By Hannah Woods
If you are looking for that extra scare this Halloween, try a chilling tour of the UK’s most haunted cities.
Until a couple of years ago, the idea of going on a ghost tour of a city wasn’t exactly on the top of my to-do list. Thus, on a family holiday to Edinburgh, when presented with a man holding a lantern with a fashion sense two hundred years out of date, I can’t say I was holding out for much. But after an exhilarating guide through the Old Town of Edinburgh, tales of the murders in the streets which inspired Robert Louis Stevenson’s The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde and a fascinating insight into the 18th and 19th centuries, I certainly was proved wrong!
While Chester, Derby, York and Edinburgh all compete for the title of ‘Most Haunted Place in Britain,’ most big towns and cities will have their own haunted walks, shaped by both the modern and ancient history of the area. These tours, which typically last a couple of hours, offer the opportunity to satisfy your desire for ghost stories and scares throughout the year, if Halloween has left you wanting more. Often relatively cheap, they offer a great variety of both family friendly walks and for the hardened among us, a darker, scarier midnight dash amongst cobbled, dark alleyways.
Here are a few recommendations:
Visit the city in which ‘only a few inches separate the living and the dead’ (Robert Louis Stevenson). The main locations for these ghost tours are next to Edinburgh Castle, where daytime, evening and midnight tours all take place. Learn about the ghost of Half-Hangit Maggie, as well as Burke and Hare – an infamous duo who committed a series of sixteen murders in 1828, selling the corpses to Doctor Robert Knox for dissection at his anatomy lectures. I would personally recommend Auld Reekie Tours: not only do they have tales of witches’ persecution and local superstition but their walks involve visiting the vaults under the High Street and a grisly torture museum.
London Ghost Walks offer fascinating haunted history tours that are both historically factual and spine chillingly gruesome, taking you through one of the City’s most ancient and haunted quarters. Located at the heart of the City by St. Paul’s Cathedral, the tour features the old churchyard where the fearsome spectre, the “She-Wolf” of France, performs a penance for her long ago act of infamy. Other notable highlights are visiting the spot where Sir William Wallace, Braveheart himself, was hanged, drawn and quartered in 1305 and the remnants of Roman London where numerous spectral encounters have occurred.
Or why not celebrate Halloween a little closer to home by exploring Durham’s own ghoulish stories? Durham Ghost Walks have tours that range from testing your own ‘psychic’ powers to a walk that traces the city’s horrible history. Perhaps for the students among us, the ‘Pubs and Prisons’ tour may be the most fitting, a chance to grab a drink and hear the haunted tales that Durham’s oldest pubs have to offer. Indeed, on this tour you will take a trip to Jimmy Allen’s, a former prison described as ‘among the worst cells in England.’ The pub itself was named after one of the inmates, Jimmy Allen, and it is traditionally thought that his ghost can be heard playing his pipes in the evening. Spooky.
Whether you are a sceptic or a true believer in all things supernatural, these tours offer a ghoulish insight into the dark and secret world of a city. Just make sure you keep an eye out for what’s behind you…
Photograph: Naoise Murphy