Halloween: Dare you step on board Edinburgh's most haunted ghost bus?
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With Hallowe'en fast approaching, we are on board RM1666, an iconic AEC London Routemaster dating back to 1963. It's one of two sleek black ‘Necrobuses’ frequently seen traversing the city’s historic landmarks.
As we chat, the 40-year-old reveals, "We get psychics who come on the bus to watch the show. At the end, some have said to me, 'You know, there's somebody sitting on that seat, but you can't see them. There's also someone sitting there and there's a big man upstairs...' and I'm thinking, 'Stop it. I'm on here by myself after you all leave'."
He thinks for a minute, before adding, "I often reflect that, during its service, all sorts of things must have happened and people must have died on this bus, so there is something about these vehicles just because of their age, history and the amount of people who have travelled on them."
Edinburgh’s Ghost Bus Tours, which leave daily from The Lawnmarket, are billed as a theatrical sightseeing tours ‘that will take you on a journey around the darker side of Edinburgh’ and Tommy is quick to emphasise the experience is more than just your average ghost tour.
"People don't realise that when they come on. Once it gets going, two things happen; there's the ghost tour and there's the story of the haunted bus itself.”
That story tells how the bus was one of a number used for funerals in the 1950s and 1960s until a fire at the depot destroyed all the buses except for a few 'ghost buses' that were left untouched. Now, strange things happen on these buses.
"So as well as all the stuff you would get on any normal ghost tour, you also quickly realise that you are sitting on a haunted bus where things could happen," says Hart.
The story of the bus climaxes when “something terrifying happens”, but the actor is not saying exactly what, all he will give away is that, “Everybody has to help us rid the bus of its ghost - it's an interactive theatre piece as well as a ghost tour."
He laughs, as he adds, "Quite often, before the scary climax happens, people are so scared they decide to get off the bus rather than face it, and I think, "Well, I hope you know where you are."
Truth be told, they’re unlikely to find themselves lost. The Ghost Bus leaves from The Lawnmarket at the top of the Royal Mile, before heading off past the Scott Monument, St Cuthbert's Graveyard, the Castle, Grassmarket, Greyfriars Bobby and Kirk, Calton Hill, Holyrood Palace and park and the Scottish Parliament before heading back up the Royal Mile... in theory anyway. Edinburgh's seemingly never-ending roadworks and street closures means there's always a back up plan, just in case.
"I'm always tinkering with the script, especially as we have to change the route sometimes," Hart explains. "Because it's a show on wheels, I have to look at the traffic reports to see which roads are closed each week. Once you start to change the route you have to change the script as well. So we have stories we can fit in as well as emergency stories for when we get stuck in traffic."
Hart joined the Ghost Bus in 2014 after a trip to London sparked the idea.
"I was going to London and, as I love anything spooky, I was looking for things to do while there. The Ghost Bus was one of the things that came up. I didn't manage to do it in the end but remembered they had one in Edinburgh too, so I wrote in as a jobbing actor asking if they had any positions available. I didn't hear anything for a couple of months but then got invited for an audition at The Wash Bar and got the job."
A year later Hart was appointed Head Actor, the equivalent of a resident director, and is now responsible for hiring actors, writing the scripts and ensuring that the high standards of the experience are maintained.
"People love ghost stories and hearing about the unknown,” he says. “At night time, when the little table lamps are on and the bus glides through the city, it is quite spooky. Along the way we stop and take a walk through St Cuthbert's Graveyard and the number of people who have stopped me there and said, 'There's a ghostly soldier standing there watching you, and a woman over there...'
"When you're working, you don't think about that, but when someone tells you, it's like, 'Oh, my gosh. I hope they're friendly spirits and not bored of my jokes’, because I'm in there about three times a night."
Despite its scary nature the Ghost Bus is a family attraction, its conductor insists, "We have babies, toddlers, children, teenagers that come off the tour. Most absolutely love it and by the end have loads of questions. It's not too scary but it's scary enough."
That's not to say that he hasn't had some disturbing encounters himself.
"A few years ago, there was a couple of times where I ended up with mysterious scratches on my face after a tour. I couldn't explain them. They looked like little claw marks on my cheek and happened about a month apart. That freaked me out, but people share their own chilling supernatural stories with me all the time.
"On another occasion, a lady came on the bus with her family. At the end of the tour, said, 'You're a psychic and you are blocking all the messages that are coming to you. If you don't stop doing that you are going to make yourself very ill'. For a few days that really affected me, but in the end, I'm just doing a comedy show."
The Edinburgh Ghost Bus Tour, departs Lawnmarket, for times see website, Adult £18, Child (5-15 years) £13, Student/Senior/Concession £15, Family (2 adults+2 children) £49, www.theghostbustours.com/edinburgh/