The Dering Woods like the rest of nearby Pluckley in Kent are haunted and known as The Screaming Woods for good reason, says LES HEWITT
If you go down into the woods today, you’re in for a big surprise. This line from a popular children’s nursery rhyme must surely be appropriate for anyone looking to venture into Dering Woods. Especially if it’s during the night.
The Dering Woods is also known by another name which ear-witnesses have applied to it. It is often dubbed The Screaming Woods. And for good reason. Shrill screams have often been heard coming from somewhere within its borders. When these terrifying and blood-curdling sounds are not heard, something else invariably is.
Footsteps have been mentioned in other cases of strange noises. On days when fog shrouds the dense woodland, voices and whispers have also been subjected to anyone within earshot.
Situated about half way between a pair of villages – Smarden and Pluckley – the site is laden with history and numerous bizarre events down the years. Its reputation as the likely candidate of the most haunted woodland area in the entire UK – if not the world – is justified.
Dering Woods haunted by the ‘souls of the lost’
The forest, according to some, is haunted by the souls of those that have been lost somewhere within them. There was also the reported suicide of an army officer sometime during the 18th century who is said to still inhabit the woods to this day. One of the more notorious phantoms that are said to call the woods home is a highwayman that was once apprehended by local villagers. The unnamed criminal was pinned to a tree and beheaded. Such swift justice metered out to him was brutal and final.
Many travellers that have ventured into or through the woods have passed on stories of seeing or sensing black shadows. The chances are that many of these reported sightings are down to simple overactive imaginations or heightened states of awareness. Deep woods do tend to make certain people feel on edge or more sensitive of their situation.
Even though the reputation of the woods has been in the public domain for a substantial number of years, the area really hit the headlines back in 1948. A few days before Guy Fawkes Day that year, 20 bodies were discovered in the middle of the forest. Just over half of them were children. Lights were reported on Halloween, the assumed night of the massacre. No cause of death could be determined. The investigation only lasted a matter of weeks and a verdict of carbon monoxide poisoning was ruled as the true cause of death.
Not everyone settled for this conclusion. In 1964, a private investigator reopened the invesitgation and interviewed witnesses and began to suspect that an unknown religious cult was operating from Smarden. This latest investigation was ended with the death of the PI following a car crash.
This wasn’t the only mystery associated with the woods. On the same night in 1998, another four people disappeared from the woods. All four were students from college and visited the forest. Residents in Pluckley reported seeing a strange sight. It was described as ‘figures of light resembling a spider’s web’. Like the previous investigation, it ended within a month of beginning. All four were never found.
Screaming Woods, an historic forest was much larger once
The woods themselves have been a feature since medieval times and even got a mention in the Doomsday Book. An assessment of the area was commissioned by the Woodland Trust in 1999 and conclusions from this study suggest that the woods were once much larger than the current area. This is likely due to deforestation over the centuries.
This was not all that was discovered about the woods though. Evidence of a one-time thriving settlement was uncovered. In addition to a primitive irrigation system, pits were unearthed and even woodbanks and boundaries. Such a discovery of this nature may even hint at a potential colony or neighbouring settlement. Who went to all this trouble is open to speculation. Mere outlaws of Robin Hood’s ilk would not likely go to all this trouble, so there must have been a prolonged presence deep in the woods at one time.
The whole woodland area is a fascinating place overall. Despite, or even in spite its rather sinister reputation, visitors flock to the area. Some are locals doing nothing more than walking dogs. Others prefer to watch local wildlife. More intrepid souls are drawn by the infamous lore. Who among us would be daring to venture into Dering Woods after sunset?
You can find the Dering Woods, aka The Screaming Woods, at Smarden Bell Road, Smarden, Ashford TN27 0SY.
Have you seen anything strange in the Dering Woods? Tell us in the comments section below!