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A True Story About What Happened in Tehidy Woods – Do You Believe in Ghosts?

Fantasy Fiction The Peace of Elias cover 1 colour

Inspired by a strange experience

As I recently posted my latest 900 Club story, The Woods, on this blog, I thought it would be good to tell the true story that inspired it.

I think we were about 14 at the time. It was me, Justin, Ryan and Aaron. I had a two man dome tent which all four of us were going to sleep in. We were going to get a few beers and camp in the woods.

Tehidy woods is a strange place. There are a lot of ghost stories based there. It is next to the north cliffs, so you have the stories relating to smuggling and shipwrecks on the coast road with the woods on one side and the cliffs on the other. And you have all the stories about the woods themselves. Firstly, there is more then one story about people having hanged themselves there. Secondly, there was a derelict hospital there where I am told old or terminally ill people were sent to die, although I’m not sure what that hospital was actually for. There’s also a small lake with stories about people having drowned in it.

We set the tent up in early evening, in a clearing where my dad used to take me for picnics, and went walking in the woods. While were walking we heard loud noises in the woods. It sounded like people shouting. We thought there must be a bunch of lads up from Portreath or Illogan, pissed up or something, so we ran back to the tent in case they nicked all our stuff. But we couldn’t see anyone and the noise died down so we thought they must have been passing through and we had missed them.

We sat down in the clearing drank a couple of beers and eventually, after it got dark, we crashed out in the tent. I think it must have been about two or three o’clock in the morning, we were woken by the same noise we had heard earlier. It sounded like a lot of people, shouting and talking. We could also hear dogs and what sounded like a hunting horn. When I opened my eyes there were shadows on the tent of what looked like men with axes. Six of them – two on either side and one at the front, one at the back.

We all woke up at the same time and we all saw and heard the same things – all four of us. The noise grew louder and there was also the sound of horses’ hooves and dogs and at one point I heard a carriage go past. Ryan was the hard one out of the four of us, he was never afraid of anything or anyone. He decided there were people outside and he was going to go and kick off. But I knew they were not living people, I could feel it. I think Justin and Aaron could as well because they, like me, were too scared to leave their sleeping bags. Ryan was gone for a few minutes. When he came back he was very pale. He looked terrified and said there was nothing there, just darkness, even though we could still see and hear it all from inside the tent.

We just hid in our sleeping bags. I’m not sure how long it went on for but we must have eventually fallen asleep. The next morning we discussed it and we all had the same memories of the night before. When we told everyone in school, they all wanted to camp there. We went along with them but were too scared to stay the night. As we were walking out past the old hospital in the dark, a night warden/security type bloke was doing his patrol on his bike. He looked frightened. He said, “You’re not staying in the woods, are you? There’s something in those woods and I don’t know what it is. Don’t stay in there at night.” I don’t know if he was winding us up or just saying it to scare us off but I thought he looked genuinely scared.

I’ve always found Tehidy Woods to be a very special place during the daylight hours. Perhaps it is because I have a lot of good memories there from my childhood – running around with my dog and picnics with my parents and my brothers – but it has a tranquil, spiritual feel. This probably sounds silly but at night it seems to take on a more sinister presonality.

You can say what you like about the stories about Tehidy Woods, the North Cliffs and the old hospital. You can say it is all nonsense, places like that breed silly stories. It is true that Cornwall is a place with a lot folklore and many of the stories are clearly ridiculous. It is a tradition I suppose.

But what we saw and heard was real. We weren’t on any hallucinogenics, we weren’t smoking anything, all we had a was couple of beers, and we all saw exactly the same thing. I can’t really explain it, but it happened. The memory is still clear in my mind. I was crapping myself at the time but it has inspired a lot of my writing. There are supernatural elements in The Best Weapon and Sorrow which I’m not sure I would have written if it hadn’t been for that night, and I feel that when I write anything dark and eery, I am writing from first hand experience, not just from horror films or books.

The Woods is my most recent short story, posted on this blog and on the 900 Club. The Peace of Elias is a supernatural fantasy tale also inspired by that strange night in the woods, and is free this Saturday and Sunday on Amazon, so please check it out if you haven’t already.

I would appreciate your thoughts on this post. Do you believe in ghosts? The afterlife? Have you ever experienced anything similar?

The Woods – a 900 Club Short Story

The Twisted Beech - Tehidy Woods

Here is my latest 900 Club short story. This was inspired by something that actually happened to me in Tehidy Woods, where I grew up in Cornwall.

