The Whispering Wood (New)There is in the Sussex countryside a little known coppice known as the Whispering wood. The trees grow in mysterious ways; gregarious branches reach into the forest like massive limbs. Bark peels from wood as flesh might be flayed from bone. Tangled roots rise from a thick mattress of thorny bracken. In older times they were known as devil’s fingers; legend tells that they could pull a man into the earth and not a trace of him would ever be found. The air is tainted by an unworldly odour and the light beneath the forest canopy is quite unnatural. Feelings of overwhelming sadness and despair are often experienced by those who by chance happen upon it. The whispering wood is a place that constantly eludes those who go looking for it. But for those whose search is soulful and honest-then it is said that the Whispering wood will find them.
A sprawling manor house, once a building of imposing stature, stands in that dark wilderness; it is now just a shadow of its former magnificence. The surrounding forest is home to a small community. The people who live there are private and for the most part unfriendly; they live by ancient traditions and ritualistic folklore. Strangers are not welcome nor have they ever been. Once it was a hub of activity but now the woodland can only be accessed by those on foot or riding roughshod. The spirits of highwayman still haunt the woodland’s maze of tracks and paths and the bones of their victims lay in graves that have long since been forgotten.
There is to the east of the forest a rise of land known as Chapel Hill, and on that hill there are gallows that have stood for three centuries. Many have said that when bad weather prevails and storm waters make Chapel hill impossible to climb, then the rotting corpse of a highwayman can be seen swinging from the long arm of the gibbet.
In the heart of the forest there is a place of rest for weary travellers. ‘Ye Hangman’s Rest’ has been there for as long as the gallows have stood. The forest has become its friend, bolstering its walls and protecting it from the unforgiving elements. There was a time when the roots of the surrounding trees reached into the cellar and fed on the liquor that soaked into the earth from the leaking casks. Their branches grew like grotesque limbs and cradled the Inn as a parent would a child. Those trees are things of unnatural beauty. They have a stillness and repose that is intimidating.
Hangman’s Rest is far from easy to find, and once found the way home is often even more confusing. The old oak beams are still strong and because of a constant and unholy chill, a fire is always burning in the hearth. The dark wood within has been warped by time and some say by malevolence. The air is musty and has about it the smell of ancient times. The famous and infamous have paid homage to its infamy. George III had occasion to drink there; history tells that soon afterwards his behaviour became irrational; his madness thereafter is well documented. Algernon Blackwood, writer of all things dark and fantastic was fascinated by the ghostly wilderness of the Whispering wood and it is speculated that much of his inspiration came from that unholy place.