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.
A 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.
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.
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.
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.