Britain has more than its fair share of inspirational places for discovering tales of the supernatural. To celebrate the British Film Institute’s Gothic Season, here’s a list of scary film locations and places that have inspired spooky stories over the years.
Bram Stoker’s Dracula in Whitby
Gothic literature came into vogue in Britain during the latter part of the 18th century. Part of the Romantic movement, it was helped on its way by Britain’s wealth of spooky old mansions, ruined monasteries and an abundance of castles silhouetted atmospherically against the horizon.
One of the best known Gothic horror tales is Bram Stoker’s Dracula. Bram Stoker himself is said to have first seen the name Dracula in a book borrowed from Whitby library, and found inspiration for his novel while staying in a house here. It’s not difficult to see how: the towering gothic ruin of Whitby Abbey stands high on the cliffs, while you’ll see bats flapping around Whitby’s many churches as night falls. Honouring its roots, Whitby today holds a horror-movie-focused international film festival each year.
The Wicker Man and scary Scotland
One of the best known British horror films of all time, the Wicker Man is the story of a man led to his fiery fate by a pagan cult who are disappointed by their poor apple harvest on the remote (fictional) Scottish island of Summerisle. Much of the filming took place in Dumfries and Galloway, with Culzean Castle used as Lord Summerisle’s estate. St Ninian’s Cave and Burrowhead, right beside the sea, were the locations for the film’s terrifying climax. When they’re not in the clutches of fruit-crop-craving practitioners of human sacrifice, the film’s locations offer a good selection of traditional Scottish villages, one of Britain’s most famous caves and some cosy old pubs.
Green and inviting by day, by night the sweeping countryside of the Yorkshire Dales could certainly be considered rather spooky, with lots of wild open moorland to get lost in. This is probably why the Dales crop up in more than a few ghostly films and stories. Emily Bronte based much of the moorland in Wuthering Heights on the countryside around her native Haworth, the Shibden Valley and Cowan Bridge in Yorkshire, while more recently, this was where the American walkers had their fateful encounter with the werewolf in An American Werewolf in London.
Down on Dartmoor in Devon, Sherlock Holmes puffed his pipe and pondered tales of a mysterious curse in The Hound of the Baskervilles. While meeting a hell-hound is almost certainly undesirable at the best of times, meeting one on these wild moors in the dark of night would undoubtedly be even more troubling. We recommend visiting by day when you can better take in the landscapes and gentler, real-world wildlife.
The Omen Trilogy – London. Yorkshire and Cornwall
Omen fans should be sure to pay a visit to All Saint’s Church in Fulham, London, where the unfortunate Father Brennan gets impaled by a lightning conductor falling from the church roof. Up in Yorkshire, the brooding cloisters of Fountains Abbey are where Lucifer is defeated by the Nazarene in The Omen 3, while the mysterious Roche Rock in Cornwall — a ruined chapel perched high on a huge rocky outcrop — is the scene of his attack against the monks.
The Woman in Black – Kent and Northamptonshire
Pay a visit to The Woman in Black’s ghostly demesne – although it’s actually in several places. The bleak causeway is in Essex, leading out to the real-life Osea Island, while Eel Marsh House is actually Cotterstock Hall in Northamptonshire: a towering 17th century manor house. Sadly it’s not open to the public, but it’s walking distance from the delightful country town of Oundle and surrounded by beautiful countryside, with plenty of walking routes that run beside the River Nene.
Witchfinder General – Lavenham
Set in the beautiful half-timbered medieval village of Lavenham in Suffolk, Witchfinder General is all the more haunting because it’s based on a real spate of witch-burnings that took place in this region during the English Civil War. Matthew Hopkins, the self-appointed witchfinder in question, saw that more than 300 women were put to death for witchcraft while charging the towns for his services. Today it’s the food capital of Suffolk, and one of the best-preserved medieval villages in the country.