Written by Luke Greensmith
Originally published on November 22th, 2021
Welcome to part 3 of our Most Haunted places in Britain mini series! We’ve had York, current top pick for the most haunted city in England, we’ve had Derbyshire as the most haunted county region of England, time to step out to a different country of the British Isles. This episode we’re looking at Edinburgh, the most haunted city in Scotland…
Time to take you on a tour showing off some history, and more importantly some spooks.
SECTION BREAK – The abandoned undercity
Edinburgh is a strange place, being one of the historic cities of the British Isles it kind of grew organically and frequently in bizarre ways across the centuries. Originally Edinburgh was spread across seven hills, and it’s surprisingly vertical when you get there to explore. Originally, if you wanted to cross hills? You slog through the mud below. Likely a great defensible location way back when stray Vikings or Romans may turn up on your doorstep, but as the city developed so too did solutions for getting about the place.
This lead to the construction of the South Bridge. This was the second of five bridges which stitched together Edinburgh into a cohesive whole, completed in 1788. The original plan to inaugurate the opening of the bridge was for the city’s oldest resident to cross it when it was completed. Sadly, due to delays, she passed before she could do this and was ultimately carried over in her coffin.
Now, someone somewhere probably thought this was a wonderful bit of symbolism. The residents of Edinburgh took this as a terrible omen, many never crossing it in their lifetimes instead going all the way around the city to use the North Bridge instead rather than set foot on the newer one.
What follows from the chilly reception the residents gave the new bridge is a strange journey in two stages covering 8 decades.
As mentioned, Edinburgh was on a collection of hills, and still had three bridges yet to go to truly connect these areas together. Which means space has always been at a premium, and the arches beneath the South Bridge became prime real estate if you wanted to set up shop. It seemed like an ingenious expansion of the businesses of the city between the high street and the University area, even if people refused to go over it there was an opportunity for entrepaneurs under it. Slight snag once you’re down there, though. First of all, it’s dark. Scotland isn’t best known for it’s sun before you set up underneath a massive stoneworks. The next problem comes from something Scotland IS however known for, rain.
That you could set up beneath the bridge was incidental to its design. Water got EVERYWHERE down there, even before the bridge drainage started to crack in key places as the massive structure settled. Businesses managed maybe 30 years before completely abandoning beneath the bridge.
But this just means there’s still prime real estate down there, should you be desperate enough…
A combination of homeless locals and Irish immigrants escaping the potato famine began to set up down there. It was about as bad for disease as you might worry from it being so dank and damp even the most industrious scalper would abandon it, but industry remained down there. Gambling dens, drugs, and the dubious honour of becoming Edinburgh’s Red Light district.
This goes on for 50-ish years of sin and death happening out of sight, out of mind until its reputation got so bad the local government chased out all the squatters before filling in every entrance with dirt and rubble in the 1860s.
There these memories lay buried, forgotten, until the 1980s when an excavation blundered through into them. What they found was fascinating. When the last inhabitants got cleared out 120 years ago it was clearly in a rush, and a lot of their daily lives was preserved down there. Forlorn toys, plates and pots, abandoned buttons. Horseshoes, which sounds like a cute detail, but there were no horses down there which would suggest they were kept to ward away The Good Neighbours, something a little worrying in its own right. All opened up to historians and archeologists at first, now preserved and open to visitiors.
These are the Edinburgh Vaults.
So! Cursed from inauguration, turned into a damp lightless undercity populated by the most unfortunate people of a historically hard time, sealed away and forgotten. If all this sounds like haunting central, you’re not wrong!
This abandoned undercity has a collection of named spectres haunting it. Just listing them sounds like a horror movie roster:
Mr Boots. The Aristocrat. The Cobbler. Jack the Child.
Fortunately, they seem less ominous as you get to know them.
