by Andrew Hennessey

Or, ‘Things you might want to know about underground Edinburgh but would be too afraid to ask .. ‘

 According to one ex Scottish Tour Guide, Donald, there are famous Tours of underground Edinburgh that include the very haunted Mary Stairs Close., but there is more to the Edinburgh underground than we are all being told about.

Everybody gets to hear about the plague victims that were kept at Mary Stairs Close and they hear the drama of the unquiet ghosts that still object to their unfair treatment by the city Fathers.

Actors will jump out of little dark rooms to scare folks already feeling slightly claustrophobic … but the thought of some underground monster, on reflection, does seem to be sprung in those moments we suspend our common sense to take the tourist adventure.

Whilst touring about those dark underground cavernous stoneworks one gets the occasional impression that some of the steps in these dark unlit corners go a lot further down.

It may be the strong smell of damp air, or the sense of a different odour than where the tours take place, or maybe our sense of acoustics pick up some strange silence that is not reflecting the local scuffle of our feet.

It may have been something he saw, or heard about, or it may have been some deliberate expedition returning from some activity somewhere down in that lower world beneath Edinburgh, or it may have been the smell on the clothing of maintenance men or one of the magic groups, but somehow, Donald got the idea that someone had been down in those chambers and excavations lower than the three levels everybody told the tourists about.

One night then, Donald waited behind, maybe to lock up, or to look for ‘missing keys’, or maybe chose his time between the last late tours  but with his map and a torch he decided to go exploring.

Heading beyond the Safety notice and the warning rope, on level three Donald proceeded beyond the lit area and noticed as he headed into the unfamiliar chambers that there seemed to be a slight but obviously worn path in the dust, as his torch would occasionally touch on some curve or impression made by a part of a shoe. Rounding a dark stone buttress he found himself in a small dark vault and instantly stopped. The sudden change of air made him pause, and with his torch he picked out stairs going down. He started slowly downstairs, into the earthy damp air acutely aware that perhaps the safety notice was genuine and that the stairs were dangerous and crumbling. He found himself,  however on an unmapped fourth level.

His torch flickered upon the familiar structural shapes, rooms and walkways of the other upper levels, but he noticed that things had been left relatively unattended. The underground vaults took on a strong damp smell as if the ancient bubonic plague and its victims were still clawing hopelessly in the darkness.

Turning his head away from fearful ideas to focus on where he was next putting his feet, he noticed that there was a clear, recently used pathway heading off through the rooms and chambers.

He decided to follow it, stopping sometimes to flicker his torch into the gulfs that he could smell and the noiseless echoless spaces beyond where he stood.

He listened, but the rooms were silent but for the sound of his own breathing and the loud, loud shuffle of his feet.

He made progress along a track that had been trodden before, acutely aware that whoever had trodden it once – could well be treading it again – and that whoever it was that had been down here couldn’t have been up to much good and would maybe have strong disagreements with his reason for being there, or indeed, his reason for being …

Finally, he came to the end of the scuffled dusty path through the vaults and he stopped suddenly to get his bearings, playing his torch over the damp, black stonework, and seeing that the path he had been following ended in yet more broad stairs going down.

The air seemed to have a faint aroma of decay.

Another level was Level five, not on any map, a totally unknown space and also not recently utilised. There were no safety notices or ropes, no sign of any electric lighting, but it did have that same well-used track.

Looking at his watch, he realised that he had been down here a couple of hours and there were now two things to consider.

One was his presence and absence upstairs relative to other staff some of whom might detect a different but familiar odour on his clothes, the other was the fact that if his torch went at this point things wouldn’t be good.

Moving faster through the blackness and galleries and vaults, he wondered who or what would live in the strange looking stone houses with gaping windows flickering in the long shadows. Donald could see a familiar pattern start to emerge with this trail in that as he suspected, the level five trail ended in stairs going down to level six and level six to level seven.

 His official map had three levels, but by the time he had reached the seventh level down, he realised that there did not seem to be any end to the descent. There seemed to be endless chambers and stairs.

Stairs going down to where … what sort of Hell under Edinburgh could be populated with human beings that would live in these deeps.

He had heard of the legends of Edinburgh’s underworld beings and then suddenly realised that such beings in truth had very good ears, very good noses and very good eyes and had fast long legs ….

He would be unlikely to make it out if he got caught.

Realising that it was time to return to the world of the living as a live man, whatever eldritch secrets were at the bottom of those stairs after that long descent could remain where they were.

Such things have a habit of coming back to bite you.

