Haunted Hikes: Where to Wildcamp this Halloween

You could enjoy All Hallows’ Eve in the brightly lit comfort of your home, Hocus Pocus on the box, and a bowl of funsized chocolate by the door. Perhaps you have a sprog desperate to show off an elaborate mermaid corpse costume to the neighbourhood and your evening is scheduled for knocking on doors so they can twirl and gather funsize chocolate of their own. The sprogless among you may wish to celebrate a gaudy do with bat shaped bunting, lazy costumes of endless witches hats, pumpkin flavoured alcohol and even more funsized chocolate.

Or maybe you want to prod at the weakened veil between the worlds this Halloween and set your tent where the ghouls and the ghosties demand to enter. Do you dare to sleep among restless souls, maligned spirits and vengeful shades? Campfires may be against the ethos of wildcamping, but who needs a campfire for atmosphere in the spaces where stories aren’t always stories?

Put on your boots, strap on your headtorch, pack up your bag (and the funsized chocolate) and see who comes round for trick or treating when you’re far outside of home.

Styhead Pass, Lake District, Cumbria

Credit: Jayne Hall

The quiet grasses in the height of Styhead Pass rustle through a bleak landscape that tilts high between the mountains. The sling of its path between Great Gable and Scafell Pike traps the passing fog, covering the ice-cold tarn, the deep contours, and the scattered sheep tracks in heavy cloud; obscuring the way.

A lack of visibility is not a problem for the ghost of Styhead Pass. Or rather, it has already been his problem for a very long time. The headless figure that walks between the mountains is said to be that of a 13th century outlaw known only as Bjorn who hid here to escape his crimes. Not much is known about Bjorn, but his decapitated state indicates that the law won. There are less clues, however, to give a reason for the sack of cats he lugs around.

If when out all alone for a night on Styhead Pass, your tent is disturbed by someone tripping over it remember you’re the one that pitched in the path of a ghost that cannot see. It’s probably decent etiquette to offer to help herd all the ghostly cats back that he may have dropped, after all, we don’t know what dark deeds he did to end up decapitated to begin with…

Glenuilin, County Derry

A twisted and ancient Hawthorne tree lurks over a stone monument here in Glenuilin; the burial place of an Irish vampire.

The chieftain Abhartach was a short and viscous man, a bloodthirsty fighter, and a cruel leader. When he was finally cut down by neighbouring chieftain Cathrain, he was buried standing upright, as was the warrior custom. It, unfortunately, was not to be the last his people saw of him. He dug out of his grave the following day and demanded blood from his subjects to sustain his corpse. Cathrain killed and buried him again, but Abhartach returned once more; now totally irate.

On consulting a passing saint (as you do), Cathrain was told that Abhartach was not completely dead, only sort of dead, and powers gained through dark deals made in life now made him resistant to the completeness of a mortal demise. He had to be contained and suspended. Following the Saint’s instructions, Cathrain stabbed his undead nemesis through the heart with a wooden stake and, this time, buried him upside down on his head. The grave was sealed with a Christian burial marker.

Only the capstone of the marker remains, and the tree is said to have grown from the stake through Abhartach’s heart. Grass does not grow around its roots which push out of a red tinged soil.

He has been bound for many centuries, so there’s every chance you’ll simply have a quiet night, but just try to sleep knowing an undead vampire warrior is right below the ground, and he is furious.

Gallows Hill, Dunnottar Woods, Aberdeenshire and Moray

Credit: Ian Grebby

The bald hill in Dunnottar Woods was once the site of the local gallows where many a condemned person met their end by the hangman’s noose. The stone base of the gallows still stands, now as a cairn to the memory of the bodies buried below in the pit.

What bodies?

Whilst the mound of Gallows Hill was selected for its geographical suitability as a site of execution, the mound had already been a Bronze Age burial site 3,000 years ago. Unknowingly, the living were executed on top of the dead. It was only in the 1800s when planting trees around the hill that the ‘hill’ was discovered to be covering a vast number of skeletons. And that stone on top of it that had become the base of the gallows? It was already there. It was already marking a place of death before it was upcycled into part of an instrument of execution.

If you choose to spend Halloween on this cursed site, watch out for the figures that gather at the top of the hill and the enduring sense of being watched. You may be all alone, but there might well be hundreds of pairs of ghostly eyes watching you heat up your SummitToEat curry. They could just be hungry. Or they could be really quite annoyed.

Pendle Hill, Lancashire

Credit: Heather Sheldrick

Pendle is the site of England’s most famous witch trials; in 1612 eight women and two men were found guilty of witchcraft on the words of a nine year old child and hanged. It is said that their ghosts return to the place where fear and gossip and rivalry overrode reason to condemn them to their deaths, and that they cry for both vengeance and pardon.

Up on the slab of Pendle Hill that casts wide shadows over the village below, their spirits are reported to have been seen, deathly pale with black eyes. If you choose to pitch up on the cold peak that watched so much misery below, perhaps reassure yourself that the ten spirits somewhere around you were just herbal meddlers, maligned by jealous neighbours and they were never really witches at all.

Or were they?

Pembrey Woods, Carmarthen Bay, Carmarthenshire

Credit

The dense Alder and Ash trees of Pembrey Wood extend to the shore and onto the sands above the Bristol Channel. In these woods, gangs of thieves would lurk, luring passing ships to ground on the rocks, looting the vessels and killing the survivors. Ghostly hands still clutch at ankles, reaching out to be saved from the merciless slaughter, and disembodied footprints run across the sand.

