England’s horrible histories

By | Category: Travel destinations, Travel tips & opinions

England is a country world-renowned for its history. Our ancient lineage of Kings and Queens, revered historic architecture and deep-seated traditions bring visitors from near and far. But the country’s history is also peppered with tales of smuggling and witchcraft, piracy and ghostly hauntings, which lend a more sinister side to many of England’s popular destinations. Here, VisitEngland looks at some of the country’s darker tourist attractions

2012 marks the 400th anniversary of the Lancashire Witch trials. In August 1612, 10  people were executed on the moors above Lancaster, having been found guilty of witchcraft at Lancaster Castle. Today, visitors can take a guided tour of the imposing castle, the setting for the imprisonment and the trial. See the dungeons and the grand Jury Room and Courts and learn of the witches’ plight before making up your own mind. Were the Pendle Witches malevolent people possessed by supernatural powers, or innocent victims of a time obsessed with the pursuit and punishment of witchcraft?

Legend has it that during the Dark Ages, an old woman lived alone deep in the caverns of the Wookey caves in Somerset. She was branded a witch and all local mishaps and problems were blamed on her. Eventually, a Holy Clerk of Glastonbury exorcised the witch and turned her to stone. Her frozen figure remains in this cavern – known as The Witch’s Kitchen – to this day. Visit the Witch’s Castle and Kitchen in the Wookey Hole Caves and take your chances in the Magical Mirror Maze. You can also visit Wookey witch’s original skeleton, on display at Somerset’s Wells & Mendip Museum.



The newly-opened Blackpool Tower Dungeons bring an interactive experience that tells some of the more gruesome tales from 1,000 years of Blackpool history. Discover the torture instruments of forgotten times, escape the mirror maze of horrors and get sentenced to death on the Extremis drop ride. The Blackpool Tower Dungeons are the latest to open of a dungeons series that includes York, Warwick Castle and London.

Nottingham’s Galleries of Justice tell some of the sinister stories behind the city’s own outlaws, which are brought to life in the very building where they were judged, imprisoned and executed. The setting for this historic visitor attraction is Nottingham’s old courthouse and gaol, voted ‘the most haunted building in the UK’ by paranormal investigators Fright Nights. Take a Ghost Tour to hear tales of the Shire Hall’s dark and sinister past and be led around the haunted corridors, cells and dungeons.

2013 marks 125 years since the streets of East London were at the mercy of Jack the Ripper, the unidentified serial killer whose legend remains a subject of fascination. Visitors with a brave disposition can try a Jack the Ripper walking tour of Spitalfields and Petticoat Lane in East London. Inspect the murder sites, sift through the gory evidence and get to grips with the main suspects. After the tour, you can steady your nerves in The Ten Bells, the pub where the victims themselves – perhaps under the threatening gaze of the Ripper himself – sought solace from the waking nightmare.

Step back in time on a journey from London on a Murder Mystery tour aboard the impeccably restored carriages of the British Pullman. The year is 1933 and there has been a murder on the train. Love and intrigue are in the air as you meet a series of suspicious characters all embroiled in the plot. Travel through the beautiful Kent countryside and indulge in a five course lunch as you pull together clues to solve the murder.


The historic city of Chester is a ghosthunter’s heaven. Join a night-time ghost hunt around the eerie haunts of the city’s mysterious and murky past. Tour the ancient, walled city after dark, visit well-known spooky and scary places, and hear spine-chilling tales of ghosts, spectres, and things that go bump in the night.

The renowned York Ghost Walk Experience tour winds through the city’s honeycomb maze of ancient buildings, narrow cobbled streets and dark alleyways. The after-dark experience combines storytelling from those in the know with authentic re-enactments of characters such as York’s Headless Earl and The Gray Lady. The latter is the much-seen ghost of a nun buried alive in the old Hospital of St Leonard – now part of the Georgian Theatre Royal. But beware – the city of York is a ghostly one. Even if you don’t meet the city’s spectres, they will almost certainly be watching you.


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