks all over the city, there are ghost stories. I wandered into two of the oldest cemeteries in the city, in part because there are famous poets and writers buried there, or Greyfriars Bobby, the famous dog. Greyfriars Bobby is famous for visiting his owner’s grave for 14 years after his death. You know he is famous because he has a pub named after him. People leave him sticks instead of flowers at his grave, and damn if that didn’t make me cry.
One thing I was not counting on is the number of homeless people sleeping in the cemeteries during the day. In Canongate Kirkyard, I ventured all the way to the back of the cemetery and peeked in the last vault, only to find kegs and piles of human excrement. When I turned to leave I saw a homeless person sleeping in the opposite vault. It was around 3 pm in the afternoon and the sun was starting to fade. Being the only person in the cemetery at the time, I bolted out of there.
But by far, Greyfriars Kirkyard is the most famous and most haunted. I was warned by a Scottish friend not to be in there alone or after dark because there are a lot of muggings. Perhaps it had something to do with the row of pop-up tents that the homeless were living in apparently undisturbed as tourists wandered around in broad daylight. But rather than tell you the story of the Greyfriars poltergeist, I will give you a link to the story: https://www.historicmysteries.com/mackenzie-poltergeist-greyfriars/. I went there twice (because the first day I realized I left my camera memory card in the US and had to venture 2 miles, down and uphill, in the pouring rain to buy one). Anyway, I took several pictures of the MacKenzie vault, but alas, no demons in those photos. Who needs to spit on a stone?
As someone who loves history, Edinburgh was a feast of weird, spooky, germy history. But it can keep the haggis, as long as I have whisky and some Robert Burns poems.