Miranda Avis, gets spooked with a tour of Salisbury’s most ghostly goings on…
We have lived in and around Salisbury for just over four and half years now. Yet, when it comes to exploring the famous tourist attractions that this part of the world seems to boast an abundance of, I must admit we’ve been only a little bit better than useless. It took us more than two years to venture the three miles up to Stonehenge and I’ve still not managed to book a tower tour at Salisbury Cathedral, let alone visit many of the region’s recommended museums. So, when I saw a ghost tour recently advertised in Salisbury, I thought I would give it a whirl, and booked up.
The tour itself took place on very cold, rather wet and eerily windy New Years Day evening; perfect conditions, I’m sure you’d agree, for fueling unbridled imaginations! I joined a group of thirty others (the youngest being a rather brave 6 year old) and awaited our first installment of ghostly delights from our gregarious and well-informed tour guide.
Debenhams department store, would you believe, was once a popular drinking hole, called The Blue Boar Inn. It was here on 2nd November 1483 that Henry Stafford, 2nd Duke of Buckingham, was beheaded, having been found guilty of treason against King Richard III. The attic room, where he was said to have spent his final few hours, is now a store room and a ‘cold wind’ has been felt by many staff members whilst working in there. Shoppers should also beware, for the Duke reputedly likes to loiter in the women’s changing rooms…and hiss!!
Crew Clothing, we were told, is home to a ghost called, Oliver. Not unfriendly, but certainly mischievous, Oliver will frequently move items of clothing about the shop. Quite how he came to be called Oliver is unknown, as many who have seen him believe he is wearing a French soldier’s uniform.
As we moved from one location to the next, whispered discussions between members of the group carried on the wind: “I’ve been going in that shop for years and had absolutely no idea. I won’t be going back in a hurry!” It was the youngest member of the group, who seemed most unperturbed by the spooky tales we were being told and skipped along at the front of the party.
As we wound our way across the city, the stories kept coming; from wandering monks, elusive doctors and tearful grey ladies to Victorian nurses in the Old Hospital and unhappy children in the city’s workhouse on Crane Street. Our guide’s passion for the past was palpable, and I found myself leaving behind the humdrum of modern day life and being transported back to bygone days. Buildings I had considered ‘familiar’ were being studied in a whole new light, indeed it was as though the brutality of the past was coming to life right before my eyes. In a way, the ghost stories were just a small part of the package; moreover, I was getting an insight into what everyday life was once like in our beguiling city.
For the tourists in the group, I imagine the highlight of evening was standing in front of the city’s cathedral, resplendent and mesmerizing in equal measure. Rumour has it giant white birds fly around the spire to announce the death of the bishop or other senior cleric associated with the building: “The most notorious sighting occurred in 1885. A certain Miss Moberly was walking across the Cathedral Close when she saw the huge birds wheeling above her. Not knowing of the legend she pointed the strange birds out to a workman who told her of the old story. The event was given its disturbing quality by the fact that Miss Moberly was the daughter of the then bishop, who was grievously ill. The poor girl hurried home, but her father died later that day.”
The tour ended at the Red Lion pub where many of the group chose to drink a tipple to calm the nerves, at least that was the most obvious excuse of the night. I headed back to my car, a walk that should have taken me 10 minutes but on that night I think it was more like five!
So, would I recommend the ghost walk? Absolutely, although I’d be wary of taking very young children – some of the tales of ‘market day beheadings’ are grisly to say the least. I think I feel more attached to Salisbury as a result taking the tour; it reaffirmed just how special the city is. Now, to book the cathedral tower tour….