Stood in the spookiest part of the UK’s most haunted town, my guide handed me a Ouija board and K-II electromagnetic field meter.
In the dark of night, all you can see from St Nicholas’ graveyard in Pluckley, Kent, is the fading eternity of crooked tombstones radiating from the imposing 13th century church.
Supposedly, spirits emit a magnetic field which will register on the K-II device, with the strength of field determining how many of five lights ascending from green to red flash up.
‘Red means run,’ Andrew Ayres, of Ghost Hunter Tours, explained.
No sooner had he handed me the gadget then the penultimate, orange light flashed prominently – presumably roughly indicating that I should start getting some stretches in before the main event.
At night, it is obvious why St Nicholas’ Church and its adjacent graveyard have such a reputation for being the epicentre of hauntings in England’s spookiest village
The ghost of an old lady is said to be seen in the bottom left window of the Dering Arms’ facade (above), one of at least 12 distinct ghosts supposedly local to Pluckley, Kent
The graveyard has its own section for the village’s historically wealthy Dering family (pictured), including the resting place of the Red Lady who haunts the land
All year round, but especially at Halloween, people up and down the country take the one-hour train from London to this small Kentish village for a dose of adrenaline that can only be brought by fear.
Pluckley, in Ashford, was once in the Guinness Book of Records for being ‘the most haunted village in Britain’ – a category no longer in use.
At least 12 distinctly recognised ghosts, along with a range of locations for other hauntings, earned it that title.
Their chilling stories include a highwayman’s fatal battle being eternally repeated on Fright Corner, each time ending the same way – with the spectre being impaled on a tree.
Spookiness engulfs the place, with even the near-200-year-old train station eerie in not hiding the fact that it is one of the country’s oldest.
The village’s history dates back long before then, mentioned in the Doomsday Book in 1086
Approaching the centre of Pluckley you pass over a section of road where a driver once claimed to have nearly crashed their car due to an overwhelming and other-worldly cacophony of clip-clopping hooves without a horse in sight.
Parking in the village centre, I settled in what must be the supernatural equivalent of the Bermuda Triangle.
On one side there is the Black Horse. This 15th century pub wants nothing to do with its history of moving glasses or disappearing cutlery, but staff at the nearby Swan Inn confirmed that they had heard such reports from an employee who had worked with their haunted neighbour.
Over the road, down Dicky Buss’s Lane, is the site where a schoolmaster is said to have been found hanging from a tree by his students over a century ago, with his body still occasionally spotted in the same place to this day.
And just a stone’s throw in the opposite direction is St Nicholas’ Church and accompanying graveyard, to which two spirits – the Red and White ladies – lay claim.
The White Lady’s ghost supposedly escaped through her seven coffins, and oak sarcophagus to haunt the church wearing a long, white, flowing dress.
The Red Lady, who is buried in a lead coffin in the cemetery’s designated patch for Pluckley’s historically wealthy Dering family, is said to return to the area in search of her stillborn baby.
Just an hour’s train out of London, ghost hunters descend on the Kentish town every Halloween, and throughout the rest of the year
Pluckley held the title of ‘the most haunted village in Britain’ in the Guinness Book of Records until the category was discontinued
Ghost Hunter Tours’ Andrew Ayres (above) is surprisingly skeptical of Pluckley’s legendary spirits, who have been embellished by former resident Desmond Carrington
The last person you would expect to cast a sceptical eye over these tales would be Mr Ayres, the tour guide himself.
However, he declared: ‘You’re never going to see a woman in a white flowing dress in a graveyard.’
He did not just doubt that one ghost, or the few in that location. Mr Ayres’ skepticism extended out into the furthest corners of Pluckley encompassing the old lady of the Dering Arms, the menacing monk of Greystones house, and the screaming bricklayer trapped in his own wall.
He explained that he takes little notice of any of the specific legends associated with the UK’s most haunted village, embellished by its former resident and ex-broadcaster Desmond Carrington, with Mr Ayres’ doubtful stance key to getting those he shows around to trust he is guiding them in good faith.
‘I approach it as a sceptic,’ he continued, ‘we’ll always try to debunk things.’
He even admitted that the Screaming Woods, originally called Dering Wood, had its name entrenched by a 2004 Top Gear episode where Richard Hammond and James May stayed overnight in a Smart car.
Nevertheless, Mr Ayres still takes visitors to the woods, including for a ‘Victorian Seance’ this Halloween night, so, why?
‘Is Pluckley paranormally active?’ He asked rhetorically, responding: ‘Very much so!’
He explained that the activity he sees on ghost tours in the area comes in the form of smudges and lights in photographs, unexplained noises, and malfunctioning equipment – ‘batteries go nuts round here.’
Right on cue, the cameraman who joined Mr Ayres and I struggled to turn his camera on to capture the entrance to the forest.
This was a good precursor to other unexplained spooky moment of my greatest hits tour which came on our return to the church, as our guide finally unveiled the K-II meter and Ouija board.
The aforementioned supernatural activity indicated by the K-II prompted Mr Ayres to tell me about a 1960s vigil inside the church that was interrupted by knocking sounds from the crypt below – metres from where I stood all these years later.
This timely revelation put any plans of dabbling with the Ouija board that evening on ice while we sought to explain the electromagnetic activity.
The three of us checked our phones, as a notification turning a device on can have an effect on the meter.
My last message was most recent, but at 15 minutes beforehand it was no help in justifying the equipment’s behaviour.
St Nicholas’ Church hosts two ghosts, the Red Lady, and the White Lady – who is buried inside seven coffins and a sarcophagus
The Red Lady was a member of the Derings, and is buried in a lead coffin which she supposedly escapes in search of her stillborn baby
Dering Wood has taken on the name The Screaming Woods since it was featured in an episode of Top Gear nearly 20 years ago
I passed the Ouija board back to Mr Ayres, a no-brainer given the combination of a nagging fear of becoming haunted the rest of my life and a general scepticism about the efficacy of trying to communicate with the dead.
Bidding farewell to the church and my guide, I returned to the safety of my car.
Despite Mr Ayres’ assurances that the legends of the town were not what he comes across on his tours, I could not help but prepare myself for the drumming of hooves surrounding me as I turned out of town.
Perhaps this is why Pluckley is so popular among ghost hunters, or anyone else with the faintest interest in the supernatural.
It is exhilarating once you allow yourself to be immersed by its legends whether you believe them or not, so long as you are aware of the tales you cannot help but think about what you might encounter as you cross from one location of note to another.
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