Seeking Asylum

Talgarth AsylumHiding from vans, crawling under fences and getting covered in anti-vandal paint. Our urb ex adventure to Talgarth Asylum was…challenging.

Talgarth Asylum opened March 18th 1903 for 352 patients at a cost of £126,000. There was a public ceremony to celebrate its opening. It was built with a compact arrow design so two points could be reached quickly. Originally known as the Brecon and Radnor joint counties asylum, it became Mid Wales Hospital in 1932.Talgarth Asylum

During WWI, many soldiers were admitted after suffering shell shock, and prisoners of war were also patients. During WWII, 67 male patients and 48 female patients were transferred there from Cardiff City Mental Hospital (now known as Whitchurch Hospital, where we go for therapy), which had become a war hospital. In July 1940, they decided to make Talgarth a military hospital and civilian patients were transferred to other mental hospitals in Wales. It returned to being a civilian hospital in 1947.

Talgarth AsylumBy 1955, two extra wards were added and in 1965, a treatment ward was built. It started closing in the mid ’90s and finally closed in 1999. The grounds house the hospital buildings, five family homes, a tennis court, cricket pitch and a chapel. Like most asylums of the era, it was self-sufficient, with its own water, heating and sewerage system. Patients grew the hospital’s food on the farm. Inside there was a recreation hall, dining room, kitchens and workshops, such a tailor’s, baker’s, shoe-makers , printing shop and 8 market gardens. Patients worked there as part of their rehabilitation.Talgarth Asylum

In 1948, it became a NHS hospital, where they introduced art and occupational therapy and integrated the sexes. Some buildings were used for the Mid Wales College for Nursing and Midwifery and the Powys Drug and Alcohol Council. They also provided care for the elderly mentally ill, rehabilitation and continuing care, day care, reflexology, physiotherapy, ECT, chiropody and psychiatry. After its closure, patients were transferred to Bronllys hospital, which was previously known as the South Wales Sanitarium.

Talgarth AsylumIt was sold to the former chief medical officer for £227,000 and several buildings were sold off and converted to become Black Mountains Business Park. Due to the isolated location, this failed. In 2009, it was put up for sale. Most of the slate, which was worth £1 million, was stolen from the roofs and the gatehouse was sold.

Talgarth AsylumWe’ve wanted to explore Talgarth for years. After our failures at Denbigh Asylum, Talgarth became top of our list. But rumours of asbestos and tight security had always put us off. Then we started urb ex and became a bit more confident. We found people who had explored it recently and suddenly the cameras, security guard, guard dogs, fences and anti-vandal paint seemed a lot less challenging.Talgarth Asylum

The trip started badly when halfway there, Cat realised she’d left the action cam at home. The camera DESIGNED for urb ex. She was furious with herself. The hospital is easy to find, with big pillars stating Black Mountains Business Park. There’s no gate. We parked much further up the road in a nature reserve and walked. That way, if anyone saw our car, they’d think we were in the woods. We even cemented that deceit by venturing into the woods until the family parked by us left. James Bond could learn a thing or two from our techniques. MI5 if you’re reading this, we are available for casual spy work.

Talgarth AsylumWe headed up a driveway and found ourselves in someone’s farm surrounded by ponies. They watched us, like they knew why we were there. Big signs on the fence stated NO ACCESS TO HOSPITAL. We were convinced they were lying but turned around anyway. We didn’t fancy being shot in the arse by an irate farmer as we scaled his fence and made getaways on the tiny ponies. We continued down the road and discovered the pillars further down.Talgarth Asylum

Then we encountered our second obstacle: workmen RIGHT BY the goddamn pillars. We casually strolled past while a Range Rover drove through the pillars. We loitered, looking highly suspicious while we debated what to do: fetch the car and drive in or walk. Both ways meant walking past the workmen. And the Range Rover was yet to come out. We decided to use a tactic that has never failed: act like you’re supposed to be there and nobody stops you. It served us well in Las Vegas hotels, we were confident it would work well here.

Talgarth AsylumWe walked past the workmen and up the private road. This was daring. There were witnesses. We lamented our lack of chloroform and other knockout gasses. James Bond would’ve been prepared. The hospital greeted us like a stonework Tantalus as it stood smugly behind its palisade fencing topped with barbed wire. The Range Rover was parked beside the chapel, opposite the main entrance. It was empty. We doubted security or urb exers would have a Range Rover – they’re usually used for school runs. We walked past. The main entrance has no doors but does have palisade fencing. We continued on. Then heard a van. We darted behind a bush but Jack and Laura weren’t as quick and were convinced they’d been spotted. We hid until the van drove away. We’d barely begun and our nerves were getting shredded!Talgarth Asylum

We toured around the hospital. There was absolutely no way in. Every wall, roof and fence had coiled barbed wire. The main hospital was more secure than a bank vault. But we don’t give up. To quote Fallout Boy, we don’t know how to quit. Then another van drove in, with dogs in the back. Again, we darted behind another bush. Jack definitely got spotted. The van stopped. We stayed very still, hearts pounding. Was our adventure over before it had begun? Then Cat saw he was looking straight at us. He’d stopped just past the bush. We now looked very suspicious. We were trapped. He could see us standing behind the bush looking dodgy. Cat took photos of the building behind us. The longer we stayed, the worse this looked. We had no choice. We had to leave the bush. So we strolled out, taking photos and filming, acting like we hadn’t seen him and employing our ever faithful ‘act like you’re supposed to be there and no-one stops you’ rule.Talgarth Asylum

The van driver called out. “Excuse me, what are you doing?” Lynx “Just having a look around.” Cat “Our relative was a patient here many years ago so we wanted to see this place.” Lynx “We’re doing our family history and wanted to see where they were held.” We already have done our family history. Jack had come up with the relative story earlier. It was the perfect cover. The van driver drove off. Was that the security everyone was so worried about? It seemed too easy. Did he believe us or was he going to fetch the police? Maybe our D&D roleplay is proving useful in real life. Well, it went better than our D&D roleplay, which usually ends up with us being arrested.

Talgarth AsylumThen we found a way in to one of the outer buildings. This one was right by someone’s farm. We donned our asbestos masks and crawled through the base of the door. And were immediately hit by an eye-watering stench. Was that faeces or our hopes of access rotting? Jack thought people put the stink there deliberately to keep people out. It almost worked but if this was the only building we could get in, we had to brave it.

Turned out we were in one of the additional ward buildings, as we found a ward office upstairs. Every floor was coated in moss. This was one of the safest buildings, which says a lot about the dilapidated state of Talgarth. As is our rule, we explored upstairs first. A small Care Bear toy sat on the stairs. Didn’t think Care Bears were the urb ex type, as they’re against rule breaking.Talgarth Asylum

There wasn’t much to see in the ward building, just empty rooms with the carpets and curtains left behind. As we left, we realised were covered in black anti-vandal paint. Us and Jack had it all over our hands and it stained Jack’s grey hoody. We didn’t see the paint and there was no signs warning it was there. It’s around every window, board and doorway. Another van passed us. We didn’t even attempt to hide and he didn’t stop. The Range Rover woman returned to her car. She’d been walking her dog.

Talgarth AsylumWe wandered around looking for a way in to the main building. There was a wooden flap that said oil. Cat was doubtful and wondered if it was a way in. The flap was right. She was now standing in oil. Then she went down steps to what turned out to be a storage room and for the first time, we didn’t have torches. So she took photos using her camera flash to guide her way around and make sure she didn’t imitate Laura by falling through a hole in the floor.

