Saturday, 31 October 2015

My Top 5 Dark Tourism Bucket List Destinations

The impending arrival of Halloween has got me thinking about my odd attraction to all things dark and sinister.  I’ve long been a fan of true crime books and I find it fascinating to visit real and fictional crime scenes, as well as the sites of major disasters, monster, ghosts and ghouls.   I realise how this makes me sound and I am aware that my hobby *might* not be helping me all that much with my insomnia.

I was thrilled to find out that the emergence of the ‘dark tourism’ market means that I’m far from alone.   I’m not sure whether this is a worrying statistic or not.   It’s not that I’m revelling in the death and suffering of my fellow man, it’s just that I have the kind of brain where I’m always trying to work out what people are thinking and what possesses people to act in the way they do.   I wouldn’t hurt a fly* so it’s incomprehensible to me that anyone else could.  

I previously wrote about the dark tourism spots that I've already visited around the world and there are so many more that interest me that I haven’t had the chance to venture to yet.   

*But I would absolutely mangle the ninja cat that lives across the road and keeps jumping out at me.


Anyway, mental moggies aside, these are the top 5 sights on my bucket list:


Overlook Hotel, The Shining:

Courtesy of Pinterest
The creepy AF 'Overlook' (The Stanley Hotel)
The Overlook Hotel was the setting for Stephen King’s classic movie, The Shining, starring Jack Nicholson as a lonely writer who takes over the care taking role at the hotel during its closed season.   This gives him all the peace and quiet he needs to concentrate on his work.   Far too much, as it happens, and soon his mind begins to deteriorate and the inevitable madness of being so closed off from the world begins to take its toll.  It’s a bit like the feeling I got from working on the Isle of Skye in the winter. 

The exterior scenes of the film were shot at The Stanley Hotel in Estes Park, Colorado.   The hotel is still open and you can swing on by and check it out.   Or, if you’re brave enough, you could book a room and proceed to scrawl ‘REDRUM’ on your walls in blood and tricycle down the communal halls.  You know, just if the mood strikes you; it's in no way compulsory.   

There are plans to turn The Stanley into a horror museum, but I’d quite like to visit before that happens.    The whole Disney vibe makes me quite murderous... 
  

Bates Motel and House, Psycho:

courtesy of flavorwire.com
Noooormaaaaan...   (Courtesy of Flavorwire) 
Bates Motel was built on the upper lot at Universal Film Studios in California and, disappointingly, isn’t a ‘real’ property, in the truest sense of the word.   Despite this, I’d still really love to drag my rocking chair round to the front of it and sit, laughing manically, calling for my dog, whose name would obviously be Norman.     Norman Gorman has a great ring to it, don’t you think? 

I love Psycho and the main house has such an iconic look that just oozes creepiness.   I’ve stayed in a few road motels during my road trips in the states and immediately pull in off the highway  if I see something that even *resembles* the set up from Psycho.   I've never had an issue in the showers in any of them.    


The Killing Fields, Cambodia:

Skulls recovered from mass graves (Courtesy of PeacenotProfit.org)
The Killing Fields, Cambodia
Mass graves at The Killing Fields (Courtesy of Indochinavoyages.com)

This is the first one on my list that is actually the site of a real life horror story.  The Killing Fields are a series of sites across Cambodia where the government massacred and buried, it is estimated, in excess of 1,300,000 people.    Yep, that’s 1 MILLION, 4 HUNDRED THOUSAND people.   The people were executed by the Communist Khmer Rouge regime between 1975 and 1979.    As if that wasn’t shocking enough, the combined total of murdered individuals, including those that perished due to starvation at the hands of their government is between 1.7 and 2.5 million.  This was from a population of roughly 8 million people, so if you look at it from the higher end, that's in excess of 30% of the population.  Gone.   It's hard to get your head around the sheer scale of the genocide.

The people targeted were often ethnic groups of Chinese, Thai, Vietnamese, as well as people with religious beliefs not shared by the Khmer Rouge.    Choeung Ek is one of the most famous of the Killing Fields and has a Bhuddist memorial and burial grounds commemorating the victims.   The temple in the park holds the skulls of 5,000 people and lies a few miles south of the capital, Phnom Pen.

