Horrible Hills for Halloween

© Dan Bailey

Hard to believe it's Halloween again. Why not give the trick or treating, tooth decay and fancy dress tat a miss this year and creep yourself out up a hill at midnight instead? Horror film fans will know what a foolproof plan that is. Here are some suitably spooky spots...

Ben Macdui

Take a lone walk through the mist on Ben Macdui, with only your imagination for company - go on, we dare you. As you pace your way over the featureless plateau, eyes strained for the spectral figuers of rocks ahead, a nagging suspicion may begin to dawn. Maybe you are not alone. Oh god, he's after you: the Big Grey Man.

Was that a big grey man or a wee brown mouse? Night terrors in the Shelter Stone  © Dan Bailey
Was that a big grey man or a wee brown mouse? Night terrors in the Shelter Stone
© Dan Bailey

Striding the empty slopes of Scotland's second highest mountain, Am Fear Liath Mor is the No.1 celebrity ghoul of hillgoing folklore, our favourite horror of the heights. Described variously as anything from an unseen presence to a 12-foot hairy hominid, he takes particular delight in dogging the steps of solo walkers. Whether he's some sort of ghost, Scotland's answer to the Yeti, or just a bog standard brocken spectre, this sinister character was first widely publicised by otherwise-rational Victorian mountaineers. Here's the great Norman (perfectly normal) Collie:

'I was returning from the cairn on the summit in a mist when I began to think I heard something else than merely the noise of my own footsteps. Every few steps I took I heard a crunch, then another crunch as if someone was walking after me but taking steps three or four times the length of my own. I said to myself 'this is all nonsense'. I listened and heard it again but could see nothing in the mist. As I walked on and the eerie crunch, crunch sounded behind me I was seized with terror and took to my heels, staggering blindly among the boulders for four or five miles nearly down to Rothiemurchus Forest. Whatever you make of it I do not know, but there is something very queer about the top of Ben MacDhui.'

Of course, it could all just be made up...

Pendle Hill

In 1612 the area around Lancashire's Pendle Hill was gripped by a superstitious and sinister mass hysteria. Twelve locals were accused of murdering 10 people by means of witchcraft, and after a series of trials ten were hung. Loopy witch trials were a feature of English life at that time, but Pendle Hill's legacy in particular has lived on. Whether thanks to the local tourist industry or the power of darker forces, the hill continues to be associated with the supernatural, making it a favourite destination for halloween revellers - not always welcomed by the authorities.

Sunset over Pendle from Deer Gallows  © Dave Musgrove
Sunset over Pendle from Deer Gallows
© Dave Musgrove, Nov 2013


If the sheer weight of legends are any guide, Dartmoor must be the most supernatural place in England, literally crawling with evil witches, wandering devils, and ghoulish hounds. It's a wonder anyone gets out alive. While we've never actually seen anything scarier than a cow, it can be an undeniably unsettling experience in the fog, all malevolent sucking mires, weird-shaped tors and prehistoric relics. And all that unexploded ordnance lying around doesn't do much to reassure. Practically every corner of the moor seems to have an unlikely tale attached, but highlights that might feel particularly creepy on a dark night include Cranmere Pool, Hound Tor, and Wistmans Wood.    

According to folklore (perhaps not the most reliable guide) there's a pixie or a ghost behind almost every tree  © Dan Bailey
According to folklore (perhaps not the most reliable guide) there's a pixie or a ghost behind almost every tree
© Dan Bailey

Cadair Idris

Sleep out on the slopes of Cadair Idris and you'll descend in the morning either a poet or a madman. Or so bardic tradition would have you believe. The mountain is said to get its name from the mythological giant Idris, while in Welsh mythology it served as the hunting ground of Gwyn ap Nudd, king of the fairy 'Fair Folk' and head honcho of the Celtic Otherworld, the realm of supernatural beings and the dead. Gwyn's huge spectral hounds Cwn Annwn run free on the mountain, their blood curdling howl a portent of death to anyone unlucky enough to hear it. Loudest when they are far away, the noise grows steadily fainter as the demon hounds approach. Shudder. Perhaps your best bet is to swim for it; some local lakes are said to be bottomless. For a bit of Halloween fun try a night in Penygadair's stone-built summit shelter. 

Dawn on Cadair Idris (I)  © Alasdair Cook
Dawn on Cadair Idris (I)
© Alasdair Cook

The Quiraing

Formed by a giant landslip, these otherworldly volcanic needles on Skye's Trotternish escarpment are perhaps the most freakish sight in the British hills. We don't know of any supernatural legends associated with The Needle, The Table, The Prison and Co, but they sure look the part.

The Table - Quiraing  © Marek
The Table - Quiraing
© Marek, Aug 2008

Ben Alder Cottage

OK, not a hill - but a handy base at the foot of a corker - this lonely bothy on the shore of Loch Ericht has long been infamous for things that go bump in the night. Perhaps lubricated by spirits of a more intoxicating kind, generations have handed down the tale around a sputtering fire of the stalker who hanged himself here, his tortured ghost disturbing the slumber of anyone brave enough to stay a night. It's hogwash; the guy in question lived to a ripe old age and died in his bed in Newtonmore. But knowing that intellectually may not be quite enough to dispel the air of gloom that hangs around this and - let's be honest - pretty much every highland bothy. Woken by mysterious thumps and creaks, you can try all you like to dismiss it as mice, but how sure are you really...? 

Ben Alder Cottage, infamously spooky but actually no worse than most bothies (they're all pretty creepy)  © Dan Bailey
Ben Alder Cottage, infamously spooky but actually no worse than most bothies (they're all pretty creepy)
© Dan Bailey

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