England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland are steeped in mystery, each boasting hundreds of folk tales, myths and legends from across the lands. Here at Cottages & Castles, unsurprisingly, one of our favourites is that of the Loch Ness monster, otherwise known as Nessie! But what other mythical characters are out there?
This got us wondering which myths and legends across the UK might be searched for most frequently, and whether Nessie would steal the top spot. Well, we have done the digging...
With our research complete, and after looking into more than 100 British myths and legends, we can now reveal that Nessie and Robin Hood are the legends which are most searched for in the UK, with more than 60,500 searches for their stories each month, and a further 291,800 and 888,300 searches respectively worldwide!
The Loch Ness Monster
Nessie, joint with Robin Hood, is the most searched for British legend in the UK. Since the first sighting in 565 AD, the existence of Nessie has been long debated, with alleged evidence being found every so often. From swallowing farmers whole, to mysterious humpback shapes surfacing from the water, the different reported encounters certainly suggest something roams the depths of Loch Ness. However, there has never been enough evidence to confirm the long-necked beast genuinely does exist.
If you want to learn more about Nessie and where he lives, you can visit Nessieland in Drumnadrochit, which is a small local village on the banks of Loch Ness. You can also take a boat cruise down the loch for a better chance of a sighting of this legendary monster!
Robin Hood joins Nessie as the most searched for British legend in the UK, and takes the title as the most searched for UK legend worldwide. The man who set out to steal from the rich to give to the poor has become iconic in British folklore, making it no surprise that he’s made the top spot. You probably know this heroic character from the various films and cartoons which feature his story, which dates back to the 13th century. There have been many versions of his story throughout time, but he is depicted as a hero in everyone's eyes.
Want to get a real feel for who Robin Hood was? Visit ‘The Robin Hood Experience’, Nottingham’s very own attraction that is all about this English folklore hero. Meet Robin’s friends and enemies and have fun along the way - this is a great family-friendly day out.
Kelpies are said to inhabit almost every single Scottish lake in the land - and some say that Nessie is the most famous of their kind. They hold shape-shifting powers, but in their everyday form are said to be similar to a horse. But the legend is rumoured to have been borne in order to keep children away from the edge of large bodies of water - they were told kelpies would drag them in and eat them!
Although not mythical, the Kelpies at Falkirk in Scotland are not to be missed. Based on the Scottish legend, these 30-metre-high sculptures, the largest equine sculpture in the world, certainly take your breath away and feel scarily real. They are a hybrid of traditional strong working horses and the mythical kelpies, designed by Andy Scott. You can take a tour of the Kelpies and find out about how they were designed and constructed.
The true existence of King Arthur is yet another legend that is yet to be proved - but there are many stories surrounding his life, including the Knights of the Round Table, the quest for the Holy Grail, the Sword in the Stone and Camelot Castle. He is probably the most legendary icon of medieval Britain and English folklore, dating back to the 5th and 6th centuries - a brave, noble and kind knight.
King Arthur’s Hall in Tintagel, England, is an intimate museum containing art relating to the Arthurian legend and King Arthur fans from all over come here to learn more about him. You will come across 72 stained glass windows illustrating lots of Arthurian tales.
The Green Man is a symbol of new life and new growth which is typically associated with all that spring brings. References to the Green Man can be seen around the world with images of faces covered in foliage, or carved in wood or stone in medieval churches and cathedrals. To many, he is ‘the keeper of forests and woods’ - an environmental guardian rooted in English folklore.
You can find the green man in carvings on historical churches and cathedrals; here are some examples of places you can visit to see him:
- Pennel Church, Gwynedd - You will find him in the stained glass windows.
- The Church of St Mary and David, Kilpeck, Herefordshire - The Green Man appears in the Romanesque doorway carving.
- Bolton Abbey, North Yorkshire - You will see him in a ceiling boss within the abbey.
- Rochester Cathedral, Kent - Look out for him in the painted roof boss.
This lady is best known for baring all as she rode naked on horseback, with just her long hair to cover herself. The story goes that she did so in protest of the high taxes her husband enforced amongst the residents of Coventry. Although Lady Godiva is a concrete historical figure, there is little evidence other than monks’ tales dating back to the 11th century to prove her legendary horseback ride actually happened. Yet, the folktale still survives to this day of this strong and brave woman.
