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by Jane Cassie
For Travel Writers’ Tales

He’s dressed from head to toe in raven black and melds seamlessly into the pitch dark night. In one hand is an umbrella that doubles as a cane. In the other, is a flashlight, waiting to come to life. Timing is everything, and when the nearby bell of St Andrews begins to toll, he goes into action.

(1 Shaughan in a narrow alley during the Ghost Walk.)

“It’s the bell from Gabrielle, who sends your soul to heaven or hell…” The cue has been perfectly timed with our guide’s performance and following the lyric, he sheds light on another spooky tale.

For sixteen years, Shaughan has led the way on Original London Walks, and during our jaunt, we are captivated by his haunting vignettes. The slap stick is creatively infused with song, and presents more like a Shakespearean play than a ghost hunt.

While weaving around London’s dimly-lit alleys, we hear about ruthless royals, cruel slayings, and returning spirits. Men who were boiled alive in 1305, have come back to deal with their executioners. Chained prisoners who were gruesomely disemboweled have been heard clanking over rooftops. There’s been weird whistling in bell towers, mysterious cries within walls, and phantom galloping over cobblestones. Throw in a few bodiless heads and headless bodies and you have one haunting heyday! But in spite of historical reports, it’s all in good fun, and we will snooze well beneath London’s full moon tonight.

(2. Shaughan and the Ghost Walk)

Although we have our fill of spooks after this stroll, two evenings later, we’re lured like werewolves to the Richmond district where more eeriness waits.

(pic#4 here)

Ham House is the perfect place for specters. The isolated Stuart mansion hugs up to the River Thames, and when nighttime falls, its Tutor silhouette takes on an ominous glow.

John Mills, our burly guide, turns out to be another ghoul guru. We gather in the Grand Hall, once a party place for the royally rich, where he provides a Coles notes version of the history. “The house was built in 1610 for Sir Thomas Vavasour,” Mills explains, “then was gifted to his best friend, William Murray, a.k.a. Earl of Dysart.”

Generous guy, I’m thinking. But, as we soon discover, money doesn’t always breed nice people. The Earl’s daughter, a spendthrift and an unfriendly gal, inherits the haven. She goes through a couple of husbands, makes some poor financial choices and her entire domain goes belly up. Ham House becomes a time capsule after her death in 1698, yet in spite of its vacancy, a few spirits continue to linger.

We discover that the resident Chaplain, Gilbert Spink, was quite enamored by the daunting duchess. “When the apparition of this lady returns, dressed in black, the spirit of Spink is following close behind,” Mills shares, “and so is the resident pooch, a Cavalier King Charles spaniel.” We ogle over the canine’s skeletal remains, well-preserved under glass, and check out this glum looking trio whose images are portrayed on canvas. Sticking close to Mill’s shadow, we mosey through the fine interiors decked out in period décor, then head to the chilly outdoors. Just beyond the canopying arboretum, is the celebrated Cherry Garden, an orangery, and yes, more ghostly sightings. After hearing about returning love-crushed servants and World War I heroes, we’ve had our fill of phantom fun –at least until the following day.

Further up the Thames is Hampton Court Palace –sixty lush acres, colossal citadel –the whole bastion bit. Initially, the fortress was built for Henry VIII, the big-bellied king who had the reputation for killing off wives. While being led through his palatial quarters by costumed guides, we’re given the run down of these hapless women who have made a comeback to haunt these halls.

(3. Hampton Court Garden)

His third wife, Jane Seymour, has been seen wandering the Clock Court. His fifth fair maiden, Catherine Howard, has been heard shrieking in the Haunted Gallery and his second in line, Anne Boleyn, seems to be here, there and everywhere. As well as around Hampton court, we discover that her presence is predominantly felt at the acclaimed Tower of London, another popular niche for the incorporeal crowd and another London haunt where history literally comes to life!

(4. Henry VIII Great Hall, Hampton Court)

Official Britain website

photos #1 #2 - photos of Shaun leading the ghost walk
Photos #3 #4 - Hampton Court

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