Case Files of a Modern Day Ghost-Hunter:Case File: 009

Blackentrack Woods: Haunted?

Case File: 009
Blackentrack Woods

Who: Lorraine Marsh, George Farleigh & Jonathan Boakes
When: Halloween '06, Tuesday 7pm - 01:00

Carried out as research for:
a ghost-hunting adventure

Why: The Blackentrack Woods are well known to the people of South-East Cornwall, forming part of a much larger ancient woodland. The area boasts legends both enchanting and terrifying; from tales of white witches seeking ingredients for charms, to malicious wood sprites and murderous moss men (literally, men made of mud, twig and moss). I am always more than happy to stroll through the woodlands of Cornwall, but Blackentrack's reputation was formidable, to say the least. Lorraine (a self proclaimed 'medium') had wanted to visit the woods, after dark, for many, many years, so who was I to refuse, and admit my own fears of that dense, dark and ancient forest...

Like one, that on a lonesome road, Doth walk in fear and dread; when researching the woods, I found several reports of hikers, casual walkers and joggers who had all experienced nasty falls, from the higher paths of the Blackentrack Woods. Many of the winding paths are very steep, and muddy in all seasons; earthy water seems to drip and flow from the hillside itself, even in the most dry of droughts. Could those who have reported being pushed, or shoved, off of the paths have just slipped or lost their balance? One thing is for certain, all the reports mention the victim feeling lost or disorientated afterwards, taking some time to leave the woods.

Because he knows, a frightful fiend, Doth close behind him tread; Stranger still, what are the Moss Men? They sound terrifying, so I am hoping they are purely a creation, a fancy or folk tale. Those traveling through the wood have reported seeing figures among the tress, made from the wood themselves; the bark, the bracken and the mossy floor itself. The figures are blurry, and hard to define, but seem to stalk the walkers through the woods, only to dissipate when returning to the comforting modernity of the country road.

Bare branches in the Blackentrack Woods.
The wooded hillsides of the Blackentrack Woods.
Spiky pine needles.

How: With no cables, pylons or phone masts in the vicinity (there's nothing out there, except nature itself!), this would be a perfect opportunity to use our EMF meters. These meters detect and measure the amount of electro-magnetic energy in the atmosphere around us. Walking past even small sub-urban streets, with a standard EMF can help pinpoint massive concentrations of this invisible energy, which some believe can cause health issues; fatigue, headaches, or even hallucinations. There should be very low EMF readings in somewhere like the Blackentrack Woods, so we would be looking out for any high readings, which come and go, or even move!

1: All team members are armed with EMF Meters.

2: Two mobile nite-vision cameras.

3: All have digital 'still' cameras, also able to record video.

4: Analogue Dictaphone, which can be sound activated.

5: A traditional, magnetic compass.

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The investigation:

Arrival. We park the car at the junction of the old Bridle Way (which leads into the woods) and Lockyers Lane. It was already pitch dark, generating a suitable feeling of festive dread (it was Hallo'ween after all). Both George and I are semi-familar with this stretch of the woods, having cycled down Lockyers Lane many a time, but we have never deviated from the safety of the lane, feeling the woods were uncharted territory. Locally, the woods are popular with long distance joggers, horse riders and hikers; hence the eerie reports mentioned in the 'Why' section of this case-file.

I'd not mentioned too many of those reports to George, and especially not Lorraine, fearing the information would taint their impressions and possible findings. Tales of Moss Men and wood sprites can seem creepy when reading about them, in the local library, so imagine the same stories re-told at the scene of the incident; in the pitch dark; on Hallo'ween!! No. I wasn't recounting those stories for anyone! Instead, we talked about the geographical history of the woods (there's been a wood on the hill since ancient times, with some areas believed to be utterly untouched), and what gadgets we would employ in our investigation. The Nite-Vision Cameras would guide us along the path, by illuminating the woods in an eerie, green-tinted half light.

