A horror tour that works despite/because of an unlively tour guide

Greyfriars Cemetery

We went on a ‘dark side’ tour of Edinburgh’s freezing, history-rich streets for the low price of 10 pounds. Paula the tour guide wasn’t as compelling a storyteller as Adam, the Scottish-Czech guy who took us around town for an animated two-hour Edinburgh history tour. After the tour, you’d want to hug Adam and wipe the dribble of spit on his chin, and give him all your money. Listening to Paula meant working up the appetite to be scared, which was totally fine by me. I suspect a lively ‘dark side’ tour would have been cheesy.

At various stops, she told stories about grave robbery, infanticide, and serial killings committed by Edinburgh’s murder icons William Burke and William Hair, buddies from the 18th century who made easy money selling murdered harlots and drunkards’ fresh cadavers to medical schools. The two were eventually caught, and the neat semi-twist is that when they died, their bodies were donated to the medical schools at no cost. It was a good story that could have been corny if told in a costume, maybe.

Old Calton Cemetery

Paula also took us to the Old Calton cemetery which would have been frightening if there were less than 10 people (there were 16 of us) in the group. She made us step into a random mausoleum to tell the story of a woman who was buried prematurely and had her finger cut off by grave robbers who wanted her precious rings. And because it was told by Paula in her decidedly unthrilled, slightly snarky manner, you have to decide whether it was tragic, comedic or both. I chose tragic.

At other stops, Paula told stories about the witch trials which Adam had already covered with greater verve. The phrase ‘witch trials’ makes much more sense to me now thanks to the Scottish snack’s little history lesson.

The last stop was about the enduring impact of Akasha, the Queen of the Damned. It’s about a guy who wanted to become a vampire so badly that he ate animal liver for a year and murdered his best friend who called him out on his folly. Unlike the subjects in the earlier tales, the killer in this final stop was caught because his DNA was all over the corpse – an obvious detail that would have been completely boring in a modern era ‘horror tour’. This Akasha-motivated crime happened in the ‘00s, so…surprise! She saved this story for last for twist’s sake, which was very Paula of her.

The lesson of the horror tour is, probably, depravity, corruption of the soul, etc, can happen in any era in Edinburgh. Thanks, Paula. It was a very cold tour, but I think that was the intention.

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