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Magical Places

An Enchanted Journey through Mystical Sites, Haunted Houses, and Fairytale Forests


By Nikki Van De Car

Illustrated by Katie Vernon

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$23.50 CAD



  1. Hardcover $18.00 $23.50 CAD
  2. ebook $11.99 $15.99 CAD

This item is a preorder. Your payment method will be charged immediately, and the product is expected to ship on or around June 4, 2019. This date is subject to change due to shipping delays beyond our control.

An enchanting, illustrated guide to the world’s most magical places, from fairy tale forests to haunted houses, from the author of Practical Magic.

Magical Places is for armchair-voyagers and pilgrimage-makers alike. This beautiful volume will take readers on a charmed journey around the world, dipping into some of the most storied destinations in the farthest flung corners of the globe. With chapters like Places of Healing, Haunted Places, Magic in Nature, Fairy Tale Locales, The Past in the Present, and Ley Lines — the arcing lines that traverse the planet, where magical phenomena frequently occur — wanderlust is sure to be stoked for frequent travelers and the magic curious alike.

With an eye towards the mystical, Magical Places will explore well-known sites like Stonehenge and Uluru, as well as lesser-known destinations like The Knucker Hole in England, Angkor Wat in Cambodia, the Fairy Glen on the Isle of Skye, and the pink lakes Retba in Senegal and Hillier in Australia. Many of these sites will be accompanied by sacred rituals, mystical incantations, and more inspired by the energy and history of these magical locations.

Featuring beautiful illustrations with a smattering of lush, full-color photography, this book will entice readers who long for adventure and enchantment in the world, who want to visit or at least learn about places where magic is real — or once was.


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There are times when the world seems, shall we say, prosaic. The gas station, the strip mall, the suburb—it feels like none of these places could ever be remotely magical and, worse, that their very existence, and our existence within them, makes it impossible for magic to exist at all.

But there are places in the world where magic has been, and still is, an everyday reality, a part of life. There are sacred springs renowned for their healing properties; forests teeming with the supernatural; homes of fairies, dragons, and other mythical creatures; sites where ancient magical rites are still practiced; and centers of profound energetic and mystical power.

Unsurprisingly, these places are frequently astonishingly beautiful.

From Stonehenge to the Hang Son Doong in Vietnam, from the Door to Hell in Turkmenistan to the Giant’s Causeway in Ireland, there is evidence of magic everywhere. And while these incredible locations aren’t always easy to get to (like the Cave of the Crystals in Naica, Mexico), as armchair voyagers we will be able to make our own pilgrimage, bringing the magic of these places into our lives, wherever we are.


THERE ARE PLACES IN THE WORLD WHERE DRAGONS HAVE slithered and giants have battled. There are places where fairies dwell and spirits keep watch.

Or so legend has it. People have always told stories to explain what seemed unexplainable at the time. We find oddly perfect basalt columns formed by ancient lava flows and decide that giants must have built them. A river so impossibly clear we can barely fathom it must hold naiads and other water spirits. Countless mountains around the world are ancient beings turned to stone or homes of the gods.

Not too many generations ago, these kinds of natural phenomena were often viewed as acts of vengeful or, less often, generous gods. Now we say that they are geothermal, volcanic, weather-based, or built by ancient civilizations. Who is to say that our new, scientific explanations won’t be called into question a few more generations down the line? Our reasoning—our storytelling—may one day be considered equally fanciful.

For now, let’s let go of reason, unleash our imaginations, and walk among the fairies.


THE HINATUAN RIVER, ON THE ISLAND OF MINDANAO IN THE Philippines, is very short. For a brief 2,000 feet, its waters stretch toward the Pacific Ocean—and within that tiny distance runs the clearest river water in the world. It is as smooth as glass, and you can see the bottom at even its deepest points—which can be as great as eighty feet. Swimming in its crystalline waters feels like flying.

The river stays so clear because it is fed by underground caverns; the majority of the Hinatuan is subterranean, which keeps the water filtered and pure until it emerges right at its end. There, it blends with the nearby ocean, forming a brackish mix. That underground cave system has only added to the river’s mystery, of course.