The occasional deceased sailor is seen, forlorn and lost between the trees and the beaches, sometimes alongside other spirits; those of wartime airmen whose planes crashed on trying to navigate the nearby airstrip in poor visibility.

I don’t know if you have a preference for the presence of a mediaeval merchant or a 20th century pilot, but here you have a chance for both. Keep an eye on your kit though; many a camper has awoken to a thoroughly tossed camp; it seems there’s at least one poltergeist.

Ballyboley Forest, Ballyclare, Co Antrim

Credit: Emma Sarah McFarlane

Long before there was a forest here, it was once a sacred site; however the druids that worshipped here went rogue and power-mad, performing more and more terrifying rituals and sacrifices.

As the light starts to fall as you walk in to find a pitch, you might see stones smoking with no fire and shadows that move with nothing to throw them. When you settle down to light your stove you might be suddenly startled by sobbing in the dark spaces between the trees and deep repetitive laughter. If that doesn’t see you running, and then you wake in the night, perhaps stay in your tent, as it has been reported that cloaked figures silently stand in a ring around campsites. Should you manage to sleep at all, when morning comes you might not be surprised anymore to see red handprints on the trees in the early morning haze.

Culloden Moor, Inverness

Credit: Daniel Luke Nixon

Despite being a really small cluster of islands, the UK has seen an almost countless amount of terrible and tragic battles on our shores. Above so many of those, the horror of Culloden Moor is particularly enduring.

The Moor is vast and desolate, plugged about this time of year with dying, dark heather and a damp wind that creeps to your bones. It is a field of graves, covered over the centuries with scrubby ferns and dense shrubs and the disturbed and distressed earth rarely lies flat.

Lead by the ‘Butcher’ Duke of Cumberland, the English forces killed 1,500 Jacobite rebels in under an hour and ended the years of rebellion. The brutal slaughter is said to replay every year on the anniversary of the battle, and the ghost of Bonnie Prince Charlie appears in a nearby hotel, preparing for what he does not realise is the final fight of his cause.

As the anniversary of the Battle of Culloden is the 16th April, Halloween may well be a quiet night. Too quiet maybe, as its said that birds don’t ever sing where the dead fell.

Aberglaslyn Pass, Beddgelert, Snowdonia

Credit: Caroline Clift

The narrowness of the densely wooded gorge might require a bivvy and a nifty tarp rather than a tent, but any discomfort has the potential to be magnified come nightfall.

A great hound prowls around the water’s edge. Is this the figure of Gelert? The loyal companion that was slain by his mistaken noble owner and whom the nearby town is named for? Or is it another dog of local legend; tricked to be the first to walk over a bridge built by the devil, his soul then stolen in payment? Or is it a simply a Grimm; an ancient ghoul known as a harbinger of misery and bad luck?

A dramatic fleeing horseman might catch your eye, but it is the mesmerising White Lady you should be careful of. She herself brings no malevolence, but she is there to warn you of impending danger and tragedy in your own life. If you catch sight of her pale figure among the shadows of Aberglaslyn Pass, maybe instantly call your loved ones to remind them to always wear a seatbelt, empty their lint traps, and not to risk eating at places with less than five stars on their health score. You can’t be too careful really.

Oh yes, that bridge built by the devil? It is still there. Since he was conned out of a human soul in payment, he still occasionally turns up to try and claim one.

Dering Forest, Pluckley, Kent

Credit: Roger Wilkins

The quaint Kentish village of Pluckley is in the Guinness Book of Records for being the most haunted village in Britain. Whilst it holds such otherworldly residents as a drowned Gypsy, a lurking highwayman, a brickworker smothered by clay, two suicides and at least three animals, it is the nearby woods you might choose to hike out to.

A creepypasta, often presented as fact, tells of a massacre that occurred in these woods. Whilst this event never occurred, no one quite knows why Dering Forest appears so full of lost souls. Footsteps are heard gathering in fog and the voices of children are faintly heard as dark gathers, but most alarming of all is the experience that gives Dering Forest its other name – The Screaming Woods.

Piercing screams start out of nowhere in the darkness of this mediaeval forest, ringing between the tall chestnut trees loud enough to be heard from the villages nearby. If you venture outside your tent on hearing them, look up; the sky above is a site of strange and unexplained lights. In your rooted terror at the howls and cries that shriek around you, an alien abduction may seem like a good thing.

Ben Macdhui, Cairngorms, Aberdeenshire and Moray

The Grey Man of Ben Macdhui may be the most famous ghost on this list, despite being one that is most often heard and not seen. Up here, on and around the highest summit of the Cairngorms, reports of the Am Fear Liath Mòr date way back to an encounter in 1891 by Norman Collie, the renowned Victorian explorer, climber, and cartographer of the hills.

Solitary venturers around Ben Macdhui may return pale and shaking telling of being followed despite no one else around. The crunching sounds of footsteps just behind their own, keeping pace as they pause, and then as they run. If they were so brave as to look over their shoulder, there was nothing at all to be seen.

Be prepared for a night on edge, a sense of doom and crippling unease like that that has overtaken many hikers before you. And if you hear disembodied footsteps around you, be sure to have an exit plan. There are no reports from anyone that claims to have stood their ground…

If you are wildcamping, please follow the code and Leave No Trace.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s