19:15 Entering the wood. Even without recounting the eerie tales of the Blackentrack Woods, both Lorraine and George did begin to 'feel' we were not alone in the woods. In all honesty, how could we be alone? There are wild boar, deer, badgers and other such creatures wandering the woods night and day, so we would have to be careful to discount animal noises, and the mere presence of wildlife. But...and I hesitate to type this....even I felt there was something else, watching our progress up the hill, into the denser corners of the Blackentrack Woods.

Blackentrack ferns in nite-vision.
Twisted branches in the Blackentrack Woods.
Prickly Holly.

19:45 Separation. George remained nearest to the lane. There is a stone monument, 250 yards from the roadside, to be found at the end of a reasonably well trodden pathway. The monument consists of three large, granite stones, believed to have been erected for spiritual reasons back in the Bronze Age (4 thousand years ago!). It's an eerie landmark, which seems to echo with the actions of the past. Perhaps George chose the best spot!

Lorraine, never one to hesitate, chose to explore an plateau like area, halfway up the hill. A very large Beech Tree can be found at this spot; dramatically towering over the plateau, silhouetted against the sky. Perhaps Lorraine was picking up on the stories of wood sprites, or Moss Men?

Myself? Well, I chose to climb the remainder of the hill, which, let me tell you, is no easy task. The Bridle Way veers off at the large Beech Tree, to continue along the plateau. So, instead of a steady path, beaten by centuries of heavy hooves, I had to contend with a muddy track, with no discernable details except its gradient; 'steep' just wasn't the word.

20:00 - 20:25 All hell seems to let loose it's thoughts. While ascending the hill, I received a nasty scratch down the side of my face. Lorraine was hit by a small stone, while standing by the Beech Tree. George reports his compass dial is turning unpredictably, occasionally performing full turns!

My scratch happened while taking a breath, along the path. I was almost static at the time, with no holly bushes or brambles nearby. I had passed several spiky bushes, on my ascent, but there were none at that point. In fact, I was in a natural clearing, made up of birch, ferns and grasses. So, what did scratch my face?

Lorraine was able to find the stone, which has struck her on the leg. The Beech Tree, like many of its kind, stands alone in the wood. The leaves of the beech take an age to rot away, meaning little else can penetrate the layer of fallen leaves. So, Lorraine's search was an easy one. The stone, about the size of an egg, was sitting in plain view by her feet. Disturbingly, the stone was still covered in if it had been pulled from the earth itself. Even more interesting, is the fact that the stone gave off a brief EMF spike at 3mg; A strong reading.

...even I felt there was something else, watching our progress up the hill, into the denser corners of the Blackentrack Woods...

20:45 I begin to suspect there is someone in the woods, with us. There are just too many noises, and movements, glimpsed out the corner of the eye. I called out, several times, for someone to show themselves, or make themselves known; but apart from a worried response from Lorraine, no-one answered my call. I continued on my walk, to the top of the hill.

Around this time, George also began to feel he was not alone. Placing an active dictaphone by the huge stones, George left the monument and made his way to Lorraine, at the Beech Tree.

Video Footage: Click To View.
Dictaphone: Left by the Bronze Age Monument.
Climbing the hill.

21:20 I finally reached the top of the hill, to find that the woods end, abruptly. There is open farmland beyond the wooded edge, affording the most breath taking views across the Cornish Landscape. Distant lights, in farm houses and wayside Inns, twinkled in the Hallo'ween gloom, tempting me with the promise of warmth, a beer and a comfy armchair, and an escape from the disturbing atmosphere of the Blackentrack Woods. I stood there, for a while, wondering how many thousands would have stood on that hill, taking in the view ahead of me. Perhaps the Bronze Age monument was a marker? A milestone? Or ancient version of the 'Good Viewpoint' signs that dot our landscape.

With my back to the woods, I truly felt as if hundreds of eyes were watching my static form. The branches themselves seemed to reach out, into the field, in an attempt to reclaim the land which had been taken. At some point, I would have to turn to face the woods, and re-enter those dark paths.

