The History of Leith

November 10, 2004

Can they survive night in Sawney’s haunt?

GHOSTHUNTERS are to spend a night in a cave said to be haunted by one of Scotland’s most notorious serial killers – the cannibal Sawney Bean.

The East Lothian hedger gained notoriety when he and his family of savages were discovered surviving in a cave by robbing and murdering passing travellers – then eating the corpses.

Now the makers of a new TV series – which will also feature one of Edinburgh’s ghostly “hot spots” – is to send a band of intrepid volunteers into his lair to find out if there is any truth in rumours it is haunted.

The six Scream Team participants will spend 24 hours in the cave at Bennane Head, near Ballantrae, in Ayrshire, where the remains of 37 people were discovered when Bean was arrested.

The makers of the programme , due to be screened in autumn on the satellite and cable channel Living TV, are also filming in one of Edinburgh’s spookiest spots.

The six volunteers will be given a tour of the South Bridge Vaults, where the world’s biggest investigation of ghosts was conducted last year.

More than 1000 people had been auditioned before the production team chose the six participants – three male and three female – for the series.

Living TV spokeswoman Gail Davidson said: “We’ve selected six completely different characters, half of whom you could call ‘believers’ while the rest are completely cynical.

“There’s going to be an introductory show on Friday 13 next month before the series starts properly on September 24, although we’re still filming many of the episodes. As well as the cave in Ayrshire and the underground labyrinth in Edin-burgh, we’re also going to an alien abduction site in Falkirk.”

Born in the late 14th century, Alexander Bean, better known as Sawney followed in his father’s footsteps by doing hedging and ditching work around East Lothian. But he proved to be “workshy and dishonest”. He met a like-minded local girl Agnes Douglas, and left the area .

According to local folklore, they had many children and, through incestuous relations, the family grew to around 45.

The family rarely visited the nearby villages and their existence was largely unknown. But over the years many travellers went missing . Villagers became suspicious when body parts started being washed up on beaches but their crimes only came to light when one of their potential victims escaped and reported the gruesome horrors he had seen.

King James I himself led 400 men to hunt down Bean. They found him and his family in the cave, surrounded by human limbs hanging from the roof and an assortment of flesh pickled in barrels. Bean and his family were taken to the Tolbooth jail in Edinburgh before being executed in Leith.

He is reputed to have put a curse on the cave before he left. Numerous incidents have been recorded over the years and many motorists have reported having to brake sharply on the road which passes the cave to avoid ghostly figures.

Ray Halliday, an assistant librarian at the Local History Museum, in Haddington, East Lothian, said : “All the history books record that he was born here although none of them say exactly where. I’ve been to his cave and you can quite imagine some of the things that must have gone on in there.”

Fran Hollinrake, assistant director of Mercat Tours, the company which runs South Bridge Vaults as a tourist attraction, showed the Scream Team around at the weekend. She said: “We’ve had literally hundreds of people report sightings since we started doing tours six years ago .”
Mon 26 Aug 2002
By BRIAN FERGUSON
Source-The Scotsman

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