“London is a beautiful city, but at night we search not for the beauty, but the ugly,” says our guide, Adam, as we stand beneath the glow of a single lamp in a dark alley two weeks before Halloween, the time of year when scaring ourselves silly is our only order of business. This walking tour through the old city where we are regaled with some of London’s most macabre ancient tales by our knowledgeable Scottish guide is the perfect thing to get us in the All Hallow’s Eve spirit.
Our spooky London ghost walk begins just after nightfall outside of St. Paul’s Station. Our group stands in a huddle, and as the rain begins to fall, I’d be willing to bet I’m not the only one that is secretly hoping this tour will be worth possibly ruining my new boots for.
At 7:30 on the dot, Adam jumps atop a bench and orders us to gather round. By a show of hands, we count how many of our group are believers of the supernatural and the undead. A few among us tentatively raise their hands as the remainder, myself included, smile indulgently at their naivety. Adam quickly gives all of us non-believers the side eye and bets us we’ll be changing our tune by the end of the tour.
An old, familiar shock of anticipation mixed with just the smallest amount of fear runs through me and I’m reminded of those days from my childhood when my cousins and I would huddle in my grandmother’s closet in the back room with a small penlight as our only light source. My older cousins would impart the most horrifying stories in their repertoire, always telling them in that slow, painful way that scary stories are best shared in. I’d be trembling with nervousness throughout the entire tale, just praying for the end to come quickly because, back then, I believed every bit of those stories were true. Back in the present day, I’m really hoping Adam is right – I want to be that little girl in the closet scared out of her wits again, even if just for one night.
For two hours we wander through the deserted streets of the oldest parts of London, stopping frequently at famous spots like St Paul’s churchyard, the Old Bailey, and the site of William Wallace’s execution, as well as lesser known spooky locales like the King’s Wardrobe, a haunted pub, an old monastic priory, and the alley that once led to Newgate Prison. Each time we stop, there is a new story to behold, each better than the last. Having not grown up here in England, most of these stories are new to me, save for the most infamous of them all – Guy Fawkes and William Wallace.
From eerie stories of witches, sacrificial offerings, and ghosts doomed to spend eternity searching for their heads to gruesome true tales of cannibalism, plague victims, and executions – we hear it all. We even hear about Bloody Mary – probably the single most frightening story I can remember from my childhood, except this time the story is real. The time passes so quickly that when the tour is over, I realize two full hours have passed, but it’s felt like only half that.
Adam weaves his stories so well that on the way home, I can’t get them out of my head. But was he right – am I now a believer? As far as ghosts and supernatural beings go, I’ll believe it when I see it. But I am a believer in the power of a good story and I definitely had trouble falling asleep that night. Job well done!
If you’re interested in taking a London ghost walk yourself, they run all year long and you’re spoiled for choice with guides and companies, but I can highly recommend the Ghosts of the Old City tour with London Walks. I’ll be back next year for the Jack the Ripper walk!
Normally I’d write about our other Halloween celebrations in a separate post to keep this from becoming too lengthy, but as I’m so far behind that we’re already almost halfway into November, it’s probably best to just condense everything into one.
Halloween was a bit of a rushed affair this year. We returned from Berlin with just a day to spare before the holiday, so on Thursday Lex and I went went off in search of a pumpkin to carve, our one tradition we make sure not to miss every Halloween regardless of how busy we get. (Last year was the same way as we were just returning from Paris!)
When it comes to carving the jack-o-lantern, we all three have very clearly defined roles. Lexie goes on the hunt for the perfect design with only one restriction – it has to look like a 5-year-old could do it. She is also the resident guts-remover. Cory, as the only one trustworthy enough to wield a knife without slicing off a finger, is the carver, with Lexie, of course, overseeing the whole operation. As for me, I stand on the sidelines with my camera as our acting historian and offer unhelpful advice every few minutes. As long as no one tries to infringe on anyone else’s area of expertise, the process is smooth-sailing and we end up with at least a halfway decent smiling squash every year.
Thankfully I’d thought ahead far enough to get the ball rolling on our actual Halloween celebrations before we left for Berlin, so on Halloween 15 people (10 kids, 5 adults) gathered for dinner and trick-or-treating. Although, because of our late start for the actual trick-or-treating, Lexie came home with a whopping total of 21 pieces of candy. Probably for the best – now I’ll feel really guilty if I steal any of it.
She went as a cat this year which was one of the easiest costumes she’s ever chosen, but the makeup was another story. I’m not much of a makeup person myself, so my skills are, well, nonexistent if more than chapstick and one coat of mascara on the top lashes is necessary. Lexie had found a photo of this supermodel-pretty girl online who must also be a makeup artist because her cat makeup was impeccable and she says, ‘Can you make me look like this?’ Well, I gave it my best shot and I don’t think it turned out half bad. Lexie looked gorgeous, and maybe even a little too grown-up for my liking.
Next year she’ll be 13 and I’m not sure how many more trick-or-treats are still left in her future. By all means, I hope she dresses up and is the life of the party well into her 90’s if that’s what she wants, but I think we’re getting close to packing up the plastic candy-carrying pumpkin and just buying our candy at the store like everyone else without small Elsa and Anna-clad children. What do you think – what age is too old to be going door to door begging for candy? Hope you all had a happy Halloween!