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The Best Local Myths and Legends From Bristol

Picture of Hannah Wakefield
Updated: 6 May 2018
Bristol’s history is full of myths, mystery and legends, dating from ancient times to the modern day. Here are a few of the best Bristol myths and legends that have captured the imagination of locals and tourists alike.

The giants of Bristol

The giants Goram and Vincent were brothers who are rumoured to have both fallen in love with the beautiful Avona, after whom the River Avon is named. She challenged them to drain the lake that supposedly existed between Bristol and Bradford-on-Avon. Goram was the lazier of the brothers and fell asleep after drinking too much ale, though he did dig a channel that is now the narrow Hazel Brook in Henbury. Vincent was much more hardworking and dug his channel through Clifton all the way to the River Severn, which then became the Avon Gorge we know today.

Today, the chair that Goram supposedly fell asleep on, along with his footprint, can be seen at the gorge of Hazel Brook. There is also a cave on one side of Avon Gorge that is thought to have been Vincent’s, which you can still visit today for amazing views of the Clifton Suspension Bridge and the gorge.

The Avon Gorge was supposedly created by the giant Vincent to win over the beautiful Avona
The Avon Gorge was supposedly created by the giant Vincent to win over the beautiful Avona | © Hannah Wakefield / Culture Trip

The ghost of the SS Great Britain

The infamous SS Great Britain was the first iron steamer to cross the Atlantic. However, it is also thought to be the home to many ghosts, most famous of which is the ghost of Captain John Gray. It is suspected that he committed suicide in 1872 by jumping from his cabin window into the sea one morning after 18 years as captain of the vessel. No one was able to find him, though it was noted that a porthole had been opened in the night. At the time, his disappearance caused a sensation, and the truth of what happened to Captain Gray has never been confirmed.

Despite the uncertainty surrounding his disappearance and death, some claim that you can still hear the hobnail boots of his ghost scraping across the ship’s deck at night. Today, the SS Great Britain has been turned into a museum at the city’s docks, where you can learn more about the ship’s fascinating and spooky history.

The SS Great Britain is thought to be haunted by many ghosts
The SS Great Britain is thought to be haunted by many ghosts | © David Merrett / Flickr

The Bristol Hum

Since the 1970s, the residents of Bristol have been kept awake at night by the mysterious Bristol Hum. The inexplicable Hum most recently reappeared in 2016, but experts are still struggling to find an explanation for the noise, which some people think comes from nearby electricity pylons or factories (or perhaps the people who can hear it are suffering from tinnitus). However, others believe there is a less ordinary explanation, citing flying saucers or secret military activities.

The Hum was reported in Stoke Bishop, Sneyd Park, Coombe Dingle and Westbury-on-Trym across the Downs
The Hum was reported in Stoke Bishop, Sneyd Park, Coombe Dingle and Westbury-on-Trym across the Downs | © Hannah Wakefield / Culture Trip

Bristol Zoo’s parking attendant

In 2007, a rumour began to circulate about a mysterious parking attendant in the Bristol Zoo car park. The man, whose name no one knew, supposedly collected the park fares from cars and coaches for 23 years until one day when he suddenly disappeared. The legend went that the zoo thought he was employed by the Bristol City Council and the Council thought he worked for the zoo, meaning he kept all the money he collected. It is estimated he made over £3 million ($4,060,700 USD), and most likely retired to the south of Spain. Over the course of many years and investigations, it was uncovered that the existence of the attendant was indeed an urban legend that started with an April Fools’ prank.

The Bristol crocodile

In June 2014, a jogger supposedly snapped a picture of a crocodile in the Avon under the Clifton Suspension Bridge. This was five months after the first sighting reports of the reptile. The Avon River is one of the most biodiverse waterways in the UK, but there has been no evidence to back up the sightings, despite several police searches. Although there have not been any more recent sightings of the animal, there remains a witty warning sign on the edge of river, installed by some enterprising locals.

One crocodile you’re certain to see in Bristol is the pygmy crocodile in the zoo
One crocodile you’re certain to see in Bristol is the pygmy crocodile in the zoo | © Charlie Marshall / Flickr

This article was written in association with Epigram, a student publication based at the University of Bristol.