You can visit Lady Godiva’s statue in Coventry. It stands proudly in the city's central square, Broadgate. Sir William Reid Dick was the creator and it has been there since 1949.
In Celtic and Norse mythology, a selkie is a water being, ‘seal folk’ that can change from seal to human by shedding their skin. Affectionate and gentle souls, they come to land and find humans that are missing something in their lives, love, kindness and company. Stories around selkies, whether male or female, often turn out in heartbreak as the sea always calls them home.
Selkie is the Orcadian word for seal, and they are common in folktale and mythology from the northern isles of Scotland. For the best chance to see a selkie, head to the northern isles of Orkney and Shetland, where the locals will tell you all about them and their place in British folklore.
A redcap is a malicious and malevolent goblin type creature. They are said to live in the ruined castles along the Scottish borders, murdering those who stray into their homes. They wear red hats that are dyed with their victims blood, and to keep their hats red, they must kill regularly, because if they don’t, they die. You can’t outrun a redcap, they will always catch you!
Redcaps are thought to inhabit the many ruined castles along the Scottish, Northumbrian and Cumbrian border. Visit some of these malicious goblins of folklore on your next trip and see if you can spot them - but you have been warned about their brutal behaviour:
- Bonkyll Castle
- Drochil Caslte
- Fulton Tower
- Castlehill Tower
Lady of the Lake
Appearing in the middle of Llyn Y Fan Fach lake in Wales, a beautiful woman plays with the hearts of many men. Luring them in with her beauty and affection. She took a husband, a sheep farmer who fell in love. The condition was, he was not to harm her or lay a finger on her, or she would return to the lake. After a few years, and a few kids, he hit her three times, so she went back to the lake, never to return to him.
Llyn Y Fan Fach lake is found in the northern parts of the Black Mountain in Carmarthenshire, South Wales. You can visit the lake by taking a circular walk from Llangadog, but beware of the persuasive nature and alluring beauty of this folklore figure.
Cerne Abbas Giant
It is said that this 180 ft tall giant, chalked into the ground, is thought to be a depiction of the Greek god Hercules - the god with superhuman strength. Others believe he was created as a pagan idol during the Iron Age, an ancient symbol of fertility, and local folklore has long held him to be a fertility aid.
The giant is located just outside the small village of Cerne Abbas in Dorset, and you can get some of the best views of it from the visitor car park. It is protected by the National Trust and you can no longer walk onto the site of the chalk carving, but there is a nice circular walk that takes you very close!
The UK's 20 most searched for myths and legends
- Loch Ness Monster - The Highlands - 60,500 searches on average per month
- Robin Hood - Nottingham - 60,500
- Kelpies - Scotland - 40,500
- King Arthur - Wales/North England - 40,500
- Green Man - Devon/Somerset - 18,100
- Lady Godiva - Coventry - 14,800
- Selkies - Scotland - 8,100
- Redcaps - Scotland - 8,100
- Lady of the Lake - Wales - 8,100
- Cerne Abbas Giant - Dorset - 6,600
- Finn McCool - Northern Ireland - 5,400
- Sawney Bean - Scotland - 5,400
- Pendle Witches - Lancaster - 5,400
- Spring-Heeled Jack - Lincolnshire - 4,400
- Boggarts - North West - 3,600
- St George and the Dragon - Wales - 2,900
Spanning from the Kelpies of Scotland to the Irish giant Finn McCool, there are plenty of well known myths amongst the top 20, have a look and see if your local legend is in there!
*Research took place March 2021 using SEMrush.
If you want to learn more about the Loch Ness Monster, read our blog where we go through the history and some of the best places to try and find Nessie. Come and stay in our Loch Ness cottages and spend a week exploring this amazing area in the Highlands.
For more self catering cottages, view our full collection of Scotland cottages.
Disclaimer: Whilst every effort has been made to ensure the accuracy of the information at the time of writing,
please ensure you check carefully before making any decisions based on the contents within this article.