The mystical Hinatuan has inspired a lot of folklore. Locals believe that it is the various spirits who watch over the river that keep its waters so clear. Engkanto (mermaids) have often been seen frolicking in its waters, and the fish that swim in it cannot be caught, by any means, it is said—and if such a miracle would occur, the fisherman would be cursed. Even the acacia and balete trees on the river’s banks are enchanted, as they are home to diwata, Filipino tree spirits. All of the various creatures that dwell in and around the Enchanted River are reputedly unearthly, beautiful, and benevolent—but less so at night. Night is their time with the river, and several unexplained drownings have been blamed on engkanto or diwata.

Specific parts of the river are also said to be forbidden territory, day or night: In certain places, where the river spirits are particularly unwelcoming, swimmers can develop rashes or scratches, and some have reported feeling pulled beneath the water by an unseen force. Others have been lured into the surrounding woods. Locals say this happens when proper respect is not given to nature.

For this reason, those places are forbidden, and access to the entire river, otherwise serene and welcoming, is cut off after dark.


THE FAIRY GLEN ON THE ISLE OF SKYE IN Scotland is but a tiny valley between two small villages. And while there are no specific legends surrounding the glen, the landscape itself is otherworldly. (Not that there isn’t plenty of fairy folklore to go around on Skye; nearby Castle Dunvegan displays an ancient, tattered flag symbolizing the clan’s truce with the fairies, from a time when human-fairy relations were as real and practical as keeping an eye on the weather.)

The Fairy Glen is dipped with tiny lochs and dotted with hills, the tallest of which still has its basalt column from the island’s formation. From a distance, it looks like the ruin of some ancient tower, and so it is nicknamed “Castle Ewan.” Behind the “castle,” nestled in its low cliff, is a tiny cave. Visitors press pennies into its crevices for good luck.

There are more waterfalls, strange rock formations, unusual steppes, and odd little hills than really ought to exist in such a small area, but according to geologists this is all because of a very natural landslide long ago. The large rings of stones found in the glen are likely not actual fairy rings, those magical portals through which unsuspecting humans disappear into fairyland—though many visitors experience a shiver when stepping into them! It is more likely that these rings were built by humans; the larger ones date back to early times, but the smaller ones are often built by visiting tourists. The locals tend to dismantle them once tourist season is over—they do this out of respect for the natural beauty of the place—and perhaps for its fairy inhabitants as well.


MOST OF US ARE NOT ALL THAT UP ON OUR HOMER, BUT WE know the basic gist: Circe—the witch who turned all of Odysseus’s men to pigs—his time with Calypso and Nausicaä… generally speaking, his adventures seem to have been a bit more philandering than adventurous. But there was that time he had to choose between two far more dangerous women: Scylla and Charybdis. Scylla was a man-eating monster dwelling on one shore, and Charybdis was a whirlpool swirling close to the opposite shore. Odysseus chose Scylla, and lost six of his men.

Here’s the thing: this tale isn’t entirely fictional. The idea that there really was a giant woman on the shores of Messina who liked an occasional sailor-snack is perhaps unlikely, but the whirlpool Charybdis was real and is still there today. The Strait of Messina, the narrow strip of sea between Sicily and the southern tip of Italy, appears to be peaceful, but in reality it is frequently an absolute mess. It sits between the Tyrrhenian and Ionian Seas, and their opposing currents do often stir up whirlpools, known locally as garofali. They aren’t by any means big enough to sink a ship and any boat with a motor would have little trouble navigating them, but they’re a bit intimidating nonetheless!


THERE ARE A NUMBER OF KNUCKERHOLES TO BE FOUND IN various places, but the most famous is in Lyminster, England. This knuckerhole, a pond which neither freezes in winter nor dries up in the summer, is apparently bottomless—six bell ropes from a nearby church were once dropped down into the depths to measure it, but the bottom was never reached.

What is a knuckerhole, exactly? A knuckerhole is occupied by—you guessed it—a knucker: an enormous, legless water dragon. It kills like a python by squeezing its prey to death or by shredding flesh with its enormous fangs—or it did. Tales about knuckers date back to Saxon oral traditions, and in fact the name knucker is derived from the Old English nicor—which referred to any kind of water-dwelling monster. One popular story tells of a knucker in Lyminster, who was slain by a local village boy. The boy came up with an odd yet effective plan: with the assistance of the village mayor, young Jim baked an enormous pie and filled it with poison. Using a cart and horse, Jim hauled the giant pie out to the knuckerhole and then ran away to a hiding place. It’s a good thing he did, too, since the knucker ate not only the pie, but the cart and horse as well. Still, the poison did the trick, killing the knucker, and Jim chopped off its head just in case.