Within Phnom Pen itself is the Genocide Museum of Teol Sleng.  This, like Choeung Ek, this was the site of mass brutality within the walls of the notorious prison S-21.    It is estimated that around 20,000 people met their cruel fate within the jail.   Of these people, only twelve survived, which is testament to just how horrific life must have been there.  

It is a horrendously awful period in the history of Cambodia (and for the rest of us) and it is, as odd as it sounds, wonderful to see that they have shared this with the world so openly to honour the people who lost their lives and ensure they will never be forgotten.  I'm sad that I didn't have time to go during my visit to Angkor Wat, but I would love to return to Cambodia in the future to pay my respects.

Chernobyl, Ukraine:

Keep out.... (courtesy of wiki)
You'd have to be living under a rock not to know the story of the Ukrainian nuclear power disaster in 1986.  It is the single biggest nuclear plant accident in history and had such far reaching consequences that radioactive particles travelled all the way from the former USSR to Western Europe.    The Chernobyl disaster was a class 7 nuclear event, which is the highest classification, and is one of only two ever to reach so high on the scale (the other was Fukishima, Japan).  

The disaster itself began during a routine systems test which, obviously, went a little awry.  After a power surge, an emergency shut down was attempted, which caused a sharp rise in power that led to a series of explosions.  This resulted in a massive radioactive fallout which led to hundreds of thousands of people being evacuated and resettled in safer regions.   

With the plant being run by the central Soviet Government, it was some time before the Ukrainian authorities were actually aware that there had been a problem.  To add to this, the local town wasn't even evacuated and it was only recognised that there was danger when dozens of people fell ill and were obviously suffering from the fallout.    To think that people of Pripyat were going about their daily business, with no clue what had happened at Chernobyl is, quite frankly, horrifying.   The fall out was so far reaching that radioactive rainfall on high areas, including the Scottish Highlands and Welsh Mountains.   

Today, an exclusion zone surrounding Chernobyl still exists.   It's known as The Alienation Zone, which sounds pretty much as off-putting as it should be.    However, in view of the tourism interest one of the reactor sites has been opened up to visitors.    The radiation levels are still so high that it is estimated that it will not be safe to inhabit for around 20,000 years and even the workers who are developing the old site are not allowed to work for more than a few days at a time.   

I'd love to see it with my own eyes and can't really imagine the scale without physically being there.    I was aware that tourists were now allowed to visit, but do imagine that this has to be done with a tour guide and that it wouldn't be advisable to just show up and nose around.


Belchite, Spain:

The abandoned Spanish town of Belchite (courtesy of Telegraph.co.uk)
the ruins of Belchite (courtesy of GoNomad.com)
The Battle of Belchite rumbled on between the end of August and the beginning of September 1937 in the small town outside of Zaragoza, between the Republican army and General Franco's Nationalist troops.     The town was all but destroyed in the fighting that ensued and, after the end of the war, Franco instructed that the town be left as it was, as a memorial.  A new town was built a short distance away, but the original town of Belchite remains abandoned and has become a dark tourism hot spot.   

The properties in Belchite are largely ruined, but many remain partially intact, with furniture and decoration in place, cars outside and signs of the life that used to live there in plain view.   It's difficult to imagine a situation where you have to flee your home and leave everything you own in an attempt to escape with your most important asset: your life.   

Previously, you were permitted to wander freely around the rubble, but this is not longer the case.   You can now only visit Belchite ruins by joining one of their guided tours.    I have no problem with this as I imagine having someone with immense knowledge of what transpired here would enhance any visit.   

Have you visited an 'dark tourism' spots?   What were they?


Wednesday, 28 October 2015

Seeking Asylum at North Wales Hospital

'Twas the week before Halloween, when all through the blog, not a creature was stirring, not even a (rabid) dog...

To kick start our regular Saturday road trips, I suggested that LT might like to take his new camera out and get some shots of a building I'd found on t'internet while researching spooky sites in North Wales.   I didn't tell him exactly what is was, but he tends to forget a lot of what I say to him anyway, so I guessed it didn't really matter.  

What I'd found was the history of North Wales Hospital aka Denbigh Mental Asylum and, being a fan of anything dark and eerie, added to the fact that it was little more than an hour from home, I just had to see it with my own eyes.   And so off we went...

