Last night I went to do something I hadn't done for a very long time. I went to the recording of a TV show. That show was Most Haunted Live. Most Haunted is a big cult show which is shown over here on Satellite TV and was so popular when it began that it's now shown all over Europe and the USA.
Periodically they do a "Live" event such as last nights where the team head to a reputed haunted hot-spot and do the show live from wherever they are. They're backed by a team in the studio who do all the links and such like. This Hallowe'en they decided to come to Edinburgh for their Live specials and my mate Eileen managed to get her mits on a couple of tickets (one of which she offered to me...cheers Eileen!!) so her and I headed down to be part of the studio audience last night.
The team consists of a bunch of regular joes all of whom began life as sceptics, they're headed up by Yvette Fielding a former Blue Peter presenter and they're joined by a para-psychologist who tries to explain the strange occurances they encounter with science and a medium/spiritualist who tells them what he can see. The studio support includes a historian who searches for fact to back up the vibes the spiritualist gets.
Edinburgh is a good place to go ghost hunting. The city has a grisly history and there enough spooks, spectres, ghosts and ghouls to keep anyone amused for much longer than the 3 nights the Most Haunted team are in town for. The very fact we have a resident tour company who make big bucks doing ghost tours 50 weeks a year proves that one.
Among the ghoulish history in the city we have Burke and Hare, the notorious grave robbers, who dug up bodies from the city's graveyard's and then sold on parts as research tools for cash sums to the medical scholars. The witch trials which began under King James 1 Scotland (James VI in England) where women suspected of being witches were tied up and thrown into the Nor Loch, a site which is now Princes Street Gardens...legend has it that if the women sunk and drowned they were proclaimed innocent and if they floated to the top they were fished out and burnt at the stake in a public ritual up on the Castle Esplanade but not before many of them were tortured and humiliated in private.
One of the best known haunting hot spots in Edinburgh are the closes of the Royal Mile, in particular Mary Kings Close which is about half way down the street. The closes were home to many impoverished familes back in the 16th and 17th century, nowadays you'd need to splash out in the region of £450,000 for a two bedroom flat in one of the closes especially one with a view! The closes were ravaged with the plague in 1645 and hundreds were killed by it. Mary Kings Close in particular was affected badly and the city officials, desperate to try and contain the plague and stop it's spread decided to seal Mary Kings Close up, trapping everyone inside and leaving them to die. Men, women and children were all trapped, families members who did not yet have the plague were also trapped as it was condsidered unsafe to try and save them as they had been in contact with people carrying the disease. It's rumoured the screams of those trapped inside and dying in agony could be heard in the surrounding closes for weeks. It was some years after the plague had finally gone that Mary Kings Close was opened up again. Edinburgh was a city with a growing population and the officials needed the close to provide housing for other familes and so it was decided to clear the close to make it ready for new families to move in. In addition Mary Kings Close lies upon a steep slope and there had been a steady stream of fluids running from the close for several years!
What was discovered within was a grisly sight. The carcasses of the dead had rotted to the extent that the flesh was hanging from the bodies, the smell was putrid and the area damp. There were hundreds of corpses all needing to be removed. The city officials gave the job to just 2 men who armed with axes and wheelbarrows were left to clear up the mess. The men had an altogether different trade in usual life....butchers! The first couple to rehabit the close were a Mr & Mrs Coldhart. Within days they reported unusual sightings and sounds and stories of sightings of severed heads and hearing the screams of a little girl were soon being reported on a daily basis. Therein began the tales from Mary Kings Close. The Close was finally sealed off considered unhabitable in the early 1900's and remained sealed (for the second time!) until the early 1990's when it was re-opened as a historical sight. It is now a world famous haunt spot with numerous sightings and reports of strange activities. Other Closes in the area provide similar tales heightened by the fact that fire swept through them in 1750 causing the loss of hundreds of lives.
We also have Greyfriars Kirkyard which is said to be the most haunted graveyard in the world. Numerous people have reported being injured whilst in there including bite marks, scratches, burns and bruises.
There are also the Niddry Street Vaults and the Blair Street Vaults which are caverns of old housing built in the heart of the Old Town underneath what is now the South Bridge, a street built to connect the Royal Mile with the streets of the New Town. Both sets of vaults are widely accepted to be haunted with hundreds of people feeling, hearing or seeing strange phenomenon whilst inside them. I've been inside the Vaults myself and swear blind I heard a cat miaow right by my feet...there was no cat to be seen though! That is where the team headed to last night. From experience I can say that the vaults in Niddry Street are a cold and eerie place. The ground is uneven, it's damp and in places very dark!
So we sat in the studio and watched live like the millions at home as the team toured the area looking for strange occurences. It seems they found a few! The medium felt the presence of a female spirit whom he declared was named Alison Balfour, the historian managed to back that up by finding a resident of that name in 1694! He later saw a man who he described as a "religious zealot" and whom he said hated women, he suspected he was a gay man and gave the name Alexander Clarke..again the historian managed to find him from records. He had been a city official and a religious preacher who was involved in the witch trials. Now I am a believer in the spirit world but I'm what I call a sceptical believer relating to shows like this, meaning that I fully believe this could all be down to clever staging but I'm open minded that it might just be something else...I'm willing to be convinced shall we say!
So far I hadn't seen or heard anything to make me believe this was nothing more than a staged event designed to make good tv. When the medium said he sensed the presence of a "beast" with cloven hooves I was erring towards definite scepticism. However, what followed had me wondering. One of the team members began screaming out and complaining of a stabbing pain in his back. He pulled his jacket and t-shirt off and there was a series of large, deep, bleeding scratches across his back and side. This was followed a bit later by another member receiving a similar wound to his leg, another receiving a series of smaller scratches at different intervals across his back before the team member who had already had his leg gashed was hit again. These were proper, deep straight wounds very similar to knife slashes and there was plenty blood dripping from them. Definitely not the sort caused by human nails and not the sort you'd self inflict...these were requiring stitches jobs!
I admit to being a bit lost as to how this could be explained away with science or clever staging...one of the guys is in camera shot the whole time just before he's attacked and there's no way he or anyone near him could have done it without being seen...Geoff watched it back with me earlier and he is the biggest sceptic I have ever known...he like me originally thought it was all clever camera work and staged but even he couldn't explain the slash marks with logic!
I'm now planning a return to the vaults. Geoff has never been and quite fancies having a look so we're going to see if we can get a visit in sometime soon.
Meantime I will be tuning in tonight for the Most Haunted teams final night of live broadcasts from Edinburgh. Rumour is they're heading to Mary Kings tonight! Of course that's after I've taken my offspring out guising (as we call it here but trick or treating to the rest of the world!), my 2 are going out as the character from Scream and Mortica Adams tonight! I'd better get moving actually as I've still got a pumpkin to carve and sweets and apples to buy...no rest for the wicked eh?...and you may insert your own punchline to that comment if desired!
Happy Hallowe'en guys and girls.