We took the bus back to Edinburgh from Roslin, and stopped at a kitschy tourist shop for a wee bit of souvenir looking.
Afterward, we found a nice pub for dinner, then made our way to another pub for a drink. The Jolly Judge had been recommended by an online cider locator as a place to get less mass-marketed ciders.
As we drank our pints, we debated whether or not to go back to the hotel before the ghost tour we had scheduled for 10:00. Was it worth walking 15-20 minutes back to the hotel to spend just over an hour before walking back for the tour? I still don’t know, because we debated it long enough for it to become a moot point. Instead, we continued to nurse our drinks and enjoyed the lively political conversation happening at the bar.
As 10:00 approach, the remaining conversants, two young men in their late 20s, turned their deliberation to geekier topics, such as whether or not Avatar was actually a good movie, and the enduring appeal of Star Wars. One of them asked the bartender what his favorite sci-fi movie was. After some contemplation, he decided the original Star Wars movies were the ones that influenced him most in his childhood.
Needing to make my way to the loo, I got up from our table and approached the bar; clapping the man on his shoulder, I said, “My vote is for Serenity”. The stunned look on his face quickly turned to delight and amazement, and the two gents and bartender all agreed that the Firefly story was one they shouldn’t have forgotten. The bartender even shared that he had recently been involved in planning a Browncoat’s charity viewing of Serenity.
I made my way to the restroom and came back to the bar to find them still in this conversation and thanking me again for my contribution. I really wish they had turned to this discussion earlier, as I would have loved to pull up a stool, grab another cider, and join the conversation.
However, the ghosties were awaiting us and it was finally time to head out to the tour.
We had opted for the City of the Dead Double Dead tour that was supposed to be the scariest available and that didn’t use costumed actors shouting “huzzah!” or “jumper ooters” to scare the piss out of people. Instead, they relied on real history, which can be scary enough, in telling their tales.
The tour began with a walk down to the vaults under South Bridge. These closes had been covered over when the South Bridge was built in the late 1700s; they were intended to be storage areas for the businesses above, but were abandoned after they proved to be leaky and flood-prone. No one was supposed to live in them, but in the 1800s, when being homeless was a crime, the city’s poorest and the criminal element moved in. Once there, the average life span for a person living in the vaults was about 6 months. And that does not mean they were able to find better lodging.
The use of these vaults as “shelter” for the destitute was unknown and/or forgotten until excavations began in 1985.
Walking through the vaults was a creepy experience, particularly when the guide turned off her flashlight to tell a ghost story, but I held my shit together just fine, particularly remembering that, should something happen, I had my own flashlight, plus a flashlight on my phone, and many other light sources.
Leaving the vaults, we headed to Greyfriars Kirkyard, the graveyard next to the old Greyfriars church. We were there for one story and one location only: the Black Mausoleum in the section that had been the Covenanters’ Prison (i.e. a 17th century concentration camp).
The guide gave us a brief history of the Covenanters (those who had signed the National Covenant in 1638, confirming their opposition to the interference by the Stuart kings in the affairs of the Presbyterian Church of Scotland), of the struggles and suffering that followed, and the eventual imprisonment of over one thousand Covenanters for over four months, without any shelter and barely any food, many of them dying on the grounds.
After telling us about the unexplained paranormal attacks that had happened in this section of the graveyard, which led to the gate being locked to keep out the random public, she opened the locked gates and led us to the Black Mausoleum, which was said to be the focal point for all the dark energy of this place, known as the Mackenzie Poltergeist.
She then told us about the event that is believed to have awoken this energy – when a homeless man broke into George MacKenzie’s tomb in 1998. MacKenzie was largely responsible for the imprisonment of the Covenanters, and the conditions of the prison, and is buried just a few yards from the gates to the Covenanters’ Prison. The homeless man broke open a coffin, then the floor gave beneath him and he feel into a pit of bodies – plague victims. The horror of the homeless man, the desecration of the graves, the almost mocking proximity of the MacKenzie tomb to the prison, the dark and stormy night – all unleashed the pent up badness.
Despite promises to the contrary, there is one “jumper ooter” on this tour. I’m sure the look on my face was quite something as the masked, robed man leapt directly at me in the mausoleum. I didn’t scream, but completely froze after taking a quick step back. Fortunately, my bladder must have frozen in place as well, and the piss was not, in fact, scared out of me.
I go on these ghost tours mostly in deference to Steve’s interest, but I try to select only tours that include enough local history to hold my interest as well. This tour did not disappoint as the history of both the South Bridge Vaults and the Covenanters’ Prison was fascinating and the guide engaging in her retelling.
We left the graveyard, stopping long enough for a quick picture with the statue of Greyfriars Bobby, before heading back to the hotel, weary from our long day.