Underground Edinburgh: Mercat Tours

Edinburgh is a beautiful city, worth spending hours, possibly days exploring. It has built up, literally in layers over centuries, so what lies beneath the surface of this pretty city? We had a chat with Kathleen Brogan of Mercat Tours to get a feel for a different Edinburgh that many don’t see.

Blair Street Vaults, underground EdinburghI’ve been really intrigued since I came across your web site. Can you tell us a bit about underground tours in Edinburgh?
There is so much to see in this beautiful city – and some of it is below your feet.  The tours with Mercat take you under the South Bridge, into the Blair Street Underground Vaults built in the 18th century.  Most people walking along the road don’t realise it is actually a bridge – with Mercat you can have an exclusive opportunity to see the vaults and hear about the work and life that went on down there, and the supernatural life that still visits . . .

Edinburgh is a beautiful city to explore, but surely this is a great way to learn about another side to the city?
Edinburgh is an amazing city but there is so much to see and do it can be hard to know where to start.  By coming on a tour with Mercat you get to see parts of the city you might otherwise miss – and hear our history in a fascinating way.  The guides are storytellers – we don’t need to make history up!  The city, indeed the country, is full of extraordinary tales of romance and religion, conflict and triumphs, royalty and common folk; we simply convey that to the visitors.  Our motto is “History is a damn good story. What it needs is damn good telling” – which is where our guides come in.

What kind of unexpected things can people expect to learn, or is it a secret?
Edinburgh is full of secrets and hidden history, and we delight in sharing those with visitors.  For example, why are oyster shells found in the walls of some buildings?  How is the Mercat Cross still used today?  What spirits are seen in Blair Street Underground Vaults?  There is a lot to hear about – which is why we have so many tours with different themes to suit everyone’s taste.

Blair Street Vaults, underground EdinburghAre any of the places that you visit haunted?
The Blair Street Underground Vaults, exclusive to Mercat on our historical and ghostly tours are one of the most haunted places in the UK – the trouble is the ghosts don’t always know which tour is down there . . .

Who do you get coming along on your underground tours? Have you had anyone famous take part?
Our visitors come from all over the world – literally.  Everyone has an interesting story to tell, from those on holiday, exploring a new city they have just moved to, tracing family connections to Scotland, or those travelling the world.  One visitor that stays in my mind is a guy who is attempting to visit every single country in the world – at time of writing he only has another 36 to go!  We’ve had many famous guests from Barry Gibb and David Hasselhof to royalty and foreign dignitaries – come on a tour and see if you spot anyone!

Now, you don’t just do underground tours. What other experiences can people have through Mercat?
One of our most popular tours is ‘Secrets of the Royal Mile’.  Where the buses can’t take you, and the guide books don’t show you is where our real stories can be found – the closes, wynds, courtyards and homes of Old Edinburgh.  With this tour you can also explore the iconic Edinburgh castle with your Mercat guide.

A chance to find out more about the Edinburgh that Jamie and Clare, from the Outlander books and tv series, is another tour we offer – and there is always the hope that you might your real life Jamie when you visit Edinburgh.

Mercat guides are often found in costume, providing interpretation at places like Edinburgh castle, as well as guiding on coaches around the country.

We can be found in lots of places, always telling that damn good story, damn well!

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