The Steadfast Gate Mystery
While driving on Junction Street this week, I saw an unusual sight. Although quiet and surprisingly light for the time of night a rumbling, almost grinding sound filled the air… the trams have finally arrived. As some readers may know, trams are familiar to the area, and a previous rail network throughout the city and its outskirts. It is here that our story begins.
1983 was the year ‘Video Nasties’ became a buzzword around school playgrounds nationwide. A new show, The Young Ones, thrilled television audiences, David Bowie rocked the roof of Murrayfield Stadium and The Boys Brigade turned one hundred.
Edinburgh Corporation (now CEC) opened a converted stretch of disused railway path to mark the centenary. The substantial in-length route, named Steadfast Gate, runs from Victoria Park to Leith. As part of the redevelopment, an old, long-lost Edinburgh landmark - The Sinclair Fountain - originally at the West End of Princess Street, moved there in 1926. With its rediscovery and newfound location, strange events would follow.
Sometime in the mid-1980s I interviewed Elaine a woman who was at Steadfast Gate to watch the end of festival fireworks. As darkness fell and the crowd dispersed, Elaine found herself alone with her dog, Duke. The dog became alarmed and growled towards some steps. She saw a solitary figure by the Sinclair Fountain through the trees and foliage, staring at her relentlessly as the dog barked in its direction. As she walked away, slightly unnerved, she became aware of the figure beginning to follow.
The footsteps echoed along the now silent Steadfast Gate and began to gain speed. Elaine continued walking until Duke suddenly slipped her grasp and ran towards the fountain area. In the short time it took her to retrieve the agitated animal, the footsteps had ceased, there was no one to be seen.
In December 1999, a cyclist traversing the icy path at Steadfast Gate proceeding towards Leith, noticed a sleeping bag beneath the snowy confines of Bonnington Road bridge. Soon he came upon a figure dressed in black also going towards Leith. Attempting to pass the darkly dressed man, he became aware of sudden movement as the shadowy figure raised its arm and swung a scythe or implement in his direction. Maintaining his balance, he swerved and continued in a panic towards Junction Street bridge.
He alerted a jogger to the oncoming figure and asked her to contact the police and waited as the figure approached until, suddenly, it disappeared before his eyes…
With the steps to Largo Place closed and ore barriers on The Water of Leith side, there was nowhere for the figure to go. Yet the witness assures me today that he vanished that night.
On a warm Friday afternoon in 1994, a couple from Trinity pushed their grandson’s pushchair along Steadfast eventually approaching the Junction Street Bridge, where, to some astonishment they were met by a shop till sitting on the path before them. The man investigated the till assuming it had been thrown from the bridge above. However, to his amazement, it was unopened. They hid the till behind a nearby tree…
The couple returned with tools the following morning, all set to claim their loot from the discarded till. To the man’s shock, he discovered that the till had vanished, replaced by an object within a carrier bag. A red and white carrier bag with the words ‘Capital Meat Centre’ on it. Lifting the bag, he claims he felt jewellery at the bottom. Inside was a layer of bubble wrap and a heavy object.
He pushed and pulled, yet the contents failed to appear. His wife called, and he replied that the thing was nearly out of the bag. With a great push, the object fell from the carrier and landed with a thud at his feet. His wife screamed aloud as the contents rolled from the bubble wrap and landed close to her. It was an old and very rotten severed head.
The terrified couple ran from the scene, taking solace in the nearby Up the Junction Café, where they phoned the police. The sight of police dogs filled the area, and a bustle of activity emanated from below the bridge. Nothing more was said, and the police returned to their vehicles and left.
The couple returned home that day in a shocked and confused state. Did they imagine the head in the bag? Could it have been something else? They began to ascend the stairs to their top-floor flat. The house near Wardie School was quiet that day, with no neighbours.
As the final steps appeared and the couple reached for the keys, the woman froze in horror at what she saw. A mud-covered red and white bag sat directly before the door to their house. The plump package sat ominously before them, filthy and crumpled. Hesitantly the man passed his terrified wife and, with the lightest movement, reached out towards the bag. He grasped the mud-covered handle and slowly reached into the bag’s confines. He cupped a shiny, moist object, in his trembling grasp.
His wife’s face turned from terror to laughter as her husband removed the thing from the mud-stained Capital Meat Centre bag.
It was their neighbour Stuart’s football. ■
The Sinclair Fountain at Steadfast Gate