Talgarth AsylumWe found another building and circled it. Rooms were filled with junk furniture. The base of the windows were open but smeared with anti vandal paint. And the gaps were roughly one foot high. We decided to use our skinniness to our advantage. Cat found a table in the undergrowth and put it below the window before climbing up. Anti-vandal paint was everywhere, but this is why we wear PVC for urb ex. She slipped through the gap easily. Lynx followed. We’re like tiny gothic ninjas. Jack and Laura didn’t want to attempt it so stayed outside while we explored.Talgarth Asylum

We found a social room and cartoons drawn on one of the walls. There were large laundry containers, unused syringes still in their packets and lots of furniture. All the doors at the back of this building were wide open. We found what looked like air raid hangars filled with junk. Toys, filing cabinets, a VHS player, cassette tapes and a child’s bike. We explored around the back of the building and found a fence to the main building. With a gap underneath. It’s what looks like an old stream bed or drainage channel. It had concrete slabs in but after a brief check, we realised if we could shift the slabs, we could crawl under. Never mind urb ex, this was more like a prison break. Step aside Schofield, there are new tattooed prison breakers in town.

Talgarth AsylumWe returned to Jack and Laura and relayed our plan. But we needed to find another way around, rather than through the windows. We climbed out and headed for the main entrance to see if we could squeeze under the fence. Bear in mind, we were standing in full view of the hospital, discussing how to break in. Yet nobody threw us out or called the police. Cat got her head and shoulders under the fence in the main entrance but there is one major issue with being female urb exers – boobs. They get in the way of crawling under low fences. She squiggled out and stood up. She was filthy. Again, this is why PVC is perfect for urb ex as it wipes clean.

We tried the church. No way in. We returned to the building with the narrow windows. This was our only hope. Then Cat discovered that the green metal fence that blocked off the building, went into a hedge. And there was a small gap. We battled the holly bushes and all squeezed through. We shifted the concrete blocks and by lying flat and belly crawling, managed to wriggle under the fence and into the gardens. We hoped there was no guard dog here as there was no way to make a swift exit and our pride would never recover from being dragged out of the hole by dogs as we’re wriggling free.Talgarth Asylum

Then we found a low open window. This was the easiest part of the whole adventure. We were in the main building! We’d gone to Talgarth expecting to be thrown out by security, chased by the guard dog or arrested. And yet we were standing inside the main building. As long as you get past the fences, there is no problem accessing the main buildings.

And then we saw why they’ve gone to such lengths to keep people out. It’s dangerous. We kept our masks on the whole time we were inside the buildings due to the asbestos risks. There are signs warning of it all around the hospital. We’ve seen people online who’ve gone in without masks. It’s not worth it. We bought a bulk box so they worked out at less than £1 each. We’d rather look a little ridiculous than get cancer.

Talgarth AsylumDownstairs the buildings aren’t so bad except for a few holes in the floor and some side walls missing. But upstairs, every single room has fallen through to the one below. At one point we walked along a corridor and every room either side of us no longer existed. We left that bit. We explored another corridor that had half collapsed and the moment we felt the floor sink, we bid a hasty retreat.

In one building we couldn’t even get upstairs as the roofs had collapsed on every stairway. For some reason, we felt really uneasy in the main buildings. Normally once we’re inside, we feel safe, knowing no-one can see us. Outside is where you’re in danger of being caught. And there was no way anyone could see us in here. But we didn’t particularly like being in there. We felt really nervous. Heart poundingly nervous. We’ve never experienced this in any location we’ve been in, not even when we’re ghost hunting. And we’ve slept in haunted jails!

Talgarth Asylum

chapel

We explored a bit more and found the enormous dining hall with the stage! This is what we mostly wanted to see. The stage is pretty much intact and the skeletons of chandeliers hang from the ceilings like gibbet cages. Weirdly, there’s hardly any graffiti in Talgarth. Probably due to the difficulty of getting inside.

We didn’t explore all of the main buildings. We’d been at Talgarth for three hours and seen maybe half of it. But we were felt we were starting to push our luck. We’d already been seen a few times and questioned once. While we wanted to explore the rest of it, we felt it was best to leave before we were thrown out. And now we know how to get in, we can always make a return trip. Providing the security people don’t read this and block up our bolt holes.

Talgarth AsylumWe left without encountering anyone. Which is just as well considering how dirty and paint covered we were, there was no way we could hide what we’d been doing. We strolled casually back past the workmen and returned to our car. We’d heard that locals deflate urb exers’ tyres at Talgarth so we took a foot pump with us but our tyres were left alone. Probably because we were parked nowhere near the hospital. We left victorious. Talgarth was one of the toughest locations in urb ex and we conquered it. Now we’re unstoppable…

Oh and anti-vandal paint comes off in the bath.Talgarth Asylum

Urban Foxes

Climbing in morgue fridges, falling down holes and getting spotted by a suspicious man with a garden strimmer. We went urb exing again. And it went well.

Mountain Ash HospitalAfter our successful Red Dress Manor adventure, the urb ex bug had bitten us hard and we wanted to go out again. We haven’t been ghost hunting since April and are having trouble finding places we can afford or places that don’t require Public Liability Insurance. Most places don’t even bother replying to our emails, so our planned summer of ghost hunting has turned into our summer of urb exing. We’d heard about Mountain Ash Hospital a few months ago and now we were going to explore it.

Mountain Ash HospitalThis time, we were prepared. As usual, we check with urb exing forums to see how recently people got in and if they had difficulty. We then scoped out the hospital on Google Earth, (which we didn’t do with Red Dress Manor) looking for places to park. Unfortunately, Goggle Earth was from 2009 – when the hospital was still open – but there was an orange Mini Cooper convertible in the car park. It’s like the hospital was expecting us. An urb exer had taken photos showing the road to the hospital was blocked, but Google Earth showed us what looked like a path from the roadside through some trees.

Mountain Ash HospitalOriginally built in 1910 as Mountain Ash Cottage Hospital, it opened as a General Hospital in 1924, with a grand opening ceremony that saw marching bands and hundreds of people. It seemed everyone from Mountain Ash had attended. It closed in 2011 when Ysbyty Cwm Cynon opened. Five years later, Mountain Ash General Hospital lies ruined. Ease of access has meant people have completely trashed the place. Windows are smashed, graffiti covers the peeling walls and not a single room is intact. There’s no indication of it being a hospital – no equipment, no wall signs, no rusting stretchers, no paperwork. Nothing that is usually found in abandoned hospitals. Even the copper pipes from inside the walls and the roofing tiles have been stolen. It’s a shame because half the fun is seeing the history of a place. Red Dress Manor wouldn’t have been the same without the insurance documents and exercise books. Plus places look creepier if they’re left intact. The Marie Celeste wouldn’t have been as famous had it been trashed.

Mountain Ash HospitalLaura saw on Twitter that in July, police mentioned there were neighbourhood patrols of the hospital. Considering how easy Red Dress Manor was, this worried us. We don’t exactly blend in. We wouldn’t have it so easy twice in a row. Whenever we have good luck, several bouts of bad luck always follow. Fate doesn’t like us having nice things. But we had a plan – pretend one of us was injured and we were looking for a hospital. Considering the regularity with which we’re injured, this was plausible. Or we could dress as doctors/nurses/patients and act natural. We considered dressing as Silent Hill nurses but we’d have trouble seeing and would probably get hurt. Plus, the way they move (awkwardly and only when hearing noises) would hinder our exploring.

