Dorset’s top 12 spooky places

A selection of tales and mysteries about tragedy and despair. The lives of people that have left their everlasting mark on the landscape, now hidden amongst brambles, whispered in the wind or sparkling in the shadows. From country houses to isolated beaches, lonely roads to hidden earthworks, the county of Dorset is full of ruins and remains of life gone by. Every bump, crossroads, woodland or river has some story to tell.

I struggled with keeping it to 12, there are so many more including the Raven at Badbury Rings, the skull at Bettiscombe, the Gabbygammies at Ashmore, Woodwoses at Yellowham, Romans at Compton Valence, an escaped prisoner in Dorchester, smugglers of Chettle and the angry, ancient horserider on Bottlebush Down (walk coming soon!).

There are also Dorset’s many ancient stones.

And there’s the big black cats…

Where do you dare to go?!

Number 12 – Durdle Door

Famous for its Portland limestone arch, the popular beach has been known to play host to those from the spiritual world too. Sailors have reported seeing girls dancing on the pebbles and in the water, below the natural arch. But some have even heard screams. Once all the girls are in the water, they disappear. It is suggested that these young ladies may have been maidservants at the nearby Lulworth Castle, the Castle that suffered a devastating fire in 1929. It is thought that maybe the girls were running for their lives; only meet their fate in the sea, here at Durdle Door.

Number 11 – Maiden Castle

As the largest Hillfort in the country, even Europe, it is no surprise that it was the site of one of the bloodiest battles between the Iron Age natives and the invading Romans. On a few occasions, visitors to the site have noticed a large Roman Army in the centre of the earthworks, marching as if ready to attack. Those that have seen this ghostly apparition have remained fearful, whereas people they were with saw nothing!

The Romans were prominent in the county and other similar apparitions have been seen at Eggardon Hill, The old Roman Road between Dorchester and Sherborne (A352), The Priests Way, near Langton Matravers and Puddletown Forest. At Thorncombe Wood a solider was seen hovering in the forest, it was later discovered that he was on the old route of the Roman road between Dorchester and Badbury Rings; his feet standing on the height the road would have been during the 1st century AD.

Number 10 – Clouds Hill

One of Dorset’s most famous residents, Colonel Thomas Edward Lawrence aka Lawrence of Arabia, made this little place his home. He was sadly killed in 1935 whist riding home on his beloved motorbike. There is much controversy surrounding his death, whether it be accidental or a premeditated murder. A black car was seen near the scene but never found. Occasionally the distinctive sound of his Brough Superior motorbike echoes in the surrounding heathland only for it to come to a sudden stop. Before he was killed, he wrote about Clouds Hill, describing it as an earthy paradise that he would never leave; and he seems to have stayed, as his ghostly Arab dressed figure often graces the windows of the house.

Number 9 – Lulworth Castle

In addition to its role as Number 12, the castle is also home to its own residential ghost – the Grey Lady. Very little is known about her, other than the story that she haunted the castle for centuries, usually found in the bedrooms or corridors. When the fire struck in 1929, she herself screamed for help, waving from the top floor. When the firemen tried to reach her they realised there was no floor, and the screaming stopped.

Number 8 – Trent

High on the hill to the east of the village of Trent sits a large pond, claiming to be bottomless. Trent Barrow is an ancient earthwork, the pond lying deep in its centre, buried within woodland. The legend claims that a coach and horses, travelling at full speed towards the village of Trent, fell into the water. It sank quickly, disappearing under the surface never to be seen again. However, the sounds of hooves can be heard galloping along nearby Ham Lane and on into the trees, only to fade as it reaches the water.

The barrow is on private land but a new permissive path was introduced in 2022, limited to the summer months due to tree safety!

Number 7 – Wool

Keeping with the theme of coaches and horses, Wool has its own version. Just outside the village is Woolbridge Manor, the house that was the ancestral home of the Turberville family (Thomas Hardy’s inspiration for ‘Tess of the D’Urbervilles’ and the house itself adapted into Wellbridge Manor, becoming the scene of literary tragedy). On a full moon an apparition of a coach and its full set of horses appear on the medieval bridge that crosses the River Frome. It apparently carried John Turberville and his soon to be wife Anne Howard as they eloped in the middle of the night. However, it can only be seen by those with Turberville blood, if not, you’ll just be wondering what knocked you over!

Number 6 – Corfe Castle

Corfe and the castle have been occupied for centuries. William the Conqueror built the first defensive building and throughout its life saw little but war. During the Civil War the castle was owned by the Bankes family (who also owned Kingston Lacy). As a Royalist family they successfully defended the castle from the relentless attacks of the Parliamentarian forces. That was until 1645 when one of their own betrayed them, allowing the enemy within the walls providing the ability to fight from the inside out, and successfully so.

Since the destruction of the castle, a headless woman in white has haunted the ruins and village, thought to have been the lady that betrayed the Bankes. Many times she has been seen, glowing white, only appearing when the sun has gone down, and to those who do see her, she casts over a shiver of darkness.

However, she is not alone, the cries of a weeping child have been heard on nights where the air is calm and still and the moon is full. Also the sounds of a phantom galloping horse echo within the surrounding slopes.

