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Edinburgh's forgotten quarantine

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Guided Tours
Saw-maker's Workshop
Annie's Ghost
In the 17th century, the rats arrived. They came into the city via the cargo ships, bringing with them a disease that would wipe out a significant chunk of Scotland's population.
To try and contain the outbreak, drastic measures had to be taken. Any infected households were quarantined, with the inhabitants forbidden from venturing outdoors. Nevertheless, the plague ran riot among Edinburgh's narrower streets. One of the worst affected areas was around Mary King's Close, a network of alleys lined with tall, cramped houses up to 7 storeys high. It seemed impossible to stop the spread of the disease, so the council were forced to take horrifying action. They bricked the place up completely, sealing off its unlucky residents and leaving them to die.
Later, the area was redeveloped. The old alleys were used as the foundations of a new government building called the City Chambers. Despite being soon forgotten about, Mary King's Close was still there, hidden underground.
It wasn't until 2003 that the street was finally reopened to the public. In the intervening years it had become a dusty, mysterious place, full of myths and legends. People started to hear about the terrible things that happened there just a few centuries ago. Many died from the bubonic plague, and rumour has it that some of these poor souls still linger in the shadows.
Aside from the ghosts, the Close is a historically accurate representation of life in those disease-ridden years. Its time in hiding essentially fossilised the place, leaving it in almost exactly the same state as it was before. The street has been referred to as "Edinburgh's Pompeii".
Visitors are guided round this architectural time capsule by a selection of costumed actors, who tell the stories of life in the past. You'll see the workshop of Andrew Chesney, a humble saw-maker who was the last ever resident of the Close. You'll also enter the home of a 17th century grave digger - a man who was extremely busy during those months of plague.
One of the people he buried was a girl called Annie, who was no more than 6 years of age. She obviously found it particularly difficult to let go of her former home. Her ghostly figure has been spotted so often that sympathetic visitors have started leaving her gifts of toys or money. Altogether these donations have been worth tens of thousands of pounds! They're passed on to a charity for sick children, so the public's generosity can be used to help other kids like Annie.
The organisers of The Real Mary King's Close also run the annual Ghost Fest, which has Edinburgh's residents looking twice around every corner. Over the course of a week, there are tours of every haunted spot in the city. Other events include film screenings, paranormal investigations and psychic readings. If you didn't believe in ghosts before, you might well do afterwards.
Visitor Information
The Real Mary King’s Close is open daily from 10am to 9pm (closing 5pm Sunday to Thursday in Winter). Entry costs around £11.50 for adults, £6 children. 2 Warriston’s Close, Writers Court, Edinburgh EH1 1PG. Tel: 0845 070 6244

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