From mysterious beasts to ghostly apparitions, Britain seems to have experienced more than its fair share of supernatural phenomena. While some – such as the Loch Ness Monster and Jack the Ripper – are globally famous, others have remained more obscure. And although many of the mysteries have been written off as perfectly natural happenings, none has ever been comprehensively solved or debunked. A list of the country’s most enduring spooky puzzles, originally compiled by Brilliantly British, shows the vast range of creepy goings-on around Britain.A list of the country’s most enduring spooky puzzles, originally compiled by Brilliantly British, shows the vast range of creepy goings-on around Britain.
1) THE SOLWAY SPACEMAN
Amateur photographer Jim Templeton took a series of photographs of his young daughter in 1964 while on a day trip to Burgh Marsh, overlooking the Solway Firth in Cumbria. When he had the pictures developed, he noticed for the first time that there was a ghostly figure in white, apparently wearing a space helmet, standing in the background. Templeton, insisting that there had been no one nearby when the photograph was taken, reported the matter to the police – but was told it was not suspicious. Soon afterwards, he received a visit from two men who said they worked for the Government and referred to themselves by number rather than name. Some have suggested that the ‘spaceman’ was just Templeton’s wife, standing with her back to the camera – but he insisted she was not in the shot at the time he took it.
2) BELLA IN THE WYCH ELM
When four schoolboys were poaching in Hagley Woods, near Stourbridge in Worcestershire, in 1943 they found a human skeleton hidden in the hollow trunk of a wych elm. They reported the macabre discovery to the authorities, but while police were able to work out that the female victim had been dead for around 18 months they had no clues to her identity. Because of the chaos of the Second World War, there were so many missing people that officials couldn’t narrow it down – but the mystery did not end there. Over the following decades, graffiti started appearing in the area asking, ‘Who put Bella in the wych elm?’, sparking speculation that the killing might have been part of a black magic ceremony. Last year two possible victims, one a Dutch visitor and the other a Birmingham prostitute, were suggested during a BBC programme on the mystery.
3) HAIRY HANDS OF DARTMOOR
In the early days of the car, a number of motorists reported having near-fatal accidents on a remote stretch of road through Dartmoor in Devon. The victims felt their cars or motorcycles suddenly jolt and swerve off the road – saying it was as if an invisible force had taken control of the vehicle. A few of those who suffered from the phenomenon said they had seen a disembodied pair of hairy hands grab on to the steering wheel and attempt to crash their car. In 1921 Dr E.H. Helby, who worked for Dartmoor Prison, was killed when his motorbike came off the road with two young girls riding in the sidecar. Locals have suggested that the mystery could be explained by the dangerous camber of the road, or by outsiders driving too quickly on the narrow country lanes.
4) THE HIGHGATE VAMPIRE
From the 1960s, visitors to Highgate Cemetery in north London – where Karl Marx and other famous figures are buried – claimed to have seen a vampire wandering between between the graves. Others reported different ghostly apparitions, such as unidentified voices, a face staring through the gate or a woman in white. The news was seized on by two rival ghost-hunters, David Farrant and Sean Manchester, who turned the phenomenon into a nationally famous mystery. Manchester organised a huge vampire hunt on Friday the 13th of March, 1970, with dozens of enthusiasts turning up in the cemetery to find the monster. The mystery – which is said to have inspired the Hammer Horror film Dracula AD 1972 – has never been solved, but Manchester and Farrant never gave up the search – or their ferocious rivalry.
5) OVERTOUN BRIDGE
More than 50 dogs have died by throwing themselves off Overtoun Bridge in West Dunbartonshire in the past 70 years, with hundreds more surviving the fall. The pets have usually been running along happily atop the Gothic-style bridge before suddenly jumping over the walls, always in the same spot and always on sunny days. Author Paul Owens recently suggested that the explanation for the mass canine suicides was the ghost of Lady Overtoun, a troubled woman who apparently spent years wandering the area after her husband died in 1908. But others have a more prosaic answer, pointing out that all the dogs affected were long-nosed breeds and suggesting that they were attracted to the scent of a family of mink nesting below the bridge.
6) JACK THE RIPPER
127 years later, we are no closer to finding out exactly who carried out five brutal murders of prostitutes in the East End of London in autumn 1888. The unfortunate victims were found mutilated in Whitechapel in a crime spree which shocked the Victorian public.
The murders sparked a national panic, but despite a huge police investigation the killer was never found, and seems to have escaped justice for ever. There are hundreds of different theories about the murderer’s identity, with some observers suggesting that he must have been a doctor or a butcher given the gruesome yet precise way the victims’ bodies were manipulated.