Sawney Bean, Ayrshire and Arran
The diet of Scotland’s west coast has often been pilloried for being high on fat and sugar, low on fibre and vitamins. But back in the 15th Century there was one man whose mealtimes were altogether less wholesome. This man lived with his family in a cave in south-west Ayrshire, bordering Galloway , and lived an outlaw existence with his incestuous family. In his cave, the Sunday roast was a macabre affair: Alexander Sawney Bean was a cannibal.
The south-west of Scotland was an ideal location for Bean; a man who was said to hail from Lothian , yet moved with his wife to an area that was isolated and sparsely populated; it was a main trading route for merchants travelling to and from Ireland. A busy enough route to keep Bean’s larder full, but in South Ayrshire, if you were a traveller, no-one would miss you. Even today, people are outnumbered by cattle, and if you were to stray from the beaten path, well… you may be gone some time.
The identity of Bean is controversial; there is a persuasive argument that insists he is a figment of the imagination. More sinister still, is that he was invented by the English, as a character who seemed to embody the immoral Scotsman. But perhaps the most telling piece of evidence that endorse Bean as a work of fiction is that there are no official records held regarding him or his victims. Surely, the landlords and traders who went missing would have been documented – especially if enough of them went missing to feed a family whose number was estimated to be 46.
Thousands of people went onto the dinner plates at chez Bean. The exact location of the cave is said to be Ballantrae on Bennane head, and is now inhabited by strong-stomached tourists and the obligatory ghosts of the family’s victims. Those of a more nervous disposition can see how the Beans lived in a replica at Edinburgh dungeons, or rent The Hills Have Eyes from their local video store – Wes Craven’s debut horror was inspired by Bean.
With such a perilous diet it was only a matter of time before the Beans would come undone. After a lucky escape at the hands of the hungry family, a man alerted the authorities. The case went straight to the top, with King James IV taking a personal interest, mustering men and bloodhounds in search of the deviant Beans. The Beans were found, taken to Edinburgh and afforded a gruesome execution. Fingers crossed they were denied a final meal.
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