Are you interested in the paranormal?
Do you like ghost stories?
This is how our tour guide greeted us as we arrived for our 7:00pm evening tour of Edinburgh’s Underground vaults.
I had read good things about Mercat Tours when I was planning my trip to Edinburgh and knew this was something I wanted to do.
However, I was undecided which tour was right for me: their historic tour or ghost tour?
After talking briefly with one of their sales representatives, we decided to book their 7:00pm Ghostly Underground Tour. Despite it being their day time ghost tour, it worked out well since Edinburgh gets dark at 4:00pm during the winter months.
The Beginning of Tour
The tour began with our guide Stephanie introducing herself to everyone. We followed her to the Mercat Cross (Market Cross) where a reenactment took place with two lucky people from our group.
It was a taste of what public shamings and punishments might have looked like back in 17th and 18th century Edinburgh. Needless to say, you did not want to get on anyone’s bad side back then.
She took everyone to one of the many Closes on the Royal Mile, explaining its history and how Edinburgh looked like during this period. In the mid-17th century, Edinburgh had a population of around 60,000 people, who were crammed within the confines of the city walls.
Each home had a chamber pot in the corner of the room where the family went to the bathroom. Once the contents were filled, the pots were emptied from the window with the warning cry Gardy loo! (which means ‘watch for the water’).
Any passerby below needed to move quickly, otherwise they could get showered with the contents from the chamber pots.
Stephanie then led us down to the Blair Street Underground Vaults where our ghostly tour officially began.
A Brief History of the Vaults
The Blair Street vaults are located beneath the South Bridge, and are the deepest and largest of the city. The vaults’ original lifespan was short as they were abandoned in the 1830s after only opening in the late 18th century.
Once the industrial revolution took over Britain, the Cowgate area had developed into Edinburgh’s slums. These dwellers took over the vaults which became a red-light district and housing for the city’s poor.
The conditions in the vaults became so bad that it soon turned into a haven for serial killers, who we able to murder over a dozen victims and hide their bodies in the vaults without being detected.
Burke and Hare where the most infamous serial killers during this period, who allegedly killed 16 people and sold them to a surgeon for dissection during his anatomy lectures.
It wasn’t until 1996 when the vaults reopened to the public after remaining unchanged from more than 200 years. Given the eerie accounts of the vaults’ history, it’s no wonder that paranormal events have been reported here and have become a popular spot for ghost tours.
About the Ghostly Underground Tour
The duration of the Mercat Ghostly Undergound tour is approximately 1 hour and 15 minutes which takes visitors through a few of the rooms in the vaults, while sharing stories of real-life encounters with the paranormal.
Stephanie, our guide, was an amazing story teller and I could tell that she really enjoyed trying to spook everyone. Each room carried a different ghost story about real-life encounters with the paranormal.
According to recordings and sightings over the years, scientific studies have ranked the “white room” as the most active in the vault.
Our tour guide did not enter this room as she was telling us about a real-life experience a woman had with Mr. Boots, the most terrifying ghost who resides in the vaults, which happened during one of Mercat’s historic tours.
He received his nickname from visitors who have heard his heeled-boots stomping around the vaults and his voice echoing through the tunnels.
The largest room in the vaults, known as the double height room, have had reports of visitors feeling dramatic changes in temperature, even though the temperature in the vaults should remain constant since there are no windows or reason to feel a draft. A bird-like apparition has also been known to swoop down and claw at people.
A spirit of a little boy named Jack has also been commonly seen in full-bodied form within the vaults. He has blond, curly hair and is dressed in a blue suit with knicker-bocker trousers.
He was said to have disappeared in the vaults one day, supposedly murdered by Mr. Boots himself. Jack is known to be attracted to small children and women, with reports claiming that he holds hands with visitors or tugs on their clothing.
Before entering the vaults, my sister and I didn’t know about any of these ghost stories. While we were in the so called “safe room”, my sister felt something touch her leg. This was moments before Stephanie mentioned that Jack likes to tug on visitor’s clothing.
Maybe it was just nerves, but we were a bit spooked!
My Final Verdict
Overall, I really enjoyed the tour, but was a little scared walking back to our hotel at night. I didn’t feel this way when I took a tour through the Catcombs in Paris, but you could tell that something didn’t sit quite right with the Edinburgh vaults.
As soon as we entered the air felt humid, much like the Catacombs in Paris . However some of the rooms we went into felt cold, even though there should technically be no difference in temperature between the rooms.
It was really interesting to learn about the history of the vaults and I thought Mercat Tours did a fantastic presentation. I would highly recommend them if you’re visiting Edinburgh and looking to do something out of the ordinary.
Mercat Tours offers both historic and underground ghost tours of the Blair Street vaults. You can check out the full list here.
Location: 28 Blair Street, Edinburgh EH1 1QR Scotland, UK
Phone: +44 (0)131 225 5445
Hours: The Mercat Tours office is open – Monday to Friday 9.00am to 6.00pm | Saturday and Sunday 10.00am to 6.00pm
Over to you — have you taken this Mercat Tour before?
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