Forests can be areas of great natural beauty and are popular places for hikers, campers, and nature lovers. But there can be something unsettling and eerie about forests that we often can’t quite put our finger on. Perhaps the way the light struggles to penetrate the thick canopy, the multitude of strange sounds, and the disorientating nature of forests is what gives them their more sinister side, making them the perfect place for evil deeds and malignant spirits. These are my choices for 5 of the creepiest and most haunted forests in the world.
5. Epping Forest, England
Epping forest is a sprawling 6000 acres of ancient woodland to the North East of London. Due to its long and ancient history and close proximity to London, it has been the sight of countless murders, tragedies, and sinister events.
Parts of the forest are so dark and thick with trees, that concealing a grisly crime, nefarious activities, or simply losing your way are all very easy things to do. Along with the huge number of murders that take place within the forest, the woods themselves are also a popular dumping ground for bodies of people who were murdered throughout London and the surrounding areas.
Perhaps one of the most well known criminals to who have stalked the forest was Dick Turpin. His legend has become one of the gentleman highwayman, often romanticised in countless tales, but the truth of the man was far more grim and murderous. His preferred method of crime was the robbery of isolated farmhouses, and he would often take pleasure in torturing the female occupants of these homesteads, should they prove uncooperative. Since his capture and death by hanging, many believe that his vengeful spirit returned to his old hunting ground of Epping forest, and there have been multiple accounts of a ghostly figure wearing a tricorn hat riding through the darker and more foreboding corners of the forest.
Epping forest also holds within its depths an ancient iron age camp which is thought to have been used by the tribal queen Boudicca during her battles against the invading Romans. Many witness accounts claim to have seen ancient looking soldiers grimly marching through the forest, their destination unknown. Perhaps they were just seeing things in the shadows, or perhaps the memories and spirits of those soldiers who died gruesome deaths still clings to the forest.
Another site in the forest is called hangman’s hill. Many claim that if you park you car at the bottom of the hill and turn off the engine, it will slowly roll uphill, eerily defying the laws of gravity. Locals believe that there is a supernatural force behind this phenomenon, and that the car is being pulled towards an ancient tree by the hangman’s noose. The ancient tree is believed to be the site of the hanging of an innocent man, and his tortured soul haunts the hill. Skeptics believe hangman’s hill to be nothing more than an optical illusion, but the sheer number of accounts from those who have visited hangman’s hill, suggests that perhaps something far more sinister is occurring.
Another location called the wake arms round-about is the site of even more witness accounts of ghostly sightings. The ghost of a young girl who drowned nearby is said to run into the road before disappearing, often terrifying drivers passing through late at night. Other sightings in the area include a headless biker said to have been killed on the road, and evil looking spirits who will stare menacingly into the eyes of passers by before disappearing.
Perhaps all of these accounts are hoaxes, or just tricks of the mind. Or perhaps such an ancient site, and location of countless tragedies and crimes, really does hold more supernatural secrets.
4. Old House Woods, Virginia
Located near the picturesque coastal town of Diggs, in Virginia, lies old house woods. There have been reports of supernatural activity in and around the woods for hundreds of years, and according to legend the name old house woods originates from a time when an old decrepit colonial homestead lay at the centre of the woods.
The most common accounts of ghost sightings involve skeletons and ghostly apparitions wearing the distinct redcoat uniform of British soldiers during the American revolution. The area would have likely been a hotbed of activity during the revolutionary war – perhaps the ghosts of long dead British soldiers wander the woods looking for a way home?
Other witnesses report seeing ghostly lantern lights, and hearing strange sounds including shovels digging, and a banshee wailing somewhere within the woods. Locals speculate that the ghosts of pirates have returned to the woods to look for the treasure they buried when they were still of flesh and bone. Because of these stories, brave treasure hunters have been known to venture in to the words in search of pirate treasure, but according to the rumours, they were never seen or heard from again. Did they just not find anything and head home in disappointment, or were more sinister events afoot?
Another common sighting involves a ghost ship in the shape of a galleon, that will appear before a storm and sail from the bay, on to land, and over the woods, before vanishing.
Many people have reported hearing screaming and wailing emanating from deep within the woods, some claim to have ventured in and found a ghostly woman in white to be the source of the wailing, hiding atop the trees. Such noises could simply be the wind catching on the trees and branches, but few have the courage to investigate. A strong feeling of dread is said to descend upon many who have visited the woods, and people are often convinced that the temperature plummets as you approach the woods. It may be easy to dismiss such witness accounts from the comfort of a warm home, but with such a large volume of sightings and testimonies, it is clear that old house woods does exert some kind of influence of those who venture within it.
3. Isla de las Muñecas (Island of the Dolls) in Mexico
Dolls are made to be toys for children, however there is something about them that invokes a spine chilling feeling of unease in many people. If you are somebody who finds dolls extremely creepy, then the woods on the island of the dolls in Mexico would be your personal hell.