Jack the Child is just that, they’re a child. Kind of precocious sounding, rather than the typical terrifying ghost child. Curly blond hair, wearing a blue suit with Knickerbocker trousers. They scamper about the old tunnels of the Vaults taking an especial liking to women and children… Aaaaand I realise this still sounds terrifying. Just a consequence of being a ghost child I guess. Jack the Child isn’t doing anything too disturbing though, he likes to hold hands and tug on clothes for attention. Basically just a child, who happens to be a ghost. Your milage may vary on how frightening that is.
The Cobbler and The Aristocrat are both friendly seeming enough. Unwitting guests passing by them earn a friendly smile off of either spook, only for them to realise later the welcoming stranger was not a living one. The Cobbler is a short man in a long apron suitable for his profession, gaining him his monikor. The Aristocrat is a tall bearded man in a fine suit with a tall black hat, who is usually spotted casually leaning against a wall. Now, The Cobbler just seems to be a cheerful guy wandering about not realising he’s dead, and technically the Aristocrat reads similar on paper he seems to have something of a bad aura about him. Those who get too close to The Aristocrat during an encounter all seem to agree there’s the feeling of a sinister presence, which is a tad worrying.
Then there’s Mr Boots. Apparently also known as The Watcher, which is a little less whimsical and a lot more unnerving. He’s known to stick to the back of the Vaults if you’re looking to avoid him, and how he got the name Mr Boots becomes obvious as visitors hear his heavy footsteps from him stomping about in his namesake. He’s a tall shabbily dressed man on top of those boots, and he’s got something of a reputation as a photobomber. As recently as 2015 you can find pictures reporting to have Mr Boots in the background if brave visitors decide to snap a pic down at the back of the Vaults Mr Boots calls home.
It sounds like The Cobbler could have come from the 30 years of business under there, with the rest likely coming from the 50 years of being a black market. As much as I’ve said here, there’s a lot more to learn about The Vaults and its secrets to save for another time. Let’s put a pin in the topic for now, and move on.
SECTION BREAK – Edinburgh’s most haunted pub
Well, that was a lot! Going off the word count here that was a history heavy double length LukeLore section. Let’s stop off at a pub, the haunted variety of which is a staple of exploring the British Isles! As with basically every old city of the Isles, this is a target rich environment. Edinburgh is especially blessed with some incredible names for their pubs! The Last Drop Tavern refers to it being the site of the final hanging to take place in the city, and not finishing your drinks. The Banshee Labyrinth does what it says on the label, proudly proclaiming it has a resident banshee. For this episode though I want to talk about The White Hart Inn, a strong contender for the most haunted pub of a city with some significant competition for the title.
The White Hart Inn is one of the oldest public houses in the city. While the aboveground has gone through some necessary Ship of Theseus rebuilding over the years the beer cellar at its foundations dates back to 1516. 500 years in such a storied city adds up to quite the history. This includes such dubious honours as being a known haunt of Burke and Hare, according to myth several of their victims who went on to turn up at Edinburgh university as suspiciously fresh cadavers got lured away from the bar there to the pair’s nearby lodgings. Not content to have only one worrying story of murder, an old drawing of a prostitute in a red outfit was found during one round of renovations and is tentatively linked to a prostitute murdered on the premises in the 19th century.
This Inn is a favourite location for assorted ghost hunters, and it comes with plenty of surprise paranormal encounters from unwitting people who weren’t even looking. The increasingly less sceptical current bar manager has come forwards with a few stories over the years. Phantom footsteps are incredibly common upstairs after the bar closes, especially bothering one of the cleaners who works there. A poor barmaid changing a barrel in their 5 century old cellar has had her hair pulled on. At the time of the interview I found from around 2019 it had only been a few weeks since a terrified American tourist fled the bar toilets after some unseen force grabbed his shoulder while he was mid-business (which was at least convenient as he was already going when he was gotten at).
What keeps putting The White Hart Inn on the paranormal radar though is that photographs of the bar area keep turning up with a blurred figure in them.
