Fringe phenomena are something that many travellers, seek out to document or experience for themselves, be they proven curiosities, local folklore, or even the reputed (but unproven) manifestation of the paranormal.
This travel topic aims to cover some of the these, separate guides exist for religious tourism, and phenomena in fictional works.
Fringe phenomena have existed as long as there have been travellers to experience, document and eventually explain them away in the context of rational science.
When considering travel in pursuit of fringe phenomena, there are many things to take into account, not least whether you startle easily, or are prepared to wait around for a long time, and not be disappointed when an alleged phenomenon does not occur.
Prior research will also help to inform you on what to expect, greatly assist you in making sense (and veracity) of any of the accounts you encounter.
The traveller, however, should heed the advice of many academics, who state that "Extraordinary claims need exemplary evidence", and note that many supposed "paranormal" events have on careful investigation turned out to have mundane explanations determined by scientific methods and techniques.
There are also many ways in which otherwise perfectly rational phenomena or events can be misinterpreted or embellished. Optical illusions, auditory distortions are only some of these, and a listing of all the factors would be out of scope.
What to bring depends on the location, and on the nature of the phenomena, at the very least you'll want to bring an open (skeptical) mind.
You may also wish to bring a camera, but in dark locations, a fast film (analog), or boosted sensor (digital) is highly recommend. If you want to use a flash, seek specialist advice, as the flash may affect how the purported phenomenon is recorded. It should also be strongly noted that there are many aspects of photography and optics which can create apparent phenomena out of otherwise perfectly natural conditions.
Details of the technical equipment needed to mount full-scale investigations is beyond the scope of a travel guide.
See UFO tourism
- For sites related to so-called 'Ancient Aliens' narratives, see Archaeology and Archaeological sites.
Cryptids and cryptozoology
Black Shuck, Old Shuck, Old Shock or Shuck
There seem many reported "ghostly black dogs" reported from around the UK, some considered an omen of death and others being more companionable. Of particular note is "Black Shuck", a ghostly black dog that roams East Anglia, in particular the coastline. Named from the Old English word "scucca" meaning "demon", or possibly from the East Anglian dialect word "shucky" meaning "shaggy" or "hairy". Black Shruck moves silently around the dark lanes and footpaths, it being his howl that makes one aware of his presence. The dangers from encountering Black Shruck seem to vary geographically; to the south of his territory (around Maldon and Dengie) an encounter is said to cause your imminent death; but often encounters, though terrifying the victim, leave them to continue living their normal lives.
There are many interesting earth-science phenomena, that whilst perplexing to past generations, have subsequently been explained.
The vast majority of these are human-created artworks for entertainment purposes, albeit unofficially. Depending on the mood of the landowners and farmers, you may be able to visit recently created crop circles for a nominal fee, or even free. However, there is no generally accepted right of access, and you should also accept a refusal politely. In any event you should respect that any crop field (crop circle or not) is still part of the working countryside, and the usual responsibilities apply.
- Hessdalen Lights, Sør-Trøndelag.
- Mapimí Silent Zone - A remote desert region bodering Durango state, where it's alleged that a number of unusual phenomena have occurred, and radio reception is adversely affected. The area also overlaps the Mapimí Biosphere Reserve.
Lines formed by places of natural, religious or cultural significance believed to have spiritual significance through to be considered “conduits of infinite energy". In Ireland known as "Fairy Paths", in China "Dragon Paths" or "Spirit Lines" whilst in Australia called "Song Paths". In the UK it is thought that many ancient monuments lie at the intersection of lay lines.
The term was originally adopted by archaeologist Alfred Watkins in 1921 when researching ancient paths and tracks. The idea was not universally accepted, amongst critics Richard Atkinson demonstrated that researching the locations of telephone boxes one can find "telephone box ley". Many consider that in the UK there is a sufficiently high number of archaeological sites that such "lines" are bound to occur through random chance.
Reputedly haunted places
Whilst many "hauntings" can be attributed to mundane explanations, wishful thinking, or even outright embellishment of a good story, on the part of observers, legends about wandering spirits, phantoms of the departed, or malign entities, persist in the local and cultural folklore of many regions and destinations. Wikivoyage makes no claims as to the veracity or reliability of such legends, but some are noted below.
However, unless part of an organised tour, it's not generally advised to explore abandoned buildings, ruins or sites that aren't generally open to the public. There are practical, unquestionably fact-based reasons why many old sites are sealed, having nothing to do with any alleged supernatural residents.
For entire abandoned settlements which may or may not be reputedly haunted, see Ghost towns
It is claimed by some, that the British Isles have more places that are reputedly haunted than anywhere else, given the long and varied history of the region. Many old cities in the United Kingdom have several Ghost legends associated with them, most notably Edinburgh in Scotland.
Both Hampton Court and The Tower of London, are said to have Royal ghosts, and Pluckley in Kent was once considered "the most haunted village in Britain", with no less than 12 individual phantoms being part of local lore.
