Forget Whitby Abbey and Dracula. Forget the headless drummer of Dover Castle. Canterbury is where real ghosts lie.
With all the excitement to come, you might need a cup of tea at Tiny Tim’s Tearoom on St Margaret’s Street before you begin your ghost walk. Place your order; green tea is best as it opens a door to the spirit world. Wait patiently. Have you ordered something for the three ghostly children that accompany you, or have you forgotten (like so many unsuspecting visitors before you)? You’d better hurry. Have the waitress nip back to take their order, but not too quickly, for if her uniform resembles that of a maid’s, then I’m afraid she’s with the children – in their ghostly dimension. Don’t stutter.
Ask the maid to take them back to Lyon’s Corner House and refresh their spirits in that old tearoom. Forget the tea. Let’s get moving.
Head out onto the street, turn left out of the tearoom and stop walking as soon as you pass The Canterbury Tales. Can you see City Fish Bar, the fish and chip shop on your left? If you can then a wooden face is looking down at you. Look up. It’s on the near corner of the building above the alarm. Don’t be scared. This isn’t a ghost it’s a carving; a Green Man escaped from the Cathedral. Keep walking. That’s where we’re heading now. His wooden eyes will follow you.
You’re on the High Street. Between Hardy’s Original Sweetshop and Lloyds Bank. Is there a rep pitching river tours? No – it must be their day off, no dunking today. Watch out! That cyclist is known for knocking people over, him in the corduroys, the fading jacket, was that the mayor’s gold around his neck? He’s gone now. Calm yourself. We’re looking up Mercery lane, straight ahead. I want you to stand in the opening of this 14th-century passageway and look up at the magnificent spectacle that is Canterbury Cathedral – a container for ghosts.
Before I leave you inside the Cathedral grounds and in safe hands we will detour and peek around a few more historic corners. Turn right and head along the Parade until you reach the next passage on your left: Butchery Lane. Can you smell the fresh pigeon and the duck as you walk its cobbled stones? The same meat a servant, Ellen Bean (Nell), purchased here and cooked for her master, a clergyman, and his mistress, whom he bedded after refusing to reciprocate Nell’s love. To make matters worse the friar initially claimed this new woman was his niece to avoid suspicion, but the niece’s unspoilt bed was no match for Nell’s 18th-century detective skills. Thus Nell assumed the role of a saint and kept cooking her master and his companion their favourite pie, adding a little more poison each time. Unfortunately, it’s feared the monks of Canterbury Cathedral caught up with poor Nell and her crime and gave her a taste of her own medicine: pigeon, and the ducking stool. You’ll find her tonight by the flagstones near the Dark Entry, an entrance to the King’s School. This was her burial place although I don’t recommend searching for her, as reported sightings are followed by a death in the witness’s family within a year.
Emerge from Butchery Lane and make a left, walk passed the Cathedral entrance where Burgate merges into Sun Street. Tunbridge Wells has the chalybeate spring but Canterbury has the pump of Sun Street. You can peer up the street if you like. Nobody’s watching. Those Medway lot have water that tastes like blood, but our source spurts the red stuff straight out. At least it used to – it’s said to have pumped red water, marked by the blood of the martyred St Thomas Becket. It was blocked due to contamination concerns.
All of the aforementioned ghosts, the children of Tiny Tim’s Tearoom, the cycling mayor, and Ellen Bean can be researched further. Today you have walked the paths they would have.
Tip: If you would like to find out more and have a guided ghost tour of the city, visit Canterbury Ghost Tours and book a 90-minute tour through the city streets.