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Cambridge Virtual Ghost Tour

The other weekend I went on a punting/walking ghost tour in my city Cambridge UK and I've decided to post a virtual tour based on that, on the most suitable day of the year, Halloween. So join me on the inky black waters of the Cam and beyond...

You step onto the punt that rocks gently with your weight added to it, getting seated comfortably on the blankets whilst the others board. In the background you can see the bats flitting across the nearby weeping willow, a tree that is steeped in superstition - they are said to have spawned upon sites of suicide and that to touch the falling tendrils is to know death within a year.

As the punter sets off, you are questioned by your guide, "Do you believe in ghosts?" Does anyone dare say yes?

Gliding along the river in the quiet dark waters of the backs you pass by Queen's College, founded and refounded by two Queens beset by tragedy, Margaret of Anjou (wife of King Henry VI, a king troubled by insanity) and Elizabeth Woodville (whose sons were the ill-fated Princes in the Tower), and the famed mathematical bridge.

Further along, you spy the open lawns of the rear of King's College, the setting for the hellish tale of John Barrett in the 16th Century. Barrett was a notorious reclusive, a paranoid man, who was not unknown to lock himself away for days. One night god-awful piercing screams were heard coming from his room but no one deigned to investigate, for Barret was an eccentric. Days later they pondered on his failure to appear and sought explanation - the locked room was opened and there they found a coffin, nailed tight, with the man in. No one else in the room, they had no idea what has happened, though the rumours go that he may have made a deal with the devil.

A little along the river we see the impressive Clare's College, traveling past the college library above the Tudor chapel that was once purported to be the home of a skeleton of Dr Robert Greene. Upon his death his will stated we was to first have the fat boiled from his bones, with his skeleton donated to the college and displayed in the library, and indeed for many years a skeleton was displayed there thought to be his, though it is known now to not have been Greene's. During renovations it was decided it was no longer appropriate to hang a skeleton in the library, leading to placement in a cupboard that some suggest is the origins of the expression "skeleton in the cupboard". Over the course of the 19th century students became ever fonder of taking a bone as a memento of their time at the college, until eventually nothing remained.

Then we stumble upon Trinity college, a college unique for having formed the long running Ghost Club among past alumni, that let to accounts of ghostly sitings being seriously recounted and the formation of the more modern ghost stories back in the 18th century. Famous members of this included such notable persons as Charles Dickens and Siegfried Sassoon.

Nearing the end of our punting we approach finally St. John's college and its two closeby bridges, the kitchen bridge and the roofed Bridge of Sighs, one of three bridges in the world named that. The 2nd is at the rival university of Oxford and the 3rd is the originally named roofed bridge in Venice both are named after, called so as prisoners were said to have sighed crossing it to their execution. Here, the only sighs are likely to be on the way to exams. The bridge has led to some interesting stunts in more recent times, including the ambitious mission, probably in the 1960's, to punt a Mini Cooper car down the river on 4 punts and suspended with ropes to swing under the bridge after they'd made an exit. A stunt that prompted a repeat stunt with a Reliant Robin years later.

One ghost of St. John's is that of a poor student, who could not afford to heat or light his rooms and so would study on the landing with straw around his feet to protect them. He was an excellent student, who later became a master of the college and upon his death willed a great sum to build a chapel - his ghost is said to haunt his well used study place at the top of one of the stairs, complete with bale around his feet, and he can be asked to leave and very politely will apparently.

After a swift turn about, the punt doubles back a distance allow us to dismount and begin our walk along the dimly lit side streets. Striding to keep up with the pace, you find yourself finally stopping on King's Parade in front of King's College, an iconic tourist attraction that also provides a nice challenge for the pranks sometimes performed by The Night Climbers of Cambridge. On many occasions this secret society has been claimed to be responsible for placing bicycles, loo seats or traffic cones and even four Santa hats a top each spire of King's College, taking them quite some effort to remove with professional services hired to construct scaffolding (urban legend tells that the company got 3/4 constructed only to find the bicycle on the opposite end the next day) or steeplejacks to come access the objects.

