Are the South Bridge vaults the most haunted place in Edinburgh?
Hidden from view deep beneath Edinburgh’s bustling South Bridge lies an ancient network of vaults, storage areas constructed in the late 18th century. From the outset, the vaults and the bridge were regarded as cursed.
When South Bridge was completed in 1788, it had been intended for the city’s oldest resident to make the first official crossing. Unfortunately she died immediately prior to the opening and her coffin was the first thing to cross the bridge instead. A superstition arose that the bridge was cursed as a result and many Edinburghers refused to cross it.
At their inception, the vaults were intended to be used as store rooms and also housed taverns, cobblers, a distillery and other trades. The businesses soon abandoned the vaults, though, due to their lack of light, being damp and insanitary.
This did not deter Edinburgh’s poorest residents, however, and the vaults soon became home to the most desperate in society. The vaults also became a den of vice and nefarious practices.
In some vaults, there would be up to 15 people residing there in the damp, with scant access to light and ventilation. It is estimated that dozens of men, women and children succumbed to disease in the vaults and met their end while attempting to live within its harsh environs.
In the early 19th century some claim the vaults were frequented by Burke and Hare, who would prowl the dark chambers in the search for fresh bodies to pinch.
The vaults were eventually blocked up and forgotten about, but in the late 1980s they were sensationally re-discovered by former Scotland rugby internationalist Norrie Rowan, who spent a number of years tirelessly excavating them.
Today, Norrie Rowan operates a nightclub and bar within a section of the vaults, but other parts have become frequented by ghost tour companies, many of them claiming that it is the Capital’s most haunted location.
But how much truth is there in this statement?
Dark, cramped and ancient, the vaults are certainly spooky-looking, of that there is no argument and there have been literally hundreds of alleged ghost sightings and paranormal happenings down there over the years - some of them during conducted tours.
Paranormal experts say the South Bridge vaults is one of the most haunted places in the UK, on account of the sheer number of disturbances recorded there, which include voices and apparitions.
Some visitors to the vaults have even reported physical contact, usually in the form of scratches and bruises to the skin.
In 2003, BBC Radio Scotland producer Debbie McPhail was speaking to Norrie Rowan in the vaults only to discover that the recording they had made was unusable due to a mysterious voice speaking in Gaelic. Colleagues who played it back claim it sounded like a voice saying “get out” or “go away”.
Mrs McPhail said at the time: “I am a cynical person by nature, especially about this sort of thing, but I just don’t have any explanation for this.
And in the 2006, the eerie vaults attracted the attention of hit TV show Most Haunted. Hosted by Yvette Fielding, the Most Haunted team investigated the vaults on two occasions, claiming it was home to a ‘myriad of supernatural occurrences that defy explanation’. Other TV shows, such as Ghost Adventures and Joe Swash Believes in Ghosts, have taken an interest too.
According to the City of the Dead tours, who run nightly tours into the legendary labyrinth, the vaults are as ‘black as Satan’s jammies’ and are stalked by a ‘malevolent presence known as the South Bridge Entity’, which some call ‘The Watcher’.
In 2015, tourist Emma Surgenor was petrified AFTER visiting the vaults, when a photograph appeared to show The Watcher standing behind her. The story was picked up by the UK national press, with experts unable to explain the phenomena that appeared in the image.
If even half of the numerous ghost stories are to be believed, then the South Bridge vaults should be considered among the most haunted places in Europe if not the world.