A number of UK cities and towns have ghost walks. On these guides will take a moderate number of traveller around the city or a related locality, giving some version of the local folklore that has become associated with them. Cites in the UK that have these include York and Whitby.
Borley Rectory is no longer standing (the site now being a private garden), but its location as a center of alleged poltergeist activity is noted in many accounts.
- Hampton Court
- Whitby, The abbey and the town itself has a long history. There are many haunted sites so be sure to go on one of the guided ghost walks. Warning: the old town is a creepy place after dark and not for the faint hearted.
- Potter Heigham A convenient haunting for enthusiasts as the apparition is purported to appear on the same time & date each year (making visiting easier). Each 31 May at midnight (allegedly) a phantom coach driven by a skeleton crashes into the bridge over the River Thurne at Potter Heigham. The haunting goes back to the 18th century when Lady Carew sought the help of a witch to entrap an eligible husband for her daughter. "Payment" for the witch was left vague - "anything the witch wanted". Following the wedding the party returned to Bastwick when at midnight a skeleton appears, kidnaps the bride, makes of in the coach which bursts into flames at Potter Heigham bridge and falls into the water - the death being the payment the witch demanded. And since then each 31 May the sound of hooves, screech of wheels and a firey coach appears on the bridge at midnight.
- Blickling Hall, Norfolk. The Boleyn family (of the wives of Henry VIII fame) have significant connections to Norfolk, having owned the property on the Blickling Hall site and Anne Boleyn is believed to have been born at the property. Each 19 May (the anniversary of Ms Boleyn's execution) a coach pulled by 4 headless horses races up the drive to the hall where a headless Ms Boleyn gets out carrying her dripping head and enters that hall and spends the night searching each room to find where she was born. But it is a fruitless and always unsuccessful search as the current hall was built on the ruins of the Boleyn property.
- Kennfig, Mid Glamorgan has a pub called the Prince of Wales, which under certain conditions is reputed to replay the sounds of a past age.
In Ireland there are long standing Banshee legends, forming part of the mythology and culture.
- Winchester Mystery House.
Many cultures have legends about practitioners in touch with external forces (both natural and supernatural), with many forming part of the cultural tradition of the region in which they are encountered. Whilst the skeptical traveler should know many forms of "magic" rely on the susceptibility of the willing to elevate superstition (or sleight of hand) to something supernatural, many seemingly occult practices are a matter of cultural tradition, which many communities hold strong views on, and which the traveler should politely respect, even if the tradition seems strange to you.
The role of 'magic', superstition and occult esoterica in both recorded history and myth remains an area of social study.
- Cornwall has a number of legends associated with the occult, despite the regions strong Methodist tradition. Boscastle has a museum displaying housing exhibits devoted to folk magic, ceremonial magic, and Wicca, as practised in Europe in centuries past, with an extensive library available to researchers on prior request.
- The area around Pendle Hill, Lancashire, was in history, the location for a series of witch trials. There is a modern trail associated with the history of the trials and individuals involved.
- The so-called Witchfinder General was active in East Anglia during the mid-17th century.
- Salem, Massachusetts was the site of the world's best or worst (depending on your perspective) example of occult hysteria.
Japan power spots
Japan has many so-called "power spots", which are believed to bring visitors various fortunes. Most are breathtakingly beautiful natural landscapes, and worth visiting for that scenery, even if the power does not grace you.
Illusions and hoaxes
Given the attention supposed fringe phenomena generate, it's not unexpected that there have been cleverly constructed illusions to meet a perceived interest. In these illusions, various phenomena apparently violating physical laws are supposedly demonstrated. Of course, no such laws are broken. The American roadside attraction and illusion, "Mystery Spot" in Santa Cruz, California, being an example.
Naturally, there have also been hoaxes, be they deliberate or inadvertent due to embellished claims amidst other factors. The artifacts associated with some of these hoaxes can occasionally be found in museums.
- The original camera used to take the Cottingley Fairy photographs can be seen in the National Media Museum in Bradford, England. (The original photos were in the 1990s admitted to have been carefully staged using cutout illustrations.)
- The original hoaxed "Cardiff Giant" is on display at Farmers' Museum in Cooperstown, New York
- See also: Common scams
Despite efforts by serious researchers (both amateur and professional) to weed out some of the more prevalent scams around fringe phenomena, there are still some scams that seek to exploit the gullibility or superstition of the willing.
While most scams involving paranomal phonmeons are only financially damaging, some such as "psychic surgery" can cause real danger by giving false confidence in a medical condition being healed. Also ask yourself why a sincere evangelist would really need your "generous donations" to effect a miracle cure.
Whilst the skeptical traveller may not have a firm belief in fringe phenomena, local cultures and communities may have strongly held taboos concerning them.
The traveller should be respectful toward such taboos, without necessarily being overly superstitious.