Disembodied voices greet ghost hunters during all night vigil at Edinburgh's most haunted pub

Gasping breaths, a wailing baby and disembodied voices, just three of the spooky phenomena experienced recently by a team of paranormal investigators brave enough to undertake a late night vigil in what claims to be Edinburgh’s most haunted pub, Whistle Binkies.

Monday, 19th October 2020, 12:27 pm
Sarah and Lee Pickston and Rocky Appleton of Spirit Vision Paranormal Research prepare to conduct a late night vigil in Whistle Binkies

In normal times, Whistle Binkies comes alive in the evening to the sound of live music. When the doors close, however, and the revelers have headed home, it’s the spirits of the past that come out to play, or so believes Sarah Pickston of Spirit Vision Paranormal Research. The Cheshire-based group, comprising husband and wife team Sarah, 35, and Lee Pickston, 48, and Rocky Appleton, 35, arrived in Edinburgh earlier this month to visit some of the Capital’s most eerie sites, guided by local historian John Tantallon of North Edinburgh Nightmares. Their visit culminated in the late night vigil at the popular pub located in a section of the underground vaults running beneath South Bridge and the Old Town.

Spirit Vision visit ‘haunted’ locations around the UK and record their experiences which are then posted on YouTube for all to see. “We formed Spirit Vision 18 months ago,” explains Sarah. “Between us, we have more than 20 years experience doing this. Normally we explore abandoned hospitals and asylums where we find the majority of our activity, but having watched John's North Edinburgh Nightmare documentaries we got talking to him. Investigating the vaults had always been something we'd been interested in, it proved the highlight of our year so far.”

John, who joined the team for part of the vigil takes up the story, “Lee contacted me with regards to finding locations for a Scottish episode of their web show. An old friend connected to the Cowgate pubs suggested Whistle Binkies and, after a few calls, they arranged for the overnight vigil to take place."

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He continues, “Having written many stories with a supernatural theme and visited hundreds of haunted locations, I had never participated in an investigation like this. I researched as much as possible in advance about the history of Whistle Binkies and the Niddrie Street Vaults and discovered tales of the Imp and the Watcher, two ghosts reported to have manifested the depths of Whistle Binkies. They fascinated me.”

The pub itself has a long and colourful history. Located in the arches beneath South Bridge with entrances on the bridge and Niddry Street, its location has long been a part of the Capital’s drinking scene, as bar supervisor Morven Coghill, 27, reveals.

“In the early-1800s there was a pub on this site called The Poets’ Corner. People would queue outside the pub and be allowed in for an hour at a time. They would open the doors, everyone would go inside, the doors would be shut again and a new queue would form. After an hour they'd throw everyone out and the new queue would go in… but about a quarter of the people in the queue would be pickpockets employed by the pub to befriend those in the queue. Then, when you were locked in, these pickpockets you thought were friends would rob you.”

Setting up in the very caverns that would have been familiar to those ne’er-do-wells - the bar calls them their ‘caves’ - Sarah and the Spirit Vision team used a selection of electronic devices to help them detect any spirits that might be present.

Local historian John Tantallon of North Edinburgh Nightmares joins Spirit Vision Paranormal Research group for their late night vigil at Whistle Binkies

Lee, the self-confessed skeptic of the group, says, "Until I actually see a ghost, I'm on the fence,” before listing the equipment they use. “We have a Spirit Box, which scans airwaves for signals [also known as an Instrumental Trans- communication (ITC) device, it facilitates communication with non-physical entities], REM Pods, which emit an electromagnetic frequency, if something breaks that field it sets of an alarm, and motion balls, which flash if anything touches or brushes past them."

Having arrived at 7pm and set up, the eight and a half hour vigil, which has been edited down to 39 minutes for the webcast, began. A lot of waiting ensued but it was worth it Sarah insists. “We were a bit worried because normally we spend up to four nights at one location, so it was amazing to get what we got. It shows just how active that location is if you take the time to stop and listen.”

With group members positioned in different caverns around Whistle Binkies, it was Sarah who was subject to the first encounter, as a female entity who called out the name ‘Ann’ eschewed the attentions of the males in the team to trigger the motion ball in Sarah’s room.

“Looking back at the footage, when the motion ball goes off in my room I keep complaining my chest feels like it's burning. I really did feel I was on fire and the temperature in the room went up too. When we were calling out to the entity, it became evident that whatever it was didn’t want to speak to the boys at all. It would only communicate with me.”

Lee Pickston and Rocky Appleton of Spirit Vision Paranormal Research prepare for a late night vigil in Whistle Binkies

For Lee, it was just another phenomenon to explore. He admits, “I'm really skeptical, if something goes off I'll spend days trying to work it out because, as far as I'm concerned, it's not a ghost, it's caused by something natural.”

As the evening progressed, it certainly provided a wealth of material for Lee to decipher as the Spirit Box crackled into life.

“The most interesting voice we recorded at Whistle Binkies was the one that replied when Rocky asked, 'What's the next number, one, two, three...?' And the voice goes, 'I don't know'. Not only was it a thick Scottish accent, it showed it was intelligent. It could have said anything, but it answered the question.”

The same male voice called out the name ‘Rocky’ on two occasions, “We believe that was a validation, saying I can see you and I know you are there,” says Sarah.

Lee adds, “That was chilling because I don't rate these boxes. Rocky didn't like it either. It bothered him.”

Sarah continues, “The creepiest moment of all was when we were at the top of the stairs as voices came through and the vibration alarm went off at the same time.”

Lee says, “Overall we heard three or four voices...” Sarah adds, “And I got that woman who said, 'Ann', but there were a lot of voices we couldn't make out.”

John recalls, "The first sound actually came after Sarah claimed to have captured a voice making a sigh and the sound of whispering from one of the booths. An instant playback of the recording revealed a voice had been captured on a device. Later in the evening, while seated by the bar, another sound became apparent, at first it resembled whispering and then there was the sound, possibly, of a child crying.”

“The moment we started we all heard a child's cry, every single one of us heard it, and yet it's not on any of the cameras,” Sarah reveals. “And we all heard the horrible hiss as we set up,” confirms Lee.

For bar supervisor Morven, who has worked in the venue since March 2019, the evening’s findings weren’t unexpected, “When you are here by yourself it is very spooky and on the nights when you have to lock up by yourself, after you switch off the lights it's a case of getting out as fast as you can. However, the vigil was a totally new experience for me and at the point when all the alarms started going off, I thought, ‘I've had enough’ and went outside for a couple of minutes.”

Our fascination with the ghosts and spirits is simple, says Sarah, “People hope that we are not just born to die and want answers.”

And Lee adds, “Our viewers know we don't ever fake anything. If we get it we will bring it to you but even then we won't say it's paranormal. We say, ‘You decide’.

You can do just that by going to YouTube where you can watch Spirit Vision’s webcast from Whistle Binkies.

However, John, who left the vigil after six hours, warns, “At no point did I feel intimidated but on leaving at 1am I did have an unhealthy feeling of something followingme... an unusual sensation that continued over the following three days across numerous locations.”

Visit Spirit Vision Paranormal Research here

Visit North Edinburgh Nightmares here

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