The Woods

by Martin Bolton

Joseph wandered through the woods, feeling the soft ground give slightly underfoot and breathing in the dank, earthy scent of decay rising from the leaf litter. He squinted as he felt the dappled sunlight flash across his face. On he strode, past patches of bluebells and pungent honeysuckle. Occasionally he would hear some small creature stirring in the undergrowth as he passed. He would turn to catch a glimpse and, if he was lucky, spot a squirrel scampering up a tree trunk or a jay taking flight from a branch and disappearing into the foliage.

Joseph loved the woods. The place had been a source of fascination for him since his birth. He was the only son of Dr. Thomas Edgar Williams and loving wife Rose Carpenter. His father was an avid bird watcher and would take him on long walks in the woods and across the cliffs on their north side. His father’s love of nature extended to art too, and Joseph’s home was filled with watercolours of those picturesque north cliffs. Such was Dr. Williams’ love for art that he named his son after his favourite painter, JMW Turner, and christened him Joseph Mallord Williams.

When Joseph was seven, he was allowed to explore those woods alone. While nowadays many might consider it an unacceptable risk to allow a small child to roam a vast woodland and sheer cliffs alone, those were different times. So Joseph spent years as a child exploring the narrow paths through the undergrowth, the bright meadows with myriad wild flowers, marvelling at the variety of colours and smells. He spent hours each day seeking out the ancient twisted oaks, the dark hidden ponds and streams, the marshy clearings and strange moss-covered carvings on rotten stumps in dank forgotten corners of the wood. He found for himself secret places where he would hide away from the world and wonder what spirits must reside in the murky, concealed corners of Bellevue Woods.

When he was eighteen, Joseph went away to university to study medicine. In the years he was away, he saw Bellevue Woods in his dreams, and he would wander through them and onto the cliffs on the far side each night, and he often longed to be back there.

It was when Joseph returned home from university that he met Lilly. Lilly. That name seemed to give him a stifling sense of sorrow, but he couldn’t quite remember why. There was something there, just beyond the reach of his memory, something briefly unsettling.

He continued along the path, great oak, beech, sycamore and birch rose either side of him. He forced a smile as he caught the scent of wild garlic in his nostrils, and steered his mind away from the malignant darkness that seemed to stir in the depths of his soul.

As he walked, the light seemed to retreat and the humid atmosphere began to cool. He knew that dusk was approaching and decided it was to find the south gate; the gate he had wandered through so many times to be embraced by the dimness beyond. Joseph’s stroll turned into a brisk march as the darkness closed in around him, and he felt relieved when he spotted the heavy iron gates in the gloom ahead.

His heart sank when he found the ancient gates chained shut. He stared through the bars, too close together to squeeze through, at the darkening fields beyond.

The quickest way out was the North Cliffs. It would mean a long walk along the coast road but he knew he had to leave the woods before darkness fell completely. As he ran, the shadows seemed to watch him, the air seemed to thicken and he felt as though he was running though treacle.

Finally he saw the dark grey sky resting on the hard line of the sea. As he emerged from beneath the trees into the dim light of evening, he stopped and caught his breath. A shape loomed to his right. A church.

The sight of that ancient, overgrown churchyard seemed to cause some memory to flash before his eyes. Too fleeting to glimpse, it left a nagging melancholy which gnawed at his nerves, and he was drawn towards its black, broken gate. Something pulled Joseph towards the graveyard.

Feeling the silent torment inside him intensify, Joseph began reading each and every gravestone. It was hard to make out the weather-beaten letters in the wan light, and many he could not read at all. On he went, drawn to the far end of the graveyard, where the oldest headstones sat in darkness beneath the trees of Bellevue Woods.

As he approached those aged graves, the torment in his mind began to slowly form, and his eyes settled on one particular grave. Kneeling down, he pulled away the brambles that embraced the crumbling headstone and read the letters he knew were there.

LILLY MAY WILLIAMS

1880 – 1905

DIED IN CHILDBIRTH

RESTS FOREVER WITH HER DAUGHTER,

ROSE, WHO DIED BEFORE SHE LIVED

Joseph’s tears came in floods as the memory showed itself. He turned to the darkness in Bellevue Woods. He knew what the battered letters on the next headstone said.

JOSEPH MALLORD WILLIAMS

1878 – 1905

TOOK HIS OWN LIFE IN GRIEF

FOR HIS LOVING WIFE, LILLY,

AND UNBORN DAUGHTER, ROSE

 Joseph was the darkness, and he knew he would never leave the woods.