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Planet Appetite: England's Haunted Hotspots and Horrid Histories

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This year marks the 125th anniversary of the notorious Jack the Ripper murders in East London in 1888. The identity of the Ripper remains a mystery but the story continues to horrify and fascinate. I set off to explore some of England's darker histories and reveal how brave tourists can go ghost hunting themselves.

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My destination is Oxford Castle, just an hour out of London. It was built in 1071 AD by order of William the Conqueror shortly after the Norman conquest of England. What remains of the original castle today is the mound or 'motte' and St. George's Tower, possibly part of the original Saxon defences built some 20 years before the Normans arrived. This could be the oldest secular structure in England and, at its base, is a medieval crypt used for teaching students, a century before the university was established.

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I check in to the Malmaison Hotel which is itself a rather clever conversion of Oxford Prison which was only closed in 1996.

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I'm about to join the Haunted Happenings team who will take me into the castle at the dead of night. Wayne is in charge and he's brought along a medium, Craig, who will keep an eye on the spirit world. Together they've got almost 10 years' experience in the ghost hunting business - "seen 'em, smelt 'em and felt 'em", and emphasise that we should show some respect and shouldn't be too negative. They say that their job is to help us have a paranormal experience and we shouldn't be afraid.

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It's a very cold night and even colder inside the tower as we make our way down the steps to the crypt. We've already been issued with metal dowsing rods and taught to ask questions of the spirits, but mine seem determined not to respond. No matter, next we've formed a circle around one of the pillars and are standing in the pitch black, at the base of the tower. Wayne is asking for a sign - "make a noise, switch the torches on and off, touch someone's shoulder", but there's no response. Craig picks up some activity and tells us of the arrival of an old man, called Harry, but he's not making himself known to us. Later there's a female ghost and a shadowy figure in a white Tabard wearing a long sword, but neither of them are keen to communicate.

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After a short coffee break, Wayne gets out the Ouija boards and we troop back into the tower and rest our index fingers on the glass. Standing stock still, in this position, is a bit hard on the back but despite our efforts, there's no movement at all. I'm beginning to dream of a warming glass, back at the hotel, full of a different sort of spirit.

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We try again forming a circle, but apart from a false alarm, caused by a lit torch in a pocket, and a claim that a cold draught wafted over someone's face, we draw a blank. It's after midnight and Wayne decides to call it a night. The fact that we haven't really experienced the paranormal doesn't really disconcert him - "It just proves that we don't cheat". I suppose it's better luck next time...

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England's Top Haunted Hotspots

Jack the Ripper - East London
Try a Jack the Ripper walking tour of Spitalfields and Petticoat Lane. Or go to the new London Dungeons to see a recreation of the Ten Bells pub.

The Pendle Witches - Lancashire

Walk the Lancashire witches trail, which starts in the shadow of Pendle Hill and follows the route the witches took through the Ribble Valley to Lancaster Castle where they stood trial.

Tudor Terror at The Tower of London
The Tower of London is an iconic London landmark with beefeaters, ravens and a gruesome history, particularly during Tudor times. Send yourself to the Tower and see the world-famous Crown Jewels, try on a genuine suit of armour and learn about the legendary black ravens.

The Most Haunted City in the UK - Derby
Derby is famous for England's final hanging, drawing and quartering. Join a guided ghost walk of the city or hold an overnight vigil in 18th century prison Derby Gaol.

The Most Haunted Building in the UK - Galleries of Justice, Nottingham

The Galleries of Justice tell some of the sinister stories behind the city's own outlaws. Take a ghost tour to be led around the haunted corridors, cells and dungeons.

Never-seen-before Haunted Rooms at Warwick Castle

This medieval castle has a ghastly past which haunts it to this day. In February the castle opened up the Barbican Battlements & Captain's Room, Bear Tower, Watergate Room and The Guards' Room.

Anne Boleyn and Her Headless Horses at Blickling Hall, Norfolk

This 16th century estate near Aylsham in north Norfolk, is believed to be haunted by the ghost of Anne Boleyn. She appears every year on 19th May, the anniversary of her execution.

Frozen Witch in the Wookey Caves, Somerset
Legend has it that during the Dark Ages, an old woman lived alone deep in the caverns of the Wookey Caves in Somerset. Her frozen figure remains in this cavern, known as The Witch's Kitchen. Or you can see her original skeleton at Somerset's Wells & Mendip Museum.

The Volunteer, Baker Street, London
Built inside the shell of a burnt-out 17th century mansion, the cellars of this pub are reputedly haunted by the ghost of Richard Neville, wearing a surcoat, breeches and fancy stockings.

Visit England has more information.

All picture copyright Rupert Parker