Vault visitors set to enjoy a new look at old haunt

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A TOUR is being launched to give ghost-hunters the chance to discover how one of the spookiest parts of Edinburgh earned its spine-tingling reputation.

Guided candlelit walks around the hidden vaults beneath South Bridge will explore some of the scariest stories and the results of the scientific experiments conducted there.

The attraction was the scene of the world’s biggest ghost hunts last year, involving 250 people .

More than 300 sightings have been recorded by Mercat Tours, which has featured the vaults on its historical tours of the Old Town for the last eight years.

Now the group is launching the new Haunted Underground Experience, completely dedicated to the numerous 200-year-old spirits said to haunt the vaults, which were sealed off in 1815.

The vaults are situated under the 19 enormous stone arches of South Bridge, which was built in 1785-88 to span the valley between the High Street and George Square .

Beneath the arches, floors and walls were built to section off the arches into a series of underground vaults, which were used as workshops, houses and storerooms for the shops and businesses on South Bridge.

Mercat Tours director Des Brogan said: "The history of these vaults is astounding. They were used by the likes of wine merchants, book binders, leather cutters and watchmakers.

"The vaults were completely abandoned in 1815 and weren’t rediscovered until 1985 ."

A spokeswoman for Mercat Tours, which for years ran tours of Mary King’s Close, said the new tour was being launched in response to public demand from people who had heard about last year’s huge ghost hunt by psychologist Dr Richard Wiseman and the other tales of the vaults.

Of the hundreds of reported sightings and strange experiences to emerge , the most popular are of the boy who pulls the leg or sleeve of visitors and Mr Boots, "a nasty piece of work" who has been said to push people, whisper obscenities in their ears and stomp around the vaults’ corridors .

Nine researchers armed with an array of electronic equipment - including a thermal imager - staked out the vaults for four days last year, with volunteers reporting the sound of heavy breathing, flashes of ghostly light and spine-tingling sensations.

But the most exciting discovery for Dr Wiseman, of Hertfordshire University, was that the three most "active" vaults in the experiment were the ones where most sightings had been recorded by the tour company. More than 50 per cent of the experiences during the science festival project were recorded in the three rooms.

The spokewoman said: " There’s something about these rooms that make people experience strange things and that’s what the tour’s going to be about . So many people claim to have seen things in the vaults during our tours . We think the tour will leave even the most hardened sceptic questioning the ghostly phenomena which nightly patrol our sleeping city."

Dr Wiseman, who has been extensively consulted over the contents of the tour, said: " It’s very exciting to hear the experiment was the inspiration for this. The notion that people will be able to go on a tour like this to find out about science is wonderful.

"The results of most scientific experiments end up gathering dust on a bookshelf somewhere. It’s great to hear that my research is going to be used like this."