First impressions of London and ghost stories of York
My first days in London as a 22-year-old in 2008 were very different to those of my grandmother who arrived by ship as a 32-year-old in 1952. In this time travel series, I recount the tales, thoughts and experiences of me and my grandmother – two female travellers of different ages, from different eras, with different approaches to travel and life. The differences are so evident when reading my grandmother’s first days in London, and this, the first entry in my travel diary…
Sunday 11th May 2008
Flying in over London this morning at 6am, I couldn’t get over how green the place is compared to Australia. We’re in drought at home and here the place looks like one giant turf farm!
London isn’t what I expected. That is, a big-business city with plenty of hustly and bustle, kind of like Sydney. In my first day of exploration I have found it to be a very green, widespread, and beautifully preserved city, with all major sites still not too far from one another. All the buildings are old, but still clean, intact and being used. The whole city is a buzz and yet not near as crowded as I’d expected.
Unbelievably, I was burnt on my first day! It was a beautiful 26 degrees – almost unheard of at this time of year.
Walked for hours and saw Kensington Palace, Kensington Park, Hyde Park, Piccadilly Circus, Covent Garden, Leicester Square, Oxford Street – and made it through jet lag!
Wednesday 14th May
Bumped into “Sex and the City – the movie” premiere in Leicester Square on Monday. It was a nice surprise but we couldn’t see anyone – the place was packed.
Must tell Mum about “Diana Cafe” – it’s not far from Kate’s place in Notting Hill and the whole wall is covered in photos of Princess Di.
[Note: Stayed with a friend, Kate, during our first few days in London.]
Monday 19th May
CONTIKI GREAT BRITAIN!!!
Started our 8-day Contiki tour on Saturday and, apart from one really over-the-top-won’t-shut-up-repeats-a-story-a-thousand-times-seems-to-be-so-obsessed-with-me-and-Tim-it’s-kind-of-freaky-and-everyone’s-feeling-sorry-for-us Canadian girl, it’s going quite well.
Beautiful little town with quaint but plentiful markets selling amazing food at really good prices. The town seems so small but at one end there’s Eton College, which is really old looking and you see boys walking around in black and white suit things – like coat tails – very pommy/posh looking. But the college is not really that big, so I don’t understand why it’s THE place to send royalty to be educated. At the other end of Windsor is this massive castle – Windsor Palace, the Queen’s place of residence when she’s not working and staying at Buckingham Palace in London.
The first time I saw a castle, I couldn’t believe how big and old it was. There’s nothing in Australia that even comes close to the age of the castles around the UK.
There was a royal wedding on at the palace the day we were in Windsor – some Prince marrying a Canadian chick – so we couldn’t check out the insides.
[Note: The wedding was of Prince Peter Phillips and Autumn Kelly.]
A slightly disappointing town, but probably due to the fact that I didn’t hear a word our tour guide said because I couldn’t get away from Canadian-girl-who-never-shuts-up! Though, saw the famous and old Oxford University and places where some scenes from Harry Potter were filmed.
Had a few “halfs” of Strongbow at the “Eagle & Child” – a pub famous for “The Inlkings” – a group of uni professors who wrote novels, such as Lord of the Rings, while drinking at that pub.
Cool medieval kind of town with the huge gothic cathedral – York Minster. It’s 276 steps to the top via a tight, dark spiralling staircase. York is a town with plenty of ghost stories and history, crooked old houses and creepy alleyways.
We took a ghost tour and were told freaky stories such as…
There was a little girl called Alice who was schitzophrenic or something but back in the day they didn’t know what was wrong with her, so her parents used to lock her in her room. The windows of her room overlooked the lane and when people would walk past she’d scream at them from her window. For unknown reasons, she died in her room but her ghost could still be seen and heard screaming at people walking through the ally. People were so scared, they wouldn’t use the ally, so Alice’s windows were painted white all over. To this day, the house comes with a conditional lease that those windows remain painted over. The ally is called Mad Alice Lane and located just off The Shambles.
Saint Margaret and the mysterious silence
Margaret Clitherow was a devout Catholic in the town during a time when King Henry VIII wanted to overthrow the Catholic faith and create his own religion and church – the Church of Engalnd. No one was allowed to be Catholic but Margaret housed travelling Catholics and still practiced her faith so the people of York had to make an example of her. They laid her on a big piece of board and put a rock under her back, put another board on top of her, then piled rocks on top of that board until the weight broke her back. She is now named a Saint. After her death she became a hero to Catholics and one bishop was in such awe of her that he cut off her hand and preserved it. Margaret’s hand is now in the York museum. Her house faces The Shambles and at 12.20pm each day there is always an unplanned, unintentional 30 seconds of silence in the street. Even people that don’t know the story fall silent. It’s thought that 12.20pm was the time she died.
The plague and the crying girl
There was a block of houses where all occupants had the plague. The townspeople were so scared that they boarded up the houses so those inside couldn’t get out. Eventually, everyone inside died of the plague. Except a little 7-year-old girl who appeared to be immune to the disease. But the townspeople wouldn’t let her out for fear she’d infect them all. She would sit in her bedroom window in her white dress, crying. Eventually she starved to death, but, even today, people say they see her sitting in the window, crying.
There were many other ghost stories. Pretty freaky.
An interesting fact
The reason we now refer to a group of people as ‘guys’ is because of Guy Fawkes – a Catholic who was caught red-handed with gunpowder under Westminster and plotting to assassinate King James. He was caught and his head was cut off and paraded around on a stick. Even now the people of York have “Guy Fawkes Day” where groups of people parade around with models of Guy’s head on sticks. So people would call out, “Look at those Guys over there!” Apparently that’s where the term “guys” come from anyway.