Clockwork beer co

Ghosts, Ghoules, Bewail or Folk tale....The Halloween Season is upon us...

Fortified by only the finest of ales.  The destination once more is Edinburgh, arguably the most haunted city in Scotland, and the torture and witch hunt capital of the World.  Scott reports on Edinburgh's demonic Vaults.... a case of pints and poltergeists.

So, what can be said about the paranormal, have spirits genuinely revealed themselves, can extreme suffering torment the soul, is death as incomplete for some, as life is to others.  In search of both malevolent spirits and those waiting to be freed, we visit the St Niddry Street Vaults, within the South Bridge area of Edinburgh.

Before descending the dark slippery stone steps to engage the unknown, there is history to relate, and the reality that in times past, even Robert Louis Stephenson was to write of Edinburgh that 'The delicate die early, and I, as a survivor, among bleak winds and pumping rain, have been sometimes tempted to envy them their fate..'

The Edinburgh Vaults or South Bridge Vaults are a series of chambers formed in the nineteen arches of the South Bridge, completed in 1788, once opened, these vaults soon fell into disuse due to damp, poor conditions and open sewage.

The wealthy merchants who once used them for storage, soon moved out and the poor and disadvantaged moved in, making use of the cheap rent.  Soon the conditions deteriorated and the place became a hive of criminal activity and prostitution. 

For around 30 years the vaults housed taverns, cobblers, and storage space for illicit stills and even the bodies of people killed by Burke and Hare for medical experiments.  Disease was rife and the vaults were eventually closed.  A history of hardship, sadness and death - a recipe for troubled and malevolent spirits.  Their forces unleashed as the seal was broken in their dark, airless tomb - rediscovered in the 1980's.

The atmosphere is oppressive, the darkness, total! The damp clings as if to embalm and suffocate those now moving among the long dead.  The risk of claustrophobia only adds to the immense heightening of the senses.  We are on the alert for every sound, every breath - the omnipresent static that seemingly communicates with those we cannot see...... Temperatures drop and inexplicably rise.  We are not, I stress, not, alone!
One shuffled footstep confirms our worst fears, as a grotesque scream of total and uncontrollable fear echoes within the Vaults confines. This is clearly too much for one of our group, their abject fear expressed, and now escorted swiftly to the exit. The unseen murmurings of the Catholic Priest delivering the last rites, stayed silent. The stones unmoved in the sacrificial circle.  No-one scratched or pulled on this occasion.  But the footstep was heard by all!

With the welcome daylight came the relief of survival, the bravado of accomplishment.  The urgency for a real ale was never more urgent.  It was to be found in Infirmary Street, a likely location for medicinal relief.  The Pub, The Royal Oak.
There are two bars, the lounge bar upstairs and the public bar at street level.  Both must be described as cosy,  a choice of real ales is always available and inevitably malt whiskies.

The recent experience in the vaults should have had us downing the amber spirit, but commonsense prevailed, and the seasonal Caledonian Autumn Red was not so much the medicine of the damned, as an elixir of all ills. 

It is strange to experience an involuntary shaking of the hand, especially when the risk of fine ale spillage is less common these days - the cost and of course the quality dictates careful handling! But, the Vaults had left their mark, and oddly, two hands lifted this red ale from the bar. 

Struck immediately by the aroma of the Hersbrucker. Here, essential oils rest in balance within the original cone, and bring a mix of mellow fruit and fresh spice, revealing a happy floral character to the ale.  This a late harvested hop, and benefits from the longevity of the growing season, The further addition of the rye crystal malt exudes caramel, and distinct overtones of toffee.  With an ABV of 4.4% sensible levels of conversation and fortification became apparent. The Royal Oak is renowned for its folk music, with live performances taking place almost every night of the week.

Our daytime experience would miss this traditional entertainment, but before long conversation returned to the supernatural. The cellars below the Royal Oak extend two storeys deep and have their own visitations.  Reputed to be haunted, they reveal a dark history of body snatching and the secret movement of murdered bodies across the city, here in what was Edinburgh's Old Town.  After all, the city morgue is only just round the corner!
The Royal Oak
1 Infirmary St, Edinburgh EH1 1LT