October days bring the glow of seasonal foliage, but with the approach of Halloween at the end of the month, our thoughts understandably run into darker realms. From inexplicable noises, strange sights, and foul smells to physically malevolent presences, Europe offers visitors an impressive — and terrifying — diversity of haunted spots and locales. Featuring ancient vampires, medieval monks, a white hare and even a reappearing mansion, this is an unsettling round-up of some of the continent’s most well-known hauntings.
Northern Ireland’s vampire chieftain
In Northern Ireland, near the village of Glenullin in County Londonderry, a hawthorn tree grows by the side of the road. Next to the tree — directly under its branches — visitors will spot a large, innocuous looking stone. This tranquil spot is said to mark the grave of a tyrant chieftain who was killed for the cruelty he inflicted on his people. Even after death, the chief continued to rise from beyond to drink the blood of his living subjects. Seeking to confine him to the ground once and for all, a local druid commanded that this large stone be placed on the grave to prevent the chieftain from ever again returning. While the chief’s mortal remains have long been commended to the earth, locals believe his soul still stalks the land he once ruled.
Yorkshire’s Haworth hauntings
Next up is the little Yorkshire village of Haworth. Closely associated with the Brontë literary family, the ghosts of Branwell and Emily are frequently spotted on the nearby moors. But for such a small place, Haworth is home to multiple hauntings. Formerly a Tudor mansion, the Old Hall is now a typical country pub. But while diners and drinkers make merry, ghostly monks are said to wander the underground passageways that link the property’s cellars with the nearby church. But the Old Hall isn’t the only pub in Haworth with a presence; the ghost of a hanged highwayman is frequently spotted lurking around all local establishments, forever on the prowl for new victims.
Cornwall’s Looe: of many spectres and Sarah
A trip to the tiny Cornish village of Looe is not for the faint-hearted, where even a quick drink in The Jolly Sailor brings visitors face to face with two resident ghosts. Women in particular should be wary: a male ghost is known to haunt the ladies’ toilet here. Overnight guests who seek lodging at the inn should also sleep with one eye open; a female spectre is known to stand over beds at night. Add to this objects moving of their own accord, strange sounds, and flickering lights and the picture is complete.
But the ghosts of Looe aren’t just limited to the pub. In the Old Guildhall — once used as a prison — a female ghost known as Jennifer still haunts the cells. Further afield, Looe Island is a beautiful nature reserve by day, but when darkness falls, two ghosts — a grey-haired man and one with a bloodied face — roam its environs. In the nearby Kilminorth Woods, walkers and hikers frequently report the feeling of being watched along with foul smells and strange blue lights hanging in mid-air. Finally, we have Sarah, a jilted lover whose unrequited love for a local man named Simon resulted in suicide.
Her ghost — which manifested itself after death as a white hare — continued to haunt him for the rest of his living days. Sarah’s presence, however, is a more benevolent one; she is said to have been born into a family of fishermen and one day, as she was following Simon through the village, Sarah spotted a storm at sea. In the guise of a hare, she quickly tied the ropes of the boats in Looe harbour to the harbour wall, thus saving the lives of many fishermen. And now, when locals spot Sarah, it’s understood that stormy weather is imminent.
A haunted lighthouse and a ghostly mansion on the Isle of Wight
Yet seaside haunts aren’t limited to Looe. On the south coast of the Isle of Wight, the lighthouse at St. Catherine’s Point is a popular place for stargazers and storm watchers alike, but locals say that the structure is rife with paranormal activity. In addition to reports of ghostly animals and unexplained footsteps at this unmanned, fully automated lighthouse, the spectre of a man — said to be that of a keeper killed by a bomb during the Second World War — is still seen walking the ramparts of this local landmark. Moving inland, New Year’s Eve brings the ghost hunters to the hamlet of Knighton Gorges, once the former seat of one of the island’s grandest mansions. The house was the scene of various tragedies and misfortunes over the years and was destroyed by its owner in 1821. But every New Year’s Eve, crowds gather at the site of this former manor, when it is known to mysteriously and suddenly reappear in splendour.
Norway: apparitions of bodily harm
We move on to Norway, where things get physical. For nearly a millennium, the Akershus fortress has stood guard at the mouth of Oslo’s harbour. While it’s been an effective deterrent against would-be invaders, the fortress also served as a prison for some of Norway’s most violent criminals. Here, prisoners were often subjected to intense physical labour and equally harsh methods of discipline, with irons, chains, and solitary confinement all deployed to keep order. While the prison at Akershus closed in 1950, former guards have told of hearing odd whispering and scratching sounds echoing down the site's hallways. More ominously, many also reported being violently pushed and shoved by an unseen force while on duty.
Outside of the capital, the church ruins at the village of Nes are said to be haunted by the ghost of the site’s former priest. Details of his exact demise aren’t quite certain, but visitors have reported that their physical movements suddenly became slow and sluggish as they wandered among the ruins. Many also observed that their electronic devices failed to work when in close proximity of the old church at Nes.
From slight tingles of foreboding to unimaginable terror, Europe’s most notorious hauntings come into their own this time of year. Come explore them — if you dare.
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