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Britain's oldest ghost stories
As the sun sinks lower in the sky and the ground becomes littered with falling leaves, the autumn season hangs between the summer, when the earth is vibrant and fertile, and the winter, when it is at its bleakest, most skeletal state.
It’s no wonder, then, that cultures around the world have linked this season that hangs in the balance between life and death with the spiritual veil between the living and the dead.
Whether shared around the campfire or through the big screen, the tradition of telling ghost stories is almost as old as civilisation itself. Passed down through the centuries, chilling tales helped people pass long autumn evenings, but they have helped keep local history alive - even when local inhabitants have long since gone.
Here are six of Britain’s oldest ghost stories and the history that they have kept alive.
Just outside the village of Tynron in Dumfries and Galloway lies the iron age fort of Tynron Doon. Overlooking the lush Scottish Lowlands, you’d be forgiven for missing it sitting at the southern point of the Scaur hills. Here you might spot the landscaping that transformed the site into a place of protection in the Dark Ages.
In use as a fort on and off since the first millennium, the Iron Age site at Tynron Doon has witnessed history that we can’t even begin to fathom.
A short climb through juniper forests and along a sheep track will reward visitors with more than just stunning views. Local legends talk of a headless horseman who rides along the crest of the hill atop a restless black horse.
Ask a local, and they’ll likely tell you the story of the young son who left home one day to make his intentions known to the family of his paramour - the daughter of the Laird of Tynron Castle. Misfortune befell the young man, however, when one of the brothers of his intended took offence at the proposal. Tempers flared, words were thrown, and the suitor made a swift exit from the castle. Unfortunately for him, his exit was a little too swift, and he rode his horse off the edge of the steepest part of the hill. Breaking his neck, the ill wishes in his heart and the curses on his lips sealed his fate, and now the headless horseman is forced to ride endlessly along the long-since abandoned hillside, unable to move on to the next life.
Encompassed by woodland of ash and sycamore, all that remains of the ancient site of Din Lligwy is the scattered stone foundations. Several round and rectangular buildings are dotted among the wild grass and are enclosed by a fortified double wall filled with rubble.
Archaeology hints that the site can be dated back as far as the Iron Age when the settlement would have been used as a farming homestead. Archaeological finds from a later period place a Roman settlement. Pottery and refuse recovered during an archaeological dig show that it was likely used as an iron works as late as the third or fourth century.
Despite its centuries of inhabitants, one, in particular, appears to have hung around a bit longer than intended. Visitors as recent as 2011 have shared their experiences of the haunting figure of a Roman Legionary stalking his way between the ruins of the old forge.
Nant Y Ffrith
Nant Y Ffrith offers its visitors a little more than they might have originally expected. With a bubbling stream that winds its way through the rocky valley, the steep forested valley walls wind their way between Wrexham and Flintshire. Home to a variety of flora and fauna, from soft mosses to woodland birds - it’s hard to describe Nant Y Ffrith as anything other than idyllic.
That might not have been the case, however, for a group of travellers who found themselves in the valley one November night in the early 1600s. The congregation of around eight onlookers all seemed to witness the same haunting sight - the gathering of an army, banners, and all, marching in a warlike manner along the edge of the valley.
The ghostly army of approximately 2,000-3,000 men wasn’t specified in any detail, but later archaeology did find evidence of Roman activity within the valley. Perhaps the legion was so taken with its beauty it couldn’t bear to leave!
Headless Lady of Buckland Glen
There are few written accounts of the misfortunes of the Lady of Buckland Glen, but just ask the locals, and they can share with you the woeful tail of the headless spectre.
An old story tells of a farmer and his young field hand travelling home late in the night through Buckland Glen following a visit to the nearby bank in town. Ahead of them on the road, the figure of a headless woman blocks their path over Buckland Bridge. Startling the travellers and their horse, the farmer remarks to the fieldhand that the ghost is that of a woman killed on the road in darker times and that there’s no other option but for them to take a more circuitous route home.
Little known to the travellers, beneath the bridge lay an ambush lying in wait for the sum of cash the farmer had withdrawn at the bank earlier that day. Appearing as a warning to the weary travellers, the headless lady had helped thwart another likely murder at her final unresting place.
Snaking across the border between Scotland and England, the milecastles of Hadrian’s Wall can be dated as far back as 122 AD. Home to the Roman soldiers that guarded the wall against the Celtic threat to the north, the milecastles were periodic dwellings dotted along the wall every mile or so (hence the name!).
Legend has it that Milecastle 42, also known as Cawfields Milecastle, boasts quite the repeat visitor. Often found hovering 16 feet in the air, still stationed where Hadrian’s Wall would have once met his feet, locals have built quite the back story around the sentry spectre that they’ve named Lucius.
He was believed to have fallen in love with a local Briton girl whose brother was a smuggler, transporting questionable goods in and out of the empire. Getting close to Lucius for the sake of inside information, the girl would tease the secrets of the empire out of her lover and take them back to her brother. Once the brother was caught smuggling, he implicated Lucius as a sentry whose loose lips had allowed the smuggling to continue for as long as it had. Lucius, realising that he had been used by the woman he loved, killed himself out of shame and doomed himself to eternally stand sentry over the wall that he had failed to protect in life.