Mr Boots

When I was a child I was told a ghost story by my late grandfather. It stuck with me, partially because it was told by him, but also because it sounded terrifying. I can only guess that it was true, as he told me such, but it’s likely it might’ve just been a tall tale told to me in the hope of exciting me. Anyway, the point is moot – it was a good story and a scary story and, to be honest, what else do you need from a ghost story? Does it need to be true?

When I say true, I mean that the person actually experienced it and it’s not fabricated. I understand that, in my outlook on the world, spirits and ghosts and souls might clash with the scientific atheistic view that I take on all matters existential. Add to that a dose of scepticism and BLAM you should probably be curiously confused by my next statement: I find Ghosts fascinating.

The reason for this is pretty simple and the same reason I find most things fascinating and indeed it’s a human trait – they’re the unknown. Like many other different things in this world that humans have started to question there is no doubt that death is the greatest and the core problem of any animal having intelligence. Chimpanzees mourn the dead, their little intelligence understanding the loss but dealing with it hard. Did I believe my grandfather’s story was true? Did it really happen? Do ghosts exist?

I’m not going to give you an answer, of course, that’d be too easy. And, also, something that I wouldn’t be premiering the answer on a free blog – I’d be writing a book and appearing alongside Sian Williams and Bill Turnbull on BBC Breakfast. What I do think is that there’s something there. It could be spirits, or it could be quantum physics. See, there’s a hell of a lot of things that we don’t know about the universe and it wouldn’t take a big leap for time, a dimension we don’t understand fully, to be travelled in some way by some method. It’s, almost certainly, NOT the spirit of a dead person “not at rest”.

So why did I find the Ghost Walk in the Blair Street Vaults in Edinburgh so scary? Partly the fact we were 20 feet under Edinburgh in the dark. Partly because it was the ghost stories being told by our guide. But also it was the curious idea that we might see something that would change my mind. I don’t think I did – towards the end Connie and I were at the back and last to leave the “most haunted room” in the “most haunted place in Britain” that is home to the “malevolent spirit we call ‘Mr Boots’” and after being told a cool ghost story we waited to take a photo of the room.

Mr Boots' Room

After that I walked behind Connie on the way up the stairs. Glancing back I saw a shadowy line on the wall in one of the rooms along the way. I looked back and it was gone. Ghost? Shadow? My imagination? An Alien? Doesn’t matter, it gave me a tiny fright but also a rush of adrenaline. The Ghost Walk was one of the most fun guided tour or organised things I’ve done as a tourist. I’d recommend trying to go as late into the night as possible. I am going to go back and do a different tour in the depths of winter as being told the story of Grey Friars Bobby in the blazing sunshine as American and Japanese tourists take photos of the building opposite you doesn’t add to the atmosphere.