William Tell – Switzerland
The tall tale of William Tell has guided many traveller’s through Switzerland, from Altdorf Square where, in a.d. 1307, Tell, having defied the orders of the Baliff Gessler to pay respects to a Hapsburg hat on a pole, was forced to shoot an apple off of his own son’s head in a demonstration of his renown as an expert marksman with a crossbow, to Tell’s home village of Bürglen and up to Lake Lucerne and Tell’s ledge where Tell, having been bound following his afore mentioned heroics for readying himself to kill the Bailiff were his first shot lower than the apple on his son’s head, was shipped off towards his demise in a dungeon, only to be unbound mid-journey to steer the ship to safety in a perilous storm, him being the only man on board with the strength to do so, before escaping and promptly kicking the ship right back into the treacherous storm. He was basically Switzerland's early version of Chuck Norris!
And it doesn’t end there; not content to have evaded his captors, Tell suspected the crew of the ship might well see out the tempest and make it to shore, so he ran twenty miles through forest and over mountainous terrain, hid behind a tree and waited for Bailiff Gessler to dock before sending him an arrow to the head, killing the oppressor and sparking a national liberation movement – making the story of William Tell a most revered & cherished tale in Switzerland to this day.
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The Dolocher – Dublin, Ireland
Ireland’s is a culture perhaps better armed with folklore, mythology & legend than most, and there is any number of intriguing examples to cite, but one of our favourites is a lesser known story from dear old Dublin….
The year was 1788 and a Dublin prisoner, known as Olocher, was awaiting execution having been convicted of murder, but rather than die by hanging on the gallows, the baying public were denied an exhibition when he took his own life. The night after Olocher’s suicide, a sentry guard was found near dead in a Dublin street, claiming to have been mauled by a vicious black pig. After that, other Sentry guards feared they’d suffer a similar fate and refused to take their posts - except for one, who didn’t give in to the hysteria. He was missing by sun-rise the next morning, presumed dead by way of the ravenous pig. In the nights following, there were numerous claims from terrified women who had been attacked by a black swine. Believing this rabid pig to be the dead prisoner Olocher transformed, hysteria ensued further and night after night women reported being attacked by ‘the Dolocher’, as the demonic pig became known, and fear became widespread across the city.
One night, a blacksmith, draped in a lady’s cloak to fend off the rain, was walking home when he was accosted by a snarling black pig. Being of stronger stature than the pig’s usual female victims, the blacksmith set about defending himself with vigour and fury, the commotion of which brought more men to assist in beating the pig to within an inch of its life. Imagine their surprise then, when they realised the creature they were dutifully battering was not in fact a possessed hog, but a man bearing the guise of a black boar; and not just any man, but the missing sentry guard.
He admitted to opportunistically spreading the supernatural story of the Dolocher after the first freak attack, and to staging his own disappearance so he could don the skin and head of a black pig to attack and rob women in the streets of Dublin by night. A dark tale to be sure, but an ever so fascinating one.
We highly recommend taking the Fables & folklore free tour by Next Dublin Tours when in Dublin – it’s the perfect way to get an unrivalled insight to the marvellous mythological legacy of Ireland and Dublin, as well as the more modern local legends, anecdotes & real-life characters. We can promise you will not be disappointed!
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Quasimodo, the hunchback of Notre Dame – Paris
The plight of Quasimodo, the central character of Victor Hugo’s 1831 French Romance / Gothic novel Notre-Dame de Paris, has been dramatized numerous times in adaptions for theatre, opera, film, television, radio, music, and even video game. For a certain generation, the most notable of these has been Disney’s animated version of the tale which placed Notre Dame Cathedral firmly on our must-see sights of the world list.
Despite many of the later adaptions being somewhat removed from Hugo’s original tale, and the recent theory that the Quasimodo character might not have been an entirely fictitious one, the story has always been a powerful one of isolation and love, set against the backdrop of Paris and the beautiful medieval Cathedral. If you’ve yet to pay visit, go and have a gawk at the Gargoyles as the chime of the bells ring out in tribute to our tragic hunch-backed hero, Quasimodo.