Mountain Ash HospitalOur SatNav, Helen, directed us the wrong way. She said “turn right” as we approached a right turn. So we did. Only to end up on the A470 heading back to Cardiff. It turned out, she meant a right turn further down the road. Listen Helen, we take things literally. You tell us to turn right, we’ll turn right. Don’t tell us to turn right, if you don’t mean it. This is where misunderstandings and falling outs happen. Our brains weren’t wired for subtext and mind reading.

Mountain Ash HospitalWe turned around in Pontypridd and headed back up the A470. She’d cost us three miles then randomly spoke to us, saying “did you say something? I didn’t catch that,” indicating she may now be sentient. She sounded a little sarcastic, like we’d insulted her under our breaths so she was doing the whole ‘I’ll pretend I didn’t hear it, see if you say something different’ thing. After the tempestuous relationship we had with AA route planner, Helen seemed so different. Perfect, almost. Now we seem to be arguing all the time. She’s stroppy, she sulks, she blames us if we take her directions literally, if we go a different route to the one she suggests, or if we stop off for the toilet, she refuses to speak to us. We’re not sure these relationships are worth the hassle.

Mountain Ash HospitalAfter the slight mishap, we reached Mountain Ash Hospital no problem. We parked in a bay on the side of the road then continued on foot, heading up through the gap in the trees we’d seen on Google Earth. Though dressed in PVC (it wipes clean so is perfect for urb ex) and armed with cameras, it was clear we weren’t in the area for a casual stroll. The original road up to the hospital has corrugated steel gates with ‘private property, keep out’ graffitied on them. We knew we were in the right place. There was no-one around. We reached the top of the wooded slope and there it was.

Mountain Ash HospitalAll the doors and windows are open or smashed. There’s no climbing, no fences, no barbed wire, you just walk in. So we did. We couldn’t believe our luck. We were finally inside an abandoned hospital. Then Laura fell down a hole in the floor. Lynx had called a warning as she went on ahead. A door partially covered the hole and as Cat was saying the warning, Laura plummeted, like a hanging victim through a trapdoor. It was hilarious. Only one leg went down luckily as the door covered the rest of the hole. She didn’t even cry out or swear during her descent. Jack was helpless with laughter, Lynx missed it as she was ahead but the moment Laura fell, Cat’s hero instinct kicked in and she dashed to save her, pulling her out of the hole and brushing her down. Laura had somehow managed to keep hold of her phone, which was impressive. And the whole thing was caught on camera.

Mountain Ash HospitalWe’d only been inside about two minutes. It was one of the funniest things that has ever happened on our adventures. And we’d left our first aid kit in the car. Tom had owned the crown of ‘worst accident on Calamityville’ after receiving a blood injury in Monmouth Shire Hall, (and is the reason we now carry a first aid kit) but Laura is the new wearer of that crown. We then covered the hole completely with the door to stop other explorers coming to any harm. We’re becoming responsible in our old age.

Mountain Ash HospitalWe headed upstairs, thinking if someone came, at least we’d explored up there. The roof has completely gone and most of the walls are missing. People had sprayed ‘Trump for Prez’, which shows the mentality of the taggers. There was also UKIP graffiti, which again, shows that the people who trashed the place operate on a subhuman level. One lot of graffiti read ‘I’ll be a better man today’. Not entirely sure graffitiing a hospital counts as an act of self-improvement but at least he seems willing to change.

Mountain Ash HospitalMore stairs led up to an attic area and we actually accessed the roof. We didn’t stay up there too long because we’d easily be spotted parading around on the roof of an old hospital and we didn’t want people with air rifles taking pop shots at us. It’s not a working hospital so being shot in the arse with a pellet would really sour the adventure. Our first aid kit doesn’t contain tweezers. (Note to selves – add tweezers.)

Mountain Ash HospitalThe main building wasn’t as big as we expected. There weren’t any large wards that you’d expect from an old hospital. As Cat and Jack were in a small room, a man walked past with a strimmer slung over his shoulder. He stared at them almost in acknowledgement of fellow rule breakers. Cat quickly turned away, applying the ‘if I can’t see him, he can’t see me’ method of hiding used by small children and kittens. Jack didn’t see him. Lynx had spotted the small boy with him but not the man. We thought he might have been part of the neighbourhood patrol we’d heard about, but he didn’t call out or tell us to leave so he was obviously exploring the place like us.

Mountain Ash HospitalBut we kept a closer eye on the windows after that. We left the main building and headed to the other buildings. We always feel exposed outside. We can be seen much easier and have nowhere to hide. And with our cameras, excitement and fabulous dress sense, there’s no way we can pretend we’re there to act as security to keep out pesky kids. There was no hint of what the other buildings were, as again, they’d been stripped bare. One housed the rusting generator. Then the final building was the one we’d most been looking forward to.

The morgue.

Mountain Ash HospitalIt looked nothing like a morgue. Only the fridge was still there, though the door had gone. Who would steal a morgue fridge door? How would you get that home? There’s no way to nonchalantly walk down the street lugging a fridge door. Graffiti on the side of the fridge read ‘dead as fuck’, which is at least true. Well, you’d hope people put in the fridge were dead. We took a photo then in true goth style, took turns to get inside and lie on the rollers. Mountain Ash HospitalSadly, unlike in Newsham Park hospital, there are no slabs to lie comfortably on. And the rollers made manoeuvring around inside a tad tricky. But if we see a morgue fridge, we have to get inside it. The way we have to pat every cute animal we see. As Oscar Wilde said “I can resist everything except temptation.”

Mountain Ash HospitalWe wandered around the outside of the hospital and luckily, the man with the kid had vanished. Maybe it wasn’t a strimmer he was carrying. Maybe it was a chainsaw, and a group of horny youths were about to meet a grisly end. Though we’re not sure Mountain Ash Chainsaw Massacre would be a hit. Hoping he wouldn’t return with the police and some angry neighbours, we headed back inside the main building to find our way out. Mountain Ash HospitalWe’d taken some ghost hunting equipment with us but our K2 battery died and we’re always so paranoid we’ll get caught that we don’t like staying longer than necessary. We like to explore every single part in case we’re asked to leave, whereas when ghost hunting, you need to stay in one place for EVP sessions and calling out. Though we did ask for any doctors to come and take a look at Laura’s leg. None responded so maybe any ghost doctors don’t work weekends.

Mountain Ash HospitalWe still can’t believe it was so easy. We half expected the police to be waiting for us when we reached the road. You’d think that two successful urb exing attempts would give us confidence. But it makes us suspicious. Fate must have something nasty planned for the next adventure. Maybe we’ll be eaten by a guard dog, or worse – the Wrong Turn cannibalistic hillbillies. Maybe we’ll be thrown in jail and be Big Nora’s bitches before lights out. The possibilities are endless.

Cat and Jack reached the road first and hid behind trees when cars came. We waited for all cars to go then casually strolled out and returned to the Mini. There was no letter on our windscreen and no angry man with a mallet threatening us. Now for our next adventure. If you don’t hear from us again, we were mistaken for horny youths…Mountain Ash Hospital

Going Postal

Going PostalGold suits, golems and undelivered mail. On Friday night we went to see Monstrous Productions‘ latest play, Going Postal.

