The York Dungeon – Yorkshire’s bloody history in 75 minutes

Something must be going on in Yorkshire when you visit early in the year – and indeed it’s the annual Viking festival Jorvik which had been (due to my Haithabu roots) on my bucket list for years. Here in York the Vikings settled when coming over to Britain from Northern Europe. After I already got scared in both the Hamburg and the London Dungeons, I am curious about the one in Britain’s most haunted city which opened in 1986.

It is our last morning in York. Our exhausted feet climbed the York Minster cathedral and Clifford’s Tower,walkedthe excellent Ghost Hunt of York through the Shambles alleys (the inspiration for Harry Potter’s Diagon Alley) and queued for almost an hour for the Jorvik Viking Centre. Another wait was to be avoided, so we booked the Sinner’s Saver Ticket online last night.

The first thing we realise inside the York Dungeon is the smell – old and menacing, sweet and foul. While outside daffodils and crocuses bloom, here it is dark and gloomy. We hear scary noises and our group sticks together. The concept of the Dungeons is known: York’s gory history through the centuries is being told by actors in many rooms, often with a comical note for those appreciating macabre details. Theatre and horror, what’s not to love?

We will not be disappointed – with the Vikings behind us we land in a snake pit and hear about the horrendous blood eagle ritual (not in too many details though, children over 8 years are allowed in). Then we witness the charlatan treatment of pestilence sufferers but thanks to leeches no one leaves the questionable surgery with black marks. The courtroom and the labyrinth are known from other Dungeons but a good laugh whatsoever. We are invited to the haunted Golden Fleece pub and remember having passed the real one on our city strolls. Now we struggle with the Yorkshire accent but luckily, we are not being picked out.

Heart-breaking and truly shocking is a 17th century story from a man telling us about his wife being tortured before she was executed – just for following the wrong branch of Christianity. The BBC trilogy Gunpowder comes to mind, which told the story of the Guy Fawkes complot from 1605 and yes, we will encounter him as well. He was baptised in York

I was fearing that the Dungeon would just repeat the local history and legends I have found out about over the last few days but the opposite is the case: They have all been enhanced and I had a jolly good time!

Next time I visit York I might buy a YorkPass for combined entry discounts – York has a lot to offer.

**** out of 5 stars

We paid £13 per person when booking in advance.

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