Denbigh Asylum is located, rather unsurprisingly, on the outskirts of the town centre of Denbigh and was designed by Thomas Full James and completed in 1848.   The hospital could house up to 200 patients and is a Grade 11 Listed building.   


North Wales Hospital
You can't help but wonder what went on within these walls
The hospital fully closed in 1995 and has slowly descended into the ruined and rather dilapidated shell it now is.   I've seen pictures of how it used to look and it was, and still is, a truly beautiful building.     It's so grand and has such an imposing presence, that it's hard to believe it's been left to deteriorate.   As always, though, there are many reasons for this and the building has been subject to a compulsory purchase order by the local authority.   Hopefully, something can be done to preserve the building and learn from its history.    

Clearly, the building has a very dark past, which is borne out by the research I did and the horrendous tales of botched lobotomies, straight jackets, and electrocution equipment I've had the displeasure to read. Obviously, though, these stories do add to the overall creepiness of the building, particularly now that it has the added edge of being so desolate and overgrown.    

On approach, it's still spectacular and the atmosphere of being met by 'KEEP OUT' signs and warnings that 'Trespassers Will Be Prosecuted' made me want to jump the high fences and run closer.   I desperately wanted to see what the grounds were like, although I'm not sure I would ever have actually ventured into the hospital, had I got past the gates. I have my limits, and my insomnia don't need no encouragement, thanks very much.

You can stand, as I did,  at the metal fence posts and press your face up against them, trying to imagine what it must have been like to suffer from mental illness at a time when the solution was to remove a lobe from your brain.  Cos, obviously, that'll totally make you better, right?   My Doctor gave me tablets and told me not to stress too much.  I like modern medical thinking much better.



Denbigh Mental Asylum
Eerie, right?
To further hinder its reputation further, Denbigh Asylum was featured on 'Most Haunted', on live episodes entitled 'Village of the Damned' (real sensitive, guys)... which incurred the wrath of the local residents.   Not to the extent where Yvette Fielding was strapped to a gurney with electrodes attached to her extremities, but, you know, in a reasonable head-shaking, finger wagging, fashion.   You would totally understand if they'd have done that, though, wouldn't you?   You don't have to be insane to be imagining how that might go down.    Hmmm....interesting.   

Anyway, I seem to have lost the point here somewhat.  What I am trying to say is that, although it has a dark history and is a state of disrepair, it remains a quite staggering structure and is nestled in the gorgeous countryside in Denbighshire.    Be respectful of the building and the fate of its occupants and you can't go far wrong by having a look at it.  

DO NOT attempt to go inside the ground as the building IS dangerous and the signs are there for very good reason.   

Have you visited North Wales Hospital, either recently, or before it was finally closed??


Tuesday, 27 October 2015

The Travel Bug's Guide to Wales' Most Haunted Places

The Travel Bug isn't well known for his bravery, so he wasn't too keen to research the dark underbelly of Wales.   However, after being bribed with the promise of sleeping on his human's bed forever, he decided a few restless nights might just be worth it.    

These are his top picks for the most creepy places in Wales.   Be afraid...be very afraid.  

Welsh pumpkin
You can't buy any other type of pumpkin in Wales.  Honestly.   

The Thomas Arms Hotel, Llanelli:
TTB watched a video that was filmed on the CCTV cameras at the Thomas in July 2014, and has point blank refused to EVER go.    

Not only does the Thomas have some recent weird footage, but there are numerous stories of ghosts through the entire town.   TTB wants to know why people still live there and has decided to stay at home in Harlech, where there are no ghosts...that he knows of.  


The Queens Head, Monmouth:
This public house is reputedly haunted by the ghost of an old man who sits by the fire...as old men tend to do.   He does occasionally get up and go for a wander around the premises, though.  As If one ghost wasn't creepy enough, it's good to know that the Welsh paranormal world is all for gender equality, so the Queens Head ALSO has a female spirit in the bar.   

The TTB often finds himself in bars because his humans like wine.   He'll definitely be looking over his little velvet shoulders from now on... 


