Edinburgh’s ‘most haunted’ pub celebrates 500 years

The White Hart Inn is an ever-popular venue that has seen several star visitors. Picture: TSPL
The White Hart Inn is an ever-popular venue that has seen several star visitors. Picture: TSPL
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Stories of ghosts and ghouls are never far away in Edinburgh and they’re no exception at one historic Grassmarket bar.

Counted as one of the oldest pubs in Edinburgh, the White Hart Inn today celebrates 500 years since the guts of the venue were first built in 1516.

Several ghost hunters have also visited the famous pub. Picture:  Contributed

Several ghost hunters have also visited the famous pub. Picture: Contributed

Long gone are the grisly gallows that hung just outside the door, but half a millennium of history has left an impressive legacy of notorious visitors and phantom tales.

Famous and infamous characters have crossed the Old Town’s cobbled streets to whet their whistle and none more so than Robert Burns.

The nation’s prized bard is rumoured to have stayed at the Inn on his last trip to Edinburgh in 1791.

A trip tinged by the poet’s trademark amour, he is said to have, at the bar of the White Hart Inn, penned Ae Fond Kiss for Agnes Maclehose, a married fellow poet with whom he had spent a year exchanging love letters.

What could you possibly do to celebrate something this big?

SUSIE POWER

Further literary royalty crossed the threshold in 1803 when William Wordsworth and his sister Dorothy stayed overnight during their tour of Scotland. The experience was described by Dorothy as “not noisy, and tolerably cheap”.

The pub was a coaching inn and provided accommodation and refreshment for the drovers who brought their cattle to market at the Grassmarket. Also, due to its location, it was popular with spectators at the public executions.

And links to a gruesome past don’t end there.

Notorious Edinburgh “body snatchers” William Burke and William Hare are said to have used the pub as a hunting ground for some of their unsuspecting victims during a ten-month killing spree in 1828.

Preying on the lonely and destitute the pair supposedly picked out patrons at the White Hart Inn before killing them.

The serial killers hid their heinous crimes in plain site as they pushed carts laden with dead bodies through the busy Grassmarket throng before making their fortune by selling them to anatomist Dr Robert Knox for medical dissection.

More recent history saw the tragic fallout of a Zeppelin raid in 1916. Two German airships dropped 23 bombs on Leith and Edinburgh. One blast outside the Inn killed one and injured four more.

The pressure to mark such a vast historical period landed at the feet of general manager Susie Power. She said: “What could you possibly do to celebrate something this big? I do feel very honoured to work here and be part of this momentous celebration.”

The publican has settled on what the Hart does best – a traditional welcome to tourists and locals alike to the backdrop of well-respected folk musicians, some of who have been playing the pub for over a decade.

Regular feature Shambo will kick-off the party from 4pm-6.30pm followed by Rich Beeby at 9pm. Father and son duo Ken and Euan Johnston will play on Sunday from 4pm-6.30pm, finishing up with Jamie Scott at 9pm.

The celebrations will also tie-in with the Greater Grassmarket Food Festival.

And for Susie, the pub’s greatest draw is its chequered history. She said: “It is amazing to hear how many people from different nations have an interest in Burns, it’s a huge draw.”

fiona.pringle.co.uk