|Start: Start St Nicholas's Church, The Street||Duration: 3 Hours|
|Best of Times: Anytime||Worst of Times: None|
Overground trains from Charing Cross and London Bridge stations. (journey time just over one hour).
Pluckley nestles in the lush Kent countryside just a short drive away from London. I have included it not only for its reputation as the most haunted village in England but also because it is a pretty, picturesque place which might be familiar as the setting for the recent television series The Darling Buds of May.
There are a number of spots around the village that have a distinct "feel" to them, and several of these haunted places are connected to the Dering family, Lords of the manor from the 15th century until World War I.
An intriguing remnant of their tenure can be seen in the round-topped windows that grace so many of the buildings.
During the Civil War, Lord Dering escaped capture by Cromwell's forces when he dived head-first through such a window.
When he later came to rebuild his manor house he commemorated the feat by having every window built in the same style, and this in turn was copied throughout the village.
Sadly, the house itself burnt down in 1951, but many houses you pass on the walk still feature this reminder of his great escape.
The walk will give you the chance to enjoy picturesque countryside and fresh, pure air, albeit air that is charged with a great deal of psychic energy!
Enter the church.
Located at the top of the first aisle in St Nicholas's Church is the Dering Chapel, where numerous members of the family lie buried.
A strange, dancing light has frequently been seen in the upper section of the window to your right. It is often accompanied by the sound of knocking coming from the family vault beneath your feet.
In the early 1970's, in the hope of recording supernatural phenomena, a group of psychic researchers persuaded the then rector, the Reverend John Pittock, to allow them to spend a night locked inside the church.
Armed with their cameras, tape recorders, thermometers and other apparatus, they settled down to watch and wait.
When the vicar came to let them out the next morning they complained of having spent an uneventful night, the boredom of which had been alleviated only by the vicar's dog, who had come to visit them from time to time. "Actually," the vicar commented, "I don't have a dog."
Exit the church and make your way to the gates. Pass out onto The Street, and follow the road as it forks left and becomes Station Road. Keep ahead until, on the left, you arrive at the large white house. This is:-
Greystones is haunted by a monk who drifts among the surrounding trees. He is said to have lived in Tudor times, and is reputed to have fallen in love with the daughter of a neighbouring property.
As we shall see shortly, she died under tragic circumstances and he sank into a state of melancholy and bitterness.
His only solace was to walk the green fields and leafy lanes where they had enjoyed so many romantic interludes together.
But, as time passed, he sank deeper into depression, pining for his dead lover, and finally died of a broken heart.
His ghost, however, continued to wander the neighbourhood, and was last seen in 1989 by an American journalist who glimpsed his unmistakable brown-robed figure drifting behind the house.
Proceed along Station Road and try to sense the "feeling" that is said to pervade this section.
More than one person walking along here has heard the sound of a man and woman chatting happily, accompanied by a dog's playful yapping.
Closer and closer they get until they are virtually upon you, and then the phantoms fade as they pass along the road – much as they have done for as long as anyone can remember.
A little further along you arrive at an unnamed road that stretches away to the left.
Behind the hedge on the right of this can be seen:-
The house is at least 250 years old, and is said to have been built by a member of the Dering family for his mistress; there is no exact date, but the period is generally described as "Tudor times".
Whatever the case, the story goes that she fell in love with the monk who lived at Greystones, and found the love triangle so distressing that she drank a fatal cocktail distilled from the juices of ivy and other poisonous berries.
When her body was discovered, it was apparent that her final moments had been spent looking across the field to Greystones.
The fact that Greystones wasn't built until 1863 – should not stand in the way of a perfectly good ghost story, there could have been another house on the site then!
Strange things do indeed happen within Rose Court. Articles are moved around in the night, strange groans and sighs disturb the early hours and it is said that a peculiar eerie atmosphere is said to hang over the garden.
A little further along you arrive at an unnamed road that stretches away to the left.
Move along Station Road and take the next turning right into Lambden Road, which is lined with houses that span many ages, and include a few tasteful barn conversions.
At the end of the road turn right, then go first left into The Pinnock.
There now follows a long walk made worthwhile by the stunning view across the countryside to your right.
Just past where a road signposted Smarden and Bethesden, goes to the left, you arrive at Pinnock Bridge, an easily missed stone bridge that passes over a tiny, babbling brook.
On its banks, earlier this century, an old gypsy lady eked out a meagre living gathering watercress and selling it to the villagers. She was a well known local character, considered eccentric but harmless.
Each night as the sun went down she would sit on the walls of this bridge, smoke her clay pipe and drink gin from a battered old flask.
