In 1989, the Guinness Book of Records named Pluckley in Kent "the most haunted village in Britain" with 12 different ghosts residing in the town. That put Pluckley on the ghost hunting map as a prime hunting and paranormal touristing destination, which pleased city officials and local businesses to no end … until now. The ghosts are still in Pluckley (we’ll take a look at the most famous ones) and so are the tourists … along with piles of trash and litter they leave behind has they search for the Red Lady, the phantom highwayman and Pluckley’s other spirits. How long will this go on before local officials and spirit boxes start yelling, “This is why we can’t have nice things!”?
“Reports of camping, fires, ghost tours, and even raves have plagued the local community throughout the year, but increases around Halloween. Visitors to the area seem to have no regard for the woodland, leaving litter, discarding camping equipment, and have resulted in the Woodland Trust needing to close the car park to stop visitors accessing the wood.”
Smarden Parish Council clerk Kat Hoyle explained recently to Kent Online that the villages of Smarden, Pluckley and Egerton are the owners of the ancient Dering Woods – a forested area between Pluckley and Smarden better known as Screaming Woods for the screams and other frightening occurrences that have many (but not Guinness) calling it the most haunted woods in Britain. Despite that (or perhaps because of it), Dering Woods is a popular camping spot for budget-minded ghost hunters. Unfortunately, they are leaving behind so much garbage that the villages have been forced to close the nearby car park to keep them out while dedicated employees and volunteers clean up their mess. Perhaps they should cut off sales of Evil Spirits Gin, infused with “possessed” apples and mint that were grown and picked in Pluckley.
Has anyone asked the ghosts how they feel about all of this carelessness in their home? Pluckley has a long paranormal history – it’s mentioned in the 1086 Domesday (Doomsday) Book – and its ghosts are of the type one shouldn’t mess with. There’s the “Watercress woman” or “Gypsy woman” who burned to death when she spilled gin on her dress and accidentally ignited it with her pipe. Then there’s The Highwayman, believed to be the ghost of a criminal named Robert du Bois who was killed when a policeman impaled him with sword and pinned him to a tree … any wonder who does much of the screaming in Screaming Woods? There are at least two spirits of men who died by hanging in the woods, but the oldest and most famous ghost is the Red Lady – said to be the ghost of Lady Dering, who was buried in the 1100s in a crypt in the cemetery of St Nicholas church with a single red rose. She roams the area looking for a stillborn baby, and lucky ghost hunters sometimes get a two-fer when the White Lady also takes a walk. Locals say Guinness missed a few – they count at least 16 ghosts – but other villages dispute the title and that may be why Guinness no longer names a “most haunted” village.
What about the littering ghost hunters?
“We could not manage our woods without the support of wonderful members and supporters, and it’s unfortunate that at Dering Wood we have additional costs to clear rubbish and repair vandalism. We apologise for the continued closure of the car park over the summer. This is not a long-term solution, and we are aware of continuing anti-social and damaging night-time activity, with cars parking along dark rural lanes. We are working with police and Smarden Parish Council to find a sustainable solution.”
Jenny Scholfield, regional director for south-east England at the Woodland Trust, made it clear to Kent Online that the villages will no longer abide with messy and unruly ghost hunters – even if it means losing tourist business during the busy Halloween season. This is sadly becoming a common problem at many tourist attractions where people seem to believe the price of a ticket gives them free reign and the owners are their faux mothers whose job it is to clean up after them and never scold them. Perhaps it’s time for the villages’ living residents to cut a deal with Watercress Woman and The Highwayman to up the volume in the Screaming Woods.
This is why we can’t even have nice haunted things.