What would you do if you came face-to-face with a phantom hitchhiker or a pair of disembodied hairy hands? Check out some of Britain's most notorious paranormal phenomena...
1. Phantom Hitchhiker
Urban legend or supernatural phenomenon, there are plenty of people who claim to have encountered a spectral hitchhiker – and not just in recent years, either. It’s a story that can be found around the world – and that dates back to well before cars were invented, with spooky passengers hitching rides on horse-drawn carriages.
Typically, an unsuspecting driver will offer a ride to a stranger in need – often at night, and in the dark countryside. They’ll chat, the driver occasionally glancing in the rear-view mirror to make eye contact. Soon, the driver chillingly realises that the hitchhiker has vanished from the back seat of the locked, moving vehicle. Perhaps they’d reached their destination..?
Often, the ‘person’ will leave an item behind – such as a scarf, or bag – or will provide an address, via which the motorist learns they’ve just given a ride to a ghost. Or, the driver lends an item of clothing to the hitchhiker, such as an overcoat, to protect them from the cold or rain. That item of clothing is then later found draped over the grave of the person whose spirit thumbed a ride…
2. Hairy Hands
Totally weird as well as terrifying, the legend of the hairy hands originates on a bleak, dangerous stretch of road in Dartmoor – the B3212 between Postbridge and Two Bridges – which is notorious for fatal accidents. The story goes that motorists, both in cars and on motorbikes, suddenly see or feel a pair of disembodied hairy hands grip their wheel or handlebars, wrenching them out of control and forcibly swerving their vehicle off the road.
In 1921, a man died after crashing his motorcycle here – his children were riding in the sidecar, and survived. They described their father yelling at them to leap from the vehicle as he wrestled with the steering, which seemed out of his control. Later, another driver who had an accident in the same spot reported seeing hairy hands shunt his vehicle off-course. What’s more, that area had been avoided by locals long before the invention of the car…
And it’s not just motorists who should beware. In 1924, a young couple were sleeping near the notorious spot in a caravan. In the middle of the night, consumed with inexplicable fear, the young woman woke up – only to see a pair of hairy hands trying to claw their way through the open window of the vehicle. After she made the sign of the cross, the hands retreated.
3. Headless Horseman
Galloping through the forest or the woods shrouded in misty moonlight, the Headless Horseman rides through the night carrying his head under his arm, his black steed fierce and fast, with fiery red eyes. The Irish version of the legend is the Dullahan – when this headless rider stops, someone dies. Although, the Dullahan has a weakness – gold – so lonely travellers should carry some when out at night…
The most famous fictional Headless Horseman comes from the short story The Legend Of Sleepy Hollow by Washington Irving (1819), which features the spectre of a Hessian trooper who had his head shot off by a cannonball during combat, and whose ghost, “rides forth to the scene of battle in nightly quest of his head,” rushing through the Hollow like a “midnight blast”.
4. The ghosts of the Roman Army
Made famous by witness Harry Martindale, the spectre of marching Roman Legionnaires has been seen by many people across the country. At age 18, in 1953 Harry Martindale claimed he saw Roman soldiers – only visible from the knees up – march through the cellar of a building called Treasurer’s House in York, where he was working.
At first confronted with a soldier emerging helmet-first from a brick wall, followed by a cart horse, he then saw 20 more dishevelled men follow. Able to describe obscure details of the soldiers’ uniforms, Harry had to take two weeks off work as an apprentice heating engineer due to the shock of what he’d seen – which had caused him to fall off his ladder in the cellar at the time. It turned out that a Roman road used to run through the cellar about 15in lower than the floor, and experts corroborated his description of the paranormal men’s uniforms.
5. England’s protector – Drake’s Drum
Sir Francis Drake circumnavigated the world between 1577 and 1580, and was knighted by Elizabeth I in 1581. Emblazoned with his coat of arms, one particular snare drum accompanied Drake on his voyage.
In 1596, Drake became fatally ill with dysentery following an unsuccessful campaign against San Juan. As well as asking to be buried in full armour, Drake proclaimed that if England was ever in trouble, someone was to beat the drum and he would rise up and protect the land.
Legend tells of Drake’s Drum beating when England is at war. Several times it’s been heard, including when the First World War broke out in 1914, and during the Battle Of Dunkirk in 1940.
6. Spring-Heeled Jack
First sighted in 1837, Spring-Heeled Jack cut an elusive, sinister and supernatural figure in Victorian England – especially in the Black Country – causing some communities to break out in absolute panic. Described as having flashing eyes like red balls of fire and a goatee beard, he’d often show himself as a devil in the form of a gentleman. But Jack’s most noticeable feature was his ability to jump and leap over the rooftops of pubs, churches, shops and houses and over hedgerows – escaping capture while terrifying witnesses on the way.
In 1886, the Birmingham Post reported a sighting: “First a young girl, then a man, felt a hand on their shoulder, and turned to see the infernal one with glowing face, bidding them a good evening.”
Parents took the story of Spring-Heeled Jack and used it to get their children to behave – they were told that Jack would leap up to the child’s window and stare at them in their bed if they were bad. A real-life Jack-in-the-Box. Creepy!