The second guided tour I took in Edinburgh was for the Real Mary King’s Close. The tour office was located on the street level just off the Royal Mile, not far from the Castle. But the tour itself went through homes, found not terribly long ago, beneath the current streets and homes….
Of course way back then the homes we walked through were at ground level. But as people started to build more, instead of scraping old places and starting new, they simply lopped off the roofs of the old homes, built a new “ground floor” and simply built new homes or buildings on top of the old ones. But this practice of building homes was forgotten about until some workers of the City came along and rediscovered all the homes (now underground) and turned them into a tourist attraction!
The tour was quite fun but for those who have any claustrophobic tendencies, they may want to skip it… The way down was a bit tight, but once in the rooms I didn’t think it was too bad. But then again, E said she really didn’t enjoy the tour because she felt claustrophobic. So be warned people!!
Anyway, our guide from start to finish played the part of a young man who lived way back when and sadly died at 23 from some horrid plague. He told great stories of how the people lived (Gardy Loo!!) and the various plagues that afflited that age. He was humerous and witty and played his role well! We went through spaces that looked like a single room but were told it was a whole house for several families!! Other areas were for animals and others still for the rich. Each room was recreated to reflect the kind of people that would have lived in each room… But perhaps the most interesting of all the rooms… That of a little girl ghost…
When the spaces along Mary King’s Close were rediscovered, several measures were taken to make sure the spaces would be safe for tourists to travel through. During projects of reinforcement, some workers would describe strange things or sightings of a little girl quite often in one area of the rooms… So one day, a psychic was invited to go through the rooms. She didn’t pick anything up of note… Had no strange feelings or pulls of any sort… She couldn’t find a single odd feeling anywhere… At this point she was in the room most known for sightings but still, nothing.
She was getting ready to leave when all of a sudden she turned around and saw a little girl in the corner of the room. Now, mind you, at this point of the story we are all in the room itself and the “corner” where the girl was spotted standing was RIGHT BESIDE ME!!! Yea, I got a little chill for sure when he pointed only a few inches from me!! Anyway- the little girl was crying so the psychic asked her what was wrong. The little girl said that she was sad because her parents had died and that she was also sad because she could not find her favorite toy to keep her company and comfort her! The psychic was so moved by this that she left the rooms, went shopping for a doll, returned to the room where the young girl was crying and left the doll in there. From then on, none of the workers ever reported any further sightings or disturbances.
Even now, people from all over having heard of and knowing of this story in advance bring the little girl gifts and toys to play with! In the room today there is a stack of hundreds and hundreds of little toys and trinkets! So many are brought in fact that the staff has to sometimes clear toys out to make room for others!! The original is still there though:)
Needless to say, I would recommend this tour for sure! Though it was a little on the pricey side for the one hour, it’s definitely worth the fun!! Oh and sorry for the lack of pictures here… I can’t recall if they weren’t allowed at all, or if I was just too engrossed in the tour to care to take picts…
While I didn’t take very many guided tours while in Edinburgh (since I was spoiled and fortunate enough to live like a local while being hosted by K&E!!) I did partake in a couple. One of the tours was given by Mercat tours. “Mercat” is the old Edinburgh word for Market. They have a variety of tours available for purchase, including ghost tours, and the one I settled on was “The Secrets of the Royal Mile” which also included a tour of the Edinburgh Castle.
The tour was absolutely splendid!! Our guide (I can’t recall her name though I want to say she was originally from the states… Maybe the Boston area??) was very informative and quite entertaining! She took us all over up and down the Mile, then into the Castle where she told us many stories of the Castle, then left us to explore it at our leisure. Now, again there are quite a few things that I learned about Edinburgh and the Royal Mile during the tour, but I’m conflicted about how much to share about it… So while not giving every little detail away, I will share my favorite bits:)
To start (and this isn’t a huge secret per se as it was pointed out to me by E during our first walk around the Mile) windows… Yes, windows! Looking at the buildings along the Mile, it was quite entertaining to see how many different kinds, types, shapes and sizes of windows were present on a single building!! On one building alone you could find so many varieties of windows that it was almost comedic! And to boot the windows on each floor were not necessarily lined up with one another… The reason for the abundant variety of windows on each building was basically due to how they were built to begin with. You see, if you were poor you lived near the bottom floor, therefore getting a lovely constant scent of the street… More on that later… If you were rich you lived on the top levels where the air was a little fresher and cleaner… Now each building was not built all at one time. They were constructed basically “as needed” one level at a time. If money ran out to complete the construction, well so be it. It wouldn’t be completed! But as money became available again construction would resume. This is why the windows of each level of the buildings were basically different, and why on some buildings there were even differences in the windows within a single level!
