Audio Point Ten – The North Bridge, Hotel Balmoral and South Bridge.

A short sample from Edinburgh Audio Guide – Audio Point Ten.

The North Bridge.

Late 18th century was the time of great changes for the city – Edinburgh was being transformed from the noisy and filthy ‘Auld Reekie’ into the ‘Athens of the North’.

To allow expansion of the city to the north, a bridge had to be built across the valley filled with the putrid waters of Nor Loch.

The construction of the North Bridge began in 1763, with the laying of the foundation stone.

After nearly nine years of construction the bridge was finally completed and open for pedestrians.

The first North Bridge was an impressive stone structure consisting of three main arches and several smaller ones and measuring 344 meters in total.

It was a significant engineering and architectural achievement but it wasn’t without design faults. In 1769 a large section of the bridge suddenly collapsed, killing five people who were crossing it at the time.

The bridge was repaired but for many years the residents of Edinburgh crossed the bridge with great reluctance and apprehension believing it to be unsafe or even cursed.

The stone North Bridge was demolished in 1896 to make way for the present three-span iron and steel bridge which was opened in 1897.

The Balmoral Hotel.

The Balmoral Hotel, a grand turreted building with a clock tower, is located at the foot of the North Bridge, where it meets Princes Street in the New Town.

Built in 1902, the hotel is housed in a Victorian building with elements of the traditional Scottish baronial style. Its 58-meter iconic clock tower is one of the most recognizable landmarks in Edinburgh.

The clock at the Balmoral Hotel is always three minutes fast to ensure that people have plenty of time to get to their trains – a tradition which has remained to this day. The only day that the clock runs on time is on 31st December for the city’s New Year celebrations.

The Balmoral, Gaelic for ‘majestic dwelling’ – is famous for the many famous visitors who have stayed there. Sophia Loren, Elizabeth Taylor, Paul and Linda McCartney are just some of the many celebrities who visited the hotel.

More recently, in 2007, the author J. K. Rowling finished the Harry Potter series – “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows” at this hotel.

The South Bridge.

We are back at the Royal Mile at the point where the North Bridge meets the South Bridge.

The South Bridge starts at the Royal Mile and extends 300 meters across Cowgate ravine to the University of Edinburgh.

It is a monumental 17 century structure and home to Edinburgh’s famous haunted underground vaults.

The construction of the bridge started in 1785 as part of a plan to expand the city and provide a route for pedestrians and vehicles between the Old Town and the Southside.

It took over 3 years to build 19 huge arches spanning 300-meter-wide ravine. At the highest point the bridge stands 10-meters above the ground with the foundation going deep into the bedrock.

When the bridge was completed in 1788 it was announced that the wife of a well-respected judge would be the first person to cross the bridge. Sadly, she died just before the opening ceremony.

Rather than cancel the ceremony and find a new person the city council decided to honour the promise – the deceased lady crossed the bridge in her coffin.

Superstitious residents of Edinburgh looked in shock and disbelief at such a spectacle – the body of a dead person ceremoniously carried over the new bridge.

From that day on it was considered that the bridge was cursed and most people refused to cross it preferring to walk across the steep ravine.

That was just the beginning of the many unfortunate incidents and supernatural events connected with the bridge.

Walking across the South Bridge you would never guess that underneath your feet is a massive multi-arch structure spanning the Cowgate ravine. It is seamlessly integrated into the city and looks just like any other street it the Old Town. But under the modern street lies one of the most haunted places in the UK – an ancient network of dark and damp vaults.

Originally the bridge stood alone and the arches were accessible from both sides. Soon new buildings were constructed on both side of the bridge. Within the arches floors and ceilings were added creating about 120 enclosed vaults, chambers and secret passageways.

At first these vaults were used by as workshops and storage areas but soon these dark, wet and gloomy vaults were abandoned and the poorest and the most desperate people moved in.

Quickly the South Bridge vaults turned into notorious underground slum with numerous brothels, illegal pubs, and gambling dens. It was the place where crime was rife and where people disappeared without a trace.

In the middle of the 19 century squatters were evicted and tons of rubble were dumped into the vaults to make them inaccessible for any criminal activity.

For over 100 years the South Bridge vaults were forgotten until they were rediscovered in the 1980s. Ever since the vaults were reopened, they have always had a reputation for strange unexplained events and paranormal activity.