Spooky and haunted places to visit on the Isle of Man including haunted houses, vampire graves, and strange and sad tales
The Isle of Man is a quiet place made up of rolling green hills and natural, rugged beauty. It’s also a land steeped in history with ancient stone circles, legends of monsters, and ghosts wandering the homes of both the mighty and the humble. The Vikings have raided and conquered and bloody battles have been fought here.
Tales of witchcraft, murder, and public executions lie hidden behind the doors of this secluded island in the Irish Sea. With Hop tu Naa (Halloween to the rest of you) around the corner, here’s an introduction to thirteen of the spookiest and most haunted sites you can visit…if you dare. And if you’d like to visit these places but aren’t quite sure where they are, go to this map link for more information.
1. Seat B14 at the Gaiety Theatre
Both the seat and the area around is said to be haunted by an elderly woman who lost her husband in the war. She’s been seen by many and is described to look like an unassuming grandmother, at least until she does something odd like walk through a wall. B14 was her favourite seat and she’s said to still come to watch the shows she loved so much while she was living. There are other ghosts at the Gaiety and spooky happenings that you can find out more about on the Gaiety Ghost Tour.
2. The Vampire Grave in Malew Churchyard
Matthew Hassall seemed an ordinary Manxman until the day he died and loved ones gathered at his wake. It was then that he sat straight up and frightened everyone present! Declared a Vampire, it was decided that he could not officially be buried in hallowed ground with his beloved wife Margaret.
The legend goes that his grave was dug from behind the stone wall that the grave stands against (the old boundary of the churchyard) and his body placed inside that way. Just to make sure he didn’t rise again, a stone slab was placed over his corpse and iron stakes and chains cover the grave to keep him in. These chains have remained from the 1800s to the present day1.
3. Witch Burning in Castletown
If you’ve been to Castletown you no doubt will have seen the Smelt monument in the town square. On one side is a wooden plaque that states the fate of a local woman who was accused, along with her son, of riding broomsticks around fields to encourage crops to grow2. Both were held as prisoners in Castle Rushen and on their last day were dressed in white gowns and taken by cart to Peel where they were put on display as a caution to would-be witches3. Afterward, they were taken back to Castletown for execution by fire.
“The Ancient Market Crosse
On this site until early in the 18th century stood the market cross. In the year 1617 Margaret Ineqane and her son were condemned to death for witchcraft, and burned to death at the stake close to the crosse”
4. The Ghosts of Castle Rushen
There has been a castle on this site since around 1200 and the current structure dates from 1344. With both prisons and executions held within its walls, you can’t be surprised that there are also ghost stories. Three of these ghosts are women and known as the White Lady, Rose, and the Woman in Black. There is also a mysterious underground room in the castle where a male ghost has been seen lingering. The ghost walk at Castle Rushen is said to be one of the best on the island and can be booked here.
5. Mass Cholera Grave in Douglas
In June of 1832, Cholera arrived on the Isle of Man. This fatal disease swept from India along trade routes to Moscow and then to Europe and England. Newspapers reported the epidemic finding its way to Liverpool in May 1832 and it was a month later that it reared its head on the island. It caused panic and in the end killed 83 people, who were all buried together in a mass grave at St George’s Church. It has been implied in a newspaper article of the time4 that the number of people who died could have been lower if it weren’t for how people reacted to the deaths. They reported:
“We witnessed in the course of the last week a bin in Sand Street waiting to receive a cholera corpse and the house was crowded with persons, mostly women and children who were eager to see the dead. Several of these have paid the fatal foreiture for their curiousity.”
6. Haunted Milntown
Milntown for many is a beautiful and historic house on the Lezayre road out of Ramsey. It has extensive gardens, a restaurant, and a lovely high tea service that I can highly recommend. The main part of the house is said to be where the ghosts sightings have been and it’s reported to be the most haunted house on the Isle of Man! There are two main ghosts that have been reported here, one the former lady of the house and the other a malevolent and aggressive spirit who likes to frighten visitors. Milntown also has a ghost tour and more information can be found on their website.
7. The Mysterious Fate of the Groudle Glen Polar Bears
Groudle Glen these days comprises a picturesque public park and footpath that lead from the top of the glen to the sea. There’s also a small steam railway still in operation today and it might strike some as an odd place for one. The reason for its existence is that the glen was a pleasure park from 1896 up until WWII and helped transport Victorian visitors down the length of the glen from a dancefloor, bandstand, stalls, and water wheel down to where a small zoo was located at Sea Lion Rocks5 in Onchan.
