What it’s like to be a ghost tour guide in Edinburgh

Being a ghost tour guide can be an exhilarating, frightening and mystifying experience (Photo: Jan-Andrew Henderson / City of the Dead Tours)
Being a ghost tour guide can be an exhilarating, frightening and mystifying experience (Photo: Jan-Andrew Henderson / City of the Dead Tours)
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To quote Liam Neeson in the movie Taken: “I have a very particular set of skills.

“Skills I have acquired over a very long career.

Greyfriars Kirkyard is the site of Edinburghs infamous Mackenzie Poltergeist (Photo: Jan-Andrew Henderson / City of the Dead Tours)

Greyfriars Kirkyard is the site of Edinburghs infamous Mackenzie Poltergeist (Photo: Jan-Andrew Henderson / City of the Dead Tours)

“Skills that make me a nightmare for people like you.”

That’s right – I’m a ghost tour guide in Edinburgh.

Traumatising the customers

It’s an odd occupation. Like any normal tour guide, you need historical knowledge, the ability to tell a story well, and a really loud voice.

Edinburghs underground vaults are said to be one of the most haunted places in the city (Photo: Jan-Andrew Henderson / City of the Dead Tours)

Edinburghs underground vaults are said to be one of the most haunted places in the city (Photo: Jan-Andrew Henderson / City of the Dead Tours)

But a ghost tour guide hasn’t done his or her job properly if the customers don’t end up traumatised.

Fortunately, I have the face for it, and Edinburgh’s Old Town at night is the perfect backdrop for freaking people out.

I work for City of the Dead Tours, taking people into the underground vaults and The Covenanter’s Prison in Greyfriars graveyard.

While the vaults are undeniably spooky, the prison is my favourite, for it is the lair of the ‘Mackenzie Poltergeist’ – the world’s best documented supernatural case.

Witnessing supernatural attacks

The Poltergeist isn’t some drippy ghost that flits past looking like it has been blown off a washing line. It attacks people. I’ve seen bites, burns and scratches appear mysteriously on visitors’ skin. I’ve watched people fall down unconscious or burst into tears, claiming something invisible was hitting them.

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I often feel a bit sorry for our customers because they don’t really believe something supernatural will happen – until it does.

Take the five children who began screaming in unison that something was choking them. I thought they’d cooked up the story together (which would have been a great prank) until I realised none of them knew each other.

Or the minister who tried to exorcise the poltergeist. He told myself and a reporter he had never experienced anything like it and feared the fight might kill him – then died a few weeks later.

Or the loud American who rubbished everything I was saying before toppling, out cold, into a large puddle. I quite liked Mackenzie for that.

Of course, it could all be psychosomatic, but the sheer volume of evidence is overwhelming, and I’m not inclined to call thousands of eyewitnesses liars.

I have many photographs of injuries inflicted by the poltergeist and over 100 pages of eyewitness accounts emailed to me.

I’ve counted dozens of birds, lying unmarked but dead inside the prison. On every tour a visitor will complain that their camera phone or watch has stopped working. I’ve seen the aftermath of numerous spontaneous fires that break out around Greyfriars.

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Feeling the wrath of the poltergeist

I’m not immune to harm myself. I eventually collected enough evidence to write a book about the poltergeist, called The Ghost That Haunted Itself.

Once it was published, my flat (overlooking the graveyard) was destroyed by a flash fire, incinerating everything I owned, including my notes.

Fortunately, I’d saved the information on a hard drive. I’ll not be outsmarted by something that lives in a tomb.

So why do I keep going? Because I’m utterly fascinated, and it’s a lot more exciting than becoming a parking attendant.

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After the tours end, my fellow guides and I retire to the pub and compare notes to see who had the creepiest occurrence that night.

We feel like comrades in arms, especially after a few whiskies. It’s exhilarating, frightening, mystifying, and I love it.

Jan-Andrew Henderson is an award winning author of 25 books and one of the founders of City of the Dead. He now divides his time between Brisbane, Australia and Edinburgh, Scotland, where he is still a City of the Dead guide – www.janandrewhenderson.com / www.cityofthedeadtours.com

This article first appeared on our sister webite, iNews.