Picture this, if you will: we’re standing by the Mercat Cross on the Lawnmarket and – shock horror – there appears to be a little moisture in the air. Never mind, it will give the evening a slight air of mystery as darkness descends and we discover some of the gruesome tales about Edinburgh’s past on Mercat Tours’ Hidden and Haunted walking tour.
Mercat Tours – mercattours.com
We’re welcomed by our guide for the evening, Jared, whose demeanor seems to be just the right level of funny/creepy/nightmare-inducing for such an occasion, and set off across the back of St Giles Cathedral to talk about witches, treasonous plots and the somewhat grim repercussions for those attempting regicide (talk about making an example of someone…). No spoilers here, you’ll have to go on the tour to find out what happened.
The tour we were on – Hidden and Haunted – is the ‘late night’ tour, leaving at 9pm and, unlike many of the tours across the old town, it is kid-free, meaning that euphemisms for torture, murder and the many creative forms of death used our city’s history are out and the blood thirsty details are in. Excellent.
Hidden and Haunted takes you through a series of tales involving plots, grave robbing and other such stories that our civilised city is built on before taking you through the cobbled back streets to the Blair Street vaults. For us it was a great way to discover a little more about vaults themselves – which have a fascinating history in themselves – but for anyone looking to explore the hidden layers of Edinburgh, this is a great introduction that will leave you wanting to know more.
In just over an hour we traversed the streets and vaults with our caped guide (whether he walked or floated across the cobbles I am not entirely sure) telling us choice tales and snippets. It’s certainly not a tour for anyone who is prone to nightmares or freaks at the talk of blood and beheading.
The highlight of the tour is undoubtedly the Blair Street Vaults. It is easy to forget that South Bridge is, as its name might suggest, a bridge. It looks like a normal street, but entering the arched vaults underneath that hold everything above up, you step – not without trepidation – into an underworld full of tales of life, or rather death. Ghost stories, eerily illuminated by the candlelight (real candle light is the only source of light down in the depths), are told in each room with a sense of realism that is enough to make even a hardened cynic shiver, and not just because of the occasional droplet of water that comes from the ceilings above.
Hats off though to our guide – he clearly knew what he was doing and was having fun doing it! He managed to integrate audience participation without the almost inevitable awkwardness it can involve, and included ‘modern day’ references with wit and sarcasm. References to CCTV and Beyoncé should really be included in all ghost tours for entertainment value. If we were to have one criticism it would be that there was a bit too much filler chat and dramatics in parts. An additional story or two could definitely have been included in their place without overloading the audience; but as these things go, it’s a relatively minor issue that doesn’t detract from the overall enjoyment of the tour.
You can find more about Mercat Tours and all their walking tours on their website.