We read the book once we found out this would be the next play performed by the Cardiff-based theatre group. We never miss a play and each time it gets bigger and better and we wonder how the hell they’ll pull the next one off, as they get more ambitious every time. But they always do, with a brilliant cast and crew and a minimal set that really works. The Gate arts centre is the perfect venue for it.

Going PostalDirected by Amy Davies and Edward Thomas, Going Postal tells the story of Moist Von Lipwig – con artist extraordinaire. He’s due to be hanged for his crimes but Lord Vetinari, played brilliantly by Michael Dickinson-Smith decides to hire him as the new Postmaster. Well he has two choices – be the new Postmaster or walk out the door and into a pit. He decides being the Postmaster is a better option.

Going Postal

Asher as Moist Von Lipwig

About five previous postmasters have all died. Health and safety just isn’t up to scratch. The problem is, the post hasn’t been delivered in fifty years and the letters aren’t happy about this. Then there’s the Grand Trunk and their clacks towers to contend with and they’re not exactly pleased about the post office opening back up and stealing their business. The hanging scene was one of our favourites in the book and it still made us laugh. The gallows humour is exactly our type of humour so we were pleased it was performed so well.

Going Postal

Michael as Vetinari

Asher Townsend, who plays Moist, was fantastic. He captured his cheeky character perfectly, even down to his smile, which often made the audience laugh. And his gold suit stole the show. The golems were a particular favourite of ours and their costumes were amazing. It’s not easy to bring a thousands’ year old pottery creature to life! Moist’s scenes with Adora Bell Dearheart were always entertaining. Ellen Warren, who played Miss Dearheart was perfect for the role. She was exactly how Miss Dearheart should be. Josh Flynn, who played pin-obsessive Stanley and Neil Chappell who played Reacher Gilt’s assistant Igor, got the most laughs. Josh’s hyperactive portrayal of Stanley was hilarious. Pete Belsen did a great job as Junior Postmaster Groat. We liked that the tradition of Nick (who played Reacher Gilt) dying in every role was continued. Even if it was off stage! As usual, he was brilliant and we loved his costume.

Going Postal

Nick as Reacher Gilt

Michael’s deadpan performance of Vetinari was spot-on. He had the dry sense of humour down perfectly. We’re always astounded by the quality of acting in these productions, as well as the costumes and set props. It’s clear how much fun everyone has doing this. Not only that, but the money raised goes to charity and so far, Monstrous Productions have raised over £20,000 for Alzheimer charities. If you’ve never seen one of these plays, please go to the next one. Even if you’ve never read Pratchett, you’ll love it.

Thanks to Amy and Craig for letting us use your photos in our blog.

We think Sir Terry Pratchett would be proud to see his work performed so brilliantly by true Pratchett fans.

The next play will be The Amazing Maurice and his Educated Rodents. We’re excited already!

Going Postal

Pete as Groat and Josh as Stanley

Cast

Moist Von Lipwig – Asher Townsend

Adora Bell Dearheart – Ellen Warren

Groat – Pete Belson

Stanley – Josh Flynn

Vetinari – Michael Dickinson-Smith

Mr Pump – Matthew Burnett

Reacher Gilt – Nick Dunn

Drumknott – Matthew Hitchman

Sacharissa – Sarah Roberts

Bill/Voice of the poet – Harry Spencer

Harry – Terrance Edwards

Mr Pony – Tony Beard

Stowley/Costume – Herm Holland

Mrs Greenyham/make-up – Zoe Azzopardi

Sane Al – Alex Butterworth

Mad Alex – Matt Edwards

Crispin/Ponder Stibbons – Loz Shanahan

Postman Aggy/Mr Slant – Scott Ericson

Trooper/Anghammarad – Edward Duke

Miss Maccalariat – Sarah Burrow

Mr Spools – Paul Woolley

Devious Collarbone/various – Sam Lewis

Mrs Parker/various – Davina Darmanin

Deaconess of Offler – Claire Taylor-Shepherd

Igor – Neil Chappell

Mr Wilkinson – Jamie Gibbs

Ridcully/various – Steve Durbin

Gryle – Jes Hynes

Nutmeg/various – Luke Belson

Big Dave/various – Katya Moskvina

Various – Howard Dickins

Pin customer/various – Richard McReynolds

Various – Jasmine Isaksson

Various – Isabelle Burman

Crew

Director/Producer – Amy Davies

Director – Edward Thomas

Stage Manager – Hannah Bennett

Technical Manager – David Rose

Costume Designer – Lizzie Mulhall

Graphic Design – Gemma Willians

Golem builder – Holly Raddy

Photography – Craig Harper

Sound – Joe Davey

Production Assistant – John B Dent

Lady in Red

Red Dress ManorBeing half naked in the back seat of a car while a man with a mallet threatens you sounds like the start of a teen slasher film. It was the end of our urban exploring adventure. It was going so well.

Red Dress Manor

living room

Over a year ago, Wales Online published an article about Calcott Hall, aka, Red Dress Manor. The once working farm was built in 1725 and was abandoned in the ’90s. Online articles say it was abandoned in the ’70s when owner Ellen Jones fell ill. Red Dress ManorHowever we found medicine bottles for a Francis Jones dated 1994 and a letter to Francis dated 1997. We had to go. This place was calling to us, whispering that it wanted us to explore inside it. And like sailors lured to their deaths by sirens, we obeyed. We kept our excitement in check by reminding ourselves that previous urb exing adventures never went well. We always got caught or failed to get in. Bit like the rest of our lives really – one adventurous failure after another, all packaged in hilarious stories to hide our misery. If we want to urb ex, we always check forums to see if anyone’s been there recently. They had. This was looking good.Red Dress Manor

We met our partners in crime, Laura, Jack and James, who join us on most adventures now and set off. We’d refreshed our rusty law knowledge and went satisfied that we weren’t breaking any laws. Trespassing is a civil offence and as long as you don’t damage the property or commit any crimes while there, you’re fine. If someone asks you to leave, just leave. We said to our mum “You didn’t try to stop us, tell us it was a bad idea or warn us to be careful.” Mum “I’ve given up now.” When we told our uncle about our adventure, he said “Hopefully one day you’ll get hit by the normality cloud.” Luckily we’re fast and have the motto “if you keep running, it can’t get you.”

Red Dress Manor

kitchen

It was all going so well. Except our SatNav, Helen, wanted us to take a left road. We were following James, who went straight ahead. Helen kept trying to make us do a U-Turn. When we disobeyed, she switched off data connection and sulked. She does this a lot when we ignore her. We should take her to meet our therapist, as she clearly has issues. Mid Wales is mostly mountains so internet signal isn’t great. Then Lynx (who has kidney issues) really needed a wee. There were no services. There hadn’t been any toilets for miles. She was desperate enough to go at the side of the road at this point but having recently had bad experiences at being semi naked in a public place, it was unadvised. Red Dress ManorWe eventually found a pub and pulled in, losing James and Jack. Toilets were for paying customers only. Cat had to pay £1.20 for a lemonade just so Lynx’s kidneys wouldn’t explode. We enjoyed our unnecessary drink slightly enraged. Though the cheerful barman seemed thrilled to have the three of us there. We were the only customers. Maybe everybody else was peeing in the bushes out the back. While we were there, Helen, realising we needed her help, switched data connection back on. We hit the road. To find services with toilets half a mile later. We met up with the guys in a petrol station further down the road and continued.Red Dress Manor

As we neared our destination, the road was closed. The only route around it meant going quite far out of our way to loop back around. Helen kept insisting we make a u-turn and drive through the road closure. Maybe she wanted to experience an action film lifestyle where we crash through barriers without scratching our paintwork.Red Dress Manor

We’d seen on a forum that tips for finding the house was ‘find the village, find the house.’ Kind of like ‘save the cheerleader, save the world’. We doubted this simplicity. Nothing in life is that easy. We were wrong.Red Dress Manor

Domgay in Llanymynech isn’t a village. It’s a long road with farms and a funeral director’s off it. We travelled the road. And found the house. It’s easily visible from the road. It’s stunning in its decay. We found a lane around the other side and pulled in. But there were gates and cows so we couldn’t park there. This was going to be a problem. Trying to hide an orange Mini Cooper convertible and a blue Ford Street Ka was not going to go well. We drove around then spotted a visitors’ car park. We parked there and went on foot to the house. One problem – we stick out. With a group of five people, including twin goths with orange hair and none of us dressed like country people, it was clear we didn’t belong here. Luckily there was no-one around.

