Guest writer EMMA HEARD, from Weird Wiltshire blog, says you’ll be in for a big surprise when you go into the ancient Grovely Wood…
Deep in the Wiltshire countryside, on the edge of the town of Wilton, you’ll find the ancient woodlands of Grovely. Inhabited since the Iron Age, the mixture of deciduous and managed evergreen woods are rich in flora and fauna. Today it is part of the Wilton Estate.
Cutting through the beautiful towering trees is a wide Roman road that has been in use for over 7000 years. Paths, trodden for many years, criss-cross the Roman road and evidence of times gone by are scattered throughout. Grim’s Ditches, earthworks and tumulus lay in and around the woodland. Abandoned houses and Second World War bunkers are hidden away. It’s got quite the history, so it’ll come as no surprise to find the woodlands are known to be rather creepy at certain times of the day. Spooky tales abound.
The Four Witches
The most famous legend associated with the woods is that of the Four Witches. Back in 1737, smallpox swept through Wilton killing 132 people. Four sisters, by the name of Handsell, originally came from Denmark. The villagers decided, in their ignorance, to label the sisters as witches and laid the blame on them. The sisters were dragged into the woods before being violently bludgeoned to death. Following the brutal murders, the sisters were buried apart from each other in the woods so they could not conspire from the grave to cause more misfortunes to the villagers.
Legend has it that four beech trees were either planted to mark the graves or they mysteriously grew up from each spot where a sister was buried. Three of the gnarly yet majestic trees still grow in the woods today. The fourth tree fell at some point and it’s now just a pile of logs. One tree has become something of an altar to the poor Handsel sisters. Visitors leave small trinkets, bits of thread or twine and talismans attached to the branches and hidden in hollows. Another tree has also been adorned with little gifts from nature. Each of these trees is surrounded by a log circle, said to keep you safe from dark forces if you step within them.
Sightings of the sisters have occurred over the years and figures have been witnessed leaning on the trees. There are some reports of women’s voices being heard and the feeling of the sisters drawing near to you if you ask them to do so.
The Burcombe Woodsman
Another ghost said to lurk around Grovely is that of the Burcombe Woodsman. Two stories recounting his death exist. One says he was caught poaching in the woods and was hung from a tree for his crimes. Another tale reports he was a watercolour artist who was sat painting in the woods. A deer hunt was taking place and the woodsman was shot by accident, resulting in his death.
It’s said his presence still stalks through the trees, either looking for illegal prey or maybe the perfect place to paint. Visitors are alerted to the woodsman’s presence by the cracking sound of a twig or stick before his shadowy figure is spotted.
The Roman Soldiers
A common phenomenon heard on the Roman road is the sound of marching soldiers. There are no reports of any sightings, so it’s thought to be residual energy. That being said, the woods were used during WW2 to store ammunition and there are several abandoned bunkers hidden away in the undergrowth. The sound of marching could also, I guess, be related to the British and American soldiers based in and around the area. This is the reason the road is tarmacked. Quite rare for a Roman road running through a wood!
Walking the Roman Road
Since I love to walk with my dogs and it’s pretty near where I live, I have visited Grovely many times. There is a definite sense of foreboding in these woods, especially when the gloaming descends. My friend and I walked through here one evening from a nearby village.
We managed to get a bit lost on the way but ended up on the Roman road. There were pockets of the wood where we felt someone or something was following behind us. It was definitely an eerie feeling.
I try to be pragmatic about possible paranormal activity. However, while walking, we both noticed how we’d be quite happy, enjoying the beauty of the place, when suddenly the bird song would cease. The feeling of being followed or watched would come over us, causing me to turn around several times. The hairs on the back of my neck would rise and we’d both find ourselves speeding up our pace.
Then, the feeling would disappear, the bird noises restarted and a sense of lightness would return. This happened a couple of times. Both my friend and I agreed we weren’t too keen on the place that late in the evening.
A psychic friend of ours, who doesn’t let others know of her gift, feels there is a sinister presence in pockets of the woods. She refuses to go up there anymore, despite living nearby.
Coughing, far away voices and drumming sounds have been heard in the woods and lights are seen moving through the trees. There are no roads or houses nearby, which could explain the lights as being car headlights.
Reports of being followed and footsteps seem to be a reoccurring theme on the Roman road. Some folk have suggested they feel an elemental type of presence in the woods.
Whatever is going on up there, it doesn’t take away from the beauty of the magnificent and ancient trees. My advice is, should you visit Wiltshire, go and visit. Find the Four Sisters and take them a little offering. Just don’t leave it too late in the day!
EMMA HEARD is a writer on a quest, collecting tales of ghosts, legends and folklore from Wiltshire and the world beyond. In fact, anything strange and unusual! Sceptical believer at all times. Copywriter by day. Check out her website at www.weird-wiltshire.co.uk and on Twitter.