A short walk away finds us at The Eagle pub, one of the oldest inns in Cambridge from 14th century that has huge wooden doors to one side once used for coaches riding in and the site at which DNA was first theorised to exist. The pub is also home to an RAF bar, the graffiti on the ceiling in there made by WW2 servicemen before they went off to war, and to the a window that is always open. Why? A fire involving a trapped child on the upper floor is said to have burnt down the previous incarnation of the pub and ever since it was rebuilt the window in that spot has been kept open to allow the spirit to escape - the belief that closing the window will cause either gruesome screams of the spirit or further fiery tragedy is so strong it is now in the lease that it must be open 365 days a year and following the mistake of a trainee manager in closing it very briefly in recent times (supposedly causing an electrical fault and near miss of a fire from it) the pub landlord has permanently fixed it open, meaning no matter what day of the year you go there, no matter how bitter a winter day, that window will be forever open (see far far down the page for the photo).

Making your way down a tiny street not too far away, we find "The Haunted Bookshop" that is home to a vision of ethereal beauty, the woman in white, walking from the ground floor to the room upstairs and whose apparition brings with it the scent of violets.

Another retailers, Jet Photographic (formerly a women's shoe shop), home to the college prints of matriculation and graduation has a similar but less welcome tale of a man whose dark figure tends to be spotted peripherally as he walks upstairs. The latest owner, however, finds it quite unwelcome leading to the prescence of a green man amulet in the window to ward of his spirit.

The final college stop is by the side of Corpus Christi, a college solely formed to restock the ranks of clergy following their near extinction In Cambridge during the Black Death (priests being hit hardest as those to both bless the ill and to read last rites of the dead) and unusually the only college formed by townspeople.

The first story of this college is of one of its masters, Dr Henricus Butts. One college was to perform a play for the king of the time, but both Corpus Christi and Trinity College wished to, so it was decided both would do so. Shamefully for Henricus, Trinity's play was a resounding success and theirs poo-pooed. Unable to stand this humiliation he hung himself with his garments and his little dog curling up at the bottom of his feet not willing to leave him. Both were found dead days later. You'll find there no statues of masters, but atop one of the parapets of the college there is a statue of a small dog, said to be more beloved by the college inhabitants than its master.

The second story of Corpus Christi is both more tragic and more horrifying - it is of the the daughter of Master John Spencer who did the unspeakable in falling in love with a student. One day she took tea with him in her father's rooms, but upon his return the boy was hidden quickly away in a large oak cupboard. Her father whisked her off for the holidays, leaving the boy in the cupboard, a cupboard that could not be opened from the inside. On their return it became evident her lover had died in that room and her father wanting to avoid scandal nailed it shut tight, ignoring it. Elizabeth died six months later, possibly guilty or broken hearted but her father kept the secret, with it only being found much later when rooms were renovated and the mystery of the missing student was linked with the skeleton, his remains being interred in a graveyard on college grounds. The rooms are guest rooms in modern time, but few placed there appear to wish to stay there, citing odd noises like scratching or screaming coming from the area. It's also claimed that Elizabeth, buried in close proximity at a nearby church where her father and mother rest too, can be seen on some nights walking up the road to meet the spirit of her lover coming from his resting place in the opposite direction.

Our penultimate stop is an old sometimes Cambridge hangman's resident, hinted at by the ironwork sign hanging outside it; a number 7 against a gallows tree. The hangman in question was famous not for his skills at hanging but for how many, botched or not, executions he performed. He was a better businessman than hangman - selling off pieces of the rope (one possible origin of the saying "money for old rope") - with him rarely succeeding first time as he wasn't the best mathematician to figure out the correct length of rope. Too little and the person strangles instead (you'd want some "hangers on" to save you from this fate), too much and off pops their head.

Lastly, we approach the unnerving Corpus clock designed by the inventor John Taylor (who made his fortune with the kettle thermostat used worldwide) that was unveiled by Stephen Hawking in 2008. The clock is self-regulating, accurate every five minutes, made with a 24 carat gold face depicting a drop of water creating ripples and featuring the creepy chronophage atop, it's jaws moving to eat each second as a reminder every moment gone is destroyed.

And that's it for the virtual tour, my sharing some tidbits and eerie tales of my home city which I figured might be fun for my flist who like such things. I hope my links work fine, if not please say, and I really hope some one out there enjoys this, silly as it is - if you do, let me know. Happy Halloween. ;D


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