The Haunting of Amber McNaught

Before the tour

As some of you know, I have something of an obsession with ghost stories and horror movies, and in the run up to Halloween, Terry and I have been immersing ourselves in some classic horror, courtesy of the Hitchcock back catalogue, and also a couple of more modern movies (The Orphanage and [Rec], both of which I recommend if you enjoy not being able to sleep at night). When we watch these movies, we sometimes joke about The Signs That You Are Probably in a Horror Movie. There are lots of these: for instance…

1. You find yourself alone in a multi-story car park in the dead of night = you are probably in a horror movie.

2. You discover you are the only guest in a decrepit old motel, by the side of a lonely highway = you are probably in a horror movie.

3. There is a small, creepy child, who watches you silently = you are probably in a horror movie.

4. You are in a mental asylum/orphanage/deserted mansion/corn field = almost definitely in a horror movie.

5. The phone rings, but there is no one there =  you are probably in a horror movie, but you may also simply be being telmarketed, so be wary of this one.

6. You hear strange sounds from the attic/basement, but decide not to investigate until you are in the house alone one night = dude, you are IN A HORROR MOVIE, FFS! You also kind of deserve whatever is about to happen to you, because seriously? The basement at night? Have you learned NOTHING from the horror genre?

There are, of course, many more things I could add to this list, but there is one particularly important one, which I discovered on Sunday night:

7. It’s the week before Halloween, and you find yourself in an underground street which was mysteriously abandoned a couple of hundred years ago, and which is now hailed as one of the most haunted places in the city. Why are you there? Because you got a Groupon offer for a ghostwalk, of course, and you totally failed to take into account the fact that you are an absolute WUSS when it comes to these things: d’oh!

So, yes, on Sunday night, Terry and I headed into Edinburgh for a tour of the “haunted” vaults under the city. These vaults were home to some of Edinburgh’s poorest and most desperate characters until, as I said, they were mysteriously abandoned and bricked up. No one knows why this happened, except for the fact that, oh yeah, probably something to do with the poltergeist, ghosts, and various evil demons that live there, yeah?

We’ve actually done a few of the various Edinburgh ghost tours, and only one of them seriously scared me (and, er, still scares me to this day, actually), so I wasn’t really worried about this tour… until the moment we got ready to step inside the vaults.

“Does anyone have difficulty breathing, or suffer from heart problems?” our guide asked cheerfully. “Only, sometimes people faint or have heart attacks in these vaults, so if you think you’re going to die, just give me a shout, OK?”

Of course, I DON’T suffer from any health problems of this sort at all… until someone tells me I’m about to do something that would exacerbate any of these conditions, and then I instantly can’t breathe and think I’m having a heart attack. So that was how I felt as I stepped inside the creepy old underground street: basically, as if I would not be leaving there alive.

“OK,” said the tour guide, placing her torch under her face in classic “creepy” fashion. “Couple of things. You see this long, spooky corridor we’re standing in? The one which fades to blackness at either end, with God knows what lurking in the shadows?”

We all nodded.

“This corridor is haunted,” said the tour guide. “So if, for instance, you feel a small, icy hand creep into yours, don’t worry! It’s just a child who was killed here a couple of hundred years ago: just give him a little squeeze back, to reassure him!”

Oh. My. God.

I should probably point out here that just as I do not have breathing difficulties until I’m warned I might experience them, I don’t actually believe in ghosts until I’m told I might just feel some small icy fingers creep inside mine. And then I kind of freak the hell out, because, seriously? You want ME to reassure the GHOST? Oh hell to the no. At this point I stepped closer to Terry, grabbed his coat with both hands (sorry, icy fingers! No room for you here!) and sent out what I hoped were “Get your icy fingers away from me!” vibes.

The icy fingers, however, were to be the least of my worries. As we walked around the caverns under the city, hearing the tales of all of the terrible, terrible things that had happened inside them, and of the many, many ghosts that are said to haunt them, I became uncomfortably aware of the fact that no matter how quickly Terry and I tried to walk, we always seemed to be at the very back of the group. This meant that there was a comfortingly large group of people, there was ME, and then there was pitch darkness, lots of haunted caverns, and a whole population of GHOSTIES. So that was a happy thought. In fact, at times I couldn’t even concentrate on what the guide was saying, I was so busy craning my neck round to see if there was anything approaching from the darkness beyond. In this fashion, I managed to work myself into quite the fever pitch of nerves, go me!

