Spend a chilling Halloween in the company of the man who collects North Edinburgh's nightmares
It was as a child, sitting on his grandfather’s knee that Tantalon developed his fascination with the city's history and folklore.
"My grandfather was a trawlerman with many fascinating stories of his trips at sea. The best were the supernatural ones and growing up in Trinity, surrounded by fascinating grand buildings, landmarks like Granton harbour and the nearby Wardie Steps, provided an abundance of spooky stories.”
Attending Wardie Primary School simply served to reinforce the young Tantalon’s passion for the paranormal when he discovered that the adjacent Wardie playing fields, previously Lochinvar Camp, a naval training establishment in WWII, was the source of another classic ghost story.
"I was told by a woman in the area that when she had a paper round, one evening she was followed by a person who then walked into the middle of the field where they vanished. There have since been been numerous sightings of the mysterious figure who many believe was connected to the training camp.”He continues, “These stories are where it all began and as years went by I discovered more of the area’s history hearing the recollections of neighbours, friends and older work colleagues. All had tales of ghostly goings-on in the north of the city."
Tantalon, who works for the Council by day, shares 16 of those spooky tales in his new book, also entitled North Edinburgh Nightmares. Although written as fictional short stories, most have their roots in the folktales passed down by word of mouth from generation to generation.
"Many of these contemporary ghost stories come from connecting numerous accounts. One relayed to me involved a painter called Stewart who, while working alone in an office in Leith docks heard ghostly footsteps and saw a door closing by itself. His wife corroborated these strange events from when she had worked in the same offices. Another relative who had also worked there, not only acknowledged the story of the mysterious phantom but claimed to have worked with the person, a security guard, many years before when they were alive."Another incredibly frightening tale came from a friend who worked as a night watchman. One weekend he was given the task to supervise Craigcrook Castle in Blackhall. Over the space of the shift, he encountered much-unexplained activity. Sometime later I visited the same location, it was a terrifying experience and the only occasion I’ve seen something I can’t explain; a brass door handle fell to the floor just as another door flew open as the aroma of flowers suddenly filled the room. I legged it.”
To discover the tale that has disturbed Tantalon the most, however, we have to head to Restalrig for an encounter with an evil spirit.
"Many tales over the years have amused, startled and terrified me, but the story that stands above all the rest is that of a family living in the shadow of a malevolent poltergeist in Restalrig, between 1988 and 1996. Events escalated before the eyes of the terrified residents, starting with taps being turned off when running a bath, lights inexplicably going on and off, and a bedroom at the rear of the house that remaining unbearably cold all year long. A catalogue of tragedies visited the tenement over the eight years that the family lived there until they could bear it no more. It had become a very grim place and the sinister events led to the family fleeing the house on Boxing Day 1996 fearing for their sanity.”
That account is typical of the those recorded by North Edinburgh Nightmares.
Other local locations that feature in the book include the Wardie Steps, Tantalon admits, "As a youngster, reported sightings of a dark figure rattling the bars at the top of the steps terrified me and continue to do so today.”
He continues, “Another of my fictional stories, set in Newhaven, is The Devils’ of Auchinleck’s Brae, the tale of a mysterious cult. The idea for that came from Kenny Mackay, an old work colleague, while the story Upon the Shore of the Tally Toor is the story of Leith’s Martello Tower, which boasts an air of unrivaled mystery. My mum told me the story of this lonely structure years ago and of the mysterious harp inscribed inside it, which reputedly wards people away.”
Whether urban myth, apocryphal or indeed true, Tantalon’s unsettling collection of tales have led to the step-father of three being in great demand as a speaker.
“There is nothing I enjoy more than recounting local ghost stories. The Scottish Story Telling Forum will be hosting an event for Halloween at which I will be reading my brand-new story Help the Guisers,” he says, “ And I will also be giving a talk to The Edinburgh Fortean Society on November 10, at 7.30pm. The event will be on their YouTube channel where everyone can watch."
Ghost stories can arise from the most unexpected situations Tantalon reflects as he reveals some of the more unusual ones.
"I’ve heard many ghost stories from people of all walks of life and my favourites include the one about a bus driver who, whilst cycling along a Trinity walkway, witnessed a man vanish through a concrete wall. The same bus driver also told me of a colleague who sees the spirits of the dead whilst driving on specific Edinburgh bus routes and an elderly neighbour, now long gone, would often tell the story of the ghostly local of Spiers Bar on Ferry Road. Known as Eck the Cadger, he had died in the 1970s but still made the odd appearance. My favourite of all, however, was that of Granton’s haunted brass bed. The reported sighting of its ghostly owner seeking his place of rest chilled me to the bone. The new owner soon ditched it down a nearby lane… and the spirit was never seen again.”
For more local tales of terror, read North Edinburgh Nightmares, by John Tantalon, £10, available here