Red Dress Manor

attic room

Cat found a gate blocked by stinging nettles that were nearly face high. No-one was keen on this. James then found a low fence topped with barbed wire. We’d pick barbed wire over stinging nettles any day. Cat ducked under the wire then held it up for James. He removed the loose top plank, making access easier. We crossed the field to the house. Red Dress ManorThe front door was boarded up but Cat spotted an open window. Six feet off the ground. We’re 5’1″. There was a ledge at our waist height, just wide enough for toes. At this point, she regretted her tight PVC trousers but luckily, our hyper mobility means we can get our feet to waist height. She climbed up, pulling herself up with the stable part of the window frame. We didn’t come dressed for climbing! James and Laura hate climbing so we were impressed they were willing to get in this way. Cat pulled them up then Lynx climbed up, followed by Jack. We’d actually made it inside.

Red Dress Manor

medicine bottle dated 1994

Normally, when things go well, we get suspicious. If we have a run of good luck, it usually means something horrible is about to happen. You can blame it on us being paranoid and having trust issues (both of which are true) but nothing ever goes well without being countered by something bad. Weirdly, it never happens the other way around.

We found ourselves in the living room. It was mostly intact, apart from papers and receipts scattered everywhere. This was a theme. Previous explorers have ransacked the place, tossing fifty years’ worth of paperwork (we’re not kidding – there was an exercise book from 1949) and clothing all over the floors.

Red Dress Manor

our entrance/exit

It was such a shame. The house would have had a far creepier atmosphere had everything been left as it was when the Jones family lived there. A photo from a girls’ grammar school sits on the fireplace. We ventured further inside, keen to keep away from the window so we wouldn’t be seen. There were two further living rooms. Both had massive holes in the floor and trees growing inside them. We didn’t enter them. The kitchen was safe. Here we found the letter to Francis and the medicine bottles. There was also a car insurance certificate dated 1973 for a Morris Marina. There are two in the garages. A green one and an orange one. We had three Marinas growing up so have a soft spot for them.Red Dress Manor

An old Aga cooker sits in the kitchen. The doorway leads down to an outhouse and a basement, which has several other rooms leading off it and stairs heading up to the bathroom. Up there was unused farm medicine and a bathtub that was in serious danger of falling through the floor. Do not stand on that floor. You will get hurt. There was an old record player with a record still on it: The World of Winnifred Attwell from 1969. We left the basement and headed upstairs, keeping to the sides of the stairs just in case. While we’re a skinny bunch, we’re still heavy enough to plummet through stairs and cause ourselves mischief. Weirdly, the house didn’t have a creepy atmosphere. It still felt like a home and we didn’t once feel uneasy or feel like we shouldn’t be there.Red Dress Manor

On the next level are five bedrooms. The one has the wardrobe where the famous red dress used to hang (hence the manor house’s nickname). Unfortunately, the dress is no longer there and neither is the photo of the woman wearing it (believed to be Ellen, though we found no evidence of an Ellen living there). Instead, there is a knitted replica of the dress and photos of some guy wearing it. It looks like photos taken from a horror film. Another bedroom leads off this one, with random shoes, clothes and more paperwork covering the floor. All the paperwork is addressed to Mr William Jones and Miss Francis Jones. Father and daughter probably. And there are trees growing up through the floor. Nature seems to be reclaiming the house. One of the other bedrooms has rotting suitcases on the beautiful bed and more paperwork over the floor. Tax bills mostly. The other bedroom had a Geography exercise book on the bed, with the name William Jones on it from 1949.

Red Dress Manor

bathroom

The next level up was the attic rooms. These really weren’t safe, with holes in the floor and ceilings. One of these seemed to be a children’s room, with an old dartboard, skipping rope and doll’s house furniture. And more tax bills. There were also old newspapers with Jack’s birthday on them but many years before he was born. One of the rooms had a hole right by the doorway and most of the way across so we didn’t venture in there. Wooden steps led up to another level but the bottom two had rotted off and the rest didn’t look that stable. Cat climbed onto the third step but it didn’t feel very secure so she didn’t risk venturing up.

Red Dress Manor

outhouse

We returned to explore the lower levels then left, after an hour in the house. James and Cat heard a car as we reached the window so ducked back. A Jeep drove past as Cat was half out the window. We headed around the house to look at the cars. However between us and the green Marina were cows. And they were eating, which meant the farmer couldn’t be that far away and if we walked past, they might start mooing and alert him to our presence. Being arrested because we were betrayed by cows would be a low point in lives that haven’t seen many highs. We reluctantly left the car unexplored then found the orange one in a locked garage. As we neared the hedge, another car approached so we ducked down like ninjas before climbing back out over the fence and replacing the plank we’d taken down.Red Dress Manor

Our first successful urban exploring adventure! We couldn’t believe our luck. Finally, after over a year, we got to explore it. We didn’t fall through floors, get Tetanus or get marched out in handcuffs. Things never go this well for us. There had to be something lurking around the corner…

We returned to the cars to find large notes on the windscreens – Please do not park here again. Fair enough, though it was a visitors’ car park and it said you park there at your own risk. It was now boiling so Cat decided to remove the lace jumper she was wearing under her vest top. She’d just stripped off her layers when a man approached with a mallet. He was the type of guy you would cross the road to avoid. Face of Crimewatch. Cursing, Cat ducked down just as he reached the car. Another incident of being half naked in public not ending well. Red Dress ManorHe knocked on the window with the handle of the mallet then said “if you park here again, I’ll phone the police.” Bit harsh, it’s a public car park. Lynx “Sorry, we didn’t realise.” Mallet Man “It’s not that, I know where you’ve been.” Umm…is that supposed to be a threat? You know where we’ve been? So do we. And it was awesome! We weren’t committing an offence. We noticed although he’d spoken to James and Jack, he didn’t threaten them with the police or say he knew where they’d been. Clearly he enjoyed threatening those of a female variety. Nice try. We don’t scare easily. A Mini Cooper trumps a mallet in the weapons stakes.

We had no SatNav now so drove around for ages looking for a pub. Every pub we found was closed. We eventually found one and logged on to the WiFi while pub dog Holly joined us at our table for the duration of our drinks. We now have a taste for urban exploring and already have our next location planned. Let’s just hope men with mallets aren’t lurking nearby.Red Dress Manor

In Seine

River SeineIt’s a sour end to the trip when you end up naked by the Seine in an area that stinks of piss.

