The Real Mary King’s Close is a popular visitor attraction located in the heart of the Old Town in Edinburgh. It consists of a warren of subterranean streets and alleyways. These were once connected to the Royal Mile, but were abandoned and bricked up during the 19th century. Visitors can explore the spooky alleyways and abandoned buildings, and they'll be regaled with a variety of ghost stories, myths and genuine personal histories by actors playing the roles of Edinburgh citizens.
The Real Mary King's Close in Edinburgh — Photo courtesy of The Real Mary King's Close
According to urban legend, when the residents of Mary King’s Close were afflicted by the Black Death in 1645 and the close was sealed to stop the spread of the disease, victims were walled up and left to die. Tales of ghostly noises emanating from the sealed close became rife.
When overcrowding in the city center became extreme, the close was re-opened and, so the story goes, the two brothers who were hired to remove the bodies decided it would be easier to hack the corpses to pieces and hide them in the walls of the tenements than to haul them up the narrow alleyways and dispose of them properly.
Despite a lack of evidence for this gruesome story, tales of hauntings in the area proliferated, with residents and visitors alike reporting they'd heard scratching noises coming from the walls. Others said they'd seen a ghostly dog, a weeping child, a worried man pacing backwards and forwards or even apparitions of severed limbs! The close was sealed off again in 1753 to make way for the Royal Exchange (now the City Chambers).
The tour focuses on the lives of the real residents of Mary King's Close, as well as recounting some of the most popular ghost stories and urban legends. Don’t worry: it’s not too scary for children or those of a nervous disposition, yet there is no denying that the abandoned streets and buildings are decidedly creepy.
There is also the matter of the blond-haired woman who has been captured on film a number of times accompanying tour groups, but whom the organizers swear was definitely not a paying guest!
Some of the tales are rather more poignant than scary. One of the rooms, which is said to have been the location of numerous visions of a young girl, has become a shrine to her. It's filled with toys brought by visitors to the close over the years.
If you are willing to brave the shadows, it is advisable to book ahead, as this Edinburgh attraction is very popular and the tour groups are small.