It sounds like the ultimate vacation letdown: traveling thousands of miles to see something that isn't there. But Britain's reputation as the most haunted country in the world attracts hordes of tourists every year, and few of its 10,000 reported ghosts are found anywhere as dull as a mere haunted house. Think creepy castles, moonlit abbeys, historic palaces and atmospheric ruins — as well as everyone's favorite, the haunted pub (where, at the very least, we guarantee you'll encounter some sinister spirits).
As the nights close in, the fog rises up and Halloween draws near, here are eight eerie destinations worth astrally projecting yourself to Britain for. Just don't travel alone.
Other buildings might boast more ghosts, but this ancient fortress houses only the highest class of phantom. At least three kings and queens roam its historic ramparts beneath flocks of traditional ravens. Anne Boleyn carries her decapitated head around the White Tower, while Henry VI and Edward V — one of the young princes possibly murdered by Richard III — make occasional appearances. It's not all ruffs and doublets, though: keep an eye open for the ghostly bear that scared a sentry to death in 1816.
Visit this picturesque cemetery at twilight to experience its winding paths, ivy-choked headstones, fallen angel statues and gloomy mausoleums to full Gothic effect. Many Victorian celebrities are buried here (also Karl Marx) but it was sightings of a blood-sucking ghoul that incited a mob to storm Highgate's iron railings one Friday the 13th evening in 1970. That they found no undead among the dead here will either reassure you or raise suspicions that the vampire still haunts its shady lanes.
Fish and chips and… bones? If the human remains on display in the basement of this ancient pub next to Exeter Cathedral don't put you off your lunch, the story behind them is rather sweet. The bones were long thought to be the skeleton of a 14th-century victim of the Black Death, but recent archeological research suggests they may belong to the pub's resident ghosts instead. When John the monk and Martha the nun fell in love in medieval times, they supposedly threw themselves down the pub's deep well together rather than live apart.
This striking Scottish castle, the setting for Shakespeare's gruesome play "Macbeth," has nearly as many ghosts and legends as it does towers and parapets. One of the most horrific stories is that of the Monster of Glamis. It's the tragic tale of a deformed child who was imprisoned in the castle for his whole life, his rooms being bricked over after he died. Luckily, no such fate awaited Princess Margaret, who escaped safely after being born here in 1930. The current owner, the 18th Earl of Strathmore, throws open the castle doors every Halloween for storytelling, a torch-lit procession and spooky surprises.
At one time the second richest Cistercian community in Britain, this beautiful monastery was dissolved under Henry VIII and its assets seized. Now a romantic ruin, visions here have included glowing figures, mysterious lights, uncanny voices and even the legendary Welsh prince Owain Glyndŵr. The monks themselves have moved on: Their ghosts are often seen haunting the bar and parking lot of the 13th-century Britannia Inn hotel nearby.
Ghosts almost outnumber the living in this charming country village 50 miles from London. As many as 14 spirits rub astral shoulders along its hedge-lined streets, including a spectral coach and horses, a ghoulish highwayman, a Red Lady, a White Lady and a phantom monk. There's even a haunted windmill and some Screaming Woods. If its quaint cottages, church and pubs summon a sensation of déjà vu, don't worry, you're not being possessed: Pluckley was also the setting for the BBC and PBS TV show "The Darling Buds of May."
Tales have long been told of regal apparitions in Henry VIII's ornate palace on the outskirts of London, including those of his wives Catherine Howard (beheaded) and Jane Seymour (died of natural causes). But Hampton Court is one of the few haunted houses to back up its supernatural claims with hard evidence. In 2003, a security camera repeatedly picked up images of doors flying open unexpectedly and of a woman in period costume closing them. Palace officials still have no idea who the figure was.
This six-lane freeway lacks the spooky atmosphere of more traditional locations, but how often do you get to hunt ghosts from the comfort of a speeding car? This busy highway from Birmingham to Glasgow is Britain's longest and most haunted road. Here, you might spot a legion of otherworldly Roman soldiers marching toward Hadrian's Wall, an ethereal female hitchhiker or a ghostly truck speeding down the wrong side of the road. Please don't try to drive straight through any of them, just in case they're flesh and blood!
by Mark Harris
Top: Glowing figures, mysterious lights and uncanny voices have been reported at the ruins of Valle Crucis Abbey in Llangollen, Wales. (Photo by Britain on View/Visit Britain)
Top right: Vampire hunters once converged on London's Highgate Cemetery, where this angel watches over the graves. (Photo by Britain on View/Visit Britain)
Left: The village of Pluckley, England, is full of old buildings like this church. (Photo by Britain on View/Visit Britain)
Lower right: Glamis Castle in Scotland is the setting for Shakespeare's bloody play "Macbeth." (Photo by Rod Edwards/Visit Britain)