21:45 Lorraine recounts her findings to George, who, in turn, tells the medium about his impressions of the monument. They are both happy to sit by the Beech Tree, and experience the atmosphere around them. So, they were both pulled from their relaxed state when several stones were hurled at them from the trees which surround them. Several of the stones hit the tree trunk, making quite loud 'cracking' sounds, while others struck the two terrified ghost-hunters on the arms, and legs. Fearing for my safety, George called out for me to return to the party.

I jumped out of my skin when I heard George call out. I was already nervous, standing there on the field boundary, so hearing a scared voice from deep in the woods was enough to set me shaking with fear. Climbing back into the woods, I dashed down the wooded hillside, back to the Beech Tree. Perhaps it was my haste, or something more sinister, but I received several nasty scratches and small cuts to my face and hands. I felt as if twig-like beings were reaching out, from either side, trying to make me fall.

22:25 Calm. After reaching the Beech Tree, we all made a concerted effort to calm our nerves. This took, I am ashamed to say, quite some time. We were all rather shaken by our ordeal, so opted to spend some time in quiet, stillness. With breaths back, and nerves returned, Lorraine suggests we conduct a seance. Calling out into the woods, Lorraine requested that anyone/thing present should try to make contact with us....

Staring into the Blackentrack Woods.
Blackentrack Holly Bushes.
Huge tree trunks, Blackentrack Woods.

23:00 or near about's: We had all been hearing snaps, cracks and scuffling noises since beginning the Seance, but by 23:00 a new sensation had presented itself. We began to see faces, forms and people among the trees. At several moments, we would often see the same figure. It was truly unnerving. The forms were often still, just within vision, whereas other forms seemed to glide from one tree trunk to the other; as if playing 'hide and seek'. Were these forms the wood sprites I had read about, or the Moss Men, or simply a case of Pareidolia?

Pareidolia: The term pareidolia, referenced in 1994 by Steven Goldstein, describes a psychological phenomenon involving a vague and random stimulus (often an image or sound) being perceived as significant. Common examples include images of animals or faces in clouds, the man in the moon, and hidden messages on records played in reverse. The word comes from the Greek para- — beside, with or alongside — and eidolon — image (the diminutive of eidos — image, form, shape). Pareidolia is a type of apophenia.

23:25 Lorraine begins to tell us the history of the Beech Tree. She believes many have come to the clearing, to sit and ponder beneath it's branches. We are only the latest in a long line of characters to come to that spot, and marvel at the atmosphere. Others, she said, had come to the tree for more melancholy reasons; to mourn lost loves, face uncertain futures and even, I'm sorry to say, commit suicide. One character, in particular, seemed to come through stronger than the others. A gentleman, who Lorraine refers to as something like T'wood Edwards, came to the tree to hang himself.

Whether Lorraine's stories were merely a composite of thought, fancy and impression, or whether she was recounting the words of the dead, both George and I were utterly enthralled. Were the forms, in the woods around us, really the spirits of those who had ventured into the woods before us? If so, what did they want with us? What was their purpose? Did they want for nothing but to tell their tales, both sad and happy? Were they the same creatures who push people from the path, scratch at faces and throw stones?

...she was recounting the words of the dead...

00:00 Midnight on Hallo'ween: By midnight, the atmosphere in the clearing had become charged, almost electric. Both George and I believed we were in the presence of ghosts, or spirits of the wood. It was an amazing experience. Turning our attentions to the Beech Tree itself revealed the tree seemed to have changed; to morph into shapes, even faces! Rather than terror, I felt nothing but wonder for what I was seeing. Large round, bulbous shapes seemed to be pushing themselves out, from within the tree.