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Number 5 – Tyneham

The village of Tyneham was abandoned in 1943, during World War II, by request of the government as it was required for armed forces training. The houses are now derelict, lying in ruins but the church and school still stand with school books left open on desks. The phone box is said to occasionally ring, despite no-one being on the other end and voices, with no apparent source have been heard echoing around the crumbling walls. Some visitors have even reported having stones thrown at them.

During the 18th century a milkmaid lived at nearby Baltington Farm, her heart was broken as her intended had left for London. She sadly committed suicide. The traditional method to deal with these situations was to bury the dead at a crossroads as it was deemed suitable for restless souls. However, Tyneham had no such place and so instead she was buried on the hillside. With the fear that she may become a vampire, the villagers struck a steak through her heart, before covering the body at Maiden’s Grave Gate.

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Number 4 – Athelhampton

This 15th century Tudor manor is home to a number of ghosts and not all human. Sir William Martin built the house and it was his family that kept apes as pets, even adopting them into their coat of arms. One of their pets was trapped on a secret staircase where it perished and today its scratching can be heard as it tries to escape.

There are many more ghosts associated with the house too including a lady in white, a black priest, a man name Cooper who likes hanging out in the wine cellar and a pair of dualists who fight until one gets injured and then they disappear.

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Number 3 – Knowlton

The 12th century Knowlton Church is surrounded by ancient Neolithic earthworks, associated with prehistoric rituals. This is a complete rarity to have these two worlds collide. To the east of the church, in line with the summer solstice, are a collection of Yew trees, the Celtic entrance to the underworld.

The church has had a number of reported sightings from different people but recording the same apparitions. A ghostly face often appears in the ruined window of the church tower. A nun has been seen weeping outside while a mysterious cloaked figure just disappears into thin air. Swirling white mists have appeared while ethereal voices seem to accompany them, the sound fading as the mist disappears.

The complete isolation of this site and incredible wide open skies, especially at night, not only makes this place feel spooky but also magic.

Number 2 – Sandford Orcas

This haunted manor house is set in the hidden depths of North West Dorset. Nestled down winding country lanes and in the high, yet, deep and narrow valleys of tributaries to the River Yeo. This back of beyond, gnarly oak dominated scenery adds to its already mystical aura. The house itself has been called the most haunted in England, claiming to have 14 ghosts in total. The tales were encouraged by a previous owner in attempt to gain a few visitors! These include a farmer who committed suicide in the house’s hall, an aggressive footman who has thrown visitors to the floor with an icy grip, a little girl that stands at the top of a staircase and a wicked priest.

However, the saddest story is of one young boy who grew up in the house. He was sent off to join the navy where he killed a man. He was judged insane and sent back to Sandford Orcas, locked up a room where died, aged 27. He was buried in a secret passageway behind the great chamber. Occasionally his screams can be heard, pleading to be released.

Number 1 – Eastbury House

High up in the narrow valley of the small river Tarrant, deep in the medieval hunting ground of Cranborne Chase, is the shadowy village of Tarrant Gunville. On its eastern slopes is the estate of Eastbury, once one of the biggest and most impressive houses in the country. Now all that remains is its east wing, stables and entrance gates, all of which have been slowly cocooned by the intricate landscape design returning to nature.

In the late 18th century, the estate manager was William Doggett. Known for his underhand and violent manner, he was an untrustworthy character who took advantage of his position. With the Earl at the time frequently abroad, it was easy for him to sell off the building’s material and treasures, as the house was slowly being demolished, pocketing the cash for himself. When the Earl returned unannounced, William knew there was no escape from his actions and shot himself in the library. The blood stain covered the wall and, despite the many housemaids efforts, it never washed off.

It was said that his restless soul haunted the remaining corridors of the house, often appearing with his face covered in blood. Villagers experienced strange apparitions, being awoken in the night, with strange marks appearing on their necks and arms as well as hearing faint wails and screams on the whistling wind.

Around 50 years later, the village church went through some renovation. This required moving Doggett’s coffin and, unfortunately, the lid fell off. Horrified, the villagers discovered that his body had not decayed at all. They became convinced that it had been him causing the disturbances in the night. Arising from his coffin and drinking their blood, feasting as they slept. Terrified, they drove a stake through his heart quashing any future chance of a vampire rising.

Despite their efforts, he apparently still roams the landscape, hidden in the surrounding woodland. At midnight, a phantom coach and horses stops at the entrance gates to Eastbury House. Doggett appears, wearing his token bridges and yellow ribbon. He steps in and the carriage takes him up to the house. Silence descends, the temperature drops and a shot is fired.

Today the decorative landscape has been left to grow, taking back what was once its own. Bent iron railings circle the northern boundary and crumbling walls edge its southern and western boundary. The surrounding woodland conceals stones, bricks and earthworks, while an ancient Neolithic long barrow and Bronze Age burial mounds merge into the trees. A Roman road cuts straight through the estate, passing the isolated Zareba Clump, a dark wooded cluster of heavy yews, tall beeches and hallowed oaks, claimed to contain a silver table, possibly treasure from the house. But, it is rumoured to be aggressively guarded by Doggett’s spirit!

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