An Introduction to York, England
It was 3:00 in the morning, and my husband and I lay awake in a bed and breakfast on the outskirts of York, rumored to be the most haunted city in the world.
“Do you think this place has a ghost?” I asked.
“No,” he answered.
At that precise moment, the power light on the bottom of the in-room TV started flashing blue and red.
“Did you do that?” he asked. I could tell he was totally freaked out.
“No!” I hissed. And I really didn’t. Neither of us slept a wink.
Haunted York’s Past
Indeed, York was not subjected to the World War II bombings that devastated London’s West End and Birmingham, so its very structure is a ghost of the past. A stone wall encircles the city of winding market streets and warmly lit windows made from blown glass. I lost myself among the pubs, sweet shops and (regrettably) Starbucks cafés marveling at the progress of mankind. This is a city that has survived Roman occupation, Viking capture, Catholic scandal, plagues, wars and, yes, even jeggings.
Still, much of York’s tourist appeal rests with those who didn’t survive. As a result, the multiple ghost tours do a bustling trade at twilight. We had just stuffed ourselves with steak and chips at Rustique, a French restaurant near the Christmas markets, and even though it was a typically cold and rainy English winter, we were determined to learn more about haunted York after our brush with the supernatural.
Tours of Haunted York
It’s simple: scattered around the city are rendezvous points, usually marked by sandwich board signs with the time the tour starts, normally between 7 and 8 p.m. You show up at the beginning of the tour and pay the guide (prices range from about £3-5 per person). The lack of advance booking has pros and cons: the good news is that you can go spontaneously, and if you get lost en route to your desired starting point it won’t ruin your evening – you can just join another group. The bad news? Some tours are more popular than others, and a large group means being herded like sheep down York’s narrow, foggy – not to mention haunted – alleyways.
We had spent the day in the vicinity of York Minster and decided that this would be a suitable place to catch a tour, mainly because we knew how to get there. We quickly met a man in Dickensian garb with about 35 drenched tourists in tow. This was the tour for us.
York Ghost Stories
The guide was in good spirits and showed us the sites of murders, of secrets and lies, of sad mistakes. In one of the more famous stories recounted from the early 1950’s, a young plumber was working in the cellars of Treasure’s House, a historic house built on the site of an old Roman road, when he heard the sound of a horn in the distance. He kept on working and the horn continued to sound. It seemed to be coming nearer.
Suddenly, a horse’s head emerged through one of the cellar walls. The plumber was stunned and crouched in a corner as an entire procession of soldiers in green tunics came marching through the cellar along the path of the ancient Roman road.
He dashed upstairs terrified but certain that no one would believe what he’d seen. When he’d safely reached the ground floor he met a member of the household staff who took one look at him and asked, “So, you’ve seen the Romans?”
The Ghost of York
The tour lasted about an hour and by then the weather, bone chilling tales and sheep effect had taken their toll. We walked down the Shambles, an old shopping street that served as a model for Diagon Alley in the Harry Potter series, to The Golden Fleece, which claims to be the most haunted pub in York. We toasted the evening over British ale and mulled wine and read about the pub’s own ghost lore.
We’d prepared ourselves – we were ready for the ghost in our room. But he (she?) didn’t come again. Instead, we spent the evening watching late night British TV.
Sometimes even the living can be horrifying.
Written By Aleshia Howell
Aleshia hails from the rural Midwest but considers herself a citizen of the world. She worked in London, England, for six years, during which time she was able to explore Europe and North Africa (with the help of Ryanair) and the UK (with the help of her British husband’s mad stick shift skills). An aspiring screenwriter and novelist, she enjoys art house cinema, people watching and, strangely, air travel. When not taking ghost tours in haunted York, she currently lives in Michigan with her husband.