Global experiences

Ghost Walks in Edinburgh

Via Gail

In the summer of 2010, I went on a Go-Ahead tour of Scotland with my daughter. One night in Edinburgh, we went on a ghost walk in the South Bridge vaults. On previous tours, I have taken my students on ghost walks with several different companies and I really enjoy them. As a fan of the many paranormal shows on cable television, how could I resist an experience warning us about the South Bridge Poltergeist that has been known to attack tourists? I was more than ready to enter the vaults at my own risk. Before the tour was over, I was guilty of shoving aside my own daughter so that I would not be the last person to leave one of the damp, dark rooms. I tried to explain to her that it was my “fight or flight” response, but she wasn’t buying that excuse.

I will be spending the night of Day 9 of my spring break tour in Edinburgh with my students on a ghost walk. As a group leader, I always like to “bring up the rear,” but I think I will let someone else take that duty on the ghost walk. I don’t know what ghost walk we will end up doing, but any one of them will be fine. Some are more historical and some are more dramatic. All of the guides on the ghost walks try to bring to life stories of executions, murders, and even body snatchers. I have been on one or two ghost walks with a “jumper-ooter,” an individual dressed in costume who jumps out and scares the living daylights out of the unsuspecting tourists. Much to the amusement of my students, I screamed like a banshee during one of those ghost walks. Speaking of banshees, when I was in Edinburgh during my winter break this year, I went to the Banshee Labyrinth, described as “Scotland’s most haunted pub” on its website.

Greyfriar's Bobby

zoetnet/Via Flickr

My favorite and scariest ghost walk took place when I was on a customized tour of Scotland (called “Kilts and Carolinians”) in 2006. We ended up at one of the most haunted places in Edinburgh called Greyfriars’ cemetery. The church, Greyfriars Tolbooth and Highland Kirk, is associated with a well-known story of a loyal dog (Greyfriars Bobby) that stayed by his master’s grave for fourteen years. Both the dog and his master are buried in the cemetery. During the day, it is a pleasant place to stop and take photos of the famous statue of Greyfriars Bobby and even have lunch in the nearby Bobby’s Bar. When you visit the cemetery late at night, the last thing you’ll think about is that dog immortalized in a Walt Disney movie.

Our ghost walk took us to the back of the church where the Covenanters’ Prison and the Black Mausoleum are located. It was really a cold and rainy night, and my group huddled together for warmth or perhaps protection. Our guide warned us about the crunching sound beneath our feet as we walked over the grounds of the cemetery. He said the cemetery was so overcrowded that when the ground gets damp, sometimes broken bits of bone rise to the surface. When we reached the gate to the Covenanter’s Prison, we listened intently as the guide jangled the huge keys and whispered when he told us the story about the Covenanters.

In 1638, Scottish Presbyterians signed the National Covenant in Greyfriars to voice their opposition to the Stuart kings for interfering in the affairs of the Church of Scotland. A half century of merciless persecution of Presbyterians followed the signing of the National Covenant. The persecution reached a terrible climax when the Presbyterians were defeated at the Battle of Bothwell Brig in 1679. Over 1200 prisoners were brought to Edinburgh and 400 ended up in a makeshift prison, described as the world’s first concentration camp, behind Greyfriars to await their trials. The Presbyterian rebels endured horrific living conditions during the winter months. The survivors were executed outside the walls of the cemetery or deported as slaves. The executed prisoners were buried inside the prison in unmarked graves. Sir George “Bloody” Mackenzie, the judge who ordered the execution of thousands of Covenanters, is buried next to the prison in the Black Mausoleum. I’m sure that did not sit well with the families of the Covenanters. A homeless man, in search of shelter one night in 1999, entered and desecrated Mackenzie’s tomb, an event that allegedly brought forth the Mackenzie Poltergeist. We did not experience anything connected to the Mackenzie Poltergeist, but no one was disappointed. We were probably relieved!

Edinburgh has a fascinating past and the companies that specialize in ghost walks know how to present it in an entertaining and enthralling manner to visitors of the city’s Old Town. There is so much to tell about the history of Edinburgh and about the hauntings that are supposedly backed up by paranormal investigators and by the records of hundreds of tourist experiences kept by the ghost walk companies. Whether the tales spun by the guides are historical or paranormal, they will give you chills and goose bumps.

Readers, have you been on a ghost walk? What did you learn or experience?

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(Editor’s note: If you have a question about for EF Group Leader Gail Ingram, or an idea for a blog post topic, you can email Gail here, and she will answer readers’ questions in future blog posts.)

Gail I.

Gail is a former longtime EF Group Leader, who was also a frequent mentor to new group leaders and a regular presenter on EF’s Free International Training Tours.

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