The name Auld Reekie Tours, our intrepid tour guide informs us, is taken from an old affectionate nickname for Edinburgh herself; it refers to the stench and smoke of olden-day roads, running thick with muck and all things unspeakable. Such a name is a stinking great misnomer; unlike the assaultive, sensuous barrage such a title suggests, Auld Reekie’s terror tours triumph because of their chillingly understated atmosphere.
Rather than depending upon the clichéd theatrics of a hammy-acting guide and performers concealed to go boo and bump in the night, this journey through the streets and vaults of Oldtown is narrated in an ever-candid manner. Our host has no pretensions to believing in spooks and spectres, remaining non-committal throughout. At certain points, he even openly doubts a few of the stories. It is this lack of artifice that makes the claim that no story with which he regales our group of four has been fabricated so believable. It may seem that such an upfront attitude would dissipate any looming atmosphere. Quite the opposite is true.
By remaining merely guides, rather than spectacles themselves, the staff of Auld Reekie allow the haunting stories of our winding route to speak for themselves and slowly take full effect. As the route gets ever darker and more isolated, moving from the quieter alleys and archways of the surface world, through rooms stuffed to the rafters with gut-wrenchingly grisly instruments of torture and finally into the truly eerie abandoned vaults of the North Bridge, the spooks mount cumulatively and exponentially. Whilst initially stories sometimes struggle to muster even a ‘huh’ of intrigue, by the time our group is told to peer round the corner of an underground chamber to look for an apparition of an eyeless girl, or challenged to walk across a wiccan stone circle, our audience is literally paralysed with fear.
The drawback of this more slowly-slowly approach to terror is the fact that the beginning of this tour can feel a little slow at times. Stories about witch-dunking are too old-hat to truly hold attention, and it takes our guide a little while to find his flow in fear-mongering. This may well be due to a feeling of awkwardness about leading such a small group along and monologuing in the middle of a public street. Whilst our small group may initially work to our detriment, however, throughout its claustrophobic dynamic works ever and ever better.
Auld Reekie’s Terror Tour is a harrowingly fun hour and a half and whilst obviously one’s experience is rather dependent upon the wildcard factor of how many audience members turn up, this tour could never fail to fright and delight. Grab your torch and go, go, go.