The others went to get breakfast while we finished packing. We were supposed to check out by 12 so they left their bags with us in case they weren’t back in time. So we just hung about the apartment catching up on our blog posts ‘til 12. We then wandered around the main street until we got to a gluten free place in an arcade. The others wanted to wander different shops picking up food as we were going to picnic by the Seine like the locals do. We couldn’t be arsed to traipse from shop to shop dragging our heavy case and carrying the heavy rucksack, so we made our own way to the Seine. There was a metro stop near us but we weren’t prepared to lug our case down all the steps so we walked instead, using Google maps and sticking to the shaded side of the road. We got there no problem.River Seine

River Seine

Don’t leave Goths in hot places

We originally sat under the bridge but it stank of river and piss so we moved to another shaded part near a decent looking guy while we waited for the others. The view was lovely and the Seine’s pretty too. By the time they came, we’d already drunk both Red Bulls and eaten, so while they guarded our stuff, we went looking for drinks and sorbet. We wanted another birthday present for our mum and spied an artist selling oil paintings on Pont Neuf. They were stunning so we bought a small canvas of the Eiffel Tower in grey and red. He’d been sheltering under an umbrella when we stopped so shaded us with it while we looked at his paintings.River Seine

River Seine

Lynx is in Seine

Then the day turned to shit. Lynx has no idea how it happened but one minute Dragonstone (her new phone) and her wallet were on the bag, the next, they were sliding down the concrete bank into the Seine. Dragonstone sank but the wallet floated. And floated away. Lynx slithered down, tossed her boots up to Cat and hurried along the small ledge after her wallet. She managed to scoop it out and returned to Cat and Neen. She got Cat to pass her the walking stick and used it to test the depth of the water. Waist deep. She prodded the rocks and found a large stable one. Against Neen and Cat’s wishes, she passed up her jewellery and carefully waded into the Seine in her lovely dress because she didn’t want to strip in public. She couldn’t see her phone and soon attracted a small audience on Pont Neuf, who thought she was crazy going into the river where people used to dump dead bodies. Not sure how they knew to shout in English – probably because the Parisians know better than to go in the Seine. But she’d had Dragonstone for less than a month and even though he would probably never work again, she could at least reuse the case. If you remember our American adventures, she left Stormborn, our other smartphone on the plane. We knew we’d be coming home without Dragonstone.

River Seine

the Seine at twilight

There was no way she was putting her face in the water so she carefully felt around the area with one foot, keeping hold of the ledge. After several minutes, Neen and Cat persuaded her to give up, as they were convinced she’d catch a disease. She hopped out onto the ledge and they grabbed an arm each, hauling her onto the bank with such force, her feet didn’t touch the bank. She discarded her fishnets and socks and used the last of our shower gel to have a quick wash. Cat got her a change of clothes and she went to hide under Pont Neuf between a van and a car to change, after making sure nobody was in the vehicles. Being kidnapped whilst half naked would put a real damper on things. The area reeked of piss so she made sure not to put her clothes in anything remotely wet. Ending up naked by the Seine was not how she wanted the holiday to end.

Conciergerie

in the women’s prison yard at the Conciergerie

It was time to go home. Our suitcase was almost half our body weight and the rucksack weighed at least a quarter of our weight so while the others went on ahead, we limped after them, not bothering to try to keep up. We went to go down into one train station and a guy offered to carry the case down. The others asked if it was the right station. He said we wanted the one across the street. So the poor guy ended up lugging the case back up. We then went to another metro station. This time, Neen carried the case down. Only for it to be another wasted journey. They eventually found the right station and we waited for the train to take us to the airport. The ticket entrances don’t hold the doors open long enough for you to struggle through with your case, so it shut on Lynx’s rucksack, jamming her. The doors only opened when a guy put his ticket in and helpfully pushed her free.

Paris Metro

riding the metro

The train was hot, sweaty and smelled of hot, sweaty people. And it was the same price as a taxi. So we could have saved ourselves a lot of walking. Disheartened at Dragonstone’s untimely death, and in pain, we made it to the airport without trouble. This time, baggage allowance was 23kg and they didn’t even weigh our hand luggage, making the fiasco of flying out even more unnecessary.

EIffel Tower lift

in the lift of the Eiffel Tower

But Paris was beautiful and we’d love to go back and see the sights we didn’t see, plus return to the catacombs. People often say the French are rude, but every person we spoke to was lovely.

flying home

flying home

They didn’t mind our terrible French and were all very helpful. If a waiter didn’t speak English, they found one who did. Almost every person we spoke to complimented us on our outfits and if they didn’t speak English, they’d gesture to us, smile and give us the thumbs up. Two people asked what our style was. They’d never heard of Goth and were pleased to learn something new. Security guards, instead of being annoyed at all our metal setting off their bleepers at tourist attractions, laughed and told us we looked amazing, while shaking their heads in despair. Paris obviously didn’t have many twins, as we’d get a lot of people pointing and saying “the same?” People would openly stare at us but not in a rude way, they’d obviously not encountered Goths before. We didn’t see anyone even remotely gothic during our stay. Paris certainly wasn’t expecting us but it embraced us.Conciergerie

Dead Famous

Pere Lachaise cemeteryToday was to be the day of the dead. First on the agenda: Pere Lachaise Cemetery. Jules and Alex didn’t want to come so us and Neen headed out on the metro. There’s not many people we could convince that spending a hot, sunny day in a cemetery is the best thing ever. Give us a city of the dead over a beach any day. We can get a tan, see beautiful mausoleums and leave without getting sand in places where sand has no right to be.

Pere Lachaise cemeteryThe metro stopped right outside, so we walked across the road, bought a map of the cemetery (without one, we’d probably still be there until the council is forced to bury our well dressed skeletons) and marked off the people we wanted to see: Oscar Wilde was top of our list, along with Jim Morrison for our friend, Rodney, and some people who either haunted it, or their graves we’d seen in our book about haunted places in France. Neen wanted to see Gertrude Stein for Zoe. And then we spotted a name we had to visit – Sex Toy. No idea who this person is. And no, we’re not Googling it. We’ve fallen for that ploy many times.

Pere Lachaise cemetery

Raspail family tomb

Pere Lachaise is rumoured to be one of the most haunted cemeteries in the world. Visitors report intense eerie feelings, a deep sense of unnatural calm, shivers down the spine, ghostly apparitions and orbs. Jim Morrison is apparently seen near his grave and Chopin likes photobombing people. Some say Oscar Wilde haunts it, as well as lovers Marcel Proust and Maurice Ravel, who apparently rise from their graves searching for each other. This will be us when we’re dead – rising from our graves, searching for Red Bull. Pere Lachaise opened in 1804 on Napoleon’s orders to cope with the overflow of bodies from the Revolution. There are over 300,000 people buried here. It’s the place to be seen dead in.
Pere Lachaise cemeteryWe wandered the graveyard, taking photos and getting ideas for our tomb. So far, it’s going to have steps, skeletal hand sconces, gargoyles and castle towers. And a plaque that reads: ‘this is the story of C L Raven (they die at the end).’ But unless we start selling more books, we’ll probably end up in a pauper’s grave. Or eaten by our cats.

