With Halloween just around the corner, it’s time to plan my annual trip to one of the most atmospheric towns in the UK. This year three of us aspiring writers are planning to visit York. As one of the most haunted cities in England it seems the natural choice.
Last year we chose the ancient city of Edinburgh and we couldn’t have picked a better location.
From beginning to end the weekend was filled with surprises. The first being the hotel. Standing at reception we were handed the keys to the only room they had left — Room 13!
The day began early, with the flight bringing us in just in time for breakfast. We spent the day re- familiarizing ourselves with the stunning city, and the Scottish weather was unusually warm for the time of year.
My companion was interested in seeing Greyfriars after having read the book Greyfriars Bobby as a child. I happily went along as I’ve always had a passion for graveyards. I have to say, we both fell head over heals in love with Greyfriars Kirkyard.
Famous for the story of the dog that wouldn’t leave the grave of his master and also for the infamous grave robbing of Burke and Hare, there is something about that place, the atmosphere within those walls is undeniable. From the moment we stepped through the huge iron gates we felt a presence. We knew there was something very strange, not the usual calm, peacefulness of a graveyard but an eerie-ness that was almost repellant.
Desperate to learn more we booked ourselves into the 11pm tour. Wow, that was popular. Over sixty of us traipsed across the graveyard listening to stories of imprisonment and grave robbing that go back hundreds of years. The whole graveyard is built on a foundation of thousands of human bones discarded during the great plague years. During particularly wet weather bones have been known to rise up through the grass and have to be disposed of in ‘the larder’.
Around 1679, 1200 people were imprisoned in what’s known as the Covenanters Prison. Being no more than a walled section of the graveyard, the prisoners were made to lay face down on the ground for over six months of the harsh Scottish winter. If they tried to move they were shot. Unsurprisingly most perished.
George Mackenzie ran the prison and was himself buried in the graveyard in the 1690’s. It is said to be his ghost that haunts the graveyard and it has become very famous for its violent activity. If you look through the grille on the front of his tomb you can see the entrance to the crypt still containing his coffin. A story tells of a tramp that took shelter in the crypt only to discover it is also full of the bones of plague victims.
During a tour of the underground caverns we clearly heard footsteps in the empty chamber behind us. Again there were lots of people on our tour which did kill the atmosphere a little but those footsteps were unmistakable. unfortunately we were unable to visit Mary Kings Close, oh well there’s always a next time.
Okay so I admit that I was one of the sad muppets that fainted on the tour but I attribute that to a very long day and drop in blood pressure, not the terrifying experiences of Edinburgh’s ghost tour.
It soon became clear that the Halloween visitors to Edinburgh take the whole thing very seriously. One moment you are on a tour with the cast of Night of the Living Dead, the next moment you are walking down the street with a six-foot smurf or a bunch of very butch ladies with beards. Clearly anything goes.
If you love Halloween and are looking for somewhere with unbeatable atmosphere, I would highly recommend Edinburgh.