Last month, my mum and I decided to meet each other in Edinburgh for a couple of days. She flew in from Amsterdam, and I travelled by train from York, where I study. Edinburgh quite reminded me of York, the old historic buildings, the ‘mystical’ feel about it, all just a bit bigger. Just like in York – which is called ‘the most haunted town of England’ – Edinburgh was full of posters advertising Ghost walks.
My mum and I thought this would be an entertaining way of exploring Edinburgh by night, so we decided to take part in a Murder mystery tour. At 8 o’clock we were at the spot the tour was supposed to start at. However, no one else except a curious looking man with a tall black hat was waiting there. This man, not surprisingly, turned out to be our tour guide. We waited for a few more minutes, but no one else showed up. The man said he was happy to just take the two of us, he seemed quite excited and said that this way he could tell even more stories.
One of the first things he asked us was ‘Would you rather be beheaded or hung?’ I chose to be hung, and my mum to be beheaded. The tour guide agreed with me. ‘Imagine’, he told my mum, ‘the person who’s responsible for beheading you had one glass too many, and hits you a couple of times in the shoulder blades beforehand…’It wasn’t long before my mum agreed ‘Okay, I’m convinced’. ‘Nu uh,’ the man said, ‘It’s too late to change now’ I wasn’t quite sure what he meant by this…
The tour started off really nicely. I had just finished reading the book ‘Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde’, from Stevenson, when our tour guide started telling us about the réal Dr. Jekyll. A well-off man who had lived in Edinburgh, and at night would turn to crime. He told us that when this man was eventually caught, and sentenced to death, they tried to hang him. However, hanging him the first time didn’t work, so they tried it a second time. This didn’t work again! At the time, in Edinburgh, the rule existed that if someone was being hung unsuccessfully for three times, the person would be a free man again. Unfortunately for this serial killer, the third time was fatal.
The tour guide told us many more real-Edinburgh stories and weird rules that were implemented at the time. Such as, if a woman tried to hide her pregnancy, she would be hung.
For his next story we went up to a graveyard. I had never been on a graveyard in the complete dark before and I’m not planning to do so again. It really freaked me out, some graves even had cages build around them. We were told that the reason for this was that in old-times, people would dug up the graves and steal the corpes to bring to the medical centre of the University of Edinburgh. For this, the thieves would receive a small compensation, and the University would turn a blind eye to the origin of the bodies. (Stevenson wrote an interesting short-story about this called ‘The body snatcher’).
Being on this graveyard gave me the chills, and I kept thinking, what if the tour guide has bad intentions himself? It’s just the two of us with him, no one else is here at this time of night, and it was quite curious that he had asked us how we would like to die…
I was happy when we moved on, away from the graveyard. We walked through the narrow streets and mysterious alleys of Edinburgh, and he’d tell us about how horrendous Edinburgh used to be. Apparently, there was a specific time, 10 o’clock in the evening, that all households could dispose of their human waste by throwing everything out of the window into the streets. How unfortunate if you lost your home-keys that time of night!
The dirt would remain in the streets, because the buildings were built so near each other that the top floors formed roofs and the rain wouldn’t wash away the dirt.
After a while, we arrived at a normal-looking house. However, inside the house was an Edinburgh Vault. The Vaults were a series of underground chambers which were used as storage spaces around the 1800s. Reportedly, bodies of people killed for medical experiments were also stored in these chambers.
Our tour guide had the key to one of these Vaults and opened the door for us. When we entered, he closed and locked the door and told us ‘Nobody knows that you are here’. He didn’t have to tell me that, because the moment I entered the house, that was exactly what I was thinking. When we walked down the stairs into the empty caves, I must admit, I started to panic a little bit.
He continued telling ghost-stories, holding a flashlight underneath his chin which distorted his face, but I didn’t hear anything he was telling us anymore. My imagination got a hold on me at that point, and the fantasies in my head made me much more scared than any of his actual stories. What if this man has bad intensions? We’re some place no one knows, underground in a damp cave… What if this man is not to be trusted? What if he is a killer and what if by answering his initial question we’ve decided our own way to die? The thoughts rushed through my mind when…
We heard footsteps. Ghosts? I don’t believe in ghost, but according to this man BBC’s Ghostwatch had investigated this Vault and inspected some mysterious energies…
Fortunately, these energies were from the people from the next ghost-tour! Our tour-guide had actually enjoyed showing us around so much, that he had told us a lot of extra stories, and instead of a tour of 1 hour and 15 minutes, he had been with us for about two hours!
The moment we parted, my mum and I turned to each other. Apparently she had felt the same way, but we both believed: if he would have had bad intentions, the two of us would have fought and we would have made it. After all, it’s not the first time we have experienced some adventure together!