That expedition spooked him so he came back up, being careful to note the time and that by careful use of the toilets in the upper rooms, he could leave with the last tour party out. Soon after, Donald left the tour company probably because there was something a bit macabre about the whole deal. Why keep something like that secret unless there is something to hide ?

If it’s just all about levels of old caves and adapted dwellings then its just more income for tourism.

There would be more tartan nights and storytelling, more parties and perhaps more disturbance of something that should be left undisturbed.

 Ultimately what would be the fuss about another gift shop on level 10 ?

 What if those levels and chambers pointed to something else that was incredible and unaccountable, perhaps something that didn’t agree with history as we have been taught it ?

 Scottish historians do tend to be ultra conservative so even the smallest thing out of place may have disturbed their sense of order – but where is the smallest thing that could not be covered up these days with there being such tight control on media and peer review etc

 What if these workings are not of human hand ?

In St Giles Cathedral to the left of the gift shop door is the stone head of an alien from the Spielberg movie ‘ET’ … except this stone head was made in the 13th Century and was found amongst the foundations of St Giles.

 Official stories about the Edinburgh tunnels speak of disused shelters and railway tunnels from human industry running in all directions under the city.

Occasionally council road workers in the city centre will accidentally drill into a tunnel from above e.g. in George street.

Indeed there used to be a civilian command centre for Edinburgh Council workers made during the cold war inside Corstorphine hill above the zoo.

 There are also stories of covens and warlocks and secret meetings and materialised ‘things’ in some of the underground spaces that have been opened up under the central streets of the old town of Edinburgh.

The question of who or what use these tunnels becomes interesting.

There are mundane explanations that are obvious such as; sewerage and other utilities, but that merely accounts for the street level finds.

 One psychic from the ‘Rainbow Family’, a Wicca High Priestess was very disturbed by some ‘disturbance in the force’ off the Royal Mile.  She claimed that some demon from the inner planes was contained in the underground room below the street. She said that it had been summoned and wasn’t wanting to be here and that it was angry.

 That may well have been the ‘fatal hotel room’ in what used to be a hotel on the site of the ‘Z’  hotel. The story goes that there was a hotel on the site of the ‘Z’  that had a room in which a terrible murder took place.

Shortly after that a fearsome Poltergeist created some terrifying disturbances and another guest died in the room.

Then chambermaids and waiters started having bad experiences in that room too which included painful accidents.

The old hotel was knocked down and was replaced by the new one.

Unfortunately on approximately the same floor in the same locality as the room in the old hotel, bad things started happening at the ‘Z’ and there were many more frightened staff members.

The hotel changed hands and under new management there are no more comments about haunted rooms perhaps because of the power of positive thinking.

 Edinburgh is full of tunnels and underground spaces.

For instance there was an underground rifle range from the era of World War 2  under Waverley Station, which at one time could be accessed through the basement kitchen of the ‘X’ Hotel.

A kitchen porter called ‘Vernon’ who used to work there stated that in the very deeps of the lowest basement of the hotel he could hear echoes and activity in a space beyond the hotel basement wall.

 Indeed adjacent Government buildings in and around Calton Hill connect to old NATO command centres and these things appear to connect to a network of tunnels far more ancient than the 1950’s Cold War architecture.

 Even the new Scottish Parliament is situated on a known tunnel system that has been seen to link Edinburgh castle with Holyrood Palace, which historically is understandable given the turbulent nature of Scottish history. The caverns of Arthur’s Seat are historically linked to all this running directly under the new Parliament to link up with Calton Hill.

 Presumably some of these tunnels were lava tubes and vents that were adapted by persons or beings unknown.

 Calton Hill is traditionally a faerie hill at which some people were reputed to have eaten a faerie banquet and once upon a time 19th century tradition goes, a poorly faerie boy was found there and adopted by an Edinburgh family.

 The entrance to the cavern and tunnel system at Arthur’s Seat, above the old rifle range was sealed by order of the Town Council in the late 19th Century as too many people were going missing. One or two had turned up in the caves at Calton hill, but for the most many were never seen again. According to one expert ST, it is a regular feature for Holyrood park workers to go round the area of Salisbury crags sealing up lava tube entrances that have become exposed by weathering.

 Could the unstable nature of the foundations and the development of access to this tunnel system be a reason for the massively escalated costs involved in building the Scottish parliament ?

For it is built directly on top of it all.

Indeed it rather looks like an ant hive in its shape and form with its alien windows, mound like form and metallic grass covering.

