Ghost hunting in Edinburgh's South Bridge vaults

It's just past midnight on a bitterly cold evening in the heart of Edinburgh's Old Town, an icy wind nips the finger-tips while wild screams fire back and forth along the Cowgate as stumbling figures stagger into the darkness under South Bridge.

I haven't started my ghost-hunting expedition inside the infamous South Bridge vaults but have a feeling that the revellers outside enjoying their weekly Friday night ritual might be the most frightful phenomenon I'll witness this evening.

I'm moderate sceptic when it comes to the supernatural and while I believe that there are forces at work beyond our imagination, I'm not entirely convinced that these same forces move tables and make things go bump in the night.

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Never-the-less I embarked on Friday's night's four-hour ghost-hunting marathon with an open mind

If there are ghosts lurking in Edinburgh, chances are they will frequent the cavernous network of tunnels under South Bridge.

Built in 1788 the vaults are said to have been used as a hunting ground by body snatchers Burke and Hare who preyed on the underclass residing within.

• A history of Edinburgh's South Bridge vaults

I was met at the door by the personable Sara Weardon of Wearde Paranoramal who gave me a run-down of how the night would progress.

First we were to be given a tour of the vaults by a spiritualist before trying out some ghost-hunting equipment.

Our spiritualist for the evening, Ewan Irvine, vowed to call it as he saw it and that any comparisons to the 'Most Haunted' TV series were to be banished from our thoughts.

He explained that sensing whether a spirit was present or not was rather like "walking into a new house or room" and judging the subsequent feelings that arose.

The vaults are an eerie and atmospheric place and it's not too difficult to imagine the horrid conditions that those who lived here must have endured.

Cold and mild air flows freely, mixing with centuries-old odours emanating from the damp and dank walls.

Ewan described a number of spirits as he guided us through the rooms.

In one room he sensed a sinister elderly man with a ferocious cough who, he said, could have been suffering from Tuberculosis.

The temperature dropped considerably within the room – a sign of a paranormal presence – while an elderly woman complained she had been nudged on the hip.

In another vault he sensed a room that was at one time used as a men-only drinking tavern.

Ewan explained that every tour party he brings into this room splits immediately into male and female groups which, he said, was possibly due to previously being a male-dominated environment.

A look around the room confirmed this to be true.

The final room we entered featured a number of large stones laid out in a circle on the floor.

We were told that this room had once been used by the witches who still practise today in a specially fitted-out room in the vaults.

The witches had sensed a mischievous spirit in the room and had conducted a sermon to trap whatever was lurking within inside the stone circle.

Those who have entered the circle are said to wake up with scratches on their legs the next morning.

During one-hairy moment a fire door swung open and loud music from a neighbouring pub came flooding in.

No-one thought anything of it until the door, which could only be opened from the inside, flew open again.

Sara checked the door with an electronic reader which measures energy sources within the room.

The Electro-Magnetic Frequency (EMF) reader made a loud screeching noise before falling silent.

Later in the evening we returned to the same room with another member of Wearde Paranormal Judy Robertson.

Judy handed me the EMF reader which quickly began emitting a slow buzzing noise.

The screeching increased in intensity as I approached the rear of the candle-lit room, it reached its maximum reading before falling silent.

I turned around and the reader peaked again before shunting back down to zero.

We were joined in the room by another spiritualist, Davie Allen, who sensed that there was a great deal of energy in the room, especially at the rear.

Davie asked the candle to flicker if there was more than one spirit in the room. The candle eerily flashed on and off three or four times.

He then asked the spirit to turn off the candle. The candle went dark before recovering slowly.

Our party were then given the chance to try out some dowsing rods in a room kitted out with painful looking torture equipment. Placed there for atmospheric effect only, we were told.

Commonly used to find water, the rods are also said to be useful in communicating with the spirit world.

We were given a demonstration by Judy who asked if there was anyone of anything in the room.

The rods went haywire.

She then asked if there was a young child in the room and the response came back affirmative.

I'm a bit wary of communicating with the paranormal, I had passed on the Ouija board earlier in the evening, but with trepidation took hold of the rods.

I asked if the rods if the child that Judy had been speaking to earlier was still there.

There was stillness for a few seconds before the ends of the rods slowly began to creep towards each other.

Once crossed I asked if the rods could be uncrossed and sure enough in slow motion the rods began to uncross and returned to their original position.

At the end of the evening, Sara said that tonight had been rather "quiet" compared to previous ghost hunts.

I, however, left with a impression that there is definitely something going on in those vaults that cannot be easily explained.

Wearde Paranormal's next ghost hunting trip to the South Bridge vaults will be on March 26.

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