Way back when our gurt big hulking teens were just little boys, we were on holiday camping in Yorkshire. We planned to spend a day exploring in York, and while there we had the grand plan to visit the York Dungeons – I mean, how scary could it really be? I had roughty-toughty-non-scarable boys, it’d be fun.
Within ten minutes (after ignoring the dubious warnings at the ticket desk) I had to beat a hasty retreat, with three white faced boys clinging to my hands and leg. We waited out on the sunny pavement by the river, gaily talking about the pigeons and the sunshine and trying to distract them from the horrors within while we waited for daddy to enjoy the tour by himself.
So when my sunny and sweet 9yr old declared she definitely wanted to visit the London Dungeons on our day at the South Bank, I tried pretty hard to dissuade her. I really did.
But she insisted she was NOT scared, so I said we’d give it a go – fully expecting to be back out in the sunshine in pretty short order.
We queued with rather nervous trepidation, chatting to the other tourists (it was a school day – one of the big benefits of home ed! – and there was a distinct lack of children we noticed). I got a few glances, probably wondering why I was such an irresponsible parent to be taking such a sweet innocent child into the place. Yes, they don’t really know her very well; this is probably far more her style than Shrek was, in all honesty! The atmosphere was that nervously cheerful one you get when everyone tries to ignore the nerves of just how scary things might be about to get.
And then the doors opened, and we began.
Oh. My. Goodness.
It’s a walk-though attraction, and you gradually move through history, visiting with the most gruesome, evil and downright horrible characters along the way. Some are graphically icky, some are loud and screamy, and some are quietly menacing. A couple genuinely raised the hairs on the back of my neck, and the darkness of Sweeney Todd’s barbershop actually caused Bear to hide in my lap.
After an unexpected boat ride (I know! We’re indoors Merlin People. What’s with the big ride?!), we found ourselves starting nearly 400 years ago, amidst the sounds and smells of London as we moved from Henry VIII to learn about Guy Fawkes’ gunpowder plot. Who knew that as a side-bonus, this was going to be the most amazing potted history lesson I could give my daughter?
But the truly amazing cast and the brilliant special effects balanced the chilling fear and suspense (another spine tingle was caused by the mob hunting the witch in the time of the plague – a quiet sense of unease settled over our entire group as we listened to ‘them’) with a lot of laughter; the characters entertained and informed as much as they spooked and loomed out at us as we travelled through some amazing scenes in time. The fire of London had no graphic horror, and yet the sense of being within a burning city felt ridiculously alarming.
(as an aside, Jack the Ripper caused an interesting whispered conversation with the 9yr old as to what a ‘lady of the streets‘ actually was – and the visit to the Ten Bells Pub on a stormy night was genuinely disconcerting)
The final scene from the Judges was played purely for laughs, which lightened the mood considerably after the horrors of Jack the Ripper (and properly made me giggle til my cheeks ached), and then to Bear’s dismay (and, to be honest, my major relief) it turned out she wasn’t tall enough by a whisker to ride the The Drop Dead Drop.
That small disappointment aside, the whole visit turned out to be Bear’s absolute favourite attraction so far. She wanted to turn back and chat some more with the (questionably) fabulous Mrs Lovett, she was suitably giggly over the torturer (whilst keeping a very safe distance), and I found her hand nervously squeezing tight to mine more than a few times in the dark.
It’s actually just a genuinely difficult experience to share and to describe – you just find yourself getting frustrated and saying “oh, you just have to go there!”
And you really must – I cannot wait to go back with the husband and teen boys, because I know they’ll love the whole 90 minutes every bit as much as we did.
I have actually promised to return as soon as Bear’s grown the 1cm she needs to finish to the end in style. I’m frankly hoping she takes a while – I really can’t say I fancied the Drop Dead Drop quite as much as she did!
Tickets for just the London Dungeon starts at just under £30 per adult – we attended on our fabulous Merlin Annual Pass (if you’re a passholder, during busy times it’s recommended you book ahead to reserve your timeslot because they sell out fast!).