First of all I just want to say a huge thanks to Emily for organising it. I had a fabulous time and was pretty much completely in the dark the whole way through. Perfect :)
I was told to rendez-vous at 10:45 at Cambridge station, and given a fairly cryptic clue to the evening's entertainment: "Destinations unknown; small explosions and a select group stocking up for a walk on the wild side. [...] Prepare for things going bump in the night and let’s hope the hens aren’t chickens". With almost no hints at all as to what to pack beyond that I dressed in walking gear with my "lost sheep" tshirt, and packed party clothes, plus a selection on nonsense mostly intended to make people laugh - on which more later.
At the station I quickly found Rachel, Becky, Laura and Alison who continued to be as mysterious as possible - Rachel put my ticket through the barrier so I couldn't see where I was going, and the guard on the train played along nicely and didn't give the game away. So I didn't know we were definitely going to York until we stood up to get off the train (although I'd guessed we'd have probably gone earlier if it were going to be Newcastle or Edinburgh :)
Steph and Mum (Ann) met us at York station and we piled into two taxis over to the Monkbar hotel and checked in, and had just time for a quick drink in the courtyard where Sarah joined us, before heading across to a bar on Swinegate where we were met by Janet and Emily and all the hens were finally together.
Here mum treated us to lots of lovely champagne (aha, lots of small explosions as it was opened), and I unpacked my bag of goodies and showed everyone all the things I'd thought I might possibly need. From a snorkel and mask, to a lego plastic shark, via a tape measure, bottle opener, thermometer, giant dice, pack of cards, felt tip pens, and all sorts of other odds and ends. This gave Steph and Em an idea, and when Emily brought out the Mr and Mrs quiz she'd prepared earlier with Mike's assistance they'd come up with the idea of forfeits. For every question I got wrong one of the party would pick something from the bag of junk and I'd have to bring it with me in the evening! Thankfully they decided to stop once everyone had picked one item each! I did also win myself a lovely prize though, so I must have got some of them right :)
Anyway next some of us headed back to the hotel (after some excitement making sure we had the right room keys) to get changed, before we met again to head to our next assignment. By this point I had a rather improbable ensemble. To my black party dress and tights were added: a pair of red fishnet tights, a bright magenta corsage, a black and purple feather trimmed goth veil, one black and purple striped goth glove, a handbag, a box of matches and a disposable camera, plus under my arm a teddy in a woolly fuschia pink hat! Then the others handed me a red feathery fan they'd bought in Ann Summers (thankfully they'd decided against the shiny bling nipple tassles)!
So in all my regalia we walked across town and found ourselves in a restaurant on Castlegate, where Emily also produced a tiara, a pink feather boa which I added to Teddy's outfit, and a bride-to-be sash. She did say I was allowed to take them off again after dinner if I didn't want to wander round York in them, which was sweet, but by this point I think I was beyond embarrassment. Perhaps all that champagne had something to do with it. Dinner was lovely, and the staff in the restaurant were great. After only talking to Emily about it on Thursday they'd gone to a lot of effort to put together a vegan meal for Becky and were obviously taking great delight in surprising her with it. And they even managed to find some strawberries for a diabetic friendly pudding for mum. My lamb and sticky toffee pudding were fabulous. And the matches in my handbag were very handy for relighting the oil lamps on the table when they blew out in the breeze.
After that we headed back across town and as we came round the end of the Minster I spotted a chap in victorian gothic outfit heading towards us and twigged that our walk on the wild side was to be a ghost tour of York. It's not something I would ever have chosen to do myself, as a complete sceptic, but it was really good fun. Our guide Charles obviously really enjoys his job, and knows how to pitch his patter to his audience well. Although he did keep worrying we were all history graduates and going to start correcting his stories. The bits of history were really interesting (though I never knew emperor Constantine had banned sausages for being rude) and the spooky bits were suitably hammed up and great fun. I'm not sure all his tours include an impromptu rendition of "Istanbul, not Constantinople" though. I took lots of pics on the disposable camera, and since it's nearly 3 years past the use-by date I think we've a good chance of it showing some ghosts once developed.
Next stop was Koko's international bar. Perhaps chosen for the exciting range of beers, but having spotted a "ghost cocktail" on the blackboard we promptly ordered ghosts all round, and completely befuddled the bar staff as they tried to find enough glasses. They turned out to be excellent on at least two grounds: a) they taste lovely and b) they turn your tongue blue. I really look forward to seeing the photos and suspect at least one or two new livejournal icons and Facebook profile pictures will result. Here we finally split the party - some stayed for a second cocktail before heading back to the hotel and then a hardcore four of me, Emily, Laura and Sarah headed out in search of dancing. Since it was already nearly 1am all we found was gin (mmm gin) and some chips with cheese and a weird stalker following us back to the hotel even though he claimed he wasn't - he must have thought we were *much* more drunk than we actually were if he thought we wouldn't notice. The night porter soon scared him off and let us finish our chips in the comfy chairs of reception though, and found us a bottle of red wine and some huge blue glass goblets to drink it from. Cunningly we were all in different rooms, so headed off to drunkenly try not to wake our room mates about 3 :)
I felt fine in the morning, and we had a nice hotel breakfast and then although a couple of people had to get off the rest of us had a quiet potter through town with our luggage (cobbles and the wheels on my suitcase really don't get on), we stopped to look round the garden of the Merchant Adventurers Hall where Emily got married in April - and marvelled at a magnolia which was flowering away in mid-August. And then we found a teashop which turned out to have excellent home made cakes. My giant slab of Yorkshire fruit cake came with a slab of wensleydale which was nearly as big, and went down a treat.
And then it was time for the train home, tired but happy after a fabulous weekend. And Laura persuaded Pete to come and meet us at the station in the car and after dropping Becky at home they came back for a cuppa and we told Mike and Pete all about it :) And as if it couldn't get any better Mike had been pottering about the Botanic Gardens again on Saturday and had bought me the most beautiful snowdrop pendant and earrings. He's definitely my prince, although I'm not sure about the half-blood bit. Can't wait, less than 4 weeks to go!
I did get a couple of pictures on the digital camera early on, though it wouldn't fit in the handbag along with the disposable one in the evening so you'll have to wait for the rest. They're over on Facebook but you should be able to see them.