Traffic is slow, and we’re chatting about nothing as we round the curve and see the police tape and tired looking cops standing around in the rain. I’ve seen enough crime shows to know what a crime scene looks like. Whatever happened, it was really close to the road, and the tape everywhere means that the usual runners and dog walkers won’t be able to make their way along the side of the road.
I don’t think much of it, til dinner at my boyfriends parents place, when his Dad brings it up casually over lamb chops and mashed potato. A gang related stabbing, apparently the guy was acquitted for a murder years earlier, but it’s just curiosity, general chat. I make a note to Google it later.
Of course, never one to miss a chance to embarrass her brother in front of me, the sister pipes up, “remember when you got really scared in the woods that time?” and the joke is on him. Just a kid at the time, his friends parents had taken him and a bunch of boys up to Hangmans Hill, where cars roll uphill. And now I’m curious.
I’ve lived in the area for a few years, and never heard any ghost stories. Where I have lived, Epping Forest was always just around the corner, and when things got bad with my ex or when I felt thoughtful, I’d go for a walk in the forest. I’ve wandered all over and at times, late at night in Summer I’ve sat by a kind of marshy lake under a tree and thought things through. It never felt like a scary place to me at all. I always felt more exposed walking on the street late at night. I felt like if there was anything, I would have felt it, you know?
The only thing I have to go on is the Hangman’s Hill story, something vague about a bus crash and the ghosts of children pulling vehicles that are left in neutral to safety… Doesn’t sound like much of a ghost story, but it’s a local legend, surely it will be online?
By now you’re probably laughing at me for not knowing that Epping Forest is one of the most haunted places in England.
Hangman’s Hill, which is a local name, so it’s not listed on a map, is a little curve of road, which looks up to a hill, bare but for a huge oak. This is the old hanging tree from which the story goes that three innocent men were hung, by an overzealous hangman, who pulls cars left in neutral uphill towards the tree. More recent investigations have shown that the cars really do go uphill when left in neutral, due to the lay of the land and an optical illusion. Who knows, maybe it is an old hanging tree. Either way, it’s a great story.
But it doesn’t end here.
Epping Forest is loaded with stories. The body the police found was just one of many that have been found there. The man was found stuffed into Ikea bags and left concealed by the ponds, uncovered accidentally by a dog walker. What’s surprising is that the man had apparently been there for several weeks, and with the amount of dogs in that area, you’d think that someone would have come across him sooner. But apparently there are loads of bodies that might be there, since the area has been a notorious dumping ground since the Kray twins era, with a notable discovery of the bodies of two children, the “Babes in the Woods” who were taken and killed, left there by a well known serial killer.
I ask my man when he gets home from work, since he’s lived here his whole life, but he’s never heard any of the stories, though he doesn’t like the idea of me wandering around there at dusk. I tease him about it, since he’s the one who reportedly ran screaming as a child from an imaginary assailant, but it strikes me as interesting that’s he’s never heard any of the stories. Maybe it’s not so weird that I didn’t know?
I think of my time sitting under that tree and looking at the moon reflecting in the water. It’s a fairly marshy area in places, and there are loads of ponds and pools, some of them secluded enough that you won’t be bothered by joint smoking teens or hipster couples foraging for mushrooms. I felt pretty peaceful there, but if the tales are anything to go by, I might not have known how much danger I was in. The story of the Suicide Pool tells of a pond or lake, the location of which has been forgotten, which drives the people who find it to drown themselves. A young couple fell in love, centuries ago, and the girls father was incensed at his child’s disobedience, dragging her to the pool and murdering her. Her lover later came to the same place and killed himself there, for love of her. The murder/suicide haunted to pool, and there are reports of people coming across it and killing themselves, including a young woman and her daughter and at another time a local servant girl.
And there I was, strolling around and taking pictures of the flowers and sitting under trees. There are loads of other stories about people seeing or hearing things in the forest. Dick Turpin, the famous stage coach robber (or whatever job title you like) has been seen riding his horse, since he hid out in the area and robbed harmless folks. A structure said to be a fort offers ghostly sounds of battle after dark, and Boudicca herself is said to have killed herself and her daughters here, rather than be captured. A section of busy road through the forest boasts a spirit who runs out in front of cars, and disappears when they brake.
Perhaps the most sensational are the vague reports of ghosts on the grounds of the Church of Holy Innocents. The story goes that the founder of the church donated the money for it to be built after the death of his two young children. This appears to have little basis in fact, but that doesn’t stop salacious stories from abounding. Perhaps because the church is nestled into the forest on the side of the road, and has a gothic graveyard at the side, which makes it visible and subject to public imagination, but what do I know? The church and graveyard look old and beautiful to me, peaceful. But the site is known to have dead children wandering amongst the graves, white lights, and most interestingly, the site of cannibalism and satanic rituals. Whilst the stories abound, and are great reads, there doesn’t seem to be any recorded evidence for the source of the stories, other than local folklore. Surely cannibalism would rate a local newspaper article?
I keep thinking that I would have seen something or felt something, even just a creepy feeling if there was something to these stories. It’s kind of a family area, with picnickers and kite flyers. It’s really piqued my curiosity. Still, perhaps wandering around the area is not the best idea, just in case. At least, not by myself. And not after dark.