The A40 near Swansea:
Seriously, this was reported in Wales Online.   The author of a book about Ghost Sex (I'm not even kidding) wrote of a series of incidents where ghosts were seducing people on the A40.    Apparently, the ghost is easily dragged into nearby public conveniences where it will change from the pretty young thing it appeared to be and morph into a haggard old woman.  

To be honest, TTB thinks this is more in line with the story a celebrity would tell to get them out of a, shall we say, potentially embarrassing situation.     He has requested that we do not ever, ever drive on the A40 and just stick to the roads in North Wales.   Or maybe just move back to Scotland.


halloween moon in wales
even the moon is scary in Wales... 
Tivoli Venue, Flintshire:
This old theatre, which is now a music venue and cinema, is said to be haunted by a former projectionist who perished in a 1940's fire at the location.      Some of the current Tivoli staff has reported strange and eerie goings-on during their shifts.  These include having glasses thrown at them (standard saturday night bar behaviour), odd footsteps in rooms where there are no people and images on cameras showing a body hanging from an upstairs room.    

The Travel Bug has decided that even the thought of watching a new Bug's Life movie release wouldn't be enough to make him visit Tivoli.
TTB does Denbigh Asylum
Denbigh Asylum: If we don't look directly at it, we can go to our happy place and pretend we're somewhere else.
The North Wales Hospital:
This abandoned mental asylum in Denbigh has a long history of odd happenings.   The fact that it's now derelict does nothing to detract from its wonderful creepiness.   TTB was scared just looking at the building in a photo and did NOT want to go along when his Humans popped up for a visit.  

In 2008, the TV programme, 'Most Haunted' visited the site to record footage and the results were very scary.    The locals weren't quite so pleased by the attention.    Maybe they've got something to hide, or maybe they just don't like Yvette Fielding....we'll never know.   

You are NOT allowed to enter the building, as it is in a state of some disrepair, which was absolutely fine with The Travel Bug.   It is absolutely not forbidden because it's totally haunted by the spirits of lobotomised patients.   No, sir.  

A full post on our visit to the Asylum is HERE.  


Skirrid Mountain Inn, Abergavenny:
Billed as one of the most haunted properties in South Wales, the Skirrid Mountain Inn lies a few miles away from the centre of Abergavenny.   Rooms in the old Inn were previously used for a number of executions by hanging, so it's no surprise that visitors have complained of tight feelings around their throats and the sensation of having their breathing restricted by rope.   

Even the proprietor's grand son has had a spooky experience in the Inn.   TTB has made his humans promise that if he ever sees a ghost, we'll move house immediately.   


Have you had any haunted experiences in Wales to scare the bejesus out of The Travel Bug??  

If you're looking for mystery and mayhem this Halloween, these are some events taking place in North Wales.



Monday, 26 October 2015

7 Spooky Halloween Events in North Wales

If you're a Halloween person who loves children knocking incessantly on your door all night, stealing all your sweets, or dressing up and going out and socialising with Strangers, then you might also be the kind of person who would LOVE these spooky events taking place across North Wales.  

Me?  I'll be in Scotland visiting family and trying to scare the living daylights out of my three adorable nephews.   I'm the odd aunt and I do try to live up to my title...

courtesy of MorgueFile.com
Mwahahahahahaa.   I'm not scaring anyone, am I?

Saturday, 24 October 2015

A Lazy Girl's Guide to Keeping Fit

I'll admit it: I can be extremely lazy.   Between a full time job, a part time blog, and all the other crap that life throws in my general direction, I have difficulty coming home at night and not launching myself, fully clothed, on to the bed.   And I don't even have children.  

I do, however, suffer from insomnia, and I've heard that it can be quite similar.  Apart from the fact that I'd love to have something that kept me awake at night for an actual reason, it'd be nice to have some company in the wee small hours to stop me slowly descending into inevitable madness.

Anyway, lack of sleep aside, I do try to make an effort to exercise.  This is mainly because I love wine and crisps and not because I'm interested in living long enough to be an 80 year old insomniac.  If that happens, you'll find me camped outside Dignitas with my under eye bags occupying the space next to me.   

Some Ecards
Quite... 
These are my top tips for how to work out when you don't like working out: 

Do something you enjoy:   It seems blatantly obvious, I know, but it is the biggest cause of me stopping a particular fitness regime.  If you HATE your workouts, you'll simply give them up and sit on the sofa, stuffing your face full of onion rings, scrolling through Netflix for anything that contains no gratuitous exercise scenes.  Narcos is my current series of choice, in case you were wondering.     