One evening, she fell asleep. The pipe dropped onto the rags she wore for clothing, and, within moments, she had erupted into a raging ball of flame.
No one heard her agonised screams.
She was found the next day, a charred pile of ashes, the battered old flask and the shattered clay pipe lying nearby.
But her ghost has been seen many times since. In the years that followed her tragic death, she manifested as a screaming, howling figure surrounded by flame.
But in latter years she has become nothing more than a faint, pink glow, that hovers in the air on the spot where the "Watercress Lady" was burnt to death.
At the end of The Pinnock you arrive at a crossroads, where signposts point every which way. This is the aptly names:-
A highwayman is said to have met a gruesome end here.
He was, so the story goes, pursued across the fields by the forces of law and order, and made his last stand with his back to an oak tree that stood here until quite recently.
He put up a tremendous and spirited fight, but was finally overpowered and run through with the cold sharp steel of several swords.
His last desperate battle is, from time to time, repeated before startled witnesses who pass this spot in the early hours of winter evenings. Others see his lifeless body, slumped forwards and pinned to a phantom tree by a large sword that protrudes from his chest.
Take the road marked "Smarden".
About a hundred yards along on the left is the entrance to what is officially known as "Dering Wood" - but is locally nicknamed :-
It is an eerie experience to walk these muddy paths through the skeletal trees, especially when it is getting dark.
The journey is made even spookier by the knowledge that many lone wayfarers who have come this way have been scared witless by a sudden loud, anguished scream. It comes from deep within the wood and sends the birds flapping from the trees.
Dally in Screaming Wood for as long as you dare, then return to Fright Corner.
Backtrack along The Pinnock. At the end on the left is the former:-
The building's origins go back to the 14th century, when it housed a blacksmith's forge. It then became an alehouse.
In 1997, when I paid the premises a visit whilst researching my book haunted Britain and Ireland it was a charming, cosy tea room run by Gloria Atkins, who shared her home with at least two ghosts.
One was a cavalier whose jovial form has been seen by several members of the family striding in and out of various upstairs rooms. The other was a Tudor maid, who would stand by the fireplace slowly turning the spit, watched by bemused customers.
Gloria experienced further phenomena, such as a line of hanging mugs suddenly clinking together as though someone had just walked by and run a finger along them.
On a cold November afternoon in 1997, as she was working in the kitchen, she heard the front door open and close. This was followed by the sound of a chair being moved away from a table. Picking up her notepad, she went to take the customer’s order only to find that the tea room was empty. She could see that a chair had been moved back from the table, but there was nobody in the building.
Go left along Smarden Road. Continue for quite a distance along a section of road that is lined with houses at certain spots and is quite remote at others.
On arrival at Cliff Cottage, turn left into the uneven and unpaved Dick Buss's Lane, named for a 1930's miller whose premises were reached by this tree-lined thoroughfare.
In the 1920s, at the end of this lane, a group of children on their way to school came upon the body of their teacher, hanging from the branch of a tree.
The reason for his suicide was never ascertained.
But, on certain nights, when a light breeze rustles the trees and a full moon sits high over the neighbourhood, his ghostly form is clearly seen, swinging back and forth, hanging from the branch where his living form breathed its anguished last.
Return to Smarden Road, turn left, go up the hill and then turn right onto The Street, where the first building on the right is:-
Renovation to this property included the removal of an old Victorian fireplace, and this exposed the original hearth.
This prompted a spate of inexplicable happenings, including ghostly footsteps that stamped across an upper room and fell silent as they reached the fireplace. Residents reported an icy chill hanging in the air at this spot on even the hottest day.
This section of the road is apparently the route used by a phantom coach and spectral horses that are heard, but never seen, racing by the houses in the early hours of the morning.
Go a little further along The Street and on the left you will find:-
The manager of the pub in 1997 Laura Gambling, whom I interviwed about her expereinces here.
On her first Sunday was enjoying a cup of tea just prior to opening for the busy Sunday lunchtime session. She noticed a glass on the shelf above the bar move just a little. As she watched it, she was astonished when it began to slide along the length of the shelf, stopping when it reached the edge.
Other ghostly activity included: an unseen hand that lifted cutlery from the dresser and arranged it neatly on the side; a spot in the kitchen where the pet dogs would stop abruptly and bark at something, or someone, that only they could see; and an upstairs room that the dogs refused to enter.
Indeed, so haunted is this delightful and cosy old pub that it makes the ideal place to relax and unwind at the end of your perambulation around England's most haunted village.