Who ya gonna call?
The Midgie proudly introduce our brave new Ghost Hunter (aka Colin Sykes). You might see him lurking in graveyards or creeping round deserted castles. But whatever you do, don’t ask him about the nightmares....
As travellers to our fair shores may already be aware, Scotland is considered a hotbed of supernatural activity. In fact, it is positively - to use a Scots word - ‘hoachin’ with ghosts, ghouls, spectres, spooks and spirits. This is especially true of our capital city.
Dripping with history, almost every street in Edinburgh is the scene of some tragedy, atrocity or sordid tale - with a ghost story to match. And so, as The Midgie’s ghost hunter in residence, I begin my supernatural investigations here. But with ghouls galore, where should a budding ghost hunter begin?
Well, if Edinburgh is the Holy land of Ghost hunting, then its Mecca is the South Bridge Vaults. Since they were opened in 1994, scores of investigators, psychics, witches, TV crews, psychologists and tour guides have come to explore their creepy, cavernous insides in search of spirits.
I rashly decide that I should spend the night there, wandering through the dark equipped with nothing more than my digital camera, a tape recorder and my prodigious courage and determination (for which I am respected and revered by my friends and peers).
In arranging my overnight stay in the vaults, I discover that a group of professional investigators, Ghost Hunters Scotland, have a vigil planned for the very same weekend and are kind enough to invite me to accompany them. Unable to pass up the opportunity to learn from the professionals, I accept their offer and agree to join them in what has been nicknamed ‘Damnation Alley’.
At this point, I should explain my position on the supernatural. I have used ouija boards, visited haunted graveyards and attended spiritualist churches; all of which have left me less than impressed and more than a tad sceptical. But, when I finally find myself in the dark of the vaults, I am quickly aware of three things: firstly, as a ghost hunter, I am woefully ill equipped to conduct a proper investigation. Secondly, I’m completely out of my depth. And thirdly, my initial decision to investigate the vaults alone would have undoubtedly been a terrifying and regrettable mistake.
The teams credentials are impressive, in the few years that they have been active, they have investigated over 100 locations and are a mix of sceptics, technical experts and ‘sensitives’: clairvoyants and psychics who are able to sense supernatural activity and protect the team from malevolent spirits.
After the equipment is unloaded, calibrated, checked and handed out (see ‘tools of the ghost hunter’), we are split into two teams. The first twenty minutes pass without incident, until we reach one of the more recently excavated vaults. Then things start to get weird.
In one corner of the vault, my EMF detector suddenly lights up. When we check the area, there are no cables, power sources or anything conventional that might be giving off a signal. The reading repeatedly flares and disappears. It is odd, but hardly terrifying (especially to a hardened ‘hunter’ like myself). That is, until one of the sensitives senses the presence of a spirit: a thin old man. We start recording.
EVP works by asking the spirit a question and then recording the response on an electronic device, picking up any sounds that are inaudible to normal hearing. The sounds we record are, frankly, chilling. They range from an eerie mumbling, to strange shouting to, and I kid you not, distinct speech. Now you’re thinking there’s probably some logical explanation. However, let me assure you, when you are in a haunted place in the dark and someone asks a spirit a question, to say that everyone is quiet is an understatement. A mouse fart would sound like an earthquake. Now, to hear a gruff, warbling voice shouting ‘Get out!’ on a recording is unsettling to say the least. It is without question the single weirdest thing I’ve ever heard.
Then the spirit(s) start playing with the EMF meters, setting them flashing and beeping upon request - not once, but six times. We end the vigil with a séance, and as I stand in a circle with the others I watch the temperature on the digital thermometer drop by nine degrees Celsius in under five minutes. And so ends a profoundly odd night.
I don’t expect you to take my word for it, dear reader, but if the fancy takes you, why not try this: take a sound recorder, go to a dark, lonely place and ask the darkness a question. Record the silence, and have a listen. But as one of the ghost hunters told me: ‘Don’t do it in your own bedroom.’ Until next time, sleep well.
Tools of ‘The Hunter’
Infra Red Video Camera
Allows filming in the dark without a light source.
Used to detect electromagnetic fields. Conventional ghost hunting wisdom suggests that an EMF helps indicate a supernatural presence.
To identify power sources that might be generating an EMF, thus ruling them out as supernatural.
Digital Voice Recorder
For capturing EVP (Electronic Voice Phenomena).
Increases sound volume and clarity. Helpful for analysing EVP.
A human psychic or clairvoyant, able to sense the presence of spirits and provide ‘psychic security’ for investigators.
Various supernatural and historical tours operate in The Vaults. For more information try Blackhart Entertainment, 0131 225 9044, www.blackhart.uk.com; Mercat tours, 0131 225 5445, www.mercattours.com and Auld Reekie tours, 0131 557 4700, www.auldreekietours.com
A huge thank you to Ghost Hunters Scotland (www.ghosthunters.org.uk), Charlotte at Black Hart Entertainment and Gerry from Underground City of the Dead Tours.