All this talk of friendly corridors and nasty corridors leads rather nicely into my next trick.
For a while ago I paid a princely sum to be taken around Wolsey’s folly, Henry VIII’s old stomping ground, his love shack, Catherine Howard’s undoing: the little royal village by the Thames, Hampton Court.
And last night, as the sun was setting, my friends and I rolled up in the Historic Royal Car Park and parked the old Merc.
The light of early march is strange at best, the sunlight a pale peach wash. And the temperature was already falling there, next to the Thames, as we walked to the West Front of Hampton Court.
And at that time, just before six on a Saturday evening, everyone was somewhere else. The good people of Molesey, Surrey were returning from hectic shopping trips to make their tea, or propping up the bar in local pubs, or some such thing. They certainly weren’t here. The palace was utterly deserted.
And we stood there, the great west front of the castle bathed in Winter sunset, the Thames silver-peach behind the skeletal trees, and none of it seemed quite real.
For a ghost tour one must wait until darkness falls, surely: and thus it was with us. We strolled along the front and into the gardens as frame by frame, the light stole soundlessly away to another part of the world. At the far end of the gardens is Capability Brown’s old house. We strolled past the meadow trees – which are only a month or so away from their heady blossom days. They were cold and bare as we passed.
And when it was quite dark, we assembled to begin our tour.
We began on the great drawbridge with stone lions and unicorns towering over us as the tales began to flow. And the great locked Tudor gateway swung silently open to allow the feet of the earnest ghost hunters through. It was an impressive piece of theatre, adding piquancy to the anticipation of a night in the dark palace.
And then we were in, walking in the gloom of a Winter’s evening across the cobblestones of this ancient, tiny Royal village, where layer upon layer of human life have left their mark and the stories lie about waiting for someone to plunder them.
The voice of the great water spout in Fountain Court is usually drowned in all the bustle of a tourist attraction but in this dark silence it was almost a shout. It carries on, night and day, and as you walk past it rises for all the world like an ethereal white apparition with an agenda all its own.
And the castle, tonight, was ours. All ours. I knew it well enough to sense where I was and identify what lay in the dark doorways beyond the pools of light; and I, like the rest of my small party, feasted on sole ownership, on the lit vistas and shadowy turrets of a treasured ancient place.
The stories: well, each one is a post all its own.
And so that it how is will have to be. Over the next weeks, in between the business of passing time and the storytelling flotsam and jetsam thrown up on the shore every day, I’ll tell some of the tales I heard last night. They make excellent entertainment, as I’m sure some of them have done for centuries.