Edinburgh’s City of the Dead tour company guide fringe audiences along their graveyard route. In doing so, they take us on a journey that shows us the world in a handful of soil; and inform us that the soil is two percent dead body.
City of the Dead Haunted Graveyard Tour offers excellent value for money. And, most importantly, for those ninety minutes, it makes you feel that you, and the ground on which you are standing, are at the centre of the world.
Our tour guide, Gerry Kielty, promises to tell us a ghost story that has “changed the world in gigantic ways. It has touched each and every” - two fingers extend, gun-like, picking each of us off in turn - “one of your lives and…” he says with a final flourish, “it saved Christmas.” It’s an extraordinary and audacious promise to make to an audience. Even more extraordinarily, Kielty fulfils it, making convincing claims that the tour’s focus, Greyfriars graveyard, is the origin point of most canonical gothic fiction, the Harry Potter franchise, psychoanalysis and the whole of modern western democracy.
The story begins outside St Giles Cathedral, which we learn is not actually a cathedral. From here, Kielty shambles over to Greyfriars, where various points of significance anchor each new part of the tale. Greyfriars is a beautiful location, with a near panoramic view of more highly elevated city landmarks and elaborate headstones built ten feet or so into portions of the original city wall. This range of backdrops give our guide a variety of stages on which to perform.
And perform he does. Kielty’s storytelling gives whole new meaning to the word ‘gusto’. He is full of passion and bluster, making every historical detail seem, by turns, fascinating, devastating or marvellous. Forty thousand Scottish soldiers die at the bullets of English farmers and it feels like a massacre, a political scandal, not a statistic. His well-practised gesture, annunciation and sense of theatrics mean we are never lost in the narrative, even as he cracks on at a lightning pace. He rolls his Rs in a very satisfying manner.
An hour into the tour, as dusk descends into full-blown night, we enter a non-public area in the churchyard, flanked by rows of mausoleums that look like a cartoon horror film. Or rather, this is what horror film sets are trying to look like. Kielty tells us detailed legends of throttlings by the graveyard’s supernatural guest, the evening wind tickling our necks and, for a few long moments, I am really quite scared.
Running to around ninety minutes, crammed full of historical information, and with access to one otherwise private space, City of the Dead Haunted Graveyard Tour offers excellent value for money. And, most importantly, for those ninety minutes, it makes you feel that you, and the ground on which you are standing, are at the centre of the world.