My EMF, at this time, began to behave very strangely. It has two different settings. A Level 1 setting, which rarely picks up anything, unless standing next to an electricity sub-station, and Level 2 which is commonly used in investigations, by both ghost-hunters and electricians. So, it was some surprise, while standing by the Beech Tree, at midnight on Hallo'ween, to find the thing screeching in my pocket at the Level 1 setting. It was a racket of a sound; a kind-of electronic wailing scream, and quite disturbing. I could not get the machine to stop, no matter which way I faced. It was as if the very ground I stood on had, quite suddenly, become the most active Electro-Magnetic hot spot I have ever experienced. Then, just as suddenly as it had started, the EMF stopped. Dead. At 00:10.

00:30 Lorraine finished off her tale, and told us the woods were now quiet; with no-one present in the woods around us. I certainly felt that the atmosphere had changed, but I could have been lead by Lorraine's careful phrasing. Either way, we decided to collect our things together, including George's Dictaphone (still waiting for us by the monument) and get ourselves to a late serving pub, and a well earned Hallo'ween drink. I, for one, would not be forgetting the Blackentrack Woods in a hurry, but was unsure whether I'd ever want to return.

Is that a cat-like face beyond the EMF?
Eyes? Faces? Breasts?
Feeling the Beech Tree. Was it re-shaping itself?

Conclusion: A super, spooky night of Hallo'ween fun was had by all. But, did we encounter anything paranormal? The EMF's midnight reactions, and the thrown stones, would certainly suggest there was something supernatural occurring in the woods. My EMF Meter is normally very reliable, and had never reacted in such a way at Level 1. The mad screeching reactions, and a reading of 8mg, is a first for This Haunted Land. As a research trip, both into the supernatural and as research for The Lost Crown, that EMF event would prove highly influential on my mind and writing.

Secondly, I have to mention George's Dictaphone, which he left by the Bronze Age Monument around 21:00. The Dictaphone is the older fashioned 'analogue' variety (it takes tapes), not the newer MP3 kind. It has a long-play and normal-play setting, meaning the Dictaphone recorded an hour of audio. During that time, both George and Lorraine claim to have been attacked by flying stones, by the Beech Tree, while I made my way up the hill, feeling something, or someone was flanking my movements towards the summit. I was disturbed enough, to call out into the wooded world, for whoever, or whatever, it was to show itself. Keep all this in mind when you listen to George's recording...
...for apart from George's departure, away from the dictaphone, our audio clip features only one other significant sequence...listen carefully...

EVP: electronic voice phenomena, when unexplainable voices appear on otherwise blank tapes. Many EVP's contain words, even sentences, which can be suggestive of ghosts attempting to communicate from 'the otherside'.

The Hallo'ween Moon.
Audio Recording: Click to listen.
One of many 'thrown' stones.

Influence: I knew, when coming up with ideas for The Lost Crown: a ghost-hunting adventure, that a dark, ancient woodland would feature as one of the games most eerie locations. I created the fictional Carrion Woods based purely on The Blackentrack Woods in Cornwall. The woods are dense, dark and full of suggestive shapes, sounds and stories.

Those who play The Lost Crown, will also find an ancient monument in The Carrion Wood. It is very much based on the Bronze Age stone found by George, in this investigation. Britain's ancient monuments are often eerie places, boasting an incredible atmosphere. For centuries the world has been entranced by places such as Stone Henge, so it was a pleasure to create an ancient monument for my game, based on the world around me.

Blackentrack also provided me with another Lost Crown element: the thrown stones. There's a location, in the game, where the player will find themselves bombarded by stones, thrown by unseen hands. It's a disturbing scenario, when encountered virtually or in my case, real life!

We may not have encountered any Moss Men on our Hallo'ween vigil, but we certainly found why man still fears the woods after dark. With such feeble senses to guide us, the darkened woods remind us that we are never too sophisticated, or self aware, to be petrified by the natural world; our belief in the logical and explainable can be threatened when we are no longer sure of the world around us, and our dominance over it.

Exploring The Carrion Wood in The Lost Crown.
The bridleway meets the lane in The Lost Crown.
An ancient monument, lost in The Carrion Wood.

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