Cosmopolitan Magazine claimed back in 2005 that SANDEMANs had “the most charismatic and entertaining guides in the business”. This is emphatically backed up by their reviews on TripAdvisor, which ranks them Number One out of 159 Tours and Activities in Edinburgh!
So if you haven’t yet indulged in one of their walking tours, you really should consider putting it on your To Do list this year. Our very own Rachel Lane took the plunge just last week (in the rain), to learn about this Jeykll and Hyde city on their tour entitled The Dark Side. Here she picks up the story …
My tour was to begin at 6.30pm outside Starbucks, 124 High Street. It was a miserable night – dark, windy and raining, and as I sat in the coffee shop nursing a mocha to keep my hands warm, I wondered if it would be running at all!
With the choice of English or Spanish, it turned out 26 people arrived for the English tour, and there was a sizeable number for the Spanish tour too, so it was evidently popular despite the bad weather. A good sign!
Our guide was an animated woman in a blue coat called Jen, who was enthusiastic, great with the kids in the group and had a lot of passion for her job. She informed us the tour would be around two hours long (so
going to toilet beforehand is definitely recommended!), and that everything she told us on the tour would be the truth – no made up stories or masks to scare people – the dark truth of Edinburgh’s past.
Witch Trials and Burnings and more …
Our first stop was The Tron Kirk, where we were told how they would punish (and mark for life) dishonest merchants. It was then on to North Bridge to point out how times have changed: it used to be a bridge over a ‘river of poo’ before it was filled in and Waverley Station built on top. We learnt the dark history of Edinburgh’s Witch Trials and how/why Edinburgh had such a high number of women ‘proven guilty’ of being witches due to this particular site. It’s not a pretty story.
A short walk later and we were on top of Carlton Hill, with beautiful panoramic views of Edinburgh and the city lights below on Princes Street and Edinburgh Castle. Jen gathered everyone around to tell stories about the truth behind the Fairies on Carlton Hill, and to go in to the history of the monuments dotted around on the top, including why one is half constructed.
Cannibals and Bodysnatchers and more …
We then made our way back down and around to The Scottish Parliament, Queensberry House and Holyrood Palace, where we learnt the dark past of Mary Queen of Scots and the murders (and even cannibalism!) that took place in these buildings.
The tour progressed up the Royal Mile to the Canongate Kirk graveyard, famous for the grave (sadly now eroded away) inscribed: “Ebenezer Lennox Scroggie – A meal man” … the inspiration for A Christmas Carol. Once everyone was safely inside a high walled, caged-roofed, family mausoleum, Jen went on to tell the grisly past of Edinburgh’s grave robbers, body snatchers and murderers, including the infamous Burke and Hare – the West Port murderers. A great setting for such stories, made even spookier because they were true!
The night concluded at Paisley Close off the royal mile. Jen explained the 1861 tragedy behind the stone sculpture on the overhead arch, which includes the bust of a young boy, with the words “Heave awa’ chaps, I’m no’ dead yet”. Many times I have walked past this close and never batted an eyelid.
Would I recommend it?
No matter if you’re a tourist or a local, the Dark Side Tour will be sure to teach you something new and interesting about the places you thought you knew. There’s more to Edinburgh than meets the eye and this tour is a great way to uncover the dark truths of innocent looking places and see more of the city. It was my first time doing a walking tour of the city and it will not be my last.
In the end the tour finished at 9pm, so was 2½ hours. It was an enjoyable evening despite the weather, and our guide Jen was fantastic. I was expecting ‘scary’ ghost stories but this is not one of those tours…think of it like Horrible Histories on a walking tour.
And Rachel has left out mention of funeral pyres and mass graves from thousands of years of history beneath, behind and beyond the Royal Mile. She’s left out the vampires, Arthur’s Seat and the mystery of the 17 doll coffins … Edinburgh’s history clearly does make The Dark Side a packed experience!
Plan your Tour
The cost of this tour is £10 for adults, £8 for students and under 13 year olds go free. If you book online there’s no queuing, otherwise you can turn up at the meeting point 10-15 minutes early and pay then.
Other tours from SANDEMANs are free to attend, leaving you to decide how much money you should pay the guide at the end of the tour. SANDEMANs train their guides to use their unique style of mixing history and story-telling while maintaining their own personality and flair. They reckon that’s how they’ve become one of the most popular tour companies in the world!