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The sinister side of Scotland's capital city

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Haunted Highlights

Edinburgh Castle
South Bridge Vaults
Mary King's Close
The city grew up around its castle. The towering fortress played its part in countless conflicts, and many people perished here. Even in times of peace, criminals were shoved mercilessly into the dungeons. Inside these damp, disgusting cells, hundreds of inmates came to an unhappy end. Some believe that the castle remembers its violent past. They say after-images of the soldiers and prisoners can be spotted, wandering forlornly around the building they died in.
It is claimed that one of these spirits has proved to be surprisingly helpful. He's a young drummer boy who just happens to have lost his head. No-one remembers the story behind this decapitation, but the boy has nevertheless been frequently spotted over the years. He's said to appear whenever the castle is about to be attacked. The ghost has been providing these useful warnings since at least 1650, when he predicted the approach of Oliver Cromwell's English armies.
It is said that Edinburgh's lifeless souls are collected by the Death Coach. This shadowy carriage rattles around the city's streets. It's pulled along by four huge black horses with blood-red eyes, and fire coming out of their nostrils. If you hear the sound of its wheels clattering along the paving stones, then you'd better get out of the way, because its malevolent driver isn't a fussy creature. Some claim he takes the souls of people who aren't even dead yet!

Spooky Edinburgh
Photo Neal Fowler
Just a short walk from the castle is the South Bridge. The vaults beneath it are now mostly sealed up, but that wasn't always the case. Despite the damp and the cold, the tiny rooms were inhabited by society's poorest, who had nowhere else to go. In the 19th century, these unfortunate individuals became prey for Edinburgh's deadliest serial killers. Burke and Hare came here to find people that society wouldn't miss. Their bodies were sold on to an unscrupulous doctor, who wanted to dissect and study them.
It is perhaps these victims that still haunt the rooms of the vaults. Visitors have reported all sorts of unsettling phenomena, from sharp drops in temperature to sudden waves of nausea. Others even claim to have been grabbed, scratched or molested.
Edinburgh's most famous haunted spot is undoubtedly Mary King's Close. In 1645, this narrow, claustrophobic alley was sealed off during an attack of the plague. The disease-ridden residents were trapped inside and left to die. It seems that, as well as killing them, the Black Death also prevented their spirits from leaving. The wandering spectres can still be seen, covered in horrific boils and blisters.
The most frequently spotted of these ghosts is a young girl with a pale face and dirty hair. She is consumed by a deep, oppressive sadness that affects anyone nearby. This aura has affected plenty of the Close's visitors over the years. They often leave gifts for the girl, in an attempt to ease her pain. These have mounted up into a surprisingly large collection of dolls, toys and coins.
With its violent past and suspicious characters, it's perhaps unsurprising that Edinburgh is home to so many restless spirits. It's sometimes described as the most haunted city in Europe.
Visitor Information
For Edinburgh Ghost Tours, try Mercat Tours, Mercat House, 28 Blair Street, Edinburgh, EH1 1QR. Tel: 0131 225 5445

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