Why Edinburgh is scarily good for a city break
Chalkmarks Edinburgh

DOWN the narrow stone steps and into Edinburgh’s dark and damp vaults.

I look around. Nothing. No one. As my eyes adjust to the candlelight someone screams.

It’s the guide.

She said she saw a man behind us wearing a dirty overcoat and knee-high boots. He’s Mr Boots – the watchman who just stands and stares. He’s a ghost from the 18th century.

It’s 10pm and our tour group huddles together. He’s often seen in the South Bridge Vaults.

I gasp in horror. It’s much too scary to go back out!

Not much is known about his life or why he’s still guarding these gloomy passageways but plenty of people have seen him.

He pushes people in to the walls or presses down on their shoulders. He’s said to have an ugly face with no eyes. Visitors have complained of finding bruises and scratches on their bodies the next day.

You’ve got to be careful down here. Each faint voice or groan could be a ghoul or it could just be the traffic rumbling above. Who knows?

In the flickering light we’re told we might also meet a friendly ghost –  the shoemaker whom we’ll meet in the cobblers room. Then there’s Jack – a child ghost who might take us by the hand as we make our way through the maze of empty vaults with low ceilings.

Some of us in the group find the stories amusing but others seem deathly afraid.

The uneven surface of the tunnel means we stumble through adding to the tension.

This isn’t actually an underground tunnel but instead 120 chambers within the 19 arches of the South Bridge. It was said to be cursed within just days of opening in 1788 when a judge’s wife died walking across it.

Back then, these vaults were workshops for leather cutters and other businesses and used as storage for wine merchants. They moved out when rainwater and sewage leaked through. They then became slums, brothels, and hideouts for robbers and murderers.

Authorities sealed the vaults in the 19th century and they were forgotten for more than one hundred years. In the 1980s the Scottish international rugby player Norrie Rowan found them when he was doing some renovation work.

Hundreds of strange experiences and sightings have been recorded ever since by organisers Mercat Tours.

Celebrities to such as Baywatch star David Hasselhof last year stood beside tourists – during the Edinburgh Festival – to experience the chilling supernatural events.

When it finished, I needed some quality time with real living people so I ran into nearby Whistles Binkies to for some friendly spirits. It turned out to be a live music bar so I stayed until closing and left with the crowds. Before I went to sleep though, I checked for ghosts in the wardrobe and under the bed.

While I didn’t see Mr Boots on our nightly patrol, I hadn’t given up on seeing a spook. They’re ten a penny in the medieval Old Town. The cobbled Royal Mile with its narrow alleys was once the place of murders and grim deaths. It was an execution site and a burial ground.

With every building said to have its own spirit, this Scottish city is known as the most Haunted Capital in the world. Yet the architecture that came from this blood red history has also seen it called the gothic capital of the world and the City of Literature.

For me it’s more like being in a Harry Potter film. The best way is to arrive into Edinburgh for the first time is by train. The dark shadow of the castle turrets and towers rise above the platforms creating a magical skyline.

This isn’t a fairytale though, the legends that come from this 12th century fortress are real. And it too has its fair share of gruesome visitors.

The next morning, praying I wouldn’t bump into any phantoms, I stepped back on to the Royal Mile.

I’d planned to wander and see where the day took me.

I trundled up towards St Giles Cathedral. The cafes and restaurants were bustling and the knick-knack shops rammed.

You need to be prepared to walk in Edinburgh. There are 60 lanes known as wynds and closes that appear from nowhere and lurch down steep steps.

At one point, I turned down one and didn’t reappear for an hour. I’d dropped in to the Writers’ Museum dedicated to the work of Sir Walter Scott, Robert Burns and Robert Louis Stevenson.

Every trip should also include a climb to Arthur’s Seat – a volcanic hill that reaches 250 metres above the city offering a view up to 40miles away.

Later on, I crossed over to the 300-year-old Georgian New Town dominated by the gothic Scott Monument and passed by the Elephants House cafe where JK Rowling penned Harry Potter.

This is the power of Edinburgh – because everything is close together I want to see one more thing.

I find the Fruitmarket Gallery, which displays Scottish contemporary artists and stop for coffee in their cafe.

By late afternoon things are beginning to close up so I head back to the hotel. To make things easy on myself I stayed at the Radisson Blu. It’s sits on the Royal Mile and a few minutes from the station.

Built in 1988 to look like a castle stronghold, there’s a corner tower and tall stonewalls. The bedrooms have the king and queen factor with a pillow menu from soft to firm and a floor to ceiling wallpaper print of the grand Scottish National Gallery.

With a £12m refurbishment, the inside has a fresh new look that centres around a buzzy bar and restaurant. The Itchycoo Kitchen turns out impeccable steak with chunky fries and a bloody Mary plum and black peppercorn gravy.

They also create cocktails for all seasons including a Mistletoe Kiss for Christmas that tastes like a mint dessert served with a candy stick.

I sit in the bar looking out along the Royal Mile. I gasp in horror.

I can see something sinister appearing in the distance. It’s rain. Much too scary to go back out.

Book it

A return train from London’s Kings Cross to Edinburgh Waverley with Virgin Trains East Coast

Hotel Radisson Blu

A ghost tour with Mercat Ghost Tour

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