Keep these spooky spots in mind when planning your next British vacation
THE UK is home to some of the most haunted places in the world, from manor houses to abandoned prisons and even villages overrun with ghosts.
According to a recent survey, one in five Britons have felt a ghostly presence in their homes, while one in six fear the return of ancestors who died before their time. Whether it’s the fog-shrouded moors or the sinister back alleys of London, there’s nothing quite like a cosily terrifying English ghost story.
1. The Screaming Skull of Bettiscombe Manor
You might not guess from its charming architecture, but the manor house of the village of Bettiscombe is home to the world’s most well-known legend of a screaming skull. In the 19th century, John Frederick Pinney returned from Nevis with a faithful Jamaican slave who soon after passed away of tuberculosis. His only request was to have his body returned to his home country, but Pinney refused and buried the man in the cemetery at St. Stephen’s Church. Afterwards, the village and Pinney were plagued with bad luck and spectral screams from the cemetery. The manor house was beset by rattling windows and slamming doors, such that Pinney brought the exhumed body into his home and refused to discard it. The body decayed, leaving only the skull to howl each time someone tried to remove it.
2. The Dunstable Hitchhiker
Vanishing hitchhikers are common urban legends around the world, but one in Dunstable is striking for the level of detail. In October 1979, young carpet-fitter Roy Fulton was driving home from a darts match in Leighton Buzzard down Station Road where the street lights ended. Spying a dark figure, he pulled over and picked up a hitchhiker dressed in black. The man silently got into Fulton’s car and pointed up the road when asked where he was headed. After trying to start conversation, the young man turned to offer his passenger a cigarette and discovered an empty passenger seat. Fulton hit the brakes, jumped out, and checked the road and the rear of his van before getting back in his car and driving to the police station. Some claimed it was the ghost of a young Scotsman who’d died returning from a party, but there was no record of his death. The Dunstable story was so convincing that it made national papers and, in years since, has resurfaced throughout the UK.
3. The Dartmoor Hell Hounds
The Dartmoor area of England has everything that a ghost hunter could ask for -- fog-shrouded moorlands, vast swaths of windswept rock, and several ghastly spirits. Perhaps most terrifying are the yeth or yell hounds, so named for the inhuman wails they make while rambling through the area’s woods. According to Devon folklore, these headless dogs are alternately the feral souls of unbaptized children or the half-made spirits of unborn ones. In either case, they are doomed to haunt the moors in packs and scream wildly while hunting for those foolish enough to venture outside after dark. Supposedly, their yells drive their prey mad, and if they catch you, you’ll be dragged off never to be seen again. Most memorably, the yeth hounds were the main inspiration for Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s The Hound of the Baskervilles.
4. The Bodmin Jail Ghosts
Bodmin Jail is an historic former prison built by prisoners of war in Cornwall on the edge of the nearby moor. Currently, it is home to a museum similar to The London Dungeons for its gory displays of prisoners’ offenses and punishments. Before closing in 1927, the jail was the sight of a naval prison, over 50 public executions, and, for a time during World War II, a cache of national treasures. Many ghosts have been spotted at this defunct prison, including a wandering spectral woman, gaunt faces peering from cells, and a woman who attempts to drag children away in a section of the old Lower Floor. Reportedly, the latter is the ghost of a woman who murdered her youngest son. The most malevolent ghost at Bodmin Prison calls the dank dungeon home and is known to place its cold hand upon visitors’ shoulders.
5. The Elvey Farm Whisper
The Guinness Book of World Records proclaimed the village of Pluckley in Kent as Britain’s most haunted place in 1989. With 12 ghosts at the time, and as many as 16 today, Pluckley is a decidedly spooky spot. Local supernatural residents include a screaming man who fell to his death at the village brickworks, a highwayman pinned to a tree at Fright Corner, the spectre of a suicidal schoolmaster, and the Watercress Woman, an elderly ghost who sits on the bridge where she spent much of her life smoking and drinking before accidentally setting herself alight. Most eerily, this patchwork of fields, woodlands, and orchards is haunted by the whispers of a late 18th century farmer named Edward Brett. As the story goes, Brett was arguing with his wife in their home on Elvey Farm when he stood, said “I will do it”, and walked to the dairy where he shot himself. The farm’s owners and visitors alike say that you can still hear his last words echoing in that haunting landscape.
6. The Ghost Ship Eurydice
The frigate HMS Eurydice traveled as far as the West Indies before taking on seagoing service in the UK. On a wintry night in 1878, the Eurydice had just crossed the Atlantic when it was caught in a heavy storm and capsized. By the time it sank, all but two of the 366-man crew had perished, including Captain Marcus Augustus Stanley Hare who had gone down praying for his crew members. The incident remains one of Britain’s worst peace-time naval disasters and was blamed upon unstable design. However, the ship was far from gone, starting with a vision of its sinking by a guest of the Bishop of Ripon beforehand. Later, the Eurydice’s spectre would regularly appear to sailors off the Isle of Wight, with a submarine even taking evasive action upon spotting it in the 1930s. Most famously, Prince Edward saw the ship while filming Crown and Country in 1998 -- only for it to disappear on the spot of its
7. The Ancient Ram Inn
This historical inn in Wotton-under-Edge, Gloucestershire is England’s most haunted bed-and-breakfast, with 20 ghosts at the last estimate. The current owners of the Ancient Ram Inn were subject to spectral attacks as soon as they moved into the former pub. Upon investigation, they discovered that this Cotswolds cottage had been built upon a pagan burial ground in 1145. During a renovation, they even found daggers and small bones and theorized that it had been the site of child sacrifice. Among the ghosts at the Ancient Ram Inn are a wandering, murdered girl named Rose, a regal high priestess, and a randy male sex demon. Despite some guests fleeing into the night after hearing children’s screams or seeing floating furniture, the inn is currently inundated with ghost hunters and horror writers. Even the world’s oldest paranormal research organization, The Ghost Club, visited in 2003, though they failed to produce evidence of the hauntings.
8. The Tulip Staircase
Historically, the Queen’s House section of the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich has seen its fair share of hauntings, from a woman gliding through walls to unexplained choral chanting. However, few had captured clear evidence of this 4,000-year-old structure’s ghosts until retired Reverend Ralph Hardy of White Rock, British Columbia took a picture of a shrouded figure on the Tulip Staircase in 1966. Legends told of a maid who died after being thrown from the highest banister and regularly appeared to visitors as a pale figure mopping blood at the base of the staircase. Convinced that he had captured a ghost, Hardy sent the photograph to a London ghost club, who arrived a year later to hold a séance. The notes from that event provide some sense of the disturbing events that occurred that night–with a bell ringing and a luminous stone appearing before the handwriting became indecipherable. To this day, visitors and staff alike regularly report ghostly sightings.
This article was first published on The Occult Museum.