Edinburgh Underground: Goodbye Daylight, Hello Darkness

October 7, 2017 7:00 pm by Karla Ramos

The “-ber” months are creeping up fast and very soon it’s all Jingle Bells in the air again. But before we reach these merry festivities, we all have to pass through that dreaded and jarring road bump which is Halloween. Yeah, it sure is fun, if not for the all-too-realistic ghost stories and scare gimmicks people love thinking up! And since I’m a little bit of a scaredy-cat myself, knowing that some of those stories were not merely invented, ups the nerve-fraying factor quite significantly.

Huge thanks to @jaroslavd for sharing this photo of our guide Samuel – here he is introducing visitors to the Underground Vaults beneath Edinburgh #mercattours 👏 ______________ #edinphoto #Scotland #walkingtour #historytour #omgb #scotspirit #vaults #undergroundvaults #guide #underground #edinburghvaults #ghosttour #tourguide #storytelling #Edinburghhistory #citybestpics #city_explore #seemycity #citylimitless #guardiancities #unlimitedcities #lovegreatbritain #photosofbritain #thisisedinburgh #ig_scot . . . . . . . _____________________ Original post This is Samuel, our animated and entertaining guide on the @mercattours ghost tour of Edinburgh called “Doomed, Dead & Buried”. This was taken in the Blair Street Underground Vaults, which can only be accessed on the tour. The Vaults are the largest system of underground caverns in Edinburgh, built in the 18th century beneath South Bridge. #ghosttours #edinburgh #ghost ( #📷 @jaroslavd)

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This is the reason why I mostly avoided ghost tours during my travels, despite having lots of opportunities to take them. This was also the same thing going through my mind when I and my roommate were presented the chance to go through Edinburgh’s famous underground vaults. But all my instincts were overturned as I read just how interesting these vaults are. Once upon a time, people actually lived in these vaults, and the premises even served as the community’s marketplace! This intrigued us enough that we signed up with Mercat Tours on a daylight walking tour. We figured that if Christmas can be celebrated early, then that could do for Halloween as well.


Into the Underground

Did I say daylight? Scratch that. These are places where sunlight never reach, so the time of day doesn’t really make any difference. The damp silence was eerie, and for a moment it felt like stepping into a horror movie. The “streets” of the Blair Street Underground Vaults had been witnesses to many criminal acts in the past, with their constant shadows used as a refuge by thieves, murderers, and all manners of unsavory characters.

The storytelling actually started in the city up above, in the the “Royal Mile”, where the ground is paved with cobblestones and looked for all the world like a Hollywood medieval set. Except that every now and then, the straight line was broken by narrow and suffocating alleyways. We also made our way through the South Bridge before finally descending to the vaults.

Our guide — appropriately dressed in a swishing black cloak — led us through the history of the place. For around three decades in the late 1700s, the vaults had housed taverns and the workshops of tradespeople. Of course, these dark structures also made it easy to store contrabands within the premises. Some say these “contrabands” included the dead bodies of people murdered up above by serial killers! It was hard to imagine people actually living in these deteriorated conditions, and in fact this truth came to light only after a 1985 excavation! But in the past the vaults became home to the city slums and the local red light district.


Slowly, the story left that of the vaults’ history and moved into the realm of the macabre. All manners of death had been carried out in these dark caverns, from tortures and murders to suicides and executions. This is the part where the ghost stories come in, and everyone started watching out for cold drafts and flickers from the corner of the eye!

Apparently, there was an unseen and otherworldly cast of characters hovering about us all the time:

Mr. Boots. The ghost of a man wearing a long coat and big boots, for which he was named. He is sometimes described as a tall figure with no eyes. He seems pretty game for pictures, as he has appeared in several photographs with tourists! No one knows his history or how he died for sure, but hundreds of tourists could swear they had seen him down there.

The Watcher. A ghost wearing 18th century clothing and a full beard, he is often confused with Mr. Boots due to their similar apparitions. He distinguishes himself by being protective of certain vaults and walls, sometimes shouting out warnings for people to “get out!” when they get too close! He also appears in photographs, though his history is likewise unknown.

The Child That Plays. Story has it that the ghost of a boy (around 6 or 7 years old) wanders through the vaults. He has been described as having curly blonde hair and dressed in a blue suit. You may not see him in pictures, but you’ll know he’s around when you feel something holding your hand or tugging your clothes — especially if you’re a woman or child yourself!

The Woman in Black. This woman, dressed completely in black, has a deep malevolence towards pregnant women. If you’re expecting, you have been warned! According to accounts, she was supposed to have a baby but had a miscarriage instead. Pregnant women who go into the vaults report feeling strangely sick, and this is often attributed to this ghost’s doing.

When we finally got back out to the reassuring daylight above, some tourists were horrified to find scratches on their skin. Others, checking the pictures they had taken, reported finding Mr. Boots in the frames! Personally, I was safe because I stuck in the middle of the group. But then again, this is one tour I will never forget — both for the awesome history I learned and for the tension it put on my nerves!


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