 One man called Julian Stuart stated that he had gained access to a very old brickwork tunnel system under Stockbridge from a riverside culvert at the water of Leith. Circa. 1970.

He suggested that the brickwork was far older than that created by the original city Fathers in the 17th century. He said that the city Fathers had merely used and adapted tunnelling and drainage that were already in place.

 Traditionally, Edinburgh castle rock, an old volcanic plug has housed a NATO command bunker under the castle, according to a Military Communications expert who provided technical support there.

So it was understandable therefore that should any external maintenance be required for the castle rock and its environs that the security of the military premises would be attended to by trusted ‘weel kent’  [well known establishment worthies] tradesmen.

 The story begins in 1980, when two building contractors contacted the Philosophical Society in Edinburgh, a society  whose aim is to explore the unexplained powers of; man, aliens and nature.

The Philosophical Society is always a good bet to find expertise about the unexplained.

The two men, service veterans, were in a state of fear and alarm and were afraid for their lives.

They related that there had been a rock-fall at Johnston terrace and a split had opened up in the castle rock, and they had been called to come and seal it up, being ex-servicemen and experienced soldiers now in the trades and who had signed the official secrets act.

They had parked their van next to the metal railings on Johnstone Terrace, and looming directly overhead the uprising volcanic rock upon which Edinburgh castle had been built.

Before the time of the medieval version of the castle, it had been used as a place of Druidic sacrifice but today the only tattooing that officially takes place is the Edinburgh Festival’s famous Military Tattoo.

The rock fall had been a bit messy, and already Edinburgh’s ever-present traffic wardens had placed some traffic cones on the pavement.

They used a small ladder to jump the railings and then they climbed up the few feet necessary to get a close look.

There was a space beyond the split in the rock.

Once their eyes got accustomed to the dark through the split in the rock could be seen a passageway.

This of course was a breach in castle and Ministry of Defence security and would need to be investigated and a full report submitted to their local reporting officer over a pint of Belhaven Ale later on.

The split in the rock was wide enough for them to squeeze through.

They decided that although this could add a couple of hours to their job, Military Intelligence could pick up any parking ticket that might come about.

Getting into the dark, their eyes got acclimatised to the dim light and they both found that they could easily stand up – for they were in some sort of passageway.

Knowing as they did that although NATO had some sort of facility inside the rock, which was probably a communications centre, there were not the reassuring signs of standard trades in the making of this passageway.

There was no; concrete, electric lighting, metallic vents and air conditioning, or, little health and safety signage.

They were thinking maybe this was some additional storage area that nobody really bothered about. 

Well they seemed to wander round inside the castle rock, and at some point they were behind the wooden panelling at the officers mess, and at one point they could see princes street and the city centre through a small gap in the rock.

Partial lighting filtered through rock crevices.

Aware no doubt that there is also a military command centre in the rock too they continued to explore when their corridor came to an abrupt end, because at that point the floor just stopped and a black pit yawned open before them.

Realising that they had been lucky not to fall in, one of the men dropped a small rock down into the darkness to attempt to gauge the depth of the drop. There was no sound.

Suddenly a glowing, green reptilian ten-foot monster leaped up out of the pit into the corridor before them. Clawed and snarling it came towards them slowly at first. The men backed away, then they turned and ran … and the monster gave chase.

The men made it back to the entrance at Johnstone terrace and today the brickwork that seals the castle rock and the monster can still be seen.

 The story itself doesn’t actually stop with the tradesmen because at the same time in the row of houses opposite the castle in Johnstone terrace there used to be an Undertakers and today it is a restaurant after a change of ownership.

These properties sit in the uprising side of the castle rock.

The then owner of the property, the Undertaker, had several basement levels and had become very worried about the noises coming from his lowest basement.

Being an Undertaker tended to add to the drama somewhat, but one night he had had enough of the noise, so he plucked up courage, phoned a friend and together they headed down to the lowest basement.

He was starting to think that perhaps one of his clients was objecting.

He and his friend reached the lowest cellar which smelled damp, and the old brass light switch clunked on to reveal a world of peeling paint and old junk.

It was dark and the door to the cellar room where the thumping noises were coming from was ajar.

There were scuffling and thumping noises just behind the door at the far end of the room.

Picking their way over old, mouldy 1950’s bric a brac making sure that their careless feet didn’t alert their intruder, they crept up to the noisy room.

They pushed the door open and to their horror, they could see a big, luminous green, reptilian monster leaping about.

 They ran.

 Thankfully it did not give chase, but after that, the Undertaking profession in Johnston Terrace did not want to have any more to do with alien life forms from the castle rock.