Next, the guide showed us a room which is used today as a temple by members of the Wiccan church. “This room isn’t the one they originally chose as their temple, though,” said our guide. Apparently the original room had so terrified the members of the church, who would frequently emerge from it covered in scratches which they couldn’t explain, or feel like they were being choked by some unseen presence, that they had asked to move to a room closer to the exit. “When they moved,” the guide explained, “They told us never, ever to take tour groups into the original room, because it was too dangerous. So let’s go there now!”

It was at that point that I realised I was in a horror movie. And what was worse, it was one of those modern horrors which are set around Halloween, and involve hapless tourists who just think it’s all part of the “show” when the redhead at the back is suddenly attacked by a demon and spirited away, never to be seen again. Crap.

We all shuffled into the Room of Evil, which contained a stone circle, placed there by the Wiccans, before they were scared away.

(Love the expression on the guy at the far left of the photo. That’s pretty much how I looked, too…)

“This room is full of Evil,” intoned the tour guide. “The evil originates in THAT corner of the room!”

She pointed to me at this point. Awesome.

“Now, however, the evil is believed to be trapped inside the stone circle,” continued the guide, going on to explain that tourists have passed out inside the circle, have thrown up inside the circle, have emerged from the circle covered in scratches… the list goes on.

“Does anyone want to stand inside the circle?” she asked. “Because if you do, just wait until I’m out of the room, because it makes me nervous watching it.”

Then she left, and I prepared to leave too, because, seriously, it’s not like anyone was going to ACTUALLY stand inside the circle, was it?


Oh.

“Take my photo,” said Terry. And, of course, I got out the camera, and IT WOULDN’T WORK. Probably because of THE EVIL. And by now, everyone else had left (except for one other guy, who may or may not have been the devil, actually, and not part of the tour group at all, because now I come to think of it, that was the only time I remember seeing him on the tour. Hmmm. Also, he was dressed in 18th century costume?*), so now I’m standing in the pitch dark, in the Room O’Evil in a haunted underground cavern, with my husband standing inside the Stone Circle of Doom, alongside whatever it is that lives there.

“Terry,” I said. “We are SO in a horror movie right now. Also, you are SO going to die.”

(He’s still alive. So far.)

We caught up with the rest of the group, and, of course, once again, I was right at the back, and totally defenceless against the evil beings that would surely be coming for us. “At least I have Terry to hold onto,” I thought. This thought comforted me, until…

“For the final room, I want everyone to split into two groups,” said the guide. “Men on the left of the room, women on the right.”

AAAAAARGGGGHHH.

“DO. NOT. LEAVE. ME.” I hissed at Terry. But, of course, he left me, and I found myself standing with a group of women I didn’t know (and, thus, couldn’t reasonably expect to cling onto), with me YET AGAIN at the very back of the group, with lots of creepy darkness behind me. And I’m making light of all of this, but I was seriously terrified. Like, I’m-going-to-cry-if-this-doesn’t-end-soon terrified. I am not proud to admit it, but I was a WRECK, seriously.

“This room has a poltergeist in it!” our guide told us. “He likes to attack women!”

And then I died.

OK, I didn’t.  I waited until she switched off the ONLY LIGHT IN THE PLACE and we were plunged into darkness: a darkness so complete that I couldn’t even see my hand in front of my face, or the people standing around me. And as I stood there, listening to the tales of horror being told by the guide, I became convinced that I was alone: that when the light came back on, I would be the only person in the room… OR WOULD I?

(The fact that I could still hear the guide speaking should obviously have clued me in to the fact that I was not, in fact, alone. But it didn’t. Because I am a stupid girl, who should stay away from the haunted caverns at nightfall.)

And THEN I died.

I will say no more about What Happened in That Room, because I don’t want to spoil it for anyone who actually goes on the tour. I will, however, say that it was all very well done, and if you enjoy a good scare, I can highly recommend it. (The tour company’s website is here, should you want to check it out.) Please don’t allow the fact that I haven’t been able to sleep properly ever since (not even joking, here) put you off.

And I’m sure the mysterious noises we keep hearing from the attic now have absolutely nothing to do with Terry’s decision to stand inside the stone circle. That kind of thing doesn’t happen in real life… does it?

(*No he wasn’t.)