Pere Lachaise cemetery

Etienne Gaspard Robertson’s grave

We made our way to the closest grave on our list: Etienne Gaspard Robertson – a magician who liked to terrify people. He invented the phantasmagoria, using lantern slides to create horror shows. His grave had featured in the book and had an incredible carving of the living on one side, the dead on the other and a flying skeleton between them, playing a trumpet. We stopped by a tree and consulted our map, certain we were in the right area. Then we turned around. It was right beside us. The carving was fantastic. He also had skulls on the top of his monument. A French couple asked us where Chopin’s grave was, so we directed them.

 

Pere Lachaise cemetery

Jim Morrison’s grave

Despite our poor map reading skills, we managed to navigate the cemetery easily. Neen said it was because it was something we’re interested in. This is true. If we’re not interested, we won’t put effort in. Hence constantly failing school exams. There were quite a few people around Jim Morrison’s grave, but we managed to squeeze in and take photos. There are railings up around the whole section where he is to stop people going to his grave.

Pere Lachaise cemetery

Marie Elizabeth Demidoff’s grave.

The next grave on our list belonged to Russian princess Marie Elizabeth Demidoff, who apparently stated in her will that she would leave part of her inheritance to anyone who spent a year beside her corpse. Her monument was impressive, with columns and wolves’ heads. We stood at the bottom, trying to figure out how to get up to the other side. We eventually walked all the way around and up. Only to discover that had we gone the other way, a flight of steps would’ve taken us right to it. We were not shining today.

Pere Lachaise cemetery

Sex Toy’s grave

Our next mission was to find Sex Toy. That grave was off the path, so we had to explore amongst other graves. After fifteen minutes of failing to find it, nearly falling over and being attacked by brambles, we realised we were in the wrong area. We crossed a path to another section and continued the hunt. Cat slipped and her hand landed on some brambles. We hunted for another fifteen minutes then Lynx stopped to change her camera battery. And happened to stop by Sex Toy’s grave. Neen had walked right past it. We were expecting something phallic shaped, or with chains. Maybe even something that vibrated. Nope. A simple slab with SEX TOY written in old English font. So like men who can’t find the g spot, we were poking around, trying to look like we knew what we were doing, only to find it rather anti climatic.

Pere Lachaise cemetery, Oscar Wilde's grave

Oscar Wilde’s grave

We stopped for a picnic on a bench before finding Oscar Wilde’s grave with no difficulty. He wrote our favourite poem, the Ballard of Reading Gaol, so we had to find him. We expected it to be crowded like Jim Morrison’s was, but there were only two guys there. Oscar’s grave had a glass case around it, because there was a tradition of people kissing it and leaving lipstick marks all over it, inspired by his quote ‘a kiss may ruin a human life.’ And graves, it seems. The oils in the lipstick were damaging the stone, so the family paid to have them cleaned off and put a glass barrier around it to protect it.

 

Pere Lachaise cemetery

Auschwitz memorial

We headed to the eastern wall where 140 communards were shot at dawn on 28th May 1871 after fighting their way across the cemetery. They were buried where they fell but apparently visitors have seen them. We didn’t see them. There were some incredible memorials to the victims of the holocaust and those that died in the resistance. They showed skeletal figures, reminding people of the horror they suffered. We much preferred them to regular plaques. We found Gertrude Stein’s grave easily. She was a lesbian American novelist, playwright, poet and art collector. We also saw Edith Piaf’s grave as it was near the exit. A French woman asked us where Oscar Wilde’s grave was, so we pointed it out to her then gave her our map.

Pere Lachaise cemetery

Auschwitz memorial

We stopped at a café across the road to rest our painful feet before limping our way to the metro stop to go to the Musee Fragonard. We got off and walked down the really long Avenue de General de Gaulle. We couldn’t find it so went into a shop to buy a drink and ask where it was. They didn’t have any squash so we bought a big bottle of lemon water. The cashier didn’t know of the museum. We kept going until Neen checked the number. It was back near the metro stop. We turned around and hobbled back the way we’d come, only to find a solicitor’s at number 7. Neen got out her map. We were at the wrong end of the street. We got back on the metro and went another couple of stops. We had not come this far and put up with this much pain to quit now. We were going to the museum and it had better be damn well impressive. It also closed in an hour.

Musee Fragonard

Musee Fragonard

The museum is inside a university and was well worth a visit and the pain. We did the audio guide but there was so much information, we didn’t have time to listen to it all. There weren’t as many flayed people as were hoping – it was mostly animal skeletons and organs, as it was a veterinary university, but it was still fascinating. And cows don’t have four stomachs – their stomach is divided into four, with each section doing a different job.
Eiffel TowerWe got back on the metro to meet Alex and Jules at the Eiffel Tower. For some reason, we expected it to be silver, not brown. We got pictures as we walked past it then had to walk a long way to find the café they were in. By now, Cat’s bad knee had given up too, but luckily she’d brought her walking stick and had bought ice patches on our first day in Paris. A helpful American translated to the waiter what we meant by vegan then we sat and had chips. Our boots came off the minute we sat down. One waiter said “cook fries in with the meat? Who would be crazy enough to do that?” We replied “The UK.” He was impressed with our French when we asked for the bill.

Seine

Seine at sunset

The queue for the tower was still long so we did a cruise along the river Seine at sunset. It was the best time to do it. The boat was quiet, whereas in the day, the boats are always packed. We’d seen the Seine plenty of times in the day. It was beautiful as the sun went down and the lights came on. There was this annoying couple by us at the back of the boat. All the woman was did was take constant selfies without smiling in a single one, but doing those partial smiles with closed lips, ‘cos heaven forbid your smile should crinkle your face. The typical ‘identical facial expression in every photo so I always look beautiful’. Us and Neen had posted many unflattering photos of ourselves. We were glad when they left the boat, otherwise we were going to push her in. Let’s see her look picture-perfect after a dunking in the Seine.

SeineWe gave each other dares during the evening. Lynx had to ask a guy where the River Seine was, as we cruised along it. She even asked in French but he couldn’t understand her. Jules and Cat had to twerk picnickers as we sailed past. Having never twerked before, Jules had to teach Cat. They did it and got cheered by the picnickers.

River Seine

twerking it

Neen’s dare had been to ask someone where the Eiffel Tower was, as we stood across the road from it. He helpfully pointed it out then a man stopped his car and got out to have his photo taken with us. Alex had to lick her ice cream bowl. Us and Neen claimed it wasn’t a dare, as we’d do it anyway, so Neen dared Alex and Jules to tie their plaits together and walk around. They did it on the boat, but told the captain it was a dare so it didn’t count.

SeineIt was getting dark by the time we got back so the Eiffel Tower was lit up red white and blue. It looked beautiful, so we video called our mum and sister by it so they could see it lit up. Sarah asked if we could ring her when we were up there. We didn’t have to queue long – advantage of going up at 11 p.m. Security check through your bags at every major tourist attraction and the woman confiscated our big bottle of lemon water we’d just bought. Neen tried arguing it was just water, but the woman binned it. Not just confiscated. Binned. We spent €1.65 on that! Luckily, Neen had instructed us to pour some into the bottles we’d used for our squash, so some was saved. That wasn’t taken off us. Either the woman didn’t believe it was water, or she thought Neen looked the type to lob it at unsuspecting tourists. The top of the tower was closed unfortunately. We got the lift to the second floor then video called our mum and sister.
Eiffel TowerIt was so beautiful up there. It didn’t matter that we didn’t make it to the top. To be honest, we would’ve been terrified up there. A man behind us proposed to his girlfriend and we’re guessing by the applause that she said yes. Neen did a fake proposal to Lynx and people thought it was real. We had to explain it was just for photos and Neen is married. Quite frankly, we’re surprised nobody thought the others were real. The Eiffel Tower is seen as a romantic place to propose, even though it’s a popular suicide spot. Over 400 people have plunged to their deaths from it and most of them were distraught lovers. A famous story is about a couple who met at the tower. At the top, he proposed. She said no so he pushed her off. Apparently, you can hear her laugh then scream. Not so romantic now.