Both Sea Lions and two Polar Bears were kept at the zoo and in fact, the trains on the line were named after them6. The popular zoo closed during WWI and when it reopened in 1920 the polar bears were strangely no longer an attraction. There seems to be no record of what happened to the animals but the rumour of the time was that the bears were released into the sea. If they were, they swam away and were never seen or heard of again on this shore or any other.
You can still see the ruins of the polar bears’ enclosure on the rocks below the Sea Lion Rocks Tea Room.
8. The Poisoning of the Prussian Sailors
In 1860 a ship sailed into Ramsey and got stuck in a sandbank after unloading its cargo. The bad luck continued after the hull of the ship broke when the tide went out which pretty much destroyed the entire boat. The crew were taken into town and stayed with a local woman, Jane Duke of Strand Street7.
While there, they were cooked a meal that included as an ingredient a white powder that they’d brought from their ship. They thought it was Arrowroot, an ingredient for thickening sauces, but to their misfortune, it either was or had been contaminated with arsenic. Three of them died, devastating the community.
The town of Ramsey paid for a gravestone for the men, and it’s said that near ten thousand people went to their funeral and lined the road from Ramsey to Maughold. You can find the red sandstone marker in St Maughold’s churchyard where it bears a bible inscription in German on one side and the names of the men, Charl Friderich Wilhelm Behrndt, Charl Grahl, and Charl Hemnies, aged 17, 21, and 23 years, on the other.
You can find their grave by entering the churchyard and following the path to the right. Pass the celtic crosses and continue left around the bend at the far corner where you’ll also spot a large and very deep well on your left. Continue straight until you see a gate on your right and then search in about three graves deep for the red gravestone.
9. The Moddey Dhoo
Apparitions of black dogs pepper the British folklore landscape8 but one of the most infamous is the Moddey Dhoo of Peel Castle. In the 17th century, the large beast appeared regularly, seeming to always emerge from, and disappear into, the passageway that connected the guard room to the apartment of the Captain of the Guard.
After a guard was literally frightened to death while walking along this passage it was finally sealed up and the spirit has not been seen since. It’s said that three nights before the guard died he entered the passage alone. Unearthly screams were heard and the man eventually staggered out white as a sheet and his eyes blazing with terror. Not a word of his ordeal escaped his lips and soon after he died9.
“They say, that an apparition called, in their language, the Mauthe Doog, in the shape of a large black spaniel with curled shaggy hair, was used to haunt Peel Castle; and has been frequently seen in every room, but particularly in the guard-chamber, where, as soon as candles were lighted, it came and lay down before the fire in presence of all the soldiers, who at length, by being so much accustomed to the sight of it, lost great part of the terror they were seized with at its first appearance.”10
10. The Buggane of St Trinians
On the road from Douglas to Peel, you might have spotted the ruins of an old stone building off the road just before the Highlander. These are the remains of the 14th-century church of St Trinians where legend says that a Buggane ripped the roof off not once but three times. This Buggane was a shape-shifting creature said sometimes to look like a man and at others like a demonic black calf with tusks, flaming eyes, cloven feet, and sharp claws11.
It’s told in a fairy tale12 that when monks built the church the local Buggane decided he didn’t like the idea of ringing church bells disturbing the peace. He ripped the roof off in the night and the next morning the people of Greeba discovered only broken beams and planks. The roof was rebuilt and yet again was ripped off as it had been before. The roof was put on a third time and to show he there was no fear to be had by a Buggane, Timothy the Tailor locked himself inside overnight.
In the wee hours, the Buggane emerged through a gaping hole in the floor and terrorised the man before chasing him to Marown churchyard. He couldn’t follow the tailor inside so he ripped off his own head and threw it at Timothy.
11. The Summerland Tragedy
On the 2nd of August, 1973, a fire broke out in the massive Summerland complex killing fifty people and injuring many others. All that remains of the structure can be seen behind rusted fencing on the north end of Douglas Promenade. A memorial garden has also been recently opened to remember the lives that were lost. Eleven of the victims were under the age of 20 and another seventeen children lost one or both parents in the fire13.