Another fun fact: the statues… I’m not sure if this applies to all statues around the world or just specifically in Edinburgh… But anyway, for every statue where there appeared a horse and a human, you could tell something about the human in the statue… If the horse appearing with the human had all 4 feet on the ground, then the human was not a soldier during their life. If the horse had one front leg off the ground then the human with the horse was a soldier but did not die in battle. If the horse had both front legs off the ground (rearing) then the human with the horse was a soldier in life and they did die in battle… After learning that it was quite fun looking around each statue knowing the status of that human during their life!
Speaking of statues… The one built featuring Alexander the Great and his horse has an interesting story behind it… Basically the project was commissioned to a great artist to construct. However, the artist wasn’t paid all the money he was supposed to be paid to do the project. To show his disdain toward being cheated out of his money for the project, he made the whole statue wonderfully with the exception of the horses ears! Instead of giving the horse normal ears, he gave the horse pig ears, lol!! I’d say that was quite a clever way for the artist to show how upset he was at not being paid properly, lol!!
The heart of Edinburgh… You can see it in the pictures below. It is a heart shaped mosaic close to Parliament House. Basically it records the position of the 15th century Old Tolbooth (aka a prison) which was also the site of several executions. The prison has obviously since been demolished, but the heart marks the old entrance to the prison. People to this day spit on the heart to show their dislike of the former prison and the executions that took place there. In fact, just as our guide spoke of it a young man cut his way through our tour to the heart, spat on it and then made his way on down the mile. I seriously thought it was part joke that people spat on it, but it’s obviously quite true to this day!
Gardy Loo!! It’s really beyond me how anyone survived back then past infancy… Between their hygienic (or lack there of) practices and the various plagues that, well, plagued the City, I’ve no idea how anyone survived!! One such example is their toilet habits… Basically in each “house”, since no indoor plumbing existed, they had buckets to do their business into. When the buckets got full they simply emptied them by throwing the contents out onto the streets below… This included on the main streets and into the Closes!!! So literally people were just walking around in piss and shit all day… And what if you were walking in the street or Close when someone went to empty their buckets?? Well, before chucking the contents out the person emptying the bucket would yell out “Gardy Loo” which basically meant “watch out or you will get a ton of shit on your head!!”. If someone was present they would yell back (can’t recall the phrase) for them to hold on while they sought shelter or got out of the way… And that was how it was!! Again, with everyone walking around in human filth all the time, it’s amazing how anyone survived!! Now you may also recall that the poorer people lived on the bottom floors… So they were the ones having to constantly deal with the ongoing scent of human waste and also watch as human wastes were chucked out of windows past their own places during the day… Joy!!!
Oh yea, in addition, because of the design of the old city, what with the Castle being on the peak of an old volcano and everything else sloping into the side valleys or down the Mile, all the waste that was chucked out the window eventually made its way down to the waters in the valley… And where did the people get their drinking water from?? You guessed it… From the same water that human waste was pouring into!! Not to mention they also drowned many a suspected witch in those waters AND any animal wastes or animal corpses, etc were also thrown into the water from which they used as their source of drinking water!!!! Seriously have no idea how anyone survived!!!
That reminds me, I mentioned in an earlier post as well about closes and how each close was named after the activity that took place in the closes. So the FishMarket Close sold fish, the FleshMarket Close sold animal meat, etc. Well another fun bit about how amazing it is that people survived back then: when the meat markets didn’t sell all of their meat, since they didn’t have any means of refrigeration to preserve the meat, they would simply slather on tons and tons of spices (imported from abroad) to hide the scent and fact that the meat was becoming putrid!!! Yuuuummmmyy!!!! NOT!!!
Ok, well while there were many other things about the Mile I could share, I’m going to cap it at those joyously fun stories!! 😉 Enjoy the pictures!
Australian Traveller that loves to "Roam" our globe, creator of ENDLESSROAMING.COM sharing the experience through word and photography. Currently residing in my home of Newtown Sydney but hope to be back on the road late 2020. Feedback / questions are more than welcome, happy travels