Forget watching Yvette Fielding on Most Haunted: you needn’t travel far these days if you’re looking for a spine-chilling story or a touch of the heebie-jeebies on Halloween, or at any other time of the year for that matter. Not even a few extra layers and putting in a call to Ghostbusters will stop you getting the shudders in these spooky places…
With its bloodthirsty history spanning centuries, not to mention its churchyards, opium dens, prisons and playhouses, every stone of the capital’s brickwork breathes a tale. Not so long ago this city’s dark and sinister streets harboured an underworld blacker than Derek Acorah’s psychic talents, home to hangings, murders and other treasonous acts that would see offenders’ heads impaled on spikes on London Bridge as a deadly deterrent. With all its gory history, England’s capital is – strangely and rather ironically – just about the biggest ghost town there is.
From Newgate Prison (now the Old Bailey) where the public clamoured to watch inmates dancing ‘the jig’ as they swung from a rope, to Fleet Street, where demon barber Sweeney Todd allegedly butchered his customers then had his assistant Mrs Lovett make them into pies, there are more famous tales than you can shake a ball and chain at. Other eerie locations include Whitechapel in the East End, where a certain Jack the Ripper butchered his Victorian victims almost under the noses of baffled City police, and the Theatre Royal in Drury Lane, said to be one of the most haunted theatres in the World. The theatre is home to a handful of ghosts (one of which is that of Charles Macklin, who killed his fellow actor by spearing him through the eye with a cane in an argument over a wig) and it’s actually considered good luck for an actor to see one before a production. Pull up a pew here and you might spot the famous ‘Man in Grey’, the ghost of a knife-stabbed man who watches plays from the audience.
Overlooking the Thames is the looming Tower of London, a lynchpin in London’s history where the spirits of murdered monarchs are said to roam the towers, galleries and courtyards. Forget London, this is one of the most haunted buildings in the World. The Wakefield Tower is believed to be haunted by tragic English monarch Henry VI, whose reign came to a premature and sticky end with his murder in the hour before midnight on 21st May 1471. A mysterious ‘White Lady’ has been seen in the White Tower, waving at children below, and several guards have reported a ‘crushing’ sensation in the gallery where King Henry VIII’s armour resides. Other ghostly goings on are said to occur outside on Tower Green, haunted by beheaded Anne Boleyn and Lady Jane Grey, and the screaming phantom of Margaret Pole who was much less fortunate with her execution. When the 72-year old Countess refused to kneel to be beheaded, she was literally chased around the scaffold until she was hacked to death. This ghastly spectacle is said to be re-enacted on the green every anniversary.
To step into the sinister streets of London, head to the London Dungeon where the city’s sinister stories are laid out before your very eyes. If you’re really brave, you could also try the Serial Killers Live chambers at Madame Tussauds, where you’ll come face to face with the unsavoury inmates of Newgate Prison – literally.
Whitby, North Yorkshire
Perched on the North Yorkshire coast, little do some know that the popular and delightful seaside resort of Whitby was actually the setting for Bram Stoker’s blood-curdling masterpiece Dracula. It was here on the stormy shores of Whitby that Count Dracula first landed on English soil in the form of a black dog, after the Russian ship (The Demeter) was ran aground in a storm with its dead captain mysteriously lashed to the helm.
Stoker stayed at the Royal Hotel whilst penning his famous novel and the book’s characters have sleepwalked, wandered and fallen victim to vampires across Whitby’s moonlit landmarks. The 199 steps to Whitby Abbey and the north terrace feature prominently in the novel, and folk coming to Whitby can still visit the eerie 13th century Abbey which looms over the harbour. For the full low down on the Dracula connection, visit the Dracula Experience which resides at 9 Marine Parade. This building itself is said to be haunted, with ghostly sightings of a young girl with ringlets in her hair playing on the first floor.
Lake Geneva, Switzerland
It’s not the most typical of scary destinations, but it was here on the stormy shores of Lake Geneva that 19-year old Mary Shelley conceived the idea of Frankenstein. In the summer of 1816, Shelley was staying at the Villa Diodati with a group of friends (including Percy Shelley and Lord Byron) and the story goes that as the placid weather turned tempestuous, the company gathered to read ghost stories against a backdrop of lightning. Byron challenged the group to write a ghost story and while the others succeeded, Mary couldn’t think of anything on the night. A few days later, Shelley had a ‘waking’ nightmare which lead her to pen the first words of Frankenstein, beginning ‘It was a dreary night in November…’
The Villa can still be found in Cologny, which has spectacular views of the lake. It has also featured in the film Gothic and Chuck Palahniuk’s novel Haunted.
To really soak up some spookiness, you can’t get much more authentic than a trip to Transylvania, the home of Dracula. It’s here in Transylvania that you can find the medieval and rather Gothic looking Bran Castle perched atop a 200ft tall rock. As one of Romania’s most popular tourist attractions the castle attracts some 450,000 visitors a year, and it’s not hard to see why considering it was once home to 15th century tyrant Vlad the Impaler, the unsavoury character upon which Stoker’s Dracula was allegedly based. The castle has starred in countless Hollywood Dracula films and as a popular attraction, visitors can take a guided tour of the castle to this day.