At first glance, the village of Pluckley in the English county of Kent may look quite innocent. But behind its neat and tidy exterior theres a phantasmal world of mystery, doom and death.
Situated about half way between Dover and London, overlooking the Kentish Weald, lies the village of Pluckley. It is an enchanting little place, and attracts a great many tourists, who visit the village to enjoy its peace and quiet and olde worlde charm. The village has even attracted a few film-makers, and one well-known British television series, The Darling Buds of May, which launched the career of Catherine Zeta-Jones, was filmed here. It is a village where, if you were English, you would want your grandparents to live, a place of endless summer days, church bells, tea and cakes in the garden and walks among the lush orchards.
But the village has another side to it... In complete contrast to its image as an idyllic countryside retreat, though a feature that attracts large numbers of visitors, Pluckley boasts at least twelve ghosts. It is the most haunted village in England!
At least twelve ghosts, because there may be many more. If you believe every local legend, you could count over thirty! Clearly, having that many ghosts in a village with a population of one thousand rather stretches the bounds of credulity, but it makes twelve sound like a conservative estimate. The reason for mentioning the number twelve is because ghost hunters officially recognise twelve ghosts. The problem is, though, they cant seem to agree on which twelve!
Now Pluckley may sound like a pretty scary place, but actually its ghosts add to the villages charm. None of them are particularly threatening, and most are in the classic gothic horror style. One of the most famous is a phantom coach and horses that has been seen galloping along the lanes around the village. Another is a highwayman who was caught and killed at the appropriately named Fright Corner. He was stabbed with a sword, speared to a tree and left to die. Apparently the event is re-enacted every night.
No smoke without fire
One particularly unfortunate ghost is the gypsy woman. When alive, she used to sit on the outskirts of the village selling watercress and smoking a pipe. The story goes that she fell asleep while smoking. The pipe fell out of her mouth and set fire to her clothes, burning her to death. Her ghost can be seen sitting on the side of the road, forever puffing away at the pipe.
Theres even a ghostly pair of lovers. They probably became ghosts because they could never be together while they were alive. Thats because one of them was a monk. He wanders around the garden of a house called Greystones, and is sometimes accompanied by a lady who lived in a house nearby called Rose Court and who killed herself by eating poisonous berries. When shes not with the Greystones monk, she has a habit of appearing at four or five oclock in the afternoon, the time of day that she died.
All three pubs in the village have ghosts. But thats hardly surprising, as masses of English pubs and hotels have ghosts, and many people believe they are invented by the landlords just to attract customers. British people seem to like nothing more than to stay in inns or hotels that are allegedly haunted! In Pluckley theres an old lady wearing old-fashioned clothes who can be seen at the Dering Arms. The Black Horse claims to have a poltergeist, as does the Blacksmiths Arms, which also claims to have an old lady all of its own and the ghost of a cavalier!
St Nicholass Church is doing quite well for itself, too, and with its creepy graveyard filled with ancient headstones all leaning at chaotic angles it does indeed look extremely spooky. Like the Blacksmiths, it also has three ghosts the red lady, the white lady and a white dog. The red lady spends her time in the graveyard looking for her dead baby, the white lady haunts the interior, and the dog tends to sniff around all over the place. It is claimed that the dog was accidentally discovered by some ghost hunters who were spending the night in the church, presumably hoping to see the white lady. They thought it was a real dog and stroked it and patted it all night long. But it disappeared just as morning was coming, and was never seen again. The ghost hunters looked for a way the dog might have got out of the church, but found nothing.
Along with the lady of Rose Court, there are several other ghosts of those who committed suicide. One is a schoolmaster who hanged himself from the branches of a tree soon after the First World War. His ghastly corpse can be seen swinging from the same tree. Another is a miller who took his own life and manifests himself today as a ghoulish black shadow. The third is a colonel who hanged himself in Park Woods and can now be seen walking through the trees.
So how many ghosts is that? Fifteen, sixteen? Theres a whole lot more where they came from! The trouble with Pluckley is that when you start searching for ghosts they seem to pop up everywhere, and the trouble with ghost stories is that theyre always popular, regardless of whether theyre true or not. But recently Pluckley has been suffering for its fame. It has become a favourite place for people to spend Halloween and, since vandals caused damage to the village in 1991, the police have been called in every year. Nowadays the residents of Pluckley try to play down their paranormal heritage. But with a number of websites devoted to the village, and media attention regularly being directed at it, perhaps they should try a little harder... Heard the one about the grisly death of the ghost-hunting tourist?
by Barnaby Harward