During my university years, studying at an institute of higher learning in a town of disrepute, I became friends with some budding ‘scientists’ whom at the time would have more accurately been described as ‘nutters’. These were men who loved heavy metal and ale, but knew the benefits of a good suit and some Mozart from time to time. It couldn’t be said they weren’t a clever bunch, each of them was studying for some lofty purpose of science or philosophy. Inevitably, the ale and wine we drank together gave rise to all sorts of conversations, and all sorts of strange ideas.

One among them was a cultured fellow, born of the midlands, blonde haired, tall and always smartly dressed. Like a man from out of his time, he wore a fedora, waistcoat & pocketwatch. He studied philosophy, as I had at one time, so we became fast friends while we argued that the fastest way out of Plato’s Cave would be with a hacksaw. Later we talked, and he told me of his fascination with the unknown. The strange stories of restless spirits, strange sounds and other things that go bump in the night. I’d never much considered the topic, myself. I’d read a few books which purported to have photographs of ‘ghosts’ in them, but it wasn’t something I had spent any real time considering myself to have any sort of belief in.

My friend felt differently. He argued that these stories have to come from somewhere, and some of the ‘evidence’ that’s come to light is perhaps if not compelling, then certainly gives one cause to think. It was pointed out to me that a little over 400 years ago, someone with a simple magnet, able to attract or repel metals with an unseen force, would almost certainly met an end being burned as a witch. As our understanding of the world around us grows progressively, might it just be the case that all this bizarre activity of black dogs and ghostly forms could have one basic root cause in the realms of science that we do not yet understand? Some quirk of physics that causes a playback of events, like an echo from the past? It made more sense to me than some mystical nonsense about cursed spirits standing vigilant over some part of the earth.

I wasn’t sure what to think, but soon the idea was raised that we travel and hold a vigil of our own in one of these ‘haunted’ places. Eventually, after some uneventful and cold nights out and about, it was suggested we go further afield. We’d soon chosen our destination: Edinburgh. I’d travelled there extensively in the past, and I remembered reading about the tourist ‘ghost tours’ of the underground sections and cemeteries of the city. The plan was, we’d take the tour to what’s known as the McKenzie Tomb, inside Greyfriars Cemetery. Afterwards, we planned to ask the guide to allow us back inside after the tour was over. Plus, we’d get a few days in Edinburgh, which I’ll always gladly take when offered.

We’d booked a hostel for three nights, with the vigil taking place on the second. It was decided we’d arrive early for the tour and speak to the guide beforehand. The jovial Scot eyed us seriously and asked, deadpan; “Are you sure, lads?”. Nodding that we were, he agreed to allow us 2 hours in the tomb after the last tour of the night. Plenty of time for the usual set-up of cameras and recording equipment, as well as a portable EMF detector. My friend informed me that, in previous cases of strange activity, disruptions of some electrical devices had been reported. The detector would emit a high pitch sound when near anything powered, particularly communications devices like mobile phones. These would have to be switched off for the duration of the vigil. The device was to be kept on to see if anything could be physically detected, were anything strange to occur.

On the tour, we learned the history of the cemetery. What now stands as a hill used to be very much a valley, the earth simply covers a great mound of centuries-old human remains. During heavy rains, layers of earth come sliding away in clumps, revealing bits of bone and cloth in the dirt. To the back of the cemetery is an area known as the Covenanters Prison. Within it, 1200 men were imprisoned in 1679 after the defeat of the Covenanters at Bothwell Brig. The men experienced what could be described as the first concentration camp. They were left to starve outside in the cold Scottish winter with nothing to cover them but rags. Snipers upon the walls shot any who rebelled or tried to escape. Men were summarily beaten or executed, and come the spring the few who remained were placed on a ship to the new world, which foundered in a storm off the northern coast, with the loss of all aboard.

Today, it stands a dark, lonely place. Locked for many years after a death within the prison itself, said to be caused by the vengeful presence there. Our guide took us in there too, for a few minutes at least. After a certain time it is wise to leave, he said. At that moment, a man in a wolf costume leapt at the crowd, roared and ran away. The guide laughed, explained that the man was his cue to escort us out. After raising a scare and a laugh, we left the prison area and walked out behind our guide, who’d told us to hang back. Soon, we were at the gates again, alone this time but for our guide.

We wandered the area, wondering if something would happen. Visitors seemingly reported scratches appearing on their bodies after entering the place, as well as so-called ‘strange feelings’. This, coupled with a story the guide told us privately that he had seen no fewer than seven people drop into a dead faint in total during his time conducting the tours, two of whom had been part of the same small group so the remainder had panicked and fled in fear. After 20 minutes, the cold was creeping through my clothes faster than I would have liked. We stopped and took photos every few minutes, we asked questions to the empty air, hoping for a disembodied voice on the playback. If truth be told, I felt a little silly.

Then, starting at no more than a whisper, the EMF machine began to sing. Slowly, at first. The pitch sounded like a low wail, the very end of a dying siren. I stopped for a moment, not recognising the sound. The light on top of the machine drew my eye, and I saw the needle slowly creeping upwards. I called my friend, then at the back of the room, photographing a corner. He didn’t seem to hear, and it was then the needle began to pulse. Rising and falling along with the noise. Quicker it came, the needle jumped higher each time. I turned to the guide, who advised very quietly “It might be time to leave, lads.” The ringing sound was filling my ears, each pitch made my head hurt more and more. I shouted for my friend again, I turned to see him face me. I moved towards him, slowly. I felt my hair pull out behind me. The guide was by the door, there was no one behind me. But something touched me on the back of my head, as I tried to move forward I was stuck in the air. My legs gave from under me slowly, the strange magnetism at the back of my head growing stronger.

I tried to cry out, but couldn’t. I was sinking backwards into a field of high-pitched sirens and I couldn’t even speak. The unseen force found that moment an opportune one to release me, and I crashed to the floor. In that moment, all was still. The detector spluttered and died, my tape recorder had smashed on the floor and the tape inside broken, releasing one of the spools to go rolling across the floor. I heard no footfalls, but in and instant my friend and the guide were on either side of me, helping me to stand. I was placed in a heap outside while the two recovered the remaining equipment as quickly as possible. By the time they’d finished, I could stand, and they helped me back across the churchyard, stopping only to lock the gates from the outside once more.

Back at the hostel, my friend examined our equipment while I sat in silence, staring through the windows. He approached with two glasses of gin and sat down. “It’s all gone. I don’t know how, but the minidisc’s gone blank, the tape was destroyed and my camera has just stopped working. Like it’s burned out.” I took the gin from him and drained the glass in one swallow. I didn’t know what to say. My scepticism had been shaken and I’d had a severe knock on the head. But I couldn’t help feeling a tiny bit relieved about the spectacular failure of our equipment. I have no idea what was in that tomb with us, but I didn’t want any reminder of it. For as long as I live, I could happily never think of it again.

Bruno Blackstone is a director at My Outdoor Store, the premier walking and hiking outdoor gear store.

Author's Bio: 

Bruno Blackstone is a freelance writer interested in all things to do with the outdoors and helping others get the most from the outdoors. Starting with a psychology degree his early career was as a social worker and family therapist working with families to help them achieve more positive and stable relationships. In his more recent career he has coached many senior executives in both small and large organisations in areas such as strategy, human resources, organisational design and performance improvement. He now continues his work in the business world but he is also co-owner of My Outdoor Store a price comparison site for outdoor enthusiasts.