Summerland was an entertainment centre that offered a pool, dance floor, several levels of entertainment, restaurants, and bars. It could hold thousands of people and was a huge draw for both locals and tourists alike. At the time of the fire, 3000 people were inside and it’s been reported that several of the emergency exits were chained and locked. The fire itself was caused by three young boys experimenting with cigarettes in a plastic pay-hut near the mini-golf course – all three survived. It’s also been said that the Oroglass plastic roofing material in the complex was not only highly flammable but dripped hot melted plastic on people panicking to escape the inferno. Oroglass was used as a building material throughout the leisure centre and has been determined to be a contributing factor to the speed at which the fire spread15.
On the 40th anniversary of the Summerland tragedy, MTTV interviewed photographer Noel Howarth who shared photos of the day that Summerland caught fire – you can watch the video here.
The Summerland fire happened within living memory and there are still many people alive today who either witnessed the tragedy, were in the fire themselves, or lost a loved one. It is not my intention to be insensitive to the memory of the people who died or suffered.
The site is spooky to me because more than forty years on traces of the original pool, stepped areas, and stairwells still persist on the cliff face. People drive past every day without batting an eye. That is what’s spooky. Rusted fencing, ruins, and the fact that to this day nothing now stands on this ground. Summerland isn’t haunted, but I think that the memory of what happened haunts many.
12. The Chasms
On the coast between Port St Mary and Cregneash is a natural cloven stone cliff that is accessible via a public footpath. The path leads down onto the formations and you need to watch your step lest you take a fall down one of the fissures. It’s an incredibly beautiful spot but be careful of where you step! The combination of heights and deep drops makes this both a spooky and slightly dangerous place to walk.
13. Witches Mill
Gerald Gardner, the father of modern Wicca, moved into Witches Mill and helped set it up as a witchcraft museum in the early 1950s. He came to the island from England and claimed that the Isle of Man was a centre of natural witchcraft and set about creating a coven and indoctrinating new members. Though there is no known historical link between witches and the mill, he perpetrated a story that the burned-out ruins of the mill tower had been used by witches since the late 19th century as a dancing ground17.
Among the displays at the museum:
“On the first floor are two rooms. One represents a Magician’s Study, of the period circa 1630, with everything set out for performing what is variously called Ritual Magic, Cabalistic Magic, Ceremonial Magic, or Art Magic; these terms mean very much the same thing, though some writers use one and some another. There is a large and complicated circle drawn on the floor, and an altar made to certain Cabalistic proportions. Beside it is the magician’s consecrated sword and behind it two columns, with light upon each. If used for good purposes only, this kind of magic was called White Magic; but if used for evil or selfish purposes, it was called Black Magic. The latter might involve the use of blood, and the summoning of demons, who were kept at bay by the Divine Names written around the circle, and were only permitted to manifest in the Triangle of Art drawn outside the circle, where they could be commanded to do the magician’s will.”17.
The museum closed in 1973 and the occult objects inside were sold off with some of them now being owned by Ripleys Believe it or Not18. The building itself was renovated in the 1990s into flats.
A HUGE thank you to Clare Bettison, who shared many of these locations and many of the photographs. She took me on an amazing round-the-island tour to see some of them for the first time and to get photographs. It was a scavenger hunt unlike any other and made me appreciate the history and stories of this island even more. For more interesting places to discover on the Isle of Man, head over here to learn more about Magnetic Hill, the Niarbyl Fault Line, and the Old Fairy Bridge.
1 More information on the Vampire Grave
2 Modern Wicca A History of Gerald Gardner to the Present
3 Isle of Man Newspapers
4 Isle of Man Family History on the Cholera outbreak of 1832-33
5 Wikipedia on the Sea Lion Rocks Railway Station
6 Wikipedia on the Groudle Glen Railway
7 Report of the death of three young Prussian sailors by the Ramsey Courier
8 Wikipedia on black ghost dogs of Britain
9 Under the influence! Myths, legends, folklore and tales from around the world
10 George Waldron, History and Description of the Isle of Man (1st ed. 1731) 1744 edition, p.23
11 What is a Buggane
12 The fairy tale of the Buggane of St Trinians
13 BBC reports on the Summerland Fire
14 Wikipedia on the Summerland Disaster
15 Summerland designer breaks 30-year silence
16 Cronk Karran
17 Isle of Man Guidebook on the Witches Museum
18 Wikipedia on the Museum of Witchcraft and Magic