As I awoke on the morning of my fateful trip to the Most Haunted Village in England I couldn’t help but be unnerved by the vision from my London flat of the eerie mist that hung over London.
The all encompassing greyness reminded me of the opening of a million horror movies including Neil Jordan’s brilliant Byzantium a link not as random as it seemed as it was the people behind the film who had sent me and my wonderful wife on a journey into the unknown, well Kent, to check out Pluckley a place that although bereft of the vampires found in Byzantium has more than its far share of ancient horror stories and not so ancient sightings that make it such a famous and frightening place.
Bombing down the motorway in our ominously black yet cutely compact car on our way to a place that is in The Guinness Book of Records as the most haunted spot in the country the early start seemed a million miles away as the sun shone and the traffic flowed. However I still sensed an otherworldly presence at work egged on by the smiley face air freshener in our car which seemed to know something we didn’t.
The closer we got to paranormal Pluckley the smaller the roads and soon we were travelling on one lane tracks enclosed on all sides by trees which bowed over to create a tight and slightly unnerving tunnel for us to travel through.
Everything changed when we arrived at our wonderfully hotel Elvey Farm a luscious sanctuary nestled in the heart of Kentish countryside it was the exact opposite of the run down decaying flea pit found in Byzantium or the creaky old haunted house you may expect in such a supernatural hot spot.
Covered in fantastic flora and fauna including a grapevine over our doorway it was like being in the South of France rather than the South East of England and seemed more in keeping with the other reason why Pluckley is on the map as the location for the much beloved TV show Darling Buds of May.
Our room perfectly combined old and new with its wood beams, four poster bed and a stable door as well as a flat screen TV, power shower, IPod dock and Wi-Fi, and we all know how important phone reception is when your going ghost hunting!
Elvey Farm seemed the ideal and idyllic base of operations to discover all that Pluckley had to offer and even better it had an expert in the area and its ghosts on hand for us to talk to in the friendly and welcoming shape of Simon the owner who had agreed to talk to us.
As two black cats clamoured around us for attention Simon sat and told us all we needed to know about his boutique hotel and the mysteries of Pluckley. Simon has run Elvey Farm for 7 years but never set out to own a hotel in The Most Haunted Village in England “I was working in Kent at the Learning and Skills Council, so nothing to do with what I do now” he started “I was looking for something to buy that would give me a job so I could leave the rat race and I stumbled across this place. When I first looked at buying the place I didn’t have any idea that Pluckley was haunted.”
With plenty of perfectly decorated rooms and a restaurant to die for Simon has thoroughly refurbishing Elvey redecorating and reinvigorating it from the 80’s hell the Farm was in when he bought it. “There were bath suits in various colours, pink my personal favourite and a two tone which is very special. If you’ve not seen a two toned bath you’ve just never lived” he laughed.
Interestingly before it was a B&B it was a working farm “The oldest part of the building is dated 1406, which is the main house. The barn is 16th century where the restaurant is housed. The original stable block is 18th century. The Oast house was built in 1800 and something because there is a little plaque on the top of it. No one quite knows how old The Granary is it’s probably early 19th century though.”
“The link to haunted Pluckley is because everyone has a ghost in Pluckley and so do we” He told us. “The farm is reported to be haunted by the spirit of a man called Edward Brett. Who was a farmer who worked the land in the 1890’s. He committed suicide although it wasn’t called that back then. He shot himself in the back of the house in the old dairy. You are meant to be able to hear him whispering ‘I will do it, I will do it’ which were the last words he said to his wife before he killed himself”
Having had Most Haunted and Ghost Hunters International staying at Elvey Farm to investigate Pluckley I asked if Simon had ever seen or heard the ghost that allegedly haunted his hotel “I’ve been living here for 7 years and I never heard him whisper” he replied “but he most definitely existed as a person and he did definitely commit suicide because we have seen a paper clipping of a report of the inquest into his death which was conducted here at the farm not long after he did the deed. I think he was in major financial trouble, well isn’t that the reason they always did it.”
Edward Brett isn’t an official ghost of Pluckley but there are between 20-30 well established ghost stories. “Most of the ghost are based on fact, the people they are describing did actually exist” he continued “The Watercress Lady, The Red and White Ladies are known characters that did live in the village. The other most popular one is the Highway Man, who haunts Fright Corner. Fright Corner is just down the road from Screaming Woods, which is actually called the Derring Woods in real life but they are known as the Streaming Woods.”
