“ Ghost tour around Belfast city centre. „
At the end of last year, a friend of mine from England came over to visit. She had never been to Belfast before, so I wanted to organise a few trips so that she could see a bit of the city. Both having quirkier tastes and liking all things spooky, I decided to book us onto the Belfast Ghost Tour, which is a walking tour around the city centre. I thought it would be something a little different to do - a lot of Belfast based tours are centred around the areas with flags and murals, and I personally am fed up with people thinking that that is all there is to see and do in this city. Hello, it is 2012, and while sadly those images are part of our history, can we just move on, please. Belfast is a modern UK city and in my opinion the past needs to be left behind and we should show off all the good things about this place rather than the bad.
*steps off soapbox*
You don't necessarily need to book this tour in advance, as you can just turn up on the night, however they do recommend pre-booking. You can do this via a web form at www.ghostwalkbelfast.com, or by calling or emailing - again these details are on the website.
I booked our tour in advance as we went the weekend before Halloween and I thought it might be busy. They sent me a quick email to confirm that they had received it. You just pay the tour guide at the beginning of the tour, so you don't need to enter any debit or credit card details.
The tour goes from the front of the City Hall at 7.30pm, 7 days a week. I do notice on the website that the tours have just started running again, so please check the site before showing up in case they are not running that particular week. For locals, you will know where the City Hall is already, and for tourists, this could not be easier to find as it's a big white building slap bang in the city centre. There are no signs to indicate whereabouts in front of the City Hall the guide will meet you - but you will know who they are when you see them!
This costs £8 for adults and £5 for children, which I feel is very reasonable given that the tour lasts for approximately 1 hour and 15 minutes.
THE TOUR GUIDE AND TOUR ITSELF
There was a group of us waiting outside the City Hall when we saw a woman dressed in Victorian-era clothing approach us. She appeared to have a severed neck and was looking rather pale... some might say ghostly. Yes, it was our tour guide. From what I gather, this tour has a few different guides, and who you get depends on which night you go. They all dress up and are natural storytellers/actors.
The guide took our payment and then asked if any of us believed in ghosts. I was one of the few who said yes which I was surprised about!
She then began the tour. She walked us to several different points, all located within the heart of the city centre. Every so often she would stop at a different building or focal point and tell us a story about it. These included tales about murders, body-snatching and ghosts. Rather than being full-on, exaggerated ghost stories, they were based in actual fact and were very historical. Some of them were really interesting, particularly when she told a story about Burke and Hare, and their link to Belfast. The tour took us both past main shopping areas (for example apparently the alley beside BHS is haunted), around the Cathedral quarter which is already very historic, and down several darkened alleyways that I didn't even know existed! It also takes you past Whites Tavern, which is a very old pub in town which is notorious for being haunted, and again the tour guide tells you about its resident ghost. The most memorable fact, for me, that we were told was that the large Primark in town used to be where people were hung. Is the building's current use as a haven for bargain-hungry shoppers any less disturbing? ... Well that's not for me to say!
You do seem to cover quite a lot of ground during the walk, so I'd recommend comfortable shoes.
ATMOSPHERE AND SCARE-FACTOR
Because we went in mid-October, it was already dark by the time the tour started, which helped with the spooky atmosphere. Some of the stories our guide told us took place in areas which now have shops and offices, which I feel took away from the atmosphere. However, once she started taking us down alleyways in the Cathedral quarter, it felt a lot more 'real', as that part of town was very, very quiet at that time of night. Even I as a Belfast native felt rather disorientated about where exactly in town we were, due to the darkness and the twisty alleys we were led down.
I personally wasn't spooked by the stories but I still found them very interesting. I would say that a lot of people *would* be spooked - unfortunately due to a diet of horror movies since childhood I seem to be immune to this type of thing!
Our guide was very good, putting on different voices when telling the stories, and being very dramatic; but I felt at times she talked very quickly. I had a tough time hearing her and making her out at points so I am not sure how people who weren't local would have coped. That said, she was excellent and very friendly, so I do not want to appear negative about this aspect.
WOULD I RECOMMEND?
Definitely! I think I will go again this Halloween, and I would heartily recommend this tour both to locals and tourists. It's good for those who like spooky stories, but also for those who enjoy a bit of local history. It would also appeal to many ages, and braver kids would love this.