If I were asked, “What are the top five cities where you’d like to live for at least a year?”, Edinburgh would make the list. I’d put Edinburgh in the top three cities I’ve visited in Europe. There’s just something special about the Gothic architecture, vibrance of the city, and of course, the infamous dark past, including the Edinburgh Vaults. It warms my heart.
We were on a cruise and Edinburgh is not right on the water, so we had to shuttle in. The 9-mile drive took about 15 minutes. Once we were dumped in Old Town, it was time to do what we did best, and that was hop on the HoHo. This HoHo was great and took us to all the iconic stops including Edinburgh Castle, Hanover Street, Waverley Bridge, Canongate (a street/district), Holyrood (the official Scottish home of Queen Elizabeth II), Our Dynamic Earth (a museum) and Arthur’s Seat (an epically big ass hill), and much more. We did not get off at most of these stops because of time constraints, and we really wanted to make our way to the Royal Mile.
The Royal Mile is a series of five streets that make up Old Town Edinburgh: Castlehill, the Lawnmarket, the High Street, the Canongate, and Abbey Strand. Here you will find most of the history and Gothic architecture, as well as all things tourist. Even so, the Royal Mile is great and kind of like the Scottish version of the Las Vegas Strip or Bourbon Street in New Orleans, minus the questionable life choices and alcoholism. Tourist shops are here, along with street performers, tours, restaurants, and so forth.
We walked the Royal Mile and meandered into a few shops, but we also got caught up watching a few of the street performers. The first was a magician, whom we watched eat a 5-foot balloon like a boss. Another was a girl dancing while using (what I was positive was) ecstasy. She saw us watching and took my stepdad’s hand to begin dancing with him; let’s just say I don’t think they’ll be getting a call from Dancing With The Stars anytime soon. We also paused to watch a bagpiper, dressed in traditional Scottish clothing, kilt included.
Finally, it was time for the main attraction, the star of the show, the thing I was waiting for all day: the Edinburgh Vaults. Those who are familiar with my blog know I am a fan of haunted places, and basically all things supernatural, so it was a special day for me. I had read up on the vaults after I found out we’d be going to them, but unfortunately, I didn’t learn enough about the various ghosts that haunt it until after the tour… and it wasn’t from the guide.
While our tour of the vaults was awesome given the history, we didn’t learn much about the ghosts or supernatural trickeries that happen down there, which was odd given that the tour was marketed like a ghost-type tour. We booked the tour with a company called Mercat
Tours, and met our guide at Mercat Cross (naturally), right in Old Town. Fantastically, it was a small group, only about 10 people, which can make a huge difference in the level of enjoyment you get from a tour. After explaining some brief history about the city of Edinburgh at Mercat Cross, our guide took us on a mini-tour of Old Town, where we learned more about the city’s history, including how they used to just dump their chamber pots full of urine and feces out of the windows like godless heathens. We learned why there are alleys in Edinburgh called a “close”, and that’s because the buildings are so close to one another. Clever, right?
We finally began making our way through the streets to the entrance of the vaults, which is enclosed inside a building owned by Mercat Tours. We had to make our way down a dark, winding staircase until we were firmly underground and inside one of the vaults. I can’t remember exactly, but I believe we went through at least 3 or 4 different vaults, of
varying sizes. Built in the late 1700’s, our guide explained the history of the vaults, and how they were used for various things over the decades, including places to store legal and illegal alcohol, as houses/living areas for the very poor, brothels, party rooms for the rich, storage for businesses, and the preferred route of grave robbers and a pair of serial killers who would sell the corpses to the medical school for an extra buck. A lot of murder, thievery, assault, and rape happened inside these walls, and allegedly a lot of that bad juju is still down there.
She (for some reason) only talked about three ghosts that are said to inhabit these particular vaults (vaults are extensive throughout Edinburgh, with many too old and dangerous to explore): a woman, a child named Jack, and the infamous Mr. Boots. I remember watching the ‘Edinburgh Vaults’ episode of Ghost Adventures a few months after the trip and learning about 5 more ghosts that are allegedly in those exact vaults. I was very annoyed that I didn’t have this information beforehand, or that the guide didn’t mention it to us. While I enjoyed the tour, we didn’t go to stand around in the pitch black, in what is equivalent to a giant musty basement, to learn about how they used to store wine down there. I cared about the murders, the serial killers/grave robbers, and the ghosts.
Nonetheless, the highlight was Mr. Boots because HE was mentioned extensively, and I already knew some things about him. Mr. Boots is said to have lived down in the vaults and to have killed a girl down there as well. He is reportedly an angry, malicious ghost who does not take kindly to visitors. He gets his name due to the heavy footsteps that people claim to hear walking behind them when nobody is there. He is also known to physically attack prying visitors, as well as throw stones at them. There have been numerous audio and pictures supposedly captured of this famed, douchy ghost. Sadly (or luckily, depending on how you view it) no supernatural occurrences happened while we were down there.
After we finished exploring the vaults, we ate lunch, then hopped back on the HoHo for one last whirl around the city. One of the pluses of the HoHo is you get a 360 view of Edinburgh Castle, perched up high as hell on top of a giant hill. This castle is like the real-life embodiment of how I picture royals in the 1600s and 1700s — viewing themselves high above the common folk, looking down at all their land, subjects, and riches. I’m sure the castle was put there for strategic reasons, but you know at least one royal thought that back in the day. This castle is also supposedly the inspiration for Hogwarts in the Harry Potter series (the more you know).
I cannot wait for when I can go back to Edinburgh and spend about a week there. I feel like I only scratched the surface of this medieval city which has so much more to offer. I will definitely take another tour of the vaults, because I feel like we were a tad bit shortchanged since we weren’t playing with a full deck of cards, i.e. information. If you ever get the chance to visit Edinburgh – or just Scotland in general – do it, because it really is a great, welcoming, charming, and historic place!