Aug 262014

My daughter and I added some ghostly history to our travel adventures through Scotland. We walked into the haunted underground caverns of Mary King’s Close.
Edinburgh Scotland CloseA Close is the Scottish term for alleyways which, trust me, have long flights of stairs and very steep steps.

The Old Fishmarket Close was historically described as a narrow stinking ravine that sold poultry and fish. It is now home to upscale apartments and restaurants.

Other Closes were named after their best known inhabitants like Mary King.

Very tall buildings were built and crammed together to house the rapidly growing population.

Shoes worn in 1500s #retireforthefunofit #museum #shoes

Shoes used for walking above sewage in the streets

This deliberate lack of space was so Edinburgh could be enclosed within its city walls as a means of protection. The poorest lived on levels that were at the highest risk for collapsing.
Cameras weren’t allowed as we entered an underground site that was unearthed from the 17th century.

Our guide grossed us out when he explained that a family of 15 people shared a small room. Smelly animal fat was burned to add some light in this windowless living space.
Plague Doctor #retirefortheFunofit #Black Plague #doctor
There was no sewer system, so the bathroom was a pail set off in a corner. The youngest child was usually the potty pail dumper and poured out onto the street.

The doctor devised a garment consisting of leather from head to toe, since no one knew it was fleas from infected rats that were spreading the plague.

He wore a bizarre bird-shaped mask with a beak filled with herbs to help protect him from the disease and smells. He unwittingly survived the plague because the leather kept the fleas from biting him.

His bedside manners consisted of slicing off the top of the victim’s sore and jamming a red-hot poker into the wound to cauterize it.

Mary Kings Close #RetirefortheFunofit

Photo credit:The Continnuum Group

As moms, the family depicting this horrible scene made me and Lisa cringe. We all screamed when the guide threw a rubber rat onto the floor in front of us.

Next we entered a room where dolls and stuffed animals were stacked for their most famous ghost, little Sarah. Her family left her behind when she became ill with the plague. She appears (although fortunately not to us) to be looking for a lost toy.
We wandered up and down dimly lit passageways, walking over dirt floors and past rooms where people worked and lived.

Stephen, dressed as a merchant, gave drama and realism that made us feel like eyewitnesses to what were the best and worst of times on Edinburgh’s Royal Mile.

Be sure to make your reservations in advance for this popular historical tour that Lisa and I highly recommend.

  48 Responses to “Bravely Walking With Scottish Ghosts”

  1. Yikes. I love history and am fascinated by looking at old buildings and learning about the people who lived, worked and so often, died in them, but I’m much happier visiting under 21st century conditions. I last visited Edinburgh in 1970 (I’m THAT old). It’s time to think about a return. Thanks for the information about this tour.

    • I’m also a history buff and walking through these closes brought it more to life than a history book. It isn’t often that a tour can be worth recommending, but this is popular for a good reason.

  2. What a fascinating tour! Never heard of a “close.” Loved reading about your experience.

    • This is a very popular tour and we had to reserve our spots the day before. Naturally the tour guide did his best to be entertaining, but this was history that was about real people.

  3. It’s great when you take a tour that makes the history come alive, even when the images make you cringe. It’s been a long since I visited Edinburgh and I didn’t take in this particular bit of history. I’d love to go back.

    • Books and movies are great, but walking into rooms where people actually lived made it so much more real. I’m glad we had the experience of seeing this Close.

  4. Hard for our coddled generation to ever fathom living in conditions that you have described. What a great tour to do – and what insight into the times.

    • We felt the same way about living in these rooms had to be cold and difficult in winter. It helped to walk into this close to fully appreciate what life was like back then.

  5. I enjoyed going along with you on this ghost tour of Edinburgh. Hope I can sleep tonight! 🙂

    • We certainly take so much for granted in this century. I was amazed that people lived without any sewer system, but I guess some countries still have minimal sanitation yet.

  6. Wow, sounds creepy! But fun! It’s fascinating to hear some of these stories from long ago. My, how far we’ve come in terms of medicine. Great post!

    • We didn’t realize it until the tour guide threw the rubber rat on the floor that we were feeling a bit creepy. It is a fun and interesting tour worth taking.

  7. OMG, Neva! Those shoes for walking over sewage pretty much tell it all, don’t they??? Sure glad I didn’t’t live in those times.

    • I just had to take a picture of those shoes that were displayed in the museum. I guess rubber boots weren’t invented then yet. I can’t imagine having long dresses and trying to walk over sewage that’s dumped in the streets.

  8. I learned a lot about history from your post. You did such a good job telling the story, I feel like I was on the tour too. I wish they allowed photos, but your words described this adventure so well!

