It could be deemed ironic that our group was thrice threatened with murder before our tour had kicked off. Unfortunately, potential humour was stopped stone dead by its conjunction with a rather peremptory warning of a three-strikes rule against chit chat; our host automatically generated a somewhat ill-boding atmosphere, but for all the wrong reasons.
City of the Dead’s Haunted Graveyard Tour comes with many of the requisite grisly trimmings and trappings: A host draped in black; haunting walks over corpse-crammed ground; and warnings and woe-betide-hes concerning perceived paranormal activity. Our spirit guide is certainly an accomplished raconteur, with oodles of charisma and mastery over a vast range of tales. The dedication put into performance is apparent and admirable. Unfortunately, such enthusiasm occasionally overtakes careful consideration to awkward effect. An interlude in which our ghostly guide pauses our progress to dance upon the grave of Captain John Porteous is uncomfortable to say the least; regardless of popular sentiment toward Porteous – the eighteenth century head of the City Guard, whose orders to open fire upon a riotous crowd of citizens resulted in six innocent deaths - such desecration of the dead’s resting place could prove provocative to the point of offense, particularly when any historical context for this action has been deliberately withheld in order to conjure up controversy.
On top of said irrelevance comes a somewhat suspect formulation of fact and fable. Our guide’s monologue upon the love affair between Greyfriars and the Gothic and the history of inspiration traced from Polidori’s The Vampyre to Shelley’s Frankenstein contradicts the famous tale of creation upon the opium-addled Geneva trip known to many a casual bibliophile. Whilst it is indeed easy to believe the tour’s tale to be the truth, the fact that the often-rehearsed version of events is not at all acknowledged can lead to a little uncertainty among audience members – concerned whether this history is certitude or charlatanism.
Poor judgment also comes to mar experience in the somewhat questionable selection of stories with which our undead-hungry audience are regaled. Over the course of the hour, there is in fact only one story with direct recourse to the ostensibly ectoplasmic, which is saved for the concluding quarter of the tour. Before this our host rehearses histories of literature and civil unrest in Edinburgh, which are admittedly chilling and interesting indeed, yet do seem to suggest that the title of ‘The Haunted Graveyard Tour’ is somewhat of a misnomer.
City of the Dead’s Haunted Graveyard Tour is a pleasant promenade through a grim history, yet amongst a market flooded with options that are frightening, fascinating and (dare I say it) friendlier, it is far from a must-see. If you’re after thrills and chills aplenty, Haunted Graveyard Tours offer only the ghost of a chance of total, terrified satisfaction.