The train flew through the English countryside, the vividly green landscape rolling along and occasionally being broken up with brick and stone and glass. The mist and fog slowly crept up the farther north we traveled, hiding the country in a blanket of white and obscurity. But then we reached the North Sea and the weather broke up and the sun peered through the clouds. Those last 40 minutes of the journey were the most picturesque: The sea raging against the cliffs, the fields shifting and moving and then finally Edinburgh slowly emerging in the distance.
I came out of the train station in the middle of the city and into a Christmas carnival and market. It was nearly empty at that time of the day. The lights shone weakly against the sunshine and the same annoying Christmas song echoed down the street. I wandered around for a bit and then went to my hostel to check in.
My room wasn’t ready yet, so I stored my luggage and then wandered around the area. My hostel is located in Old Town, literally right next to Edinburgh Castle. I was tired though, so after strolling down the cobbled streets of the Royal Mile and Grassmarket, I went back to the hostel to chill, have a free cup of tea, and do a bit of people watching.
If you could describe the hostel in one word it would be “funky,” in the cool sense of the word of course. It’s haphazardly decorated in bright colors and mismatched artwork and populated by tourists, hipsters, and backpackers traveling or in between homes. It makes for a very relaxed and eclectic vibe.
After I recuperated, I headed out again. I visited the Elephant Room, the café where J.K. Rowling wrote the first Harry Potter novel. I heard that the food wasn’t really good there, so I didn’t stay. Next was the Greyfriars Cemetery, home of Greyfriars Bobby and Tom Riddle (the inspiration for the name, not the real wizard of course). I walked in the mud between the Victorian and Georgian gravestones, listening to the bagpipe players positioned along the Royal Mile for the tourists and the school kids coming out of Heriot’s School (one of the inspirations for Hogwarts).
I wandered around some more after I left the graves. I ended up walking to the University of Edinburgh and through The Meadows park. I got lost trying to get back to the city center, but thanks to Google Maps, I managed to find my way.
I ate dinner at the Christmas market, which was, as expected, now packed. The lights had no competition and could now burn as bright as they pleased. Combine that with the varied amount of Christmas songs now tinkling away on the PA system and the sickly sweet smell of waffle and fudge stalls, the appropriate magical holiday affect was achieved. It actually reminded me a lot of Winter Wonderland in London, only much smaller and always with the Sir Walter Scott Monument towering over everything. Having already been there once before, I made quick work of the place.
I then had a choice about what to do next: I could go to a pub for a drink, try to catch some live music, or see a free Christmas light show. I had already tried to sign up for a witch/ghost tour but there were too few people to run it. So after going back to the hostel to think and relax, I decided to head out and then see what I felt like doing.
I caught the end of the light show, and while the crowd was dispersing, I spotted a woman in a long, black leather coat still selling tickets to a ghost tour (different than the one I had already tried to do). I thought, why the hell not? and joined the tour.
A former actor and native of Edinburgh, the tour guide knew how to tell a good story (so take everything she says with a grain of salt). We started at St. Giles Cathedral where she recounted all the gory details of the witch trails. She then lead us to Greyfriars Cemetery and revealed the truth behind Greyfriars Bobby (the dog’s master was actually buried a mile away…sorry to spoil the Disney magic). She then explained why the graveyard sits on a hill (it’s a former plague pit and hundreds of bodies have built the ground up). And finally she told the tales of the 18th century grave robbers and body snatchers (in particular about Burke and Hare).
She then led us to the locked part of the graveyard (“We’re the only company with the key,” she boasted) after repeatedly warning us about this particularly active poltergeist. That’s why the area is normally locked off, she explained. She took us through the mud and past the dark and looming family tombs. Before entering the area, she had disclosed the history of this section of the cemetery. It apparently once housed over a thousand rebels who had refused to convert to Anglicanism when required to do so by law (they were called the Covenaters). We were now walking where hundreds of them had died.
In a few moments, we had reached the home of the supposed poltergeist: the “Black Mausoleum.” Unlocking the gates, she encouraged us inside. She turned off her light and so we stood in the darkness as she told us about the “experiences” her previous tour groups have had in here. And when she got us all nice and afraid, a masked man jumped out in front of us. Needless to say, we all screamed.
After that we had a laugh and the tour guide lead us back into the lights of the street. Being tired and not really in the mood for a drink, I headed back to the hostel and went to bed.