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The Wawel Dragon – Krakow, Poland
On Wawel hill in Krakow, near Wawel Cathedral and castle, there hangs the bones of a dragon which Krakus, a Polish prince, had slain before setting about establishing the city and kingdom above the dragon’s lair.
A popular and long told folktale, the legend of the Wewel dragon attracts a significant number of visitors up ‘Dragon street’ along the Vistula River to the dragon’s cave, which sits beneath Wawel castle, and to the Cathedral where the Dragon’s bone (which, legend has it, will signal the end of the world should it fall to the ground) hangs. An actual fire-breathing dragon statue provides some fuel for the imagination at the site too!
Krakow is a city that oozes medieval charm & character, and an undeniably mythical & mystical atmosphere. We highly recommend a visit here for a very budget-friendly and utterly rewarding trip.
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The Loch Ness Monster – Loch Ness, Scotland
The legend of Nessie, as ‘she’ has affectionately become known, is perhaps only matched by Big-foot for notoriety and fame in the strange beings of lore leagues. Reputed to dwell beneath the surface of the deep dark water of Loch Ness in the Scottish Highlands, legend of the monster can be dated back as far as 565AD, but a more recent fascination with the creature was ignited by a supposed sighting in 1933 by one George Spicer and his wife who reported seeing a large and long, narrow- necked, “most extraordinary animal” lurch across the road in front of their car as they drove around the loch.
Numerous supposed sightings & hoaxes have been reported and revealed throughout the decades since Spicer’s claim, and with every blurry photograph or shaky amateur footage which has emerged, the public’s intrigue in Nessie has been rekindled, as well as an underlying hope that this fantastical Loch Ness monster might just prove to be real.
The chance of spotting Nessie on your trip might be less than likely, but one sure thing is that you will be absolutely impressed by the picturesque beauty of the rugged Scottish Highlands, the vast expanse of Loch Ness, and the exciting, if somewhat unnerving, idea that somewhere in the water, history’s most elusive creature might just pop up in front of you.
Loch Ness and Urquhart castle are very accessible, and there are day-trips & excursions from Edinburgh, Glasgow, Inverness, and beyond.
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Dracula’s castle - Transylvania, Romania
The inclusion here of Bran castle, better known as "Dracula’s castle", might indeed be warranted not because of its association with Bram Stoker’s Gothic horror fiction, Dracula, but because that very association is a myth in its own right; there is no evidence or indication that Stoker had this particular castle or location, on the border of Transylvania & Wallachia, in mind when writing, nor that the castle was in any way the inspiration for the fictional vampire’s home in the novel. Indeed, the decaying literary castle bears little to no resemblance to the beautiful medieval Bran castle.
Don’t let that put you off though, the castle and region is absolutely worthy of a visit if you’re lucky enough to be in amazing Romania. Most travellers make their way here from Bucharest, and it is very accessible.
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The Flying Dutchman – Netherlands
Okay, so this one is a stretch to justify including on our list, due to there not being much to physically tie the tale to the Netherlands. Although it relates to a Dutch sea captain and his ship, the legend puts the crux of the story at the Cape of Good Hope, South Africa. Truth be told, I really only included it so I could post this Spongebob Gif.
That done though, it is an interesting story about a maniacal Dutch sea captain who stubbornly refused to turn out of a storm and was hence doomed, along with crew, to forever more sail a phantom ship which can never be docked. As fantastical as the tale is, there have been an incredible amount of reported sightings of the ‘Flying Dutchman’, with eye witness accounts of a ghostly, glowing vessel appearing and vanishing at sea as recently as 1942.
So, as dubious a connection to Holland as that may be, check out hostels to check into in the Netherlands.
There you have it kids, seven of our favourite stories, tales, lores, legends, myths, fables, peculiarities…whatever you want to call them…from around Europe to help inspire your next travel adventure. Have you been inspired to travel by some kind of story? Tell us about it, and share your favourite myth, legend, fable or story with us in the comments.
Written by Ray, in Sweden, while listening to Leadbelly, Melanie Safka, Tom Waits, & Iggy and the Stooges