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Canterbury Tales

13 Nov canterbury-cathedral-early20cghost

One of England’s most venerable cities, Canterbury offers a rich slice through two thousand years of history, with Roman and early Christian ruins, a Norman castle, and a famous cathedral that dominates a medieval warren of time-skewed Tudor dwellings. The city began as a Belgic settlement that was overrun by the Romans and renamed Durovernum, from where they proceeded to establish a garrison, supply base and system of roads that was to reach as far as the Scottish borders. With the Roman empire’s collapse came the Saxons, who renamed the town Cantwarabyrig; it was a Saxon king, Ethelbert, who in 597 welcomed Augustine, dispatched by the pope to convert the British Isles to Christianity. By the time of his death, Augustine had founded two Benedictine monasteries, one of which – Christ Church, raised on the site of the Roman basilica – was to become the first cathedral in England. Canterbury, like any other city with such rich history, has its fair share of spooky ghost stories, including the Girl in Grey in St Margaret’s Street, the mysterious figure in white at the Marlowe Theatre, and the Robed Man of Sudbury Tower.

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Five things to do this Halloween

31 Oct

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If you’re at a loose end this Halloween and in the mood to be scared silly, here are some suggestions courtesy of Ghost Cities:

1 Thing to watch – the Babadook will scare you silly…

1 Thing to read – one classic by Wilkie Collins and one modern chiller by Joe Hill (slightly cheating here with two but I couldn’t resist!)

1 Thing to visit – the Witches and Wicked Bodies exhibition at the British Museum: just about the scariest place to visit this Halloween!

1 Thing to eat – here’s a ghoulishly good recipe for that old favourite: pumpkin pie!

1 Thing to listen to – what else but Saint-Saëns’ Danse Macabre?

Enjoy – Happy Halloween!

Edinburgh: Dark Deeds in the Old Town

15 Aug

With the Edinburgh Festival upon us again, I thought now would be the perfect time for a reblog of one of my Scottish-themed posts from last year…

 

 

 

Ghost Cities

I’ve always found Edinburgh a splendidly atmospheric city, which is why I’ve visited it time and again over the years. The city is perched on a series of extinct (we hope) volcanoes and rocky crags – a setting so striking that Sir Walter Scott was moved to call it “My own Romantic Town”. In my opinion, however, it was another native author, Robert Louis Stevenson, who perhaps best captured the feel of this city with the following description in Edinburgh: Picturesque Notes: “You go under arches and down dark stairs and alleys. The way is so narrow that you can lay a hand on either wall; so steep that, in greasy winter weather, the pavement is almost as treacherous as ice.”

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Royal Ghosts & Hauntings

10 Jun

With the Jubilee not long past I thought that this would be the ideal time to look at the long and storied history of Britain’s royal ghosts and hauntings. The most difficult part is knowing where to begin – one thing that this country does not have is a shortage of tales of blue-blooded phantoms and faders. There is the ghostly lantern-carrying groom of Althorp in Northamptonshire, the spectral limping priest of Amersham, the blood-curdling screams of Edward II in Berkeley Castle, the decapitated head of Charles I seen floating around Billingham Manor, the various phantom coaches of Norfolk, the duelling knights with fiery swords at Blofield, the disguised queen at Borthwick Castle and the crazed laughter of Queen Isabella at Castle Rising. Royal ghosts haunt the New Forest, Hampton Court Palace and St James’s Park. Windsor Castle, one of the main royal residences, is also one of the most haunted. It somehow seems fitting that a royal line with a history as long, colourful and often lurid as that of the British Isles should boast so many ghost stories. But is there a deeper, darker reason for the prevalence of malevolent spirits in relation to the British Crown?

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Ghosts of Prague

25 Mar

Prague, the city on the Vlatava river, is not only one of Europe’s most beautiful capitals, it is also one of its most haunted. This bustling, cosmopolitan Czech city is sited amid the tranquil Bohemian countryside, which is home to dozens of brooding castles and historic towns, whose appearance has remained virtually unchanged for hundreds of years. It is hardly surprising that a place with so many layers of history, that has seen battles, murders, executions and assassinations aplenty, as well as many of the key moments in the story of Europe, should also boast more than its fair share of ghosts. In the late Middle Ages, during the reign of the Holy Roman Emperors, Prague’s position as the crossroads of Europe aided its growth into a magnificent city (at that time far larger and more important than Paris or London). In the 16th century the Austrian Habsburgs took over and built many of the Baroque palaces and gardens that delight visitors today, few of whom suspect the many secrets and supernatural mysteries that lie beneath the glossy veneer. Whether you are a believer, a sceptic, interested in the unexplained or simply looking for a good old-fashioned scare, learning more about the dark side of Prague is a fascinating process. The narrow lanes, cobbled alleys, ancient churches and historic monuments of Prague are brimming over with tales of alchemists, murderers, executioners, and the many unfortunate souls who once lived there. Some of them are said to linger in these places, and who knows, perhaps they can still be seen today…

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Where the Children Cry

14 Nov

Jenny Jones’ Where the Children Cry is by turns a ghost story, a horror, a history lesson and a gazetteer of the ancient city of York. The heroine, Louisa, looks back from the present day to a harrowing episode in her childhood when one of her classmates, a young Jewish boy named David, is mercilessly bullied to his death – an event which has chilling echoes of the massacre in 1190 of the Jews of York by a mob of townsfolk led by a sinister white-robed figure. When another Jewish family moves into Louisa’s neighbourhood this coincides with a rising of similar anti-semitic tensions and the terrifying reappearance of the unnamed figure in white. The author concentrates on building up an atmosphere of tension and a sense of impending doom rather than resorting to outright ‘horror’ as such (although there is one particularly toe-curling moment in the middle of the book which I would recommend any animal-lover to skip over). The real strength of the novel, however, is the vivid description of York, a city which Jones clearly knows well, and is hence able to depict in all its historic, brooding glory. In many ways York is the perfect setting for a ghost story, especially given that it is often regarded as the most haunted city in England, with a recent survey claiming that it has been the site of over 500 recorded hauntings.

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Oxford Ghosts

22 Oct
Oxford is probably most famous for its ancient university, its royal associations and its modern car production factories but this historic city is also full of ghostly accounts of apparitions, manifestations, and related supernatural phenomena. This should perhaps come as no great surprise: if any place in Britain is going to be haunted then it is Oxford, cruel to kings, malignant to monks and redolent with scandal. There are many stories of hauntings in Oxford, from tales of spirits that haunt the libraries of the colleges and shades that sup at the pubs and watering holes around the city, to stories of spectral monks and even royal ghosts. In particular, pubs and inns are a rich source of ghost stories and Oxford has its fair share of hostelries – at one time there were well over 400 in the city and perhaps the most famous of these still stands today in the form of the Eagle and Child.

Edinburgh: Dark Deeds in the Old Town

13 Sep

I’ve always found Edinburgh a splendidly atmospheric city, which is why I’ve visited it time and again over the years. The city is perched on a series of extinct (we hope) volcanoes and rocky crags – a setting so striking that Sir Walter Scott was moved to call it “My own Romantic Town”. In my opinion, however, it was another native author, Robert Louis Stevenson, who perhaps best captured the feel of this city with the following description in Edinburgh: Picturesque Notes: “You go under arches and down dark stairs and alleys. The way is so narrow that you can lay a hand on either wall; so steep that, in greasy winter weather, the pavement is almost as treacherous as ice.”

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