There is a gravestone in St. Mary Magdalene Church in Lyminster called The Slayer’s Slab, dedicated to the hero who killed the knucker, and the waters of the knuckerhole are still occasionally consumed as a healing tonic.


THERE ARE AROUND 40,000 INTERLOCKING ROCK columns on the Antrim Coast of Northern Ireland. The official, geological explanation is that these basalt formations are remnants of an ancient volcano. Most of the columns are hexagonal, but there are octagons and septagons as well. Over millions of years of weathering, some of the stones have come to resemble objects and have received loving nicknames, like the Organ, Giant’s Boot, the Honeycomb, and the Giant’s Gate.

The legend is that these stones—so like steps in their shape and organization—were in fact a bridge built by the Irish giant Fionn mac Cumhaill. The story goes that another giant, the Scottish Benandonner, challenged Fionn to a duel (historically, Scots and Irish never really got along, and apparently giants were no exception) and this causeway was built so that the two could cross the channel and meet in battle.

Depending on who is telling the story, Fionn either defeats Benandonner or runs and hides when he sees how much larger the Scottish giant is than he. In the latter version, Fionn’s wife Oonagh disguises him as a baby in a cradle and warns Benandonner that if this is the son, how much larger must the father be? And so Benandonner flees Ireland, destroying the causeway in his wake so that Fionn can’t follow him. In either version, Fionn mac Cumhaill comes out the winner, using either brains or brawn—as suits Irish heroes.

Across the sea, at Fingal’s Cave in Scotland, you can find identical basalt deposits—or the other end of the ruined causeway.


THROUGHOUT THE COUNTRYSIDE OF LAOS you’ll find scattered thousands of giant prehistoric jars. They vary in height from three to nine feet, are made mostly from sandstone, and date back to the Iron Age. They have a kind of a lip, as if they were meant to have lids, but the majority of those lids seem to have been made from animal skins and so have been lost to time.

Local legend tells of a race of giants ruled by Khun Cheung, who in celebration of his many victories brewed Lao-Lao, a kind of rice wine, in the jars. Presumably, he and his compatriots drank a lot.

But the prevailing, scientific theory is that the jars were used in a kind of burial ritual, as bones and beads have been found nearby—but never inside the vessels. Perhaps they were a kind of fermentation container for preserving bodies? Or perhaps they were crematoriums?

The answers to these questions are almost impossible to find out, as Laos is filled with unexploded ordnance left over from the Vietnam War, making excavation extremely dangerous. There are ninety known sites, but only a few of them are safe to access, limiting research.


A BEAUTIFUL AND VIBRANT FRENCH CITY ON THE BAY OF Douarnenez in Brittany, Ys thrived from its first moments. But over thousands of years, erosion from the sea made it vulnerable to flooding. Around the fourth century AD, King Gradlon, a recently converted Christian, controlled the tidal surges by building a dike around the city with gates that could open and close, allowing ships to enter and depart. The gates were locked with a key, held by the king himself.

Ys was a wealthy city, and King Gradlon’s castle was made of cedar, marble, and gold. The city was widely respected for its art and beauty, but that regard began to dwindle as Christianity took hold throughout Europe. Although King Gradlon had converted thanks to the efforts of St. Winwaloe, his people had not—and neither had his daughter Dahut. She remained a devout Druid and continued to worship the old gods, particularly that of the sea. As pressure from the Church increased, rumors began to spread about Dahut. These were, unsurprisingly, fairly salacious in nature. They claimed that she took lovers, made them wear a black satin mask that strangled them in the night (once she was done with them, of course), and then gave their bodies to the sea as tribute. St. Winwaloe urged Gradlon to rein in his daughter, but despite his newfound faith, he refused. He loved her.

One day, a Red Knight rode into the city. Dahut was instantly infatuated with him and, after a night of merrymaking, took him to her bed. Her love for him was such that she didn’t make him wear the deadly satin mask (if she ever asked such a thing of any lover), and the seas at the city walls were wild with their passion. Wanting to see the storm, the Red Knight insisted they open the gates, and Dahut stole the key from her sleeping father.