With all these spooky names and scary stories it’s no wonder Pluckley is known as the Most Haunted Village in the country “Its recognised as that in the Guinness world records” Simon added “but they no longer record that as a record as they can’t substantiate it either way so it will never be beaten.”
When I asked about how the locals felt about Pluckley’s reputation he said many disapproved and the village has even been closed down at certain times of the year. “People will descend on Pluckley for Halloween and there is always damage to peoples properties, where kids are wandering round clambering over gardens. In previous years the school has been set on fire and the church has had to be locked because they’ve had problems. So the village dreads Halloween. In general I don’t think there is anything we can do about it. We are the most Haunted Village in the country and there is a reputation that is there and that’s it.”
With Simon’s ghost tales ringing in our ears and our copy of Haunted Pluckley by Dennis Chambers which Simon kindly gave us in hand we headed off to check out the haunted hot spots thinking that even though it was still daylight perhaps we would feel something stirring from the other side.
After a lovely trek across the picturesque fields full of grass munching sheep we ended up in the centre of town which consisted of a pub, a school a church and two shops. It was a ghost town alright but not as we wanted it to be. However it seemed even our quick pop into the local convenience shop proved the disturbing manifestation of my name written on a Coke bottle. Coincidence, fate or perhaps a message from the celestial realm, who can tell.
Our first real stop on our hunt round Pluckley was St Nicholas Church where two of the 12, that’s right 12 most famous ghosts reside, The Red Lady and The White Lady.
The Red Lady is a sorrowful ghost due to the fact that she is doomed to search in vain through the graveyard for the unmarked resting place of her baby which people believe died in childbirth. A member of the notable Dering family from the area no one seems to know why her child was put in an unmarked grave or why she is called the Red Lady however she has been seen wandering the grave stones of the church many times.
The White Lady was the wife of Lord Derring who lived over 500 years ago who died at an early age. The legend says that she was so beautiful her husband sought to preserve her exquisiteness forever and sealed her body in a series of airtight lead coffins which was placed in an oaken casket. Although her body may be imprisoned for all eternity it seems her spirit is not as her spectre has been seen inside the church close to the Dering family vault where her coffin was placed. The White Lady bears a lot of similarities with another ghost that haunts Surrenden Manor leading many to believe it may be the same figure with two haunts in both senses of the word.
To settle are jangled nerves we stopped in at The Black Horse Pub where a poltergeist allegedly pranks the staff and customers by spiriting items of clothing away. Keeping our coats securely on our laps we tried to find out more about the ghosts of the village from the locals amassed around the bar and found out about a few of the other famous apparitions in Pluckley including a schoolmaster who was found hanging in the 1920’s by a group of children and a brickworks labourer whose screams can be heard at his old place of work where he accidentally died.
We also learned of The Monk and The Tudor Lady, two ghost who apparently had a ‘friendly’ relationship and whilst haunting two separate abodes are heard walking together accompanied by her dogs, their voices and the barking approaching unsuspecting witnesses until they are virtually on top of them and then diminishing off into the distance.
Although we hadn’t witnessed anything ourselves we were intrigued and unnerved and decided to head back to our homely hamlet for a spot of rest and relaxation until dinner and then darkness descended and we could go back out.
Our meal at Elvey Farm was spectacular and as we dragged ourselves back to get changed with our full bellies it would have been so easy to simply stay indoors but the black cold night beckoned us and the promise of the paranormal was there for the taking so out we went.
The night was darker than I could ever have imagined with no lights on the streets save the odd house glinting in the far away distance or the light from a lone vehicle. Even in the car with the headlights full beam the night seemed alive around us heavy and all-encompassing and added to the deathly silence our fear and our anticipation was enhanced a thousand fold.
The first stop was to see if we could spot Simon’s favourite ghost The Watercress Woman and we parked the car and got out on the spot she was most seen. An eccentric old woman who made her money picking watercress from Pinnock Stream and selling it she enlivened her existence with her twin passions, smoking a pipe and drinking gin. One fateful night she dropped her pipe and due to the frequent spillages on her raggedy clothes her attire became instantly alight. Burning to death she threw herself in the stream to put out the flames and sadly drowned. Her ghost is seen sitting on the bridge which passes over the stream or in the rear view mirrors of cars passing by the area late at night.
