Britain's Most Famous Folktales

#1 The Loch Ness Monster

Starting the list off with a classic that everyone born in the UK is sure to know, the Loch Ness Monster is a Scottish legend originating back to 565 AD. There has never been any evidence to confirm the existence of the creature, but that hasn’t stopped a great many researchers and investigators from trying their luck! A particularly famous supposed photograph of the beast taken in 1934, known as the “surgeon’s photograph” has turned out to be a hoax concocted as a revenge plan on a newspaper.

The highly sought-after status of the Loch Ness, also known as “Nessie”, is rivalled only by the equally popular legend of Robin Hood, which shall be discussed in the next entry. To this day, talk of the legend has certainly died down, but rumours, recordings and photograph are still occasionally shared and receive fierce attention and scrutiny by a small community of Loch Ness enthusiasts committed to proving the existence of the legendary long-necked creature to this day.

#2 Robin Hood

The legend of Robin Hood is perhaps Britain’s most popular folklore tale, having been adapted into numerous media including television, films, books and videogames. Furthermore, the area in which Robin Hood was said to have lived with his merry band of outlaws, Sherwood Forest in Nottinghamshire, has become a world-renowned tourist attraction famous for its association with him. For those unfamiliar, the legend goes that Robin Hood and his band of merry men were a group of noble outlaws operating during the Medieval period in England, who made it their mission to steal from the rich in order to give to the poor.

In the stories, it is chronicled that he fought with King Richard the Lionheart during the Crusades, only to return home to England to find his lands seized by the greedy Sheriff of Nottingham, whose oppressive tax laws caused much suffering for the peasant population of Nottinghamshire. The historical status of the brave outlaw and his band of merry men has been fiercely debated for centuries, however there seems to be some consensus that outlaws like Robin Hood did exist, but not exactly as the legend describes.

#3 King Arthur

King Arthur is a legendary British military leader and a king whose legend has been a well-known staple of British culture since Medieval times. The legend is known to many as that of a young man who came forward to pull free a mythical sword from its stone, a feat only a true king of England was said to be able to achieve, leading to him being crowned as Britain’s king. The first mention of Arthur in history is in Ninnius’ History of the Britons, which described him as a fierce general and warrior. No writing prior to this book has ever once mentioned the legend of Arthur, therefore rendering the entire legend to be just that: a legend. However, it is likely that the origin of the legend is a warped interpretation of the story of the historical Roman general, Artorius, which would give it some real historical basis. The Latin name Artorius is also considered to be the origin of the name Arthur.

#4 The Owlman

Another Cornish legend for the list, sightings of the Owlman have circulated through Cornwall for several decades. In 1976, a report of two young girls on holiday bearing witness to a large, owl-like creature in the shape of a humanoid flying around the area of St Mawnan and St Stephen’s Church. The girls and their father were so scared by the sighting, which they genuinely believed to be real, that the family holiday was cut short and they departed from Cornwall immediately. Further sightings include that of two girls camping, who then ran when they saw a large, human-size owl creature with glowing eyes. Investigators believe that the eyewitnesses mistook a Eurasian eagle-owl - a large owl with orange, glowing eyes and known to make their nests on the top of Church towers - for the creature, and the story was put to rest.

#5 The Lady of the Lake

The Lady of the Lake is a mystical, enchanting woman who is said to have inhabited a lake in Carmarthenshire, South Wales. Her name was traditionally known to be Nimue, with other variants being Ninianne, Viviane, Vivanne, Vivienne, Vivien etc. Similar to a mermaid, she is said to be highly persuasive and to possess the ability to charm men with her beauty, however unlike mermaids she is not malevolent. The legend is interlinked with that of King Arthur, there having been a mention of a Lady of the Lake who looks after his sword, Excalibur, until such a time that the king returns. However, it also exists independently of that, tracing its origin to ancient Welsh folklore.

#6 St George and the Dragon

The namesake of England’s own flag, the legend of St George and the Dragon tells of a legendary knight and Christian saint who came across a village terrorised by a dragon that demanded regular human sacrifices. In order to free the village from his tyranny, George ventured to the dragon’s lair and famously tamed and slayed the dragon. For his monotheistic Christian beliefs, George was later martyred, being executed by decapitation as many Christians were before the Empire adopted the faith. While some parts of his legend are certainly mythical, it is generally believed that there really was a Roman soldier named George (Georgios) who was executed for his Christian beliefs, and he is venerated in the Christian church for his deeds to this day.

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