Welcome to Edinburgh’s dark and dirty side. You’re given a little history of ‘the Athens of the North’, Edinburgh’s amusing nickname, and told the smelly story of why they call it Auld Reekie and the funny origin of the term ‘shitfaced’. Then you’re taken to the underground vaults of Niddry Street. The air’s oppressive, it’s dark, damp and creepy. And appropriately so, you’re in a place of witchcraft, ghosts and a good section of Edinburgh’s more grim history. You’re in what used to be the home of desperate vagrants, where disgusting and cramped conditions meant diseases were rife and messy deaths were frequent. It was also the prowling grounds of two of Edinburgh’s most notorious criminals: Burke and Hare.
It was quite nice that she seemed genuinely a little frightened herself, as it was infectious and added oddly to the atmosphere.
Don’t be surprised if you experience the odd tingling sensation, or feel yourself trying to catch a breath in the oppressive, damp tunnels or beneath limescale covered ceilings. You feel the odd squidge and splash beneath your feet as you navigate through puddles and the heat that at one time reached such a temperature, a fire broke out in one of the rooms and burnt people alive. Our tour guide, Ailsa, was knowledgeable and enthusiastic and added some nice dramatic flair to the tour. But mercifully it was not overdone and so never seemed patronising. None of it feels forced, as it can do in the tours at night. However, a little more humour could have been injected into the tour. It’s arguably not as fun as the later terror tours and the information is somewhat toned down, so this might be the tour for you if you’re interested in the vaults but a bit squeamish. Gore lovers and fright fans should probably look for the later terror tours. Our guide seemed a little nervous, but then that’s not necessarily a bad thing when your tour is supposed to be scary. It was quite nice that she seemed genuinely a little frightened herself, as it was infectious and added oddly to the atmosphere.
It’s a short tour at 45 minutes and perhaps a bit steeply priced at as much as £9, especially when you can see a fair number of the vaults in Edinburgh’s pubs for free. But then you don’t get the history, or the spooky atmosphere. Stand in the haunted stone circle, I dare you. I did, and was warned I might experience strange sensations, markings or scars, or may well have terrible nightmares. I’ve not slept yet so I can’t comment on the nightmares. But when I left I caught my reflection in a mirror. A dark mark had appeared in the middle of my forehead. I quickly rubbed it off thinking what is this?! Have I been marked for underestimating the power of the stone circle? I did feel a tingle and feel the temperature change when I stood there. Then I smelt my finger and realised it was chocolate from the cappuccino I’d had before my tour. No wonder Ailsa seemed to focus on me when she talked about being ‘shitfaced’