Thursday, March 17, 2005

Nae wee ghosties

Yesterday, we walked ten miles. The day before that, twelve miles. I know this, because we are geeky enough to have a pedometer that records our every step.

Today, we sat on our asses and were carried in style through the Scottish Highlands.

Catching up from my last post, when we were about to go on the City of the Dead tour in hopes of encountering the Mackenzie Poltergeist: we didn't encounter the poltergeist, but we did encounter "Angela & Paolo." They were the musical act entertaining at the restaurant where we ducked in to grab a bite before our ghost tour. As they plugged in their keyboards, microphones and amps, a waiter distributed request cards that said, "Please, Angela & Paolo, won't you play.......", where you would fill in your favorite songs, and probably attach it to a five pound note. We left just as they were beginning their set, singing middle of the road jazz in an American accent.

The ghost tours in Edinburgh have placard-kiosk sorts of things announcing the times of the tour, the price of the tour, and how much spookier the tour is than the competition. You gather in front of the sign at the appointed time, and the guide meets you. Our City of the Dead tour was at eight-thirty, led by one of the guides written about in The Ghost That Haunted Itself, the slightly over-the-top book about the tour and the poltergeist that got us interested in the first place.

The guide took us on a short walk through the streets, pausing at different points to tell the story of the tortures visited upon those accused of witchcraft in Edinburgh's good old days. During the guide's rendition of the tale of the unfortunate Balfour family, I kept being distracted by another tour across the square, whose guide was done up in vampire makeup with a cloak. The City of the Dead tour prides itself on "no gimmicks", so the guides do not wear costumes other than a long black leather coat. I was also wearing my long black leather coat, so I fit right in. The guide brought various group members up to demonstrate what happened to the Balfours (the little girl of the family had thumbscrews applied so vigorously that her thumbs burst; the little boy had his shin splintered to bits in the iron boot.) I got to stand in for Mr. Balfour; the first thing we were told was that Mr. Balfour was stripped naked, so the guide commanded, "Strip naked." If only he knew that you barely have to ask me.

The torture visited upon Mr. Balfour was gruesome in the extreme. An open-bottomed metal cage containing a rat was placed on his chest; the cage was heated until the rat, driven mad, had no option but to eat its way out through Mr. Balfour's "soft parts."


The tour made its way to Greyfriars Kirkyard, where a quarter of a million people have been buried. The place is not that big; it's just that they kept piling people in, and in, and in ... as the guide said, you don't have to ask "Am I standing on someone?" You're always standing on someone.

The night was slightly drizzly, with wind tossing the bare branches of the trees as we stood among the moss-covered gravestones. It was creepy in the extreme, as there were no lights but the faint glow of the streetlights coming over the wall. We were led to the locked section known as the Covenanter's Prison; one of the girls on the tour lost her nerve at this point, and declined to accompany us in. The Covenanter's Prison is a long, fairly narrow sort of alleyway, lined with tombs on both sides. We went into one of these empty vaults, known as the Black Mausoleum. This is where the Mackenzie Poltergeist has been known to "interact" with people, to use the tour guide's words.

At first, neither David or I felt anything out of the ordinary, although it certainly is a nerve-jangling place. Still, it was worth it just to be there, in an abandoned tomb in an ancient graveyard. We all waited ... waited with bated breath ... the hair slowly rising on the back of my neck ...

Then, something did happen. But I've been sworn to secrecy.

The next night, we thought we'd sample one of the competing tours. This company was called "Auld Reekie" (the old term for Edinburgh, "Old Smoky.") This tour's advertising board promised tours every hour on the hour from the afternoon into the night - witchcraft tours, torture tours, a tour ending at midnight in the city's most haunted pub! Costumed guides! And even a poltergeist of their own - the "South Bridge Poltergeist."

We ended up on the nine o'clock tour, led by a deadpan blonde English girl; when she heard we were American, she asked if we were from Michigan. She was taking a summer job at some place in Michigan "... by a lake..." and wondered what it was like. She was going to leave her job as a ghost-tour guide and "boss seven year olds around" for a summer. I'm sure she'll be marvelous, as she was quite a fine guide.

The costume that the tour company obliged her to wear was a black shawl and long black skirt, which she had on over her jeans. She had a non-costumed sidekick along who was learning the ropes; this slightly shy but charming redhead took over a few times during the tour, spinning more tales of bodysnatching and witchcraft from Edinburgh's past.

This tour followed essentially the same pattern as the other, leading us on a winding path up and down the cobblestone side streets. We were taken into a small "torture museum," where one could see actual thumbscrews and the like. Again we heard the tale of the Balfours, although I did not get to repeat my performance as Mr. Balfour. As gruesome as the stories were, they were all delivered in a rather humorous way - as humorous as tales of people being burned alive can get, I suppose.

This tour's spooky spot was a vault underneath one of Edinburgh's bridges; this area had once been used by merchants as storage, but when it proved not to be waterproof, the goods were removed, and the homeless moved in. People were packed into these underground streets, where violence and disease were rampant. The guide told us of a fire which claimed the lives of hundreds below ground, and of the modern witches who practice in the same vaults. She explained the difference between a ghost - a spirit who is essentially repeating behavior over and over - and a poltergeist, which is more like the remains of a discharge of fear-energy. She had the group separate - men on one side of the vault, women on the other. She claimed that on the men's side there were more "poltergeist attacks", and that the poltergeist tended to attack women more frequently than men. David and I both seemed to feel something - a prickling sensation - while I was also touching the wall of the vault, perhaps tempting fate a bit.

Maybe it was just the suspense and tension generated by the guide's storytelling, or the anxiety created when she shut off her flashlight, leaving us all in the dark - but everyone on the tour definitely saw and heard something.

But we're sworn to secrecy.

As for our daytime activities: walking, walking, castle; walking, walking, walking, museum; walking, walking, walking, walking, palace. Soup! Milkshakes! Tea! Walking, walking, walking, walking.

And tomorrow, I shall tell you about today.


Blogger eyduck said...

Sworn to secrecy?!??!

You are unspeakably cruel.

And out of revenge, I'm not going to read your blog... for at least the next five minutes...


1:39 PM  
Blogger Knottyboy said...

Secrecy? I too wonder what it was. Did a ghost put his hand on your leg? Or something better LOL
Have an amazing time you guys. Safe return.

10:29 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

i went on that auld reekies tour, very good, i'm a total skecptic well i was until that tour....... the build up was great but lost concentration the second i walked into the first vault!!!!!plus our tour guide wasnt dead pan!

9:10 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

i just went on the aulde reekie tour 2 days ago. it was fun, but nothing much happened. the stories were kinda creepy and i nearly went in the stone circle, but decided it wasnt the best idea. the end was fun with the poltergeist, it was creepy when it was dark and quiet, but then sumone just jumped out and roared, so meh. i wasnt that scared at the end, i was more creeped out by the stories.

5:18 AM  

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