Now, this wouldn’t be too hard to dismiss on old film cameras, but everything else in these pictures appears to be perfectly in focus. Besides which it’s now turning up on digital cameras. It could just be an unnaturally fast Scotsman getting a drink in, but that in itself is supernaturally noteworthy the speed they would have to be going. Give it a look yourself online and see what you think, or get down there yourself and get snapping to see if you can catch anything weird on your phone camera. It does seem like a nice pub, phantoms aside.
SECTION BREAK – An extra bloody history
If we’re poking about Edinburgh for ghosts, it would be rude not to stop at the castle itself.
Coming in at a over 2,000 years old, while very much being a castle that means business instead of being a rich person’s trinket, Edinburgh Castle has seen a LOT.
Heck, 2,000 years? DOUBLE THAT. There’s stories of an iron age hill fort being on that site. It was a bloody good hill to defend.
Prized for its security, complained about for how drafty it always seems to be, this is about as far away from an ornamental fairy tale castle as you can get. Edinburgh Castle is a surly rock formation that is as much to keep people securely locked away in its vaults as it is to keep everyone else out. It hasn’t always been impenetrable across its history, though. The English have needed kicking out on multiple occasions, and there’s something very Scottish about how weirdly proud they seem to be of successful escape attempts. A hole that 49 French prisoners of war hacked their way out through in 1811 has been preserved for 200 years. Show you’re made of sterner stuff, and you’ll get some respect from the highlands.
Let’s get to the spooky stuff… Given its rather practical history as a war fort and prison there’s plenty of bad history waiting to bubble up here.
Edinburgh castle seems to be infested with shadows that have no owners. These disembodied dark figures can get about anywhere and everywhere, frequently carrying with them an overwhelming sense of dread. They’re also associated with the sensation of being pulled about when they are near.
Unexplained phenomena will pop up at random. Sounds of drums coming from no identifiable source can be heard or sometimes just felt, and strange lights have regularly been known to go about their own business.
There’s a particular famous ghost who can cause quite a lot of confusion if you aren’t aware of them, known as The Lone Piper. Leading up to the castle going through Edinbrugh’s Old Town is The Royal Mile, a stretch of road that does basically what it says on the tin. This is a mile assorted royalty would parade up and down during visits to the castle at one end and the royal palace down at the bottom. A few hundred years ago a tunnel was found which appeared to go from the depths of the castle underneath the Royal Mile, and to test this theory a boy with his bagpipes was sent down there playing as he went to show where he was. This appeared to be working, and his progress was followed aboveground until suddenly his playing stopped halfway down the road.
Attempts were made to find the boy, but he had vanished without a trace. Faced with both a tragedy and a mysterious tunnel that could lead anywhere, the entrance was securely filled in. Across the centuries The Lone Piper can sometimes still be heard, starting deep in the castle vaults and heading back down The Royal Mile where his music will suddenly stop half way. Only ever making it as far as his first attempt.
All told? One awesomely haunted castle with one hell of a bloody history! I definitely want to get in there myself and have a poke about. Although I’m a little worried that all those shadowy figures in one place may be full blown Shadow People congregating…
That’s all for this this episode, and this mini series.
There will definitely be a return to Edinburgh at some point. There’s a lot more to unpack up there, and I want to get over for some on the scene folklore tourism in the near future.
But, it is voting time…
We’re going to make use of the LukeLore email for this, firstname.lastname@example.org. To vote, put in the subject line and the body of the email in all capital letters the name of the location which is your pick for being crowned the Most Haunted in Britian. Then, if you want something read out on the podcast about your choice, just add the comment on your email along with what you would like to be known as on the episode.
The last LukeLore of the year will then be a bonus episode on the winner of the vote, followed by reading and responding to any comments sent in.
Add the vote you are making all caps in both subject line and email itself, optionally then add a comment with how you want to be addressed (ambiguous comments will be treated as anonymous by default, better to lean on the safe side).
This episode will then air end of the year, and if I can it will be a little different to a regular LukeLore. It will be the second podcast of December, with the next podcast being the Krampusnacht Special for 2021.
LukeLore is a Ghost Story Guys production.
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Goodbye for now.