An interview with the travel blogger Stuart Forster for his blog, Go Eat Do.
The feature is about ideas for a weekend visit to Chester but, with Halloween approaching, previews my new Dark Chester tours [pictured above].
The tours run Saturdays at 6pm and delve into the dark-tourism heritage of the city, exploring 2,000 years of plague, poltergeists and religious persecution.
Talking about St John’s Church, a Saxon site of worship from 689AD, I describe how:
“Cestrians, the people of Chester, call it ‘the thin church’. It’s a reference to the fact it’s one of those places in the city where the world we know, and another we can’t explain, is at its thinest point. It’s a place to step across the supernatural threshold.”
We also discuss, amongst others, the Chester Mystery Plays and the Chester Heritage Festival (both returning in June 2023).
Plus wider ideas for things to do and see during your visit.
It is based around an autumnal visit to the Peak District village of Eyam, otherwise known as ‘the plague village’.
But my visit on a sunny September day proved prescient not just for a spooky Halloween story slot in Telegraph Travel, but also as a reminder of how history repeats itself.
Given the announcement of a new national lockdown in England this weekend, the story of Eyam feels more appropriate than ever — despite being over 350 years old.
Here’s a flavour of my feature:
The village of Eyam has been dramatically thrust back into the spotlight this year, however.
The history-repeating parallel between the heroic sacrifice of our 17th-century forefathers and the global response to the Coronavirus pandemic today has made it an unlikely haven for dark tourism fans.
While I find it busy with walkers sipping coffees around a flower-garnished village green on an autumnal day, it’s dark past hangs like mist over the peaks.
The latest travel trend has a macabre fascination: death.
While families tend graves from China to Mexico to mark All Saints Day this month, the final resting places of some of the world’s most famous stiffs are becoming major tourist attractions in their own right.
The trend is known as Dark Tourism, a term coined by Professor John Lennon, Director of the Moffat Centre for Travel and Tourism Business Development at Glasgow Caledonian University, to reflect the growing demand for tours to sites associated with war, genocide and assassination.
“The interest in sites of tragic occurrence reflects the human desire to touch death and explore the dark side of our nature,” explains Professor Lennon.
“There’s also growing interest in grave sites associated with famous people.”
The phenomenon even gets its own dedicated chapter in the new Lonely Planet cool-seekers guide, The Bluelist with hints on how to be a “dark tourist.”
Amongst the locations, the best known is probably Père-Lachaise Cemetery in Paris [pictured above], the final resting place of the cream of the French intelligencia with artists, writers and even rock stars pushing up daisies in esteemed company.
Balzac and Proust head up the French heavyweights while Oscar Wilde and Jim Morrison line up for the hedonists.
Meanwhile, London’s Highgate Cemetery boasts a wealth of Gothic tombs and buildings with residents such as the novelist George Eliot and the artist Henry Moore resting in peace along side Karl Heinrich Marx, the father of Marxist philosophy.
Highgate Cemetery tours run Saturdays and Sundays between 11am and 3pm.
The erstwhile Lorraine Motel at 450 Mulberry Street, Memphis, the site of the assassination of Martin Luther King, reopened in 1991 as the National Civil Rights Museum, while Cholame, in San Luis Obispo County, California, the place where James Dean died on September 30, 1955, is today home to a James Dean memorial.
The dates and hours of Dean’s birth and death are etched into the sculpture along with one of his favorite lines from Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s book, The Little Prince:
“What is essential is invisible to the eye.”
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This story was first published in BA High Life Magazine in 2006.