FEATURE – Ghost hunt at Mary King’s Close

Mary King's Close

Mary King's Close

Edinburgh most haunted

As we enter the cold, dark room many feet beneath Edinburgh’s Royal Mile, someone lets out a startled scream and we all jump.

Fortunately, it’s only one of our companions who’s walked into a chair in the pitch darkness – however, the atmosphere in the dusty confines of a small chamber in The Real Mary King’s Close is still decidedly spooky.

We’re here with Mark Turner from Ghost Finders Scotland in the first of a two-part attempt to try and track down some of the Close’s resident spirits. Mark is an expert in capturing EVPs – electronic voice phenomena – and he explains how he will be using his voice activated recorder to try and capture messages from beyond.

His device, a now obsolete dictation machine, caused a flurry of interest in paranormal circles when users began to complain about ‘strange voices’ appearing on what should have been normal recordings. The manufacturer swiftly took the machine off the market, but not before paranormal investigators like Mark snapped them up to assist them in their work.

Voices from beyond?

He instructs us to be as quiet and still as we can, and we stand in the dark and claustrophobic space, feeling a mixture of awkwardness and apprehension. Mark asks each of us in turn to pose a question to the spirits who may be with us; he records our queries and around half a minute’s silence after each one.

When he plays back what he’s captured, we can hear some indistinct noises following our questions. Mark is quick to point out that this could be static or normal background noise, but the sounds are intriguing to say the least.

Then it’s my turn to ask a question of the long-dead inhabitants of Mary King’s Close.

“Do you want us to be here?” I ask, thinking of similar experiments and ghost-hunting techniques I’ve seen on the television.

When Mark plays the recording back, I swear I can hear a very quiet, very muffled response: one which I think I can actually understand. Is it my imagination? Am I being duped by an expectation I’ll hear something? Perhaps – but this is what was captured (after being amplified a little using software).

(Here’s a link to the audio file if you can’t access the player above)

Does it sound like “get out” to you, too?

Is there anybody there?

We leave Mark to analyse his findings and make our way to another section of the labyrinthine Close, where we’re joined by Scottish medium Chris Conway, a regular on Living TV’s “Most Haunted”. We’re in the ‘Shrine Room’, a section of the underground warren said to be haunted by the ghost of Annie, a little girl who died from the plague in the 17th century.

We stand in a circle and join hands, Chris standing with his back to a pile of soft toys and dolls which visitors leave for Annie and which give the area its name. In the flickering candlelight, he leads us in a seance, first saying a prayer of protection to ward off anyone – or anything – which may wish to do us harm.

Chris Conway

Chris Conway

It’s his first ever visit to Mary King’s Close, and Chris tells us that he is picking up several spirits in the room with us. Apparently, one is walking around us, taking great interest in what we’re doing. And, in the centre of our circle, a little girl is standing and watching us…

Some of us shiver as Chris asks us to let him know if anyone feels anything: a sudden drop in temperature or a touch on the shoulder. He asks the spirits to make themselves known to us, to make a tapping noise or to touch one of us. Although the atmosphere is indeed charged, nothing happens.

Bringing out the dead

We move on to another room, one which Chris feels was once used as a place to store the bodies of plague victims. Here, he tells us he is picking up the energy of a sorrowful man; a spirit who cannot move on from the place. The man, Chris tells us, was a drunkard in life and killed a woman here in this room in a fit of alcohol-fuelled rage. As we join hands again, Chris asks the spirit to make himself known.

Moments pass, and we hear muffled noises from elsewhere in the depths of the Close (or perhaps even from the street above). Nothing to convince us there’s an entity wishing to communicate with us, however.

Time has run out, so we start to leave. As we do so, we notice one of our companions is doubled over in the corner. She says she is feeling sick and almost fainted during the seance. Chris returns to tend to her and ensure she is safe, whilst the rest of us ponder as to whether her condition has been caused by fear, standing in one position for too long…or by something more sinister.

Happily, her feeling passes and we file back up to ground level, discussing our experiences and wondering what it would be like to be down in the depths of Mary King’s Close alone. None of us are in a particular hurry to find out.

See for yourself

Mary King's Ghost Fest

Mary King's Ghost Fest

You’ll have a chance to enjoy similar – and perhaps even more convincing – experiences yourself at the forthcoming Mary King’s Ghost Fest, running from the 18th to 23rd March 2010.

Both Mark and Chris will be back at the Close during the festival, where you’ll have the opportunity to join them on longer investigations delving deeper into the mysteries hidden beneath Edinburgh’s streets.

There’s a whole programme of other fascinating events running as part of the Festival as well, including investigations in some of the city’s other haunted locations such as the vaults in Blair Street and the Scottish Malt Whisky Society in Leith.

Talks and discussions on the paranormal, a ghost hunter ‘training day’ by Most Haunted regular Dr Ciaran O’Keeffe and a Horrible Histories bus tour of the city also feature – all part of Edinburgh’s spookiest Festival, with the unique and fascinating Mary King’s Close at its centre.

We’ll certainly be back – even if we were told to ‘get out’…

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