Thoroughly freaked out by the dark and the silence we didn’t stay long enough for her to appear and jumping back in the car headed for Fright Corner and the spot that holds the most famous ghost of all Pluckley, The Highwayman.
A robber by trade he hid in a hollow tree and jumped out at unsuspecting folks taking their money. Many legends tell of how he died but the most ready believed is that some locals took against his devilish trade and while he was sleeping inside the tree stabbed him with their swords till he died. Although the tree was removed and the woods once called Fright Woods are now Firth Woods the spot is still there and people say his shadowy outline can be seen lingering where his hiding place once stood.
The night seemed to be getting darker and the roads even quieter and although we hadn’t seen anything on our late evening excursion we were both unsettled and uncomfortable and decided to head back to our warm, well lit homely hotel for a night cap and a cup of tea to calm our nerves and help us sleep although that fact that we were staying in the same room as Yvette Fielding had when Most Haunted had visited Pluckley didn’t give us any peace of mind especially as she said told Simon she had seen orbs and all sorts of things in our room.
In the early morning darkness I awoke to a terrible creaking noise filling my ears dragging me out of my slumber and jarring me awake. The awful, sound of splintered wood grew louder as if something was trying to get in with us. Disorientated I couldn’t tell where it was coming from and the sound like a tree scrapping and bending seemed to fade in and out like the room was alive. Was it a ghost, was it a one of the Brotherhood from Byzantium, had we brought something back with us, a million questions entered my mind until suddenly the bathroom light flicked on and I saw my wife at the door apologising for waking me up. It seemed we didn’t need a psychic or a vampire hunter just some WD40!
After a great night’s sleep save my slight fright we awoke in our four poster bed to birds singing and the sun shining. After a hearty and delicious breakfast and a found farewell to Simon and his lovely staff we packed our bags and walked to the car sad to leave Elvey farm but with one more stop on our ghost hunting itinerary to go before he headed back home.
The Dering Woods in Pluckley go by another name, The Screaming Woods and this is because it is said that if you head deep into the trees you can hear blood curdling screams all around you. Even Simon had been wary of the woods; “I have to say the Screaming Woods are alright if you are just walking around but there is a point when you get right into the middle of the woods and it is really weird, eerily quiet and always really windy. I don’t know if it’s a physiological thing based on their reputation but you do often feel quite uncomfortable in the middle of the woods.”
He also mentioned that The Screaming Woods is the place where all the young kids go looking for ghosts in the middle of the night so we thought we would check them out in the early morning away from pranksters and teenage terrors.
It took us a while to find them but when we finally did the woods did not disappoint. Although the litter and paraphernalia from the local kids late night parties was strewn everywhere the forest was intensely foreboding and even on the main track we felt uncomfortable especially because there was no one else around.
Deciding we needed to experience the Screaming Woods fully we headed off the trail and into the dense trees the thin spindly brittle branches snapping as we pushed past them yet quickly surrounding us till we were disorientated and quite soon very lost.
Wandering aimlessly we came across abandoned tents one torn apart as if it had been attached by some sort of creature and another a bit further on still standing completely whole as if awaiting the return of its owner who was probably out murdering teenagers somewhere nearby.
Covered in cobwebs with the forest floor alive with spiders and insects we began to get more anxious and scared and we attempted to work out which way we had come going back on ourselves but not recognising anything around us as it all looked the same. A rabbit burst out of a hole in front giving us both a jump and the smell of burning filled our nostrils although we couldn’t see a fire anywhere.
Finally and thankfully we saw the path and emerging we realised we were only a dozen steps or so from where we had entered the woods and the whole eerie escapade had been around 45 minutes. Laughing with relief we headed back towards the safety of the car and began the long drive home to our flat happy to be away from Pluckley and its many spirits and ghouls.
Although we had not seen any proof of ghosts in Pluckley or found any ancient vampires like in Byzantium we had most definitely been scared and the ancient legends that are still told to this day of the host of hauntings that happen in the tiny village remain unexplained. Pluckley is the Most Haunted Village in England that’s a fact that will never be changed and I would recommend anyone to have a frighteningly fun time finding out why.
If your going to Pluckley you should most definetly stay at Elvey Farm and you can find out more and book a room Here. Byzantium is out now on Blu-ray and DVD and you can read our Interview with Director Neil Jordan Here.