For my son’s birthday we took a bunch of terrified kids on a ghost tour of Cambridge – on a Saturday evening, perfectly timed as dusk turned into night and the old lamps came on in the chilly backstreets of the historic town centre.
Leading the tour was Nancy, who cut quite a ‘Woman in Black’ figure herself. Come to think of it, she did rather vanish into the night at the end.
What I loved about the tour, as well as the spooky tales, was the way Nancy picked out tiny details in the buildings around us that revealed history, stories and secrets. A never-before-noticed stone carving of a dog baying from the roof of a house, commemorated a tragedy that once occurred within. A tiny, goblin-like charm incongruously placed in a photography shop window, hints at the presence of a hideous half-torso phantom that visits from time to time…
(The bottom half – if you really needed to know!)
I was particularly pleased to hear that Jamie Oliver’s restaurant was once haunted by a ghostly librarian, who delighted in tidying up books. Quite a handy ghost to have, in fact.
Eerily of all, a seemingly charming piece of ironwork, apparently just showing a house’s number but in fact revealing – from certain images in its decorative detail – for instance a gallows tree – that this was once the house of the Cambridge hangman! Ghostly customers may return to his doorstep, one imagines, to grumble a bit.
It was intriguing to hear about Cambridge’s famous new (ish) Relativity clock. My son had asked me a while back why it had a monster on top, and I jokingly told him that it was there to eat the seconds as they passed. This flippant explanation turned out to be true – apparently the weird beast is intended to be a chronophage – a time-eater.
This clock was slightly shoe-horned into the ghostly theme, by Nancy pointing out that clocks, as they tick out the seconds, remind us all that we are all being hurried along to our graves! One of the mums did stifle a snort of disgust at this macabre remark.
If you’re looking for something offbeat to do with your kids you could do a lot worse than creep around the backstreets of Cambridge on a myth-haunted night. Perhaps the scariness was all the more pleasurable knowing that the cold outing would end up with us being crammed into Gourmet Burger Kitchen at the end.
The pleasure children have at anticipating their birthdays and all the attendant hulabaloo, is only matched by the delight of the parents – sigh – when the whole thing is over for another year.