Being in one of the most haunted cities in Europe, it was only appropriate that we go on a haunted walking tour to learn all the dark history Edinburgh possesses.We did quite a bit of research before choosing a walking tour, and thanks to Pinterest, I found the Edinburgh Haunted Walking Tour: Mysteries, Murder and Legends on Viator.
The meeting point was rather misleading as there are no signs. Meet at the Starbucks on the Royal Mile. We arrived at the Starbucks (it is the one located near Edinburgh Castle, not near the Palace of Holyroodhouse) and outside was a small booth with ghost tour posters. A guy dressed as a pirate (why, I have no clue), walked into the booth and I suddenly got disappointed. This tour was going to be gimmicky and childish.
Praying this wasn’t our tour, I walked up to Mr. Pirate and showed him my voucher. Thankfully, he told me no and pointed me to a larger group just behind him gathered around a guy wearing a plethora of Harry Potter buttons on his blazer with tube socks and shorts.
When in Edinburgh I guess.
A Haunting Atmosphere
Once our tour was underway, it became very apparent why Edinburgh is the setting for so many spooky tales and legends. With it’s overcast skies, cobblestone streets and church spires darkened from years of harsh weather, you constantly feel like there is a poltergeist following closely behind you. After all, it is said that you’re never more than five feet from a buried body if you’re walking around Edinburgh.
Murders, Grave Robbers, and Cannibals
Stories you think are surely made up turn out to be true. Serial killers Burke and Hare were made famous in Edinburgh after killing 16 people in a year’s time. Why? They wanted money so they sold the bodies to the university for the medical students to practice on. After being caught, Burke was convicted and hanged while Hare, in exchange for testifying against Burke, got off Scot free. Ironically, Burke’s remains can now be seen at the Edinburgh Medical School’s Anatomy Museum.
More horrific than that are the cannibals, the most notorious being the family of 48-strong who attacked solo travelers in the night and feasted on their bodies.
Lastly, the grave robbers, known as “resurrectionists,” went to work digging up bodies to sell to the city’s medical school. Legally, the only bodies allowed to be used were those of executed criminals, but that only gave the doctors 5 or 6 bodies a year. More were needed so the resurrectionists went to work. As one resurrectionist discovered, one of the bodies he dug up wasn’t dead; she had been buried alive. This wasn’t uncommon as about 30% of the graves in one of Edinburgh’s graveyards contain people who were buried alive. This lead the law to be changed in Edinburgh that you had to check someone’s pulse before burying them.
Fun Fact: The saying “saved by the bell” originated in Edinburgh after so many people had been buried alive, the grave diggers began putting bells on the headstones with a string running down inside a coffin. That way, if a person was buried alive, they could ring the bell for help.
The Scottish have long been known for their storytelling, such as the redcaps, who got their name from their hats they wore being dipped in fresh human blood.
There are also the giants who roamed the north of Britain, one of which gave his name to the ancient volcano standing over Edinburgh – Arthur’s Seat.
Venture down one of Edinburgh’s alleys and see where witch’s were burned at the stake, and fairies ran wild.
You learn about it all on this ghost tour.
Our two-hour tour took us down the Royal Mile, through shadowed closes, down to Old Calton Burial Ground, and finally, atop Calton Hill. Along the way, we heard the stories of Burke and Hare, grave robbers, witch trials, vampires, the kelpies, and David Hume’s deal with the devil. Don’t worry, it’s quite normal to go for a stroll through one of Edinburgh’s many cemeteries. In fact, J.K. Rowling found Tom Riddle’s name on a headstone in Greyfriars Kirkyard and he became a character in Harry Potter. Charles Dickens also got inspiration from a cemetery when he found Ebenezer Scrooge’s name engraved on a headstone.
Positives: It’s not gimmicky, it’s budget friendly (it was $24 for the two of us), our tour guide was very knowledgeable and entertaining (and was president of a Harry Potter fan club), and provided us with lots of great stories and folklores on Scottish legends and culture.
Negatives: We did this tour in June, which meant it didn’t get dark outside until well after 10PM, and the tour was at 6:30PM. I would have loved the tour being after dark or even around dusk to get more of that eerie feeling, but the sun wouldn’t stop me from going again.
Would we recommend this tour? Yes!
As always, all photos are my own unless otherwise stated.