Buy a membership:  I know, I know, it's always touted as the biggest mistake EVER, but it works for me.  Nothing will get me in my swimsuit quicker than having shelled out £16 for a Membership at my local pool.   Seriously, I'm determined to make that saving on the regular price and have stuck with my twice weekly sessions for...ooh, around 3 weeks now.   What could possibly go wrong?

Do something close to home. I have to drive past my local swimming pool to get home from work.  Every night.   This makes it quite difficult to justify NOT stopping by.   This is further bolstered by the fact that I keep my swimming gear packed at all times and just hurl it in the boot before I head to the office.   Sometimes,  I can hear it calling to me during the day, begging to be used.   

If you don't want to pay for the hell that is working out, go running or walking.   As a lazy girl you will, of course, need to take someone with you.   Someone mean would be best.    Give them your address and make them promise they'll come round and drag you off the couch come rain or shine.    It's too expensive to move to another country to avoid them, so you're likely to stick to it.   


Ditch the car.   Even if it is as pretty as this one.  
If you're put off by the Great British weather and hate being in a gym, buy or rent equipment for your home.   I own an exercise bike, which is surprisingly well utilised during the working week.   It's amazing how motivated you'll be if you park it in front of the TV and work out while catching up with the latest instalment of The Walking Dead.  It almost feels like you're NOT working out.   As I'm usually short on blogging time, I can often be found posting to social media or trawling through Pinterest's endless supply of blog articles while I'm on the bike.    Multitasking-tastic.    

Download a free app.  If, say, I fancy the idea of going to Dolgellau's charity shops during my lunch break, but can't actually be bothered walking there, I turn on my walking app.   This way, I can monitor the steps and distance and often it's enough to get me over the massive hurdle that is removing myself from my chair and venturing outside.    

Once I've done a little bit, I usually find I'll take the longer route to the office on the way back.   Also, I buy lots of heavy stuff as this helps incorporate an arm workout while I'm at it.    Genius, huh?

Get a dog.  This is pretty much my answer to everything. Feeling down?  Get a dog!   Feeling happy?  Get a dog!   Want a cat?  Get a dog!  

If you have space and time, a furry, baggy faced companion can encourage you to get out and about and do more exercise.    They're also fantastic at munching human food, so you're less likely to binge if you have one around.   Seriously: they're total junk buckets.  

Dogs are amazing snuggle buddies and will love you unconditionally, even if you're the laziest person on the planet.  They also adore Netflix binges and even the boy ones will ALWAYS let you control the remote.   Who could ask for more?  

Buster Crinklechops
I'd LOVE to go for a walk....just give me five more minutes.

Do you have any exercise hacks for lazy girls??  

Thursday, 22 October 2015

My Favourite Spots for Eating and Drinking in Barmouth

The seaside town of Barmouth in North Wales has a resident population of around 3,000 people.   However, during the summer months, this can swell up to 25,000 and, if you happen to drive through it, you can spend a bit of time avoiding parked cars and the tourists who happily wander across the road at random.   It certainly keeps you on your toes if you’re not accustomed to it.  

This might be down to the fact that the town has a lovely, laid back atmosphere and attracts many visitors due to its fabulous location on Cardigan Bay.   There’s so much to do during the season, and these are my favourite spots for indulging in my hobby of eating and drinking.  Mind you, I haven't tried them all yet, so chances are the list will continue to grow…


Barmouth Bridge, Cardigan Bay.  And also some boats.  
Murray’s Cafe Bar:
My parents came down from Scotland recently to visit us and, by all accounts, eat cakes and drink coffee.    My Mum’s still talking about the lemon drizzle scone she had at Murray's,  so LT and I decided we had to check it out.   

The Cafe sits on King Edward Street and has a distinctive red awning with the name emblazoned on it.    It’s a beautifully decorated space and is really cosy.  The staff are warm and friendly and the array of home baked goods that sits on top of the main serving counter could make even the most hardened anti-cake person (me, for example), think about reassessing whether my food intolerance would really take a hit if I just had a tiny piece of cake.  Alarm, I already know the answer to this, but LT has a stomach of steel, so I make him my (very willing) guinea pig for blog purposes. He's a good monkey. 

