Learn more about Cambridge-based authors of ghost stories on this unique tour
Ghost Writers on the Cam is a two-hour walking tour of Cambridge – the brainchild of passionate performance storyteller, art historian, writer, researcher and former employee of the Fitzwilliam Museum, Robert Lloyd Parry
The tour seeks to breathe new life into old ghost stories and provide insights into the lives of the writers behind them, some very well known and others less so.
This original tour is every Sunday afternoon and is one of three provided by Robert – the other two take place inside the Fitzwilliam Museum, whose employ he left 10 years ago.
Ahead of the walk, Robert explained that all the ghosts we were to learn about were “unashamedly fictional” and that although the tour would visit familiar sites, the stories recounted would hopefully be less well known.
He added that few cities – especially ones of Cambridge’s size – have produced so many top writers of supernatural tales, and this is mainly thanks to the university.
It’s also due to the fact that Cambridge has always produced rather eccentric characters, men especially – traditionally speaking – who spend large amounts of time in enclosed university spaces teeming with history.
Beginning at the Fitzwilliam, Robert revealed that he worked at the museum as a research associate for five years and spoke of its connection to the former undergraduate, don and provost at King’s College, MR James, arguably the most successful writer in the ghost story genre out of all those featured, and a name that crops up again and again on the tour.
A stop opposite Pembroke College expands on one particular experience that happened to Pembroke alumnus, former Poet Laureate Ted Hughes, while Aleister Crowley is another well-known name from the 20th century who was mentioned later on when we were standing on a bridge over the Cam near Trinity College enjoying what was another beautiful day.
While Hughes, Crowley and MR James remain venerated figures of literature, one of the tour’s strong points is the fact that it also delves into the lives of some of the ‘forgotten men’ of macabre letters, such as Barry Pain (who also wrote for Punch magazine), Gerald Heard and Thomas Anstey Guthrie.
St Bene’t’s Parish Church – the oldest building in Cambridgeshire – the front and back of King’s College, Trinity Hall College and Trinity College were some of the other places where we stopped to learn more about a specific writer and/or story, all delivered with great exuberance by our guide, who also does readings in museums, as well as preparing audio guides and museum literature.
I particularly enjoyed hearing about the Chit Chat Club at King’s College where one of the writers – I won’t ruin the surprise – read his work aloud for the first time and that the second floor above Noa Noa on King’s Parade was once the home of novelist Lucy Boston.
Afterwards, I sat down in The Mill pub with Robert, who has lived in Cambridgeshire for 18 years, for our own ‘chit chat’.
“I work as a performance storyteller, specialising in the works of MR James,” he explained, “and I recently started cultural tours – tours of the collections of the Fitzwilliam Museum but also this tour of Cambridge.”
Already highly knowledgeable on MR James, Robert spent a few years researching other ghost story authors with Cambridge connections, and initially came up with the idea for Ghost Writers on the Cam around a year ago.
He then spent a month or so working out the route, which writers he was going to focus on and all the other necessary details.
Robert notes that Ghost Writers on the Cam examines the “lives and the sights and the forgotten stories of many of the people who have passed through Cambridge and written supernatural tales”.
Robert’s tours of the Fitzwilliam Museum, Fear at the Fitz and VII Strange Tales at the Fitz, runs most Saturdays throughout the year, while Ghost Writers on the Cam run most Sundays.
For more information, visit nunkie.co.uk.
More by this authorAdrian Peel