When you look into a city’s past, history reveals many things about that moment in time. But not every city has an underground realm in its past, and if it does, only grim tales, dark doings, and the paranormal are unearthed. Where I’m from, Seattle, there is an underground passageway beneath downtown’s Pioneer Square neighborhood. Not too far away, Portland, Oregon also has its own underground passageway called the Shanghai Tunnels.
In Europe, Paris is famous for its Catacombs, which lies underground in the dark and mysterious labyrinth. And here in Scotland, Edinburgh has its own underground that people from that era erased from their memories. Entering the Old Town, we visited the Edinburgh Vaults, also known as the South Bridge Vaults.
In the 18th century, two bridges were built, the North Bridge and South Bridge. The South Bridge, opened in March 1788, provided a crossing from the Old Town to Southside. The bridge is composed of 19 arch viaducts, and hidden beneath these arches were the vaults.
The vault rooms were used as storage space and workshops for South Bridge businesses. But because of bad construction, the bridge leaked water and the vaults flooded and were abandoned by the business owners. Soon, this space became a slum. Criminals and the poor encroached the space. Crimes such as murders, robbery and body snatching were all the norm down there.
The underground space had no sunlight, was in complete darkness, so it was the perfect place to go unnoticed. The police wouldn’t even go down there. The living conditions were so horrid because of no air circulation, no sanitation, and no running water that the stench from body odor, feces, urine, and death would have made it off-putting.
Because of its dark murderous past, it is not a surprise Edinburgh Vaults is one of the city’s most haunted sites with restless spirits. Entering the underground vaults from Blair Street, the strong smell of must and mildew made my eyes water. We made our way down into the dark, my hand grasping cold stone walls for guidance. It wasn’t until we reached the Double Height Room — the room directly beneath the South Bridge — that I could see where I was going (all thanks to the candlelight).
Below, I briefly discuss the reported paranormal of the vaults as told by our guide.
The Little Boy
There is a ghost of a little boy, about the age of 6 or so, who is well dressed like upper class. Why or how he came to the vaults in the first place is a mystery because the wealthy did not come down to this slum of a place. However, his spirit has been felt by visitors by a tug of the jacket or a grasp of the hands — and to women only. It seems he targets those who seem motherly, so being quite the opposite, I was surely not a candidate.
Edward, The Watcher
The spirit of Edward, known as “The Watcher” is a malevolent spirit. He likes to watch people, and there have been people and guides who felt uneasy from this sense of being stalked.
Edward doesn’t like people encroaching on his space, a room in the back thought to be where he dwells. Some people have gotten scratched by him after leaving his space. Some have gotten hit or punched in the stomach. A woman on a previous tour felt a cold breeze circling her face several times while standing in the room, then heard a whisper, “Get out!” in her ear.
In the Cobbler room, a ghostly cobbler is reported to have been seen there. He appears to be a friendly ghost, and it is the one room in the vaults that has a positive aura. Those who have gotten lost down in the vaults always find their way inside this room because it feels the safest. It is also the one room where Edward has never been seen.
We didn’t spend enough time down there, but it was definitely creepy and piqued my paranormal curiosity. It’s a dark, dank place that doesn’t feel one bit welcoming. But, it is also steeped in history that cannot be forgotten. Perhaps the some of restless spirits down there don’t want us to forget, either.