I had a fantastic coffee while LT indulged in Welsh ham panini and something with chocolate in and we sat back and enjoyed the lovely atmosphere.  Murray’s also has a small deli/shop area, where you can buy a host of fabulous Welsh produce (and alcohol…).  I write about alcoholic way too often, don’t I?   I’m not addicted, honestly.  I just like supporting local business.  Or something like that. 

Murray's Barmouth
Murray's Cafe Bar exterior
Murray's Cafe Bar Barmouth
So many goodies... 

The Lobster Pot:
After a hard day out on the Barmouth lifeboat for The Three Peaks Challenge, LT and I, along with a few friends, popped in for a late dinner at this harbour side restaurant.   The menu is, as you'd expect, seafood orientated, which meant that LT had to try the Thermidor and I opted for that famous seafood speciality, the Thai Green Chicken Curry.  The setting is really lovely and our friends were telling us that they often go in to pick up fresh lobster to take home, as well as eating in.   The interior is decorated in a mostly seafaring theme, with great Welsh picture word prints on the walls, which I spent a while giggling at and trying to work out if they’d notice if I pinched it for my front room.  You can take the girl out of Scotland…

Prices are fairly reasonable and outdoor seating is available, should the sun be shining over the bay.  It’s a lovely spot for a special occasion, or just to celebrate not falling overboard from a Lifeboat. Go me!


The Lobster Pot, Barmouth
Bring me lobster.  Now.  
The Mermaid:

I drive past this three days a week on my way home from work and there’s always a queue out the door.   I rarely eat fish and chips, but LT loves them and assures me these are the best he’s had in the town.  This is a takeaway outlet, which is located on Jubilee Street and within a few seconds walk of the train station. 

Get in the queue, grab some chips, and find a bench overlooking the bay to enjoy your food and the view.

The Captain's Table:
This lovely restaurant can be found on Church Street and has a huge menu, with a mix of traditional British dishes, tons of fresh seafood options, and my personal favourite, a fabulous Spanish paella.  There are also daytime menus where you can grab a lighter bite.  I defy you not to love it.  


Captain's Table Barmouth
Take a seat at the Captain's Table.   
Myrddins Bar Caffi:
We found this little restaurant when we visited Barmouth after LT had accepted a job offer and we were scouting out the area to find somewhere to live.    We visited out of season and this was one of the few places that was still open for business, serving food in the evenings.  It's a pretty small space, but the lady who served us was just lovely and I had the best Peri Peri Chicken I've ever had (it was fabulously hot!).   The menu was great, with a good selection on offer.  

I spotted my very first Welsh dragon in Myrddins, where he was sitting, quite contentedly, in his cage doing, well....dragony stuff.  I don't actually know what it is that dragons do, but I'm sure he was doing it splendidly.  I'm desperate to go back.   For the food and the dragon.   


Saffron:
This was another one of those off season visits we had while we were deciding whether to relocate to North Wales.   I LOVE Indian food and the atmosphere and staff within Saffron were both fantastic.  The menu was excellent and had all the extremely spicy food that I love, a well as a range of not so spicy food for LT.   Basically, it was a regular Indian menu, with a mixture of their own specialities included.   We often visit Harlech Tandoori in our own village and this one is just as good.   It's really reasonably priced and is a lovely space.  Every time I pass it I promise I'll go back.  My main worry is that it's located so close to a Fudge shop, so I'd end up consuming my own body weight in curry and sweets and would have to do A LOT of exercise to burn it all off.

...and while I'm on the subject of Fudge, if you're visiting Barmouth, you must visit Fudgeridoo.  As well as the range of waist expanding, homemade fudge, it might be the prettiest shop in town.   It's so well laid out and is a riot of beautiful gifts.   As I tend to be on the clumsy side, walking around the shop does make me a little nervous about knocking stuff over, but it's clear that a LOT of time and effort has gone in to making look the way it does.   


copyright @ sightseeingshoes 2015
I defy you not to buy something... 

Have you been to Barmouth for lunch, dinner, or drinks?  Where are your favourite places  to hangout?