Uncovering The UK's Mythical Locations

6 April 2015
Read Time: 6.3 mins

Fantasy exists across the United Kingdom, where knights fought dragons and nymphs lured travellers to their doom. Although the stories may prove to be little more than fables, the places that inspired them have always existed.

Kevin Rashby shares 11 destinations around the UK that you can visit for an enthralling day out with myths and legends.

Magic Mountain

Cadair Idris, Snowdonia, Gwynedd

The joy of the 893-metre Cadair Idris is that it looks like a proper mountain but is actually a fairly easy walk, guaranteed to make everyone feel tough and strong without too much effort.

That’s if you do the Pony Path, at least, which begins at the Ty-Nant car park on the north side of the mountain. The Minffordd and Fox’s paths are a little more demanding, especially the latter.

 Will you return as a poet or mad-man after scaling Cadair Idris? Picture. Getty

Legend associates the peak with Arthur, although it could also be a Welsh prince by that name who fought an Irish army here in the seventh century. Either way it is a place of deep magic, prone to visitations by infernal hunting dogs that snaffle you off to the underworld.

From the summit there are great views on a good day, and a basic stone bothy with benches for a night’s sleep. Legend says that you will wake as either a poet or a madman.

A Man-Eating Cave

Robin Lythe’s Cave, Flamborough Head, East Yorkshire

Looking for a sense of magic? Something deeply mysterious with a thrill of danger? Possibly haunted? And free of charge? Robin Lythe’s Cave will provide everything you need – if the tide’s out.

You trek down from the car park above North Landing, near Flamborough, and take the right-hand side of the cove. Watch out, in spring, for the puffins and hundreds of other seabirds nesting in the cliff or the grassy slopes at the top.Somewhere between the tidal zones you will see a cave entrance, a short clamber up the cliff.


You are now in the belly of the leviathan that is Flamborough Head, the great white beast that has been gobbling up ships and smugglers for centuries. At its peak of greediness, between 1770 and 1806, it took one ship every 10 weeks on average.

robin lythe's cave Walking through Robin Lythe's Cave. Photograph: Kevin Rushby

The way leads through a dripping spooky antechamber into a magnificent curving hall, 15 metres high, which curves away down to a distant light, the sea. Smugglers used to haul their swag up here and stash it – French spirits and tobacco mostly.

At other times, locals would find bodies washed in during storms, and one, so they say, was Robin Lythe. Maybe he was a smuggler too, and maybe he is still around. There are regular reports of a ghostly presence spotted rolling a cask of cognac up the smooth white stones.

 Walking along the cliff provides some sensational views. Picture. Getty

If you time it right, with a low tide, you can explore around the cave entrance area a bit but don’t linger too long! Back on the cliff there are excellent walks south, past the lighthouse, to the long beach that curls away to Bridlington.

Watch out for the short-eared owls and peregrines hunting around here. There are mysteries here too: Dane’s Dyke, a huge earthworks that no one has ever properly explained, and the weird pierced white stones on the beach – great for building an even weirder beach sculpture.

Rebels’ Last Stand

Stanwick Iron Age Hill Fort, Richmondshire, North Yorkshire

This vast fortification was a centre of anti-Roman resistance and now lies around the village of Stanwick St John. The 283-hectare site has given up all sorts of treasures in its time: a beautiful horse mask, iron age swords and a human skull, heavily battered with axes – archaeologists thought it had come from a corpse hung over the gate as a warning to enemies.

Stanwick Fort Stanwick Fort. Photograph: Alamy

Start your walk at the church with a search for the relief carving of a sword in the stone, then head off along the line of fortifications. Some say Stanwick was the last stronghold of Venutius, the Brigantian rebel against Roman oppression; it is certainly an evocative place, steeped in legend and mystery.

Haunted Hideaway

Lud Church, Peak District, Derbyshire

Has anywhere in England been a better hiding place? Robin Hood, Friar Tuck, Bonnie Prince Charlie and the heretic heroes of the 14th Century, the Lollards, are all supposed to have used this dark mysterious gorge as a refuge.

Walk the nearby hills, called the Roaches, and check out Doxy’s Pool, haunted by a terrifying nymph, so they say, and the slightly less terrifying wallabies – they somehow got here in the 1930s.

The lime-green palette of Lud's Church gorge. Photograph: Alamy

There is always something to distract: the Queen’s Chair, the Winking Man rock, and the Bawdstone – crawl under this rock to get the devil off your back. There are a variety of walks from about two miles upwards.

Hellhounds’ Heaven

Wistman’s Wood, Dartmoor, Devon

Near Two Bridges on Dartmoor lies one of Britain’s highest oak woods, a wonderful maze of twisted, stunted trees covered in lichens, and mossy boulders. The name itself comes from an ancient dialect word for eerie and the wood is well-known for being home to a pack of hellhounds that hunt with a dark-robed figure, threatening to steal the mortal soul of anyone crazy enough to enter the area – otherwise it’s perfectly safe.

