Ghost hunters ready for close encounter

OVERNIGHT vigils in one of the Capital's creepiest places are to be held as part of the city's annual ghost festival. Mary King's Close, the 17th century labyrinth below the City Chambers, is to be opened up from midnight to 6am to play host to private adult-only investigations.

Other underground vaults and closes in the historic heart of Edinburgh will also play host to various paranormal and supernatural probes.

Leading psychics, ghost-finders and paranormal experts are inviting members of the public to join them on after-dark events during the festival, which is expected to attract visitors from all over the UK.

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The second Edinburgh Ghost Fest will also see attempts to capture ghostly voices, the opportunity to meet some of the UK's best known psychics, and a chance for festival-goers to experience a night in the city's underground vaults.

Other events in the fledgling festival, which is being held over ten days in May, include a look back at the history of witchcraft and witch-hunting in the Lothians, clairvoyant gatherings, storytelling sessions, tarot nights, a psychic fair, tastings of whisky from Scotland's most haunted distilleries and a spooky bus tour of Midlothian.

Among the highlights of the festival is expected to be the overnight stays in Mary King's Close, which was closed off due to a plague from the Christmas of 1644 to the autumn of 1646. It opened its doors to guided tours in 1995 and has been a fully-fledged visitor attraction for almost three years.

The close takes its name from the daughter of Alexander King, a wealthy Edinburgh advocate, who owned several properties in the area. Mary lived at the head of the close and died shortly before the plague outbreak.

Over the years, visions of an eight-year-old girl, believed to have died in the plague, and a mysterious demurely dressed lady, have turned the close into a shrine for ghost hunters.

The festival will see both leading psychic Carol Stirling and paranormal investigator Phil Whyman host overnight events in the close.

Another festival highlight is expected to be a series of electronic voice phenomenon workshops, which will see cutting-edge technology deployed in a bid to record spirit voices. A team of experts will record in various areas of Mary King's Close and analyse any ghostly noises that emerge.

The underground vaults below Niddry Street and Blair Street will play host to the events offering the chance to conduct group investigations.

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The vaults will also see the Scottish Paranormal Group conduct a series of scientifically-controlled experiments.

A spokeswoman for the Edinburgh Ghost Fest said: "Edinburgh's dark tales and strange paranormal activity will once again be highlighted during the festival.

"In its second year, the Ghost Fest is bigger and better, featuring new events and investigations taking place around this extremely haunted city.

"Visitors will be given a unique opportunity to explore the supernatural side of many 'haunted sites', take part in experiments, overnight vigils, workshops, talks and demonstrations on this fascinating subject."

A spokeswoman for VisitScotland said: "From the underground vaults and stories of 'Auld Reekie' to the majestic skyline of gothic buildings, Edinburgh has a magical quality that has captivated and enticed visitors to Scotland for many years.

"Quirky festivals and events such as the Ghost Festival can further build on this reputation."