The United Kingdom is an island nation established on the roots of myth and legend, from Scottish sea monsters and Irish giants to mythical kings and outlaws of England. Some of these stories are based on real locales that visitors with an interest in the unknown can go see for themselves.
1. Loch Ness, Scottish Highlands
Loch Ness is the largest lake in the British Isles by volume, measuring 755 feet at its deepest point. It is located southwest of Inverness in the Scottish Highlands. It’s also one of the most enigmatic, and its enigmatic, opaque nature is mainly responsible for one of Scotland’s most enduring legends: the Loch Ness Monster. Reports of a mythical water creature residing in Loch Ness extend back to prehistoric times when the local Picts carved stone engravings depicting an unknown flippered beast.
St. Columba wrote about a beast living in the lake biting a swimmer in 595 AD, and “Nessie” sightings grew more common in the twentieth century, with over 1,000 persons claiming to have seen the Loch Ness Monster. A set of footprints and a photograph of a plesiosaur-like animal coming from the lake’s surface have both been shown to be frauds. Despite this, Nessie is one of Scotland’s most well-known legends. Tourism-related to the legend earned roughly $80 million per year in the early twenty-first century.
Loch Ness is free to explore and is easily accessible from Inverness by road, either by vehicle or by public bus.
2. Tintagel Castle, Cornwall
Tintagel Castle’s ruins are perched on the cliffs above Cornwall’s stunning north coast. They date from the 13th century and are the only remnants of Richard, Earl of Cornwall’s great construction project. Remains of a much older fortress, where the kings of Cornwall dwelt from the 5th to the 7th century, are supposed to have inspired the earl to build his castle here. Geoffrey of Monmouth, a 12th-century chronicler, asserts that the legendary King Arthur was created in this first fortress.
As per Monmouth, King Uther Pendragon requested that the sorcerer Merlin disguise him as his adversary, the Duke of Cornwall so that he could sleep with his lovely bride. According to 15th-century traditions, Arthur was also born at Tintagel, and Algernon Charles Swinburne’s epic poem “Tristram of Lyonesse” linked Tintagel to Tristan and Isolde. In it, he says that Tintagel was the home of King Mark of Cornwall, Isolde’s husband, with whom she has a sad affair with Tristan.
The towering ruins are now divided into two sections, one on the mainland and the other on an island headland, which is linked by a bridge. The Duchy of Cornwall owns it, and English Heritage manages it as a tourist attraction.
3. Giant’s Causeway, County Antrim
The Giant’s Causeway, a length of coastland on County Antrim’s coasts characterized by over 40,000 interconnecting basalt columns, is Northern Ireland’s only UNESCO World Heritage Site. The majority of these columns are hexagonal, with the tallest reaching a height of roughly 39 feet. These bizarre structures were formed by significant volcanic activity during the Paleocene Epoch (50 to 60 million years ago), which resulted in an upwelling of molten basalt that subsequently contracted as it froze to form the columns.
Local mythology, on the other hand, presents a different story. The columns come together to make natural stepping stones that disappear beneath the waves. This sparked the belief that they are the ruins of a causeway erected by the Irish giant Fionn mac Cumhaill, or Finn MacCool, to allow his Scottish opponent Benandonner to combat him. Finn was intimidated by Benandonner’s stature when he came. He ordered his wife to disguise him as her infant so that when Benandonner saw him, he was so terrified of the size of the father that he ran back to Scotland, destroying the causeway in the process. On the Scottish coast, near Fingal’s Cave on the island of Staffa, identical basalt columns occur.
The National Trust owns and manages the Giant’s Causeway, however it is open to the public for free.
4. Stonehenge, Wiltshire
Stone circles may be found all around the United Kingdom, but Stonehenge is perhaps the most famous. It was listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site because it is the world’s most structurally advanced ancient stone circle. It is located on Salisbury Plain near Amesbury in Wiltshire. Stonehenge is a 5,000-year-old concentric circle of Wiltshire Sarsen and Pembrokeshire Bluestone megaliths.
Many theories surrounding the circle’s genesis have arisen as a result of its tremendous feat of construction—with some stones hauled from over 150 miles afar and others weighing over 40 tons. The monoliths were taken from Africa by Irish giants seeking their healing abilities, according to Geoffrey of Monmouth, and subsequently kidnapped from Ireland on the orders of 5th-century monarch Aurelius Ambrosius. Ambrosius recruited Merlin’s assistance in moving the stones to Salisbury Plain, where they were placed as a memorial for 3,000 noblemen fallen in combat.
The stones are now shielded by English Heritage and steered and self-guided tours are available to learn more about their history and mythology.
5. Cerne Abbas Giant, Dorset
In the United Kingdom, there are numerous chalk figures, each with its folklore. The Cerne Abbas Giant is the most well-known, because of its depiction of a 180-foot-tall naked man with a noticeable erection. We know how the giant was built: by digging small trenches in the turf and filling them with chalk rubble, allowing the lines to stand out against the green grass of the slope above Cerne Abbas village in Dorset. The figure’s age and origin, on the other hand, are less known.
Some scholars think it’s an early carving of a Saxon god or a British rendition of Hercules, the Roman god and hero. Other historians believe the carving is much more modern, claiming that there is no recorded proof of it before the 17th century, while local legend claims that the image is the outline of a real giant who was killed while sleeping and buried on the hillside by the inhabitants of Cerne Abbas. According to tradition, the giant can bestow fertility to childless couples—especially if they marry on top of the monster’s phallus!
Because access to the carving is prohibited to prevent soil erosion, testing this notion is challenging. One can, however, see it from the vantage point above the settlement.