The waves surged through the gap, flooding the city. King Gradlon awoke to find his key gone and understood instantly what must have happened. He jumped on a magic horse named Morvac’h that was able to gallop through the sea and lifted Dahut up behind him, intent on bringing her to safety despite her betrayal. But with Dahut astride, Morvac’h could not break free of the waves. St. Winwaloe told Gradlon that Dahut was a demon and must be cast off, or she would drown them all. Gradlon regretfully did so, and he, St. Winwaloe, and Morvac’h rode to safety.

Gradlon set up residence in the nearby town of Quimper, and a statue of Gradlon and Morvac’h still stands in its cathedral today. Dahut, it is said, did not drown, but was transformed into a morgen, a Breton water spirit in the tradition of sirens and mermaids, while the entire of city of Ys was swept under the sea, where Dahut now rules as its queen. When the waters are calm, the people of Breton claim you can hear the bells of Ys tolling beneath the water. Legend says that when Paris (which translates to “like Ys” in Breton) sinks, Ys will rise again.


THE SWAT RIVER IN PAKISTAN IS HOME to Apalala, a powerful naga or water dragon, who controls the rainfall and its resulting rivers. Unlike most dragons, he has a human head, along with a serpentine body—as such, Apalala is both wise and cunning and has an affinity for humans. He protects his people from other, less benevolent dragons and ensures a good harvest with just the right amount of rain.

The Swat Province of Pakistan is rich with early Buddhist lore, and there are several variations of Apalala’s story. One legend says that he did his work so well that the people forgot about him—or at least took him for granted. They stopped giving him his yearly tribute… and while Apalala is kind, like most of us he doesn’t take well to being ignored. In anger, he flooded the villages, and this went on for some time. So the Buddha came to Pakistan with Vajrapani, Buddha’s guide and a symbol of his power. Vajrapani smote the steep mountains above the Swat River, intimidating the powerful naga. Buddha reminded Apalala of his compassion, and Apalala converted to Buddhism. Since that time he asks for tribute only once every twelve years. And so, every twelve years, the rain falls heavy, and the flooded crop that rises is Apalala’s tribute.


PENNARD CASTLE IN WALES WAS BUILT AROUND THE TWELFTH century, but it was abandoned only 200 years later. While Pennard, being quite small and primitive, was likely never the most comfortable of castles, in those days people didn’t just leave perfectly good shelters without reason. And there is nothing in the surrounding geography to explain its desertion. Some have argued that the nearby sand dunes might have made it an uncomfortable place in the wind, but that doesn’t seem to be quite enough to justify leaving a sound and strategically useful castle standing empty.

There are other theories, of course. Local lore tells us that sometime in the fourteenth century, the castle was held by a baron who had just won a significant battle for his king—as his reward, he was to be given the king’s daughter’s hand in marriage. The daughter in question was said to “spend time with fairies.” This could have been an unfortunate euphemism for being slow-witted or a literal description of her activities. Either way it might have been of concern to the baron, but she was still a princess after all.

The wedding was suitably raucous and drunken for a post-battle affair. In fact, the baron and his men were so severely intoxicated that when mysterious, sparkling lights were spotted outside the castle walls, they all rushed out, swords in hand, to mow down the intruders.

The lights, of course, belonged to the fairies, who had come to attend the princess. They were not harmed by the attack—but they were severely offended. As the baron and his men realized what they had done, a sharp wind began to blow. It whipped up the surrounding sand, lashing and killing them, and stripping the castle to ruins overnight.

What became of the princess is unknown.


On Sale
Jun 4, 2019
Page Count
160 pages
Running Press

Nikki Van De Car

About the Author

Nikki Van De Car is a blogger, mother, writer, crafter, and lover of all things mystical. She is the author of ten books on magic and crafting, including Practical Magic and The Junior Witch’s Handbook, and the founder of two popular knitting blogs. Nikki lives with her family in Hawaii.

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Katie Vernon

About the Illustrator

Katie Vernon is an illustrator who used to arrange flowers as a florist and currently loves arranging colored pencils and paint tubes. She lives in the mountains of Flagstaff, Arizona, with her high-school sweetheart, their kiddo, and a couple of weird, but loveable dogs. This is Katie’s debut author-illustrated picture book.

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