Ghost and Folklore Stories from the United Kingdom

The United Kingdom is rich with whispering moors, misty lakes, bewitching countryside, ancient castles, fairy hills and many more places where ghosts can haunt; bizarre creatures can inhabit and creepy happenings can take place. A treasure chest of myths and legends, some of which are even based on fact, much of United Kingdom’s folklore is based on history and the culture and stories that came with the Celts, the Anglo-Saxons, the Vikings and the Normans. These ghost and folklore stories from the United Kingdom may send shivers up your spine, but will still tempt you to go explore the region nonetheless!

1. The Fair Folk 

The Fair Folk have influenced a large part of the culture of the UK throughout history. Many people know the legends – don’t ever give a fairy your name, never eat or drink anything in their court – but how many of those people actually are fairies? Legend has it that the Fair Folk will occasionally steal a human infant and replace it with one of their own. If a child had an aversion to iron, caused their parents to have sudden bad luck, or is mean or rude for no reason, it was said it could be the work of a malevolent fairy.

The fair folk have made their way into many local legends and are said to inhabit the underside of the country while us mortals live above-ground. On the Isle of Man, a tiny island in the Irish Sea, there’s a crossing known as the Fairy Bridge. The old local Manx superstition is to greet the Mooinjer Veggey (Little People) when passing along the bridge. Resident taxi drivers have been known to stop if passengers that are visiting the island don’t say hello to the fairies!

Fairy Bridge on the Isle of Man

Fairy Bridge on the Isle of Man | © Kevin Rothwell

2. Merlin’s Oak, Carmarthen, Wales

The famous wizard, Merlin, was said to have inhabited the town of Carmarthen, Wales, in his childhood. As a boy, his favourite thing to do was climb one particular large oak tree. When he discovered plans to cut the tree, legend has it Merlin cast a spell on it, saying “when Merlin’s Tree shall tumble down, then shall fall Carmarthen Town.”

The tree stood for many years, but when the rotting remains of it forced the town to remove it in 1978, the town suffered the worst flooding it had ever experienced. Today, visitors can view a branch of the tree in Carmarthenshire County Museum.

3. The Black Shuck

Remember The Grim, the ominous sign of misfortune from Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban? Then you may recognize The Black Shuck. In the summer of 1577, according to legend, a horrible storm shook the town of Bungay, Suffolk. Locals cowered in the church, when, suddenly a massive crack of lightning caused the doors of the church to burst open, and, in the middle of the church, a massive dog appeared. Said to be back, with flaming red eyes like the devil, the dog attacked anyone who crossed its path and then moved on to a nearby town, where the whole situation began again.

Sightings of this massive dog have been reported ever since, with the most recent one occurring in 1945. If your travels are taking you to Suffolk, watch out for storms!

several bolts of lightning cracking into the ocean on a dark, gloomy night

The Black Shuck appeared in towns after brutal storms struck suddenly | ⓒ Josep Castells/Unsplash

4. Spring-Heeled Jack

Some urban myths are dismissed as just that; a myth. But when Polly Adams was attacked in London in 1838, reports of Spring-Heeled Jack, a super-human man with the ability to leap over entire buildings and spitfire, only increased. One of the alleged victims, Jane Alsop, described her attacker:

“He was wearing a kind of helmet and a tight fitting white costume like an oilskin and he vomited blue and white flames!”

While this sounds unreal, descriptions of similar attacks continued to arise: the Mayor of London received many complaints of a creature with fiery eyes and icy claws terrorising the city. Many have attempted to explain Spring-Heeled Jack, but sightings continued even into the 20th century. The last sighting, in 1904, had him leaping up and down streets and rooftops.

Will you go hunting for Spring-Heeled Jack in London?

a dark alley in London with a light on in one window

Spring-Heeled Jack allegedly roamed London alleyways just like this one | ⓒ Leif Niemczik/Unsplash

5. The Ghosts of Cold Christmas

The church in Cold Christmas, Hertfordshire, seems to have been doomed from the start.

When it was first built, in 1086, it was said to have had the wrong alignment. In Medieval times, it was a sign of the devil for a church to align North to South, as this church did. After centuries of ghost sightings and other paranormal activity, the church was demolished in 1853. Today, only a slightly more modern 15th-century tower and a graveyard stand where the church once did. Cold Christmas is allegedly named for a great tragedy: one particularly harsh winter, nearly all the children in the hamlet died. Legend has it they’re all buried in the graveyard, and their ghosts haunt the townspeople to this day. Many people have heard this long-abandoned tower growling or breathing heavily, and it also has a reputation as a place of occult rituals.

6. The Pendle Witches

The UK has a long and storied history of witchcraft, and nowhere is this more apparent than in the town of Pendle Hill, Lancashire, England.

In the early 1600s, twelve men and women, now referred to as the Pendle Witches, were accused of practicing witchcraft, and promptly put on trial. Ten of the accused were executed, and, according to locals, they’ve been haunting the town ever since.

The trial is known as an especially gruesome one; the executions of the Pendle Witches account for 2% of the total witch executions in all of England. Visitors to Pendle Hill now report hearing the screams of the condemned before they were hanged. Some even experience a feeling of immense anger, as if experiencing the injustice of these famous trials first-hand. What will you find in Pendle Hill?

a ruin of an hold house in front of a leafless tree and a large hill on a foggy morning

Do the ghosts of the witches executed here still haunt Pendle Hill? | ⓒ Andrew/Flickr

7. The Dobhar Chu

It would be nearly impossible to visit Scotland (or even talk about it!) without seeing some kind of sign of the Loch Ness Monster. Nessie remains an enigma for anyone who visits that corner of the UK, and exploring the Loch and hoping for a peek at the fabled sea creature is a bucket-list-worthy event for anyone. But why should Nessie get all the attention?

The Dobhar Chu (pronounced do-war coo) is also known as “Ireland’s Loch Ness Monster,” it can be found lurking in waters around Ireland and the British Isles. Known for its speed, aggression, and appetite for humans, the Dobhar Chu has been described as a cross between a wolfhound and an otter, lurking at the bottom of bodies of water and waiting for its next victim. If you visit Cornwall cemetery in Drummans, you’ll find the grave of Grace Connolly. While age has weathered the stone, you should be able to see a depiction of her killer: an illustration of Dobhar Chu.

a still body of grey-blue water in a valley in Northern Ireland

Could the Dobhar Chu be lurking under waters like this in Northern Ireland? | ⓒ Irek Marcinkowski /Pixabay

The UK’s expansive, intricate, and complicated history makes for a perfect destination for those looking for unique sights and a paranormal encounter or two. If you’re going exploring, remember to stay on marked paths, ask the locals for recommendations, or join a tour that focuses on hidden histories and unique experiences!

Have you heard of these folktales? Did we miss your favourite? Let us know!