Wistman's Wood Wistman's Wood looks like it has magical properties. Photograph: Alamy

The wood has long been an inspiration to artists and writers – notably John Fowles with his 1978 book The Tree, in which he points out how the irrational human fear of forests has been a hugely destructive force in the history of the earth. The walk up to the wood is just over a mile long and starts at the Two Bridges Hotel on the B3357.

There is parking in an old quarry opposite. If you want to extend your day, head on to Longaford Tor, or south-east to where the East and West Dart rivers meet.

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Wizard’s Glen

St Nectan’s Glen, Tintagel, Cornwall

Just off the B3263, north of Tintagel with its crowds of magic-seekers, is this little gem: a deep, haunted chasm scoured out by the Trevillet river in order to create a home for enough magical creatures to mount a production of Shrek.

St Nectan's St Nectan's, where the magic-seekers roam. Photograph: /Alamy

The walk down is lovely, through woodland to an 18-metre waterfall, St Nathan’s Kieve, where visitors have attached ribbons, crystals, photos and other items of spiritual significance. For the more scientifically minded, there are rare plants to spot.

There’s also a cafe at the top to motivate the slower members of the party. If you want a longer walk, start at Boscastle and take in a gorgeous stretch of coast, too.

Fairy Footsteps

The Fairy Glen, Isle of Skye

Just off the A87 on Skye, not far from the Uig Hotel, is this lovely and – allegedly – fairy-infested valley. There is no particular path to follow: just wander where the spirit takes you enjoying the waterfalls, the strange grassy hummocks and clear lochans – swim in one of them if you dare.

The Fairy Glen The Fairy Glen. Photograph: Alamy

Good views to be had from the highest point, the magical Castle Ewan, which manages to appear like an impregnable peak but is actually fairly easy. If you don’t spot a fairy, it’ll be because the hobbits are out.

Wishmaker’s Chair

Falling Foss, North York Moors, North Yorkshire

Down a little lane off the B1416, a few miles west of Robin Hood’s Bay, is a magical area for a wander. The centrepiece is the Hermitage: a room carved from a single boulder in 1790 by local man George Chubb.

On top are two stone chairs which, legend has it, will answer your wishes but only if you hop from one to the other.

Falling Foss Waterfall Falling Foss Waterfall. Photograph: Alamy

I’m not sure if that’s during, before or after the wish – probably best to do all three to make sure. There’s a good three-mile walk to be had by starting near the nine-metre Falling Foss waterfall, or park in Little Beck village and make a seven-mile circuit with a mid-way stop at the cafe at Falling Foss.

Secret Way

London Loop footpath

The great mystery about the London Loop is why so few people have heard of it. This 241-kilometre footpath circles the capital, staying inside the M25 but carving a secret route through scraps of gorgeous English countryside.

There are many sections to try; you could even do one every weekend and circumnavigate London in less than six months.

The London Loop footpath along the river Hogsmill in Ewell, Surrey. The London Loop footpath along the river Hogsmill in Surrey. Photograph: /Alamy

From Kingston-upon-Thames heading north-west to Hatton Cross you get a good 13-kilometre section with lost traces of royal parks, avenues planted by Christopher Wren and James I and deer herds started by Henry VIII. Then there's the strange Shot Tower, a gunpowder mill from 1766, which has great views from the top of its 87 steps.

Haunted House

Calke Abbey, Ticknall, Derbyshire

A hooded ghostly monk, tales of boys drowned in the fishponds, and a house that reeks of paranormal activity – Calke Abbey is a wonderful crumbling creak of a place, handed to the nation in lieu of death duties and kept much as its kleptomaniac owners left it – the style is classic bonkers Victorian.

Calke Abbey Historic Calke Abbey. Photograph: Alamy

It’s between Derby, Burton and Loughborough, and there is a lovely walk through the grounds – less than a mile, but taking in features like the Old Man of Calke, an oak tree more than 1,000 years old, and magnificent stands of sweet chestnut and beech.

Land Of Salvation

Devil’s Punchbowl, Surrey

Have you ever imagined that a major road from London to the south coast might be grassed over and tranquility restored? That would be magic, and it’s exactly what has happened to the A3 at the Devil’s Punchbowl, where a new tunnel has restored peace to the vast, strange hollow itself and saved a common that is a site of special scientific interest.

The Devils Punchbowl The Devil's Punchbowl. Photograph: Alamy

A good five-kilometre walk starts at Hindhead with a quick look at the famous unknown sailor’s gravestone in the churchyard. This anonymous chap had been walking from London to Portsmouth in 1786 when three villains murdered him on Gibbet Hill, where they were later hanged, the bodies remaining there for years afterwards.

Head on up to the hill itself to see the cross erected in 1851 to dispel all the superstitions that had grown up, then back to where you started via a grassy stretch of the old trunk road.


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This article originally appeared on guardian.co.uk

This article was written by Kevin Rushby from The Guardian and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.

Kevin Rushby

Kevin Rushby is Guardian Travel's 'Explorer' and a contributor to the Saturday Review. He is the author of four acclaimed travel books, including Hunting Pirate Heaven, an investigation of 17th century pirate utopias in the Indian Ocean. His most recent book is Paradise, an historical account of human searching for perfection over the centuries.