Having subjected you to some pretty tedious stuff for the past few months, I felt I owed it to you to post something worthwhile. Well, technically I don’t owe you anything but you know what I mean.
I’ll admit that I lost some of my enthusiasm for the paranormal and perhaps my cynicism had turned to exasperation, but I’m keen to get things back to how they used to be. You remember the good times, don’t you? Please don’t leave me for another ghost blog. You belong here, with me.
So, in order to prove to you that I’m still serious about Looking For Ghosts, I decided to pack my bags and head off to Pluckley with an (unwilling) accomplice.
If you have even the slightest interest in ghosts, the chances are that you’ve already heard of Pluckley. Nestled deep in the Kent countryside, it is often said to be Britain’s most haunted village and even has an entry in the Guinness Book of Records to cement this dubious claim. This is totally absurd when you consider that hauntings are an entirely unquantifiable concept, but that doesn’t stop hundreds of eager ghost hunters flocking to Pluckley every year to try and get their spook on.
And if you’re thinking of doing the same, I seriously wouldn’t bother.
Arriving in the glorious sunshine one Saturday lunchtime, Pluckley seemed to us just like any other village; quiet, picturesque and, frankly, a little bit dull. There were a couple of pubs and some houses, but not much else. What do people do here? Doesn’t even have a Pret A Manger. It’s practically barbaric.
Having tried and failed to book a Bed and Breakfast for the evening thanks to a wedding party occupying all available rooms, Dering Woods (or The Screaming Woods as they are commonly known) would have be our home for the evening. After lugging our bags for what felt like an eternity along winding country roads, the unrelenting heat rendering our journey only marginally more pleasant than diving headlong into a burning mound of faeces, we finally arrived.
On first impression the woods were fairly underwhelming, but then it’s difficult to know exactly what we were expecting during the middle of the day. Ghouls flying about between the branches? Piercing screams echoing through the trees? Obviously not, but I couldn’t help but feel that Pluckley’s reputation was letting it down slightly. It actually seemed quite pretty.
Living in London and therefore knowing nothing about camping or the countryside, this trip was never likely to be a smooth operation but nevertheless we exuded the inexplicable complacency befitting hardened city dwellers when faced with a seemingly easy task. Camping? Isn’t that something children do? Piece of piss.
Several arguments later, and with our tempers almost as frayed as the material on flimsy groundsheet, we finally managed to pitch our tent in a small clearing and dump our equipment before heading back into the village to explore. When I say equipment, I mean toilet roll, sleeping bags and a tube of Pringles. And when I say explore, I mean just briefly look at stuff.
Worrying that we wouldn’t be able to find our tent again in the dark, we left a small packet of Bombay Mix on a tree near the entrance to act as a marker. Note to future campers: This does not work.
The Black Horse pub was our first stop, where I was able to purchase a ghost book that was being advertised on a poster on the door. Asking the barmaid for that book was probably the single most shameful experience of my life; it would have been far less embarrassing to ask for haemorrhoid cream, or some violent pornography. I tried to make out that I was only buying it for the map inside, but I could tell she wasn’t convinced. My eyes must have given me away. My companion actually refused to be seen with me whilst I was holding it, such is the repelling nature of the paranormal enthusiast.
The pub itself was alright. It had a nice beer garden where two dogs had a fight and everyone watched intently. We reflected that this was potentially the highlight of the trip.
We also looked around the church and graveyard, where a red lady is supposed to wander mournfully looking for her buried baby. We didn’t see her. We had a bit more a poke around the village, consulting the book intermittently when we were sure we were out of view of other people.
When that became tedious (after 45 minutes or so) we headed to The Dering Arms which was to be our base for the evening. A charming, rustic gastro pub with some excellent local ales on tap, it was a stark reminder of the luxury and comfort we would soon be giving up to sleep in the woods.
As a former hunting lodge, deer heads and antlers hung ominously from pretty much every wall in the Dering Arms and my companion’s request for a vegetarian option was met with blind panic by our waitress. However, after consulting with the chef, she did kindly offer to whip up an omelette for £14 which was good of her.
After a few more ales, we stumbled back to the woods and somehow managed to find our tent, forgetting all about the Bombay Mix which we suspected had probably choked some poor badger to death some hours ago.
Granted, the woods were much more eerie at night but then that’s hardly surprising. It was very dark, very quiet and very isolated; anywhere in those circumstances are going to make you feel uneasy. Somewhere overhead a bird would make a noise, or an animal would rustle some branches, but certainly nothing that couldn’t be easily explained.
Also, annoyingly, we could hear other people in the woods. Whether it was local kids bored out of their minds or other ghost hunters on the prowl, the distant sound of shouting and whooping didn’t exactly add to the spooky atmosphere we were so looking forward to. Suddenly the fear was not of ghosts but of the possibility of having to interact with other people, or of our tent being kicked to pieces by the cast of Skins.
Exhausted from the day’s excursions and full of beer and food, we felt very little during the night except for sleepy, bloated and, to be honest, a little bit bored. Here are some edited highlights:
- 11:08pm: An owl made a noise.
- 11:15pm: Tried to name 100 Beatles songs from memory. Managed 86.
- 12:13am: Some wind made a noise (outside the tent, thankfully).
- 01:27am: Sick into a hedge.
- 01:43am: Ticket to Ride! 87.
- 01:56am: Sleep.
The following morning we packed everything away and headed to the station, just as it started to rain which seemed a fitting end to a pretty uneventful trip.
I don’t want to be too down on Pluckley; others may have had horrifying ghostly encounters here, and there are many videos on YouTube of people getting themselves worked up into a frenzy in the Screaming Woods, but I can’t say I’m convinced. The simple fact is that any wood anywhere in the world is going to be full of things that make noise: animals, birds, people, wind. When you’re scared and your senses are on high alert it’s easy to see how these sounds could be mistaken for something else but, in reality, there is nothing in these woods except wildlife and the only screaming came from bored teenagers.
Besides, on the same night we were in Pluckley, Bob Dylan was playing at the Hop Farm Festival in nearby Paddock Wood. So, even if we had heard a terrifying ghoul making horrible wailing sounds I think we all know where it would have been coming from.