Ghostly Tales of Haunted Portobello

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Portobello, Edinburgh’s seaside gem, is brimming with ghost tales, eerie sightings, and unsettling events. Writer KERRIE POWELL delves into the spectral stories that haunt this coastal haven

Bath Street from the Promenade, Portobello, Edinburgh

Portobello, or Porty if you are local, heralds the title of Edinburgh’s Seaside and continues as a thriving coastal community today. The area features numerous notable ex-residents and a terrifying legacy of ghost stories.

The glorious Portobello promenade remains a welcome sight all year round. Whether embraced by wild swimmers or summer revellers, the prom remains popular throughout. Impressive Victorian properties decorate the landscape, and many remain active today. In the opinion of many, the most remarkable is The Dalriada.

The building, constructed in 1869 by architect James Campbell Walker, began life as a private residence known as The Beachborough Villa. During the 1970s, it became a hotel, originally named The Temple Hall Hotel and later The Dalriada. It is from this period that our story begins.

During our North Edinburgh Nightmares Portobello Ghost Walk, we told two tales connected to The Dalriada. Both stories were told to John Tantalon during meetings with witnesses in the hotel. The first was the story of The Great Lafayette, and the second was from a now-Porty resident who once occupied a haunted property in the Restalrig area. Throughout our walks, we would discover further incidents from the Dalriada’s history.

The building was then up for sale. The person who relayed the events to me insisted that we do not use the stories in case they impact the sale of the property. It has now been sold! So here you go.

The Dalriada in Portobello, Edinburgh

The witness worked in The Dalriada during the 1980s. On more than one occasion, a mysterious figure was sighted at the upstairs window. The spectral woman would stare down at the witness when she was in the beer garden below.

Another unexplained occurrence during the woman’s stay in the hotel was during the night. She would awaken to the disturbing sound of beer barrels rattling from below. Fearing burglars, the woman and her husband would quietly head downstairs, only to be confronted by nobody within the premises. This incident happened on several occasions, always after midnight. They never discovered anything disturbed from any area of the building.

Portobello Ghost Walk

My favourite story from the Dalriada reached me from an attendee of the Portobello ghost walk. By mid-summer, we had a rapport with other residents and businesses along the walk. One woman who runs a beach hut close to the Dalriada would check in each walk to find any new stories. A neighbour at the top of the street would present a life-sized toy dog at her window, which would move about and wave to startled ghost walkers. Back to the Dalriada.

The woman on the walk that night informed the group that she had also previously worked in the hotel. Her time at the hotel was during the 1970s when she worked as bar staff. Her story was not supernatural but one of coincidence. She stated that there was a well-known story amongst staff about a bar stool.

The stool was nothing spectacular and generally insignificant. Existing staff informed her that any female who would frequent the stool would become pregnant within one month. The woman, who already had two children at that time, laughed heartily at the tall tale. She considered the story a lot of nonsense and defiantly sat on the stool. Sadly, her employment at the Dalriada came to an end later in the year. Family commitments prevented her from returning after her maternity leave had ended.

Situated at 2 Joppa Road sits an exceptional property. If the state-of-the-art Hi-Fi equipment is your thing, then look no further. Hi-Fi Corner opened its doors in 2019 to the Porty public. During the first week of business, the manager chatted with a neighbour. The man wished him well with the new venture and asked if “He had seen the ghost yet?”. The startled manager replied a rather shocked “No.” He was able to do some digging and relay the story to me.

The building at 2 Joppa Road has existed in different guises for years. For a while, it sold grand pianos; a sister company exists at Elm Row in Leith. Before that, a timber yard existed on the site, and at one point, it was a Datsun car dealership. The building served as another vehicle showroom many years ago. This section is where our story begins.

Kerrie Powell at the Sheep Heid Hotel in Edinburgh
Kerrie Powell at the Sheep Heid Hotel in Edinburgh

From the information gathered, the following events occurred sometime in the 1960s (unconfirmed). The building operated as a car showroom and garage called Cowans. A Datsun car showroom would occupy the building in the 1980s under the John Martin Group. 

Details are undoubtedly sparse, but after much research, I have determined the following events: During the Cowans’ ownership, the building featured showroom cars at the front and a garage on the right-hand side of the rear. The garage area backed onto Bedford Terrace at the rear of the building and was beside a row of garages. It was here in the garage that tragedy struck. 

My witness claims that garage staff discovered a dead woman in the garage. The woman had been crushed beneath the large metal ramps which would raise vehicles to be maintained. How the tragedy occurred, or the woman’s identity, is unknown, but the tragedy may be the catalyst for the haunting.

The neighbour stated that previous building occupants have claimed to have witnessed a spectral white hand throughout the rear of the property. Terrified staff have fled onto the front street after experiencing the ghostly hand. One witness claims that the hand is reaching around the corner of the wall and reaching out to grab an unsuspecting host. Could this echo the tragedy in Cowans’s garage many years ago?

Two further coincidences would occur during our season of ghost walks. We stand behind the former garage in the back lane on Bedford Terrace. On the second night of the Portobello ghost walk, an attendee raised concerns about somebody pushing her. The woman asked the person beside her if it was them, but they were adamant they hadn’t been near her. On a later ghost walk in the summer months, an attendee stated that they had two dead arms, numb with little feeling. Both incidents were at the rear of the Cowans garage, and on both occasions, the attendees felt fine after departing the area.

At the end of the alleyway sits an old wall. Although unremarkable, the roughcast structure sits at 6 feet in height and has attracted interest on the ghost walks. One attendee stated that her house was over the road and that she had persistently asked her children not to go near the wall. Upon reflection that night, she had no idea why she had concerns about the wall for all those years. It just didn’t feel right. Another attendee was drawn to the plants that grew on top of the wall. The woman claimed the wall was both ‘Revolting and entirely Dead.’ The quest continues to attain further details on the area and its stories.

Have you seen anything ghostly in Portobello? Tell us in the comments section below!

Tales from the Crypts

Kerrie Powell is a fifth-generation resident of Portobello. Her work appears in Tales from the Crypts of Auld Reekie by John S. Tantalon, from Saber Press, is available from North Edinburgh Nightmares website and Amazon.

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