Edinburgh’s Most Haunted: Abandoned Annie

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The City Chambers is a building which has seen many an Edinburgh Council horror story.

But lurking in the shadows of the hidden streets below are things darker and stranger than even the workings of the city budget committee.

Abandoned Annie may still roam Mary King's Close. Picture: Julie Bull

Abandoned Annie may still roam Mary King's Close. Picture: Julie Bull

The ancient alleys that run beneath this Royal Mile building are mostly empty now, save perhaps for a few remnants of the families who once lived, worked and died there.

And like much of the ancient Capital, these streets are now filled with tourists eager to discover more about Edinburgh’s lost past.

The Real Mary King’s Close is, of course, not a ghost tour but an attempt to give people a glimpse into what live was like centuries ago.

Based in the walled up plague-ravaged streets beneath the City Chambers, it has had more than a few strange sightings however, and regularly attracts psychics, mediums and ghost-hunters keen to see if there really is something down there.

There is no doubting the tragic history of the close. The one-packed tenement buildings of the 16th and 17th century were hit hard by the plague. Stories say the dead were often left in the street, branded and shunned, left to die alone for fear of others catching the gruesome sickness.

And then the city decided enough was enough. The abandoned homes and alleyways were sealed up in the 18th century, and since then those that have ventured down have found it an eerie, empty place. Almost.

For many have reported strange sightings, odd noises and a general feeling of malaise - and others have felt the little grasping hand of by far he most famous spirit of the close, Annie.

The story of Annie started in 1992 when a Japanese psychic named Aiko Gibo came to the close with a film crew as part of a documentary on paranormal activity.

Supposedly disappointed with the tour, she was planning to leave but then came to one room and suddenly refused to enter, saying she felt a terrible sense of sickness, hunger and cold. Then she went inside. When asked why she had changed her mind, she said she had been invited in by the ghost of a little girl.

The girl said her name was Annie. She had died of the plague. She had been abandoned by her family and had lost her doll. And then Annie tugged at the hand of the psychic.

In keeping with Japanese traditions about honouring the dead, Aiko went to the Royal Mile and brought back a tartan Barbie for Annie to play with, saying that her spirit would now be at rest.

Since then, anyone visiting Annie’s room has been advised to bring a gift for the little ghost.

In the middle of the cramped bare brick room there now sits a pile of toys of every kind, from old Victorian dolls to stuffed animals - even a Harry Styles mask, proving that even in the afterlife it’s seems there’s no escaping One Direction.

Guide Chris Trotter has worked at the close for more than three years, and in that time has had dozens of instances of tourists suddenly feeling unwell, feeling a little hand grabbing at them or feeling a dread sense of cold.

“I’ve had a few experiences as well,” he admits. “About three months after I started I was leading my group out of Annie’s Room, and a coin or something metallic was thrown across the room with quite some force. I heard it bounce several times and make quite an impact. Now I could see everybody in the other room.

“It’s very interesting because a lot of times as you’re leaving a room spirits will do something to get your attention back or just to tease you.

“People feel, when they come into this room they do feel sometimes quite uneasy. About a year ago one woman came in and she felt very overcome after about 30 seconds and had to go out. People feel tugs on the back of their clothes and things like that, sometimes they feel chills in here.”

He admits there is no actual record of a girl called Annie, and that the basics of her story – that she was abandoned by her family to spare them from the plague, then died in the streets of the close – are just conjecture based on the psychic’s story.

Some research into Aiko Gibo shows that she has seen little ghost children in other sights, with her accounts of feeling a little arm tugging on her hand very similar to her Edinburgh experience.

But regardless of whether Annie is real, her legacy is one of great benefit to the city.

As well as toys, visitors often leave money in a treasure chest left in Annie’s room.

At the end of each year the money is counted up and given to the Sick Kid’s hospital – and so far Annie has raised more than £45,000 to help real children suffering from sickness.