Eiffel TowerWe decided to get the full Eiffel Tower experience and walked down to the next floor. Big mistake. There were so many steps that by the time we reached the first floor, our feet were in agony. So we queued to take the lift down but had to wait ages with our feet feeling as though we were standing in lava. It was gone midnight by the time we got down but there was a sorbet place open so us and Neen had sorbet as we ambled to the metro. We had strawberry and raspberry. It was the best sorbet we’ve ever had and was the perfect way to end our last night in Paris. Then on the Metro was a hot guy. He looked like Ed Skrein from Deadpool. The views in Paris were just getting better. And he kept looking at us. So we played it cool. By ‘played it cool’, we mean we avoided eye contact and turned around. Winning.Eiffel Tower

Empire of the Dead

Conciergerie

Conciergerie

Going to jail, hanging out with the dead and again exposing ourselves to Paris. Day three went well.

P1170459We got an “ooh la la” from a guy as we headed for the bike stop. An actual ooh la la. Neen told him to be more original. The guy was actually good looking but his cliched line put an immediate black mark against him. Be original or be gone with you, good sir! We hired bikes again and cycled our way down to the Conciergerie. We went the wrong way down one way streets, cycled on pavements, nearly mowed down pedestrians and got applause from a guy as we cycled past a cafe. Basically, we fitted in with other road users. When in Rome…Conciergerie

Conciergerie

inside the conciergerie

We figured this was the perfect time to use our action cam as it was intended. It was going well until Lynx went over a bump and the action cam sailed out of her bike’s basket. We have a chest strap for it but left it at home. We earned our second “ooh la la” from a Japanese tourist. Our plan to ride the bikes for free was foiled when there was police presence at the Notre Dame, so they sealed the roads and wouldn’t let us take our bikes to the stands. Then every other stand was full. We were following a French guy who had the same problem. Neen commented on the craziness of it. Man “It’s France.” We were 9 minutes over our time when we managed to park. Neen had a crepe then we went to the Conciergerie.

ConciergerieIt used to be palace for the Capetian dynasty but Charles V stopped using it as a palace in the 14th century and used it to house his law courts. At the end of the 18th century, it was the prison for the prisoners of the Revolution before they were tried and executed. Marie Antoinette was held there for two months. It was a lovely place and it was good to see somewhere historical that wasn’t on our list. Cells depicted how rich or poor prisoners were treated and there was loads of information. Marie Antoinette’s cell has a mannequin of her with guards as she tried to escape.

Conciergerie

Marie Antoinette’s cell

We cycled to the Place de la Bastille monument, where the fort was, then walked down to the ruins of the Bastille prison, where the Revolution started when they stormed it and freed the prisoners. Construction began in 1357 and it increased until the 1600s. It started as a battle fortress but then became a prison. Famous prisoners included the Man in the Iron Mask and the Marquis de Sade. The ruins are right beside a children’s playground. Both locations are rumoured to be haunted by strange smells and sightings. But we’re guessing this might be the kids.

Bastille

Place de la Bastille

As we passed a row of shops, there were huge air vents. Neen was disappointed Cat hadn’t been photographed with the vent from the Louvre so made her stand on them. Cat held most of her skirt down, managing to retain her dignity. The shop assistant applauded her. P1170461Then as she ran across the road to photograph a fountain, Neen said “you showed your arse again when you went down. And your boobs do jiggle when you run. You’ve made Paris very happy today.” It’s a good job we always wear our Ann Summers finest. Poor Paris. It needs therapy now.

Bastille

Bastille ruins

As we were close to Ile St Louis and hadn’t gone there the other day, we walked across and had sorbet before crossing back over the haunted Pont Marie. Two lovers used to meet there, but the man was a spy and one day, he never returned, so the woman wanders the bridge, still waiting for him. You never find male ghosts pining for their lost loves. We’d put off using the metro all holiday but it was time to be brave and we caught the metro to the catacombs. Except we got off at the wrong stop and had to hobble a mile to the catacombs. We suffer from callouses and heel spurs caused by plantar faciitis. Walking long distances is excruciating.

Paris Catacombs

Catacombs

It turned out that we’d paid for the audio tour. We weren’t given the option of not having it. The queue to get in was incredibly long. People can queue for about three hours. If you go, book in advance. We only had to wait fifteen minutes. The catacombs were fantastic. We could’ve spent hours in there. Hell, we could’ve lived there. We’ve wanted to visit the catacombs for years. It’s the whole reason we went to Paris. Unfortunately, once we were in the Empire of Bones, we didn’t get to listen to the audio tour because we didn’t have enough hands to hold it. Lynx was videoing and using one phone as a torch, the other as a camera while Cat was using the Panasonic camera and as flash photography and tripods were forbidden, the dim light made photography hard.

Paris CatacombsNeen said it was very interesting and well worth a listen. She said we could’ve taken photos then listened to it, but we were so conscious of keeping the others waiting, that we didn’t want to hang around too long. Though we did manage to have sections of the catacombs to ourselves for a lot of time, proving once again, our superpower is losing people on tours. Next time, we’re doing the audio tour, even if we have to stay there all night.

Paris CatacombsAnd this time Neen proposed to Cat in front of a heart from made skulls. Now we’re not romantic people but if guys should propose in that spot, we would likely say yes. There is nothing more romantic than a heart made from skulls. You can keep your love lock bridge and sunset meal proposals. Give us the dead any day.
Paris CatacombsAcross the road was a gift shop. In a repeat of the Alcatraz gift shop, we spent a lot of money in there. If we hadn’t been conscious of luggage weight limit, we would’ve bought the entire shop. Except it’s expensive and as we tell Neen – you don’t get rich by spending. Our feet hadn’t hurt the whole time we were in the catacombs, so either we were too distracted to notice, or the dead have healing powers.
Paris CatacombsWe wandered the streets for a while before getting back on the metro and heading to the main street near ours. We stopped in a bar for cocktails before deciding to find somewhere to eat. We walked all the way to one end of the street, but the places we stopped at weren’t gluten free, so we turned around and walked all the way back, only to go to the first place Neen spotted – right across the road from the bar we were in. The whole time it felt like walking on hot coals and knives. By this point, we’d decided that if the chips weren’t vegan, we were going to sit outside and eat shortbread. There was no way we were walking any further. We always feel sorry for the waiting staff when they say they can speak English, because not only do they have to contend with us trying to explain what makes chips vegan (cooked separately from the meat) but also with Jules being gluten free. Our poor waiter earned his tip. But we got to practise the French we’d learned. “L’addition si’l vous plait.” Bill please.
Paris CatacombsWe can only stay out drinking for so long before we get bored so we headed back to our apartment at 11 while the others stayed out. It was our first time of navigating Paris alone and our SatNav froze, only piping up when we reached the road by ours. Thanks, Helen, good to see you’re as helpful in France as you are in Britain. But at least we got to see streets we hadn’t seen before.

We were looking forward to the next day – it was going to be a day of the dead.sorbet

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