It's dark and the air is warm and smells a bit stale. I carefully make my way through the low-ceiling doorway. As it is quite difficult to see, my hearing has become more acutely sensitive and I strain to listen for any strange sounds.
Instead, I hear our wonderful tour guide, Meghan, shout, 'gardyloo!'- a Scots version of the French phrase, gardez l'eau- watch out for water. That is the phrase Edinburgh residents would yell out twice a day in the 16th century and onward when throwing the contents of their bucket (i.e. toilet) of waste each morning and night. Standing in the Close (a word I'll explain shortly), it's quite horrific to imagine the filth and muck that residents would have to walk through each day of their lives as they made their way out onto the Royal Mile.
At this point, I suppose I should take a moment and fully explain where we are and what we're doing. We are visiting the famous (The Real) Mary King's Close just off of the Royal Mile in our hometown of Edinburgh. We decided to take a break from our walking tours and go on an evening walking tour that we've been wanting to do for a long time. Advance booking is required so make sure to check out The Real Mary King's Close website for important details on how to visit.
The Close is a fantastic look into the lives of Edinburgh residents in past centuries. In particular, they do a great job at highlighting the 1600s- when Mary King was resident in the Close. A close is a Scots word (at least in the way it was used in Edinburgh) for an alleyway that, during its original usage centuries ago, would have had a gate locked at the end closest to the street. Back during Mary King's time, the Close was locked up at night because they were dark alleyways that they wanted to keep safer for the residents living there. In addition to Mary King's Close, there are many other closes that can still be found up and down the Royal Mile and we plan on exploring them in future articles.
There are some entertaining experiences and stories that you will hear while exploring The Real Mary King's Close, and we don't want to spoil the fun and surprises. I will just hint that you will learn about the interesting connection with Mary King's Close and that other most famous Mary- Mary, Queen of Scots (you can read more about her here). This post is meant to be more of a brief look into and an introduction to Mary's Close. However, there is one story that is well-known and that is the ghost story regarding Annie.
Annie first became known back in 1992 when a Japanese psychic visited Mary King's Close. The psychic didn't experience much paranormal phenomena until she entered one of the rooms. Apparently, the ghost of a young girl, Annie, was quite upset and had been for centuries, as she had lost her doll. The psychic immediately went up to the Royal Mile and bought a doll for Annie. After presenting her with the doll, Annie was no longer sad, and, ever since then, visitors have been leaving dolls and plush toys for Annie.
Unfortunately, the story does not end there because, someone recently stole the original doll that the psychic bought for Annie. Our tour guide, Meghan, pointed out that it would be helpful to post information on social media in the hopes that we can relocate the doll. The doll has been nicknamed 'Tartan Barbie', but according to The Real Mary King's Close website, was actually "part of the Daisy Doll airline collection designed by the iconic Mary Quant fashion designer". Mary King's Close staff say that it can be returned with no questions asked. If anyone thinks they have found the doll, please post a picture with #BringBackTheDoll on social media. I ask that anyone reading this to please share this information about Annie's doll on their various social media outlets. Hopefully the doll will be found and returned because it is certainly an important part of the Close's more recent history.
We highly recommend The Real Mary King's Close for those interested in learning some fascinating and historical stories of real Edinburgh residents. It's a great glimpse into the ways that people used to live here. Your tour will illuminate the hardships, history, poverty, and wealth of real people. At the end of the tour, you can enjoy the chance to do a little shopping and perhaps have a coffee and dessert at the café.
If you would like to explore Edinburgh above ground, please check out our walking tours. We have some of our own stories, myths, and legends that we would love to share with you.
Until next time- Explore & Discover!