PETULA MITCHELL tells us of the hauntings of her beloved but spooky West Sussex!
I am fortunate enough to live in a beautiful county.
West Sussex has a gentle coastline, the rolling hills of the South Downs, beautiful old pubs, picturesque towns of the Weald and a long history entwined with the supernatural and folklore tales.
Many of the local legends and ghost tales involve spectres who prefer the open air as much as I do! Perhaps it is the magical aspect of some of the ancient sites that punctuate the county.
Roosthole Pond, St Leonards Forest, Horsham
In St Leonards Forest, on the outskirts of Horsham, there are several ponds that were created in the past by iron ore mining.
Once the Weald was a very industrialised area, the Romans finding everything they needed locally for iron ore production and potteries.
These ponds are very old now and many belong to fishing clubs and syndicates, but one in particular has a reputation for having a strange atmosphere.
Roosthole is hidden from the road and only accessed by fishing club members.
It is in a deep hollow and is in turn a very deep lake.
Anglers who have night fished there have reported strange noises, people crying for help, allegedly victims of a mining catastrophe.
There is also a lady who walks the lake at night.
She is apparently the wife of a gamekeeper who drowned there in the 19th century.
She drifts out of the woods and walks the bank looking for her lost husband before fading into the mist.
She doesn’t appear to be a malevolent spirit, but she has seen a few fishermen off over the years!
Cissbury Ring, Worthing BN14 0HT
On the Downs above Worthing is the impressive iron age site of Cissbury Ring.
Covering 26 hectares, archaeologists have found evidence of people using the site as far back as the neolithic period.
There are many tales of strange things happening up there.
One story involves buried treasure, as many good stories do.
An ancient tribe is supposed to have buried their hoard at the Ring.
When treasure hunters came to steal it, they were met by ‘an uncountable mass of writhing serpents’ that came out to attack them.
They ran and when they had made good their escape, they sealed off the entrance to the tunnel forever.
The Devil can apparently be summoned by running around the ring three times.
He will then offer you a bowl of porridge in exchange for your soul. It must be very good porridge!
Chanctonbury Ring, South Downs
As a teenager this was my back garden.
I lived on the hill just below the ring and the commanding views across the country side are spectacular.
It does however have a reputation for strange goings on.
Once again, the Devil will appear after you have run around the ring nine times anticlockwise. This time he offers soup to his victims.
There are many stories from the 1970s about UFO activity but some very strange stories from that period are well documented.
A group of students camping up there in 1969 had a peculiar group experience.
While walking across the ring after dark one of their number fell to the ground having lost the feeling in both arms and and legs, and anyone coming to his aid was similarly afflicted.
Some years later when a paranormal investigation group were camped out one of the men was swept up and levitated several feet above the ground.
He yelled ‘No more, no more’ seeming to be in pain and was suddenly dropped causing a back injury.
Nature and travel writer Robert McFarlane gave an account of sleeping out at the Ring and being woken by terrible screaming at 2am.
In 1987, during the hurricane that ripped across southern England 85% of the trees were destroyed and I have to say I never thought I would see it recover to its former glory.
The old site has had iron age settlement on it, Roman temples and when the trees were first planted in the 18th century on an otherwise quite bare hilltop it stood out for miles around.
The trees have grown up very fast. Magic perhaps?
The Tramp at Buck Barn, Worthing Road, Horsham
While some ghosts and spectres seem to enjoy the rural life, there are many tales of ghosts who haunt the highways and byways of the county.
The most local one to me is the old tramp at Buck Barn.
This crossroads is incredibly busy, being the meeting point of the A24 dual carriageway and the A272 which runs across the county east to west.
The tramp, who is described as either grey or brown, will appear in the carriageway and walk along in front of the cars.
The average speed along here if your lights are green is around 50mph, so the people have had to be heavy on the brakes if they spot him.
After causing chaos he disappears.
The Pyecombe Hitchhiker, A23
The A23 I think has the accolade of being one of the most haunted roads in the country.
It links London to Brighton and is motorway for much of its length.
Pycombe is a village nestled at the foot of the Downs a few miles north of Brighton and below Devils Dyke.
There have been reports of people being run over and when the car driver stops to investigate there is nobody there.
Another story involves a mutilated man coming to a driver’s side window and speaking to the occupant of the car.
The grisly apparition then faded away and the terrified motorist left, hastily. The most enduring tale is the one of a young woman in distress hitch-hiking along the A23.
She is crying and dishevelled, thumbing a lift along the carriageway.
When a kind soul stops for her she gets in the back of the car. When the driver turns around to speak to her…she has disappeared.
So you see Sussex is not only a place of beautiful scenery, wonderful seaside and kiss me quick hats and ice cream. It has a darker side – and is possibly all the richer for it.