    • The tour is very popular and we learned so much from the guide. We were afraid it might be fake and cheesy, but they talked about real people and made their stories come to life.

  9. Wow, what a story! An interesting dose of reality history. Funny how movies set back in that era never show things how they really were. Guess no one would want to watch.

    • This little piece of history reminds me of the famous phrase – It was the best of times and the worst of times. I couldn’t understand why the people stayed in the city, but I guess it was even more dangerous outside the city walls.

  10. I love this idea! My son graduates from college next year and we are planning a trip to Scotland. My husband’s grandfather was from Edinburgh. My family would love this tour! Thank you!

    • I’m glad I could share this tour with you, but be sure to make the reservation the day before as the tours fill up quickly. I’m sure your family will enjoy walking underground and getting a real understanding of life in that century.

  11. Oh my gosh, I would love this tour. Very interesting history and ghost stories are always fun — unless I’m alone. It’s something to think about the conditions in which people lived in those times — the shoes say a lot about what it was like.

    • I was truly amazed that these shoes had lasted all those centuries. Those weren’t shoes for jogging or running, but then I guess rubber wasn’t invented yet to make boots.

  12. Another history buff here. The tour sounds fascinating and more realistic than most, but I’m glad to be living in modern times and not in those conditions! I can just imagine the stench!

    • We walked into rooms that were inhabited by people from that century and we felt a part of this time period. Fortunately the stench wasn’t there and we were fine with hearing (not smelling) what it was like.

  13. Having lived with a ghost (honestly!), I love ghost stories. Such tours are fun in any city, but particularly in one like ancient Edinburgh.
    Imagine being out doing your shopping and having to ‘draw up a close’ to dodge out of the way to dodge ‘the slops’ when someone hollered “Gardy-loo!” (local version of France’s “garde a l’eau!”) ?! Eeek! Thank goodness for Thomas Crapper!

    • Being in these rooms and trying to comprehend what living there would have been like made it all the more real for my daughter and me. I guess outside the city walls was a more dangerous place to try to live, but being a country girl I would have tried to escape the city – plague and all.

  14. What an interesting post! My 9-year old grandson would love this tour – it’s got everything from potties to the black plague. Your photos really help illustrate the experience — that doctors outfit looks terrifying. Imagine being ill and seeing him coming for you with his hot poker. Horrible.

    • My daughter and I were glad to have chosen this tour above all the other ones being promoted. The fact that this area had been buried all these years made it even more real. That rubber rat put the experience over the top though.

  15. What an interesting place to visit, and I bet you exited being truly thankful that you and your family do not live in the conditions that were typical back then. I imagine that a person walking down the street would be worried that a chamber pot would be emptied down on him/her from a window above. Yuck! I think I’d like to take this tour just have a look see. And I had no idea that’s what a close is.

    • This tour takes in underground caverns that were opened up in this century, so I felt we were walking on streets telling it’s history. I wondered why they didn’t move out of the city, but then learned it was dangerous to be outside the city walls. I’m glad for the visual experience.

  16. Would love to visit over there, history is so interesting!

    • I’m a history buff and I it is so much more interesting to actually visit there, than read a book about it. This was a great trip with my daughter that I’ll cherish.

  17. Sounds like a fun, creepy walk back in time. I love history tours. This sounds like a great one.

    • We didn’t think we were affected by the spooky stories until the guide threw that rubber rat on the floor. We all screamed like wimps and then laughed at ourselves.

  18. I went to Scotland my Junior year of college and LOVED it! We considered doing one of these walks when we were in Edinburgh, but never did. It sounds really interesting though! I would love to go back there some day. So much beauty and so much history.

    • I recommend including this tour as this area was buried for centuries and then found and preserved. This is the most popular tour since it has so much realism where we touched the walls that housed people so long ago.

  19. I could not even imagine…actually I don’t want to imagine what it was like living back then! Ewwww

    • I also couldn’t understand why people would stay in this area of the Close. It was where they and their neighbors had always lived and poor people had a difficult time just living from day to day. We were glad to return to our lives, after seeing what their lives were like back then.

  20. So neat! I love all your travel posts!!

    • I’m glad to share our travels with you and hope you can visit these places with your family. Your crafts are fun to read too.

  21. Wow this sounds really cool to do! Sounds like you had a great time! Thanks for sharing!

    • I love history and this was an interesting tour to take. Since this area was buried for so long, we felt like we were walking among ghosts of lives from long ago.

  22. I love learning about social history and imagining myself in those same settings. This looked like such an interesting tour which really made you feel part of the scene. I’ve never been to Scotland, even though I was born in England! I’d love to go.

    • This is the most popular and realistic tour being offered on the Miracle Mile street. Because this area had been buried for so long, everyone felt they were walking into history and felt a part of this long ago time.

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