The story begins 50 years ago, when a local man named Don Julian Santana was left heartbroken by his girlfriend after she left him for another man. Devastated inside, he fled the city and retreated to a remote wooded are near Mexico city, intending to live as a recluse away from society.
It was there that he made a terrible discovery – finding the corpse of a young girl floating in a canal. Floating next to her lifeless body was her toy doll. Mr Santana, already in emotional turmoil from his recent heartbreak, was devastated by this discovery. As a mark of respect, he retrieved the dead girls toy doll from the canal, and hung it from a nearby tree, as a sign of respect.
The story did not end there however, not long after this sad discovery, he began to hear footsteps in the night, and the screams and wails of a woman. He became convinced that the spirit of the drowned girl was haunting the woods on the island, and had possessed the lifeless doll that was once her toy.
His state of mind fell into a downward spiral, and he began hanging other dolls from trees all over the woods, believing that these offerings would appease the dead girls spirit, and end his torment. Judging by the hundreds of dolls he hung from the trees, it appears the torment did not end. Don Santana was discovered dead in 2001 – disturbingly he was found drowned in the same part of the canal where he first discovered the girls corpse. Had the dolls conspired against him as he believed, and murdered him? Or was he merely the victim of a terrible accident?
The area is now run by his family as a ghoulish tourist attraction. Visitors to the island hang their own dolls in the woods, and the number of dolls is now said to be in the thousands. Many of the visitors to the island have said that they heard the dolls whispering to them. Others have seen the dolls eyes move, following them as they walk through the trees.
Even in the bright sunlight, the dolls are terrifying. But at night, they become a whole other level of creepy. Lifeless eyes stare out from the trees where decaying, insect ridden dolls hang, often missing limbs. The forest floor is strewn with body parts from the decaying dolls, in a scene like something out of a nightmare.
Was the whole thing made up? Was he just mad? Or was Mr Santana truly tormented by the demonic dolls?
2. Screaming Woods (Dering Woods) England
The screaming woods are known as the most haunted woods in England and are located near the village of Pluckley, which according to the Guinness book of records is Britain’s most haunted village. It is some of the oldest woodland in England, and therefore has a long history of crime, murder, and tragedy.
Dering woods are called the screaming woods for good reason, as many people have heard horrific blood curdling screaming emanating from the forest during the darkness of night. Locals also report hearing footsteps and whispering coming from the thick fog which often coats the woods, as well as seeing black shadows following them through the woods. It is said that this haunting is caused by the ghosts of the many people who have entered the forest, only to lose their way and never be seen again.
Another popular legend indicates that the woods are haunted by the vengeful spirit of a highwayman who was captured by the villagers, before being pinned to a nearby tree, and brutally beheaded.
Other tales include the dering woods massacre, where a pile of 20 corpses including 11 children were discovered in the forest in 1948. The cause of death was not known, and there were rumours of police involvement due to the speed with which the case was closed and subsequently covered up. Another infamous mystery involved the disappearance of four university students who were visiting the forest. Their bodies were never discovered, and just as in 1948, the police investigation ceased after just a few days, sparking further rumours that once again the police were involved in the grisly goings on, perhaps as part of some kind of satanic cult, or simply embarrassed by the repeated deaths occurring in their jurisdiction.
Whilst there is a distinct lack of hard information on many of these legends, there is no doubt that locals are afraid of the woods, and avoid venturing into them, and the sheer number of different accounts of paranormal activity taking place in and around the woods makes the screaming woods a place I certainly would not want to be lost in at night.
1. Suicide Forest (Aokigahara), Japan
The suicide forest is located just below Mount Fuji in Japan, and is named so because it is the second most popular place in the world to commit suicide. Although the exact number of suicides is unknown, it is estimated to be dozens per year. In 2010 alone, 54 corpses were discovered within the forests dingy depths. In fact, it holds so many bodies, that it is rumoured the yakuza pay homeless people to sneak into the forest and rob the dead of any possessions they may have taken to the grave with them.
So why do so many choose this particular forest to end their lives? It first gained notoriety in the 1960’s when a book called Tower of Wave was published, which featured a suicide in the Aokigahara forest. Another book published in the ’90’s described the forest as the perfect place to die. There are also morbid legends that go back hundreds of years, where in times of famine, a family would sometimes abandon an old or frail relative, thus lessening the number of mouths to feed. The abandoned soul would perish not through suicide, but by dehydration, exposure, or even starvation. It is believed that the Suicide forest holds many such abandoned spirits, who prowl the densely packed trees looking for the living to take revenge upon.
Another possible reason why so many choose this place to end their lives is the nature of the forest itself. The trees twist and turn, and are packed so tightly together that in many places the sunlight cannot reach the ground below. The wind is unable to penetrate, and wildlife is sparse, creating an eerie sense of quiet, stillness and isolation throughout the forest. It is almost as if even the wildlife is too scared to venture here. If you choose to enter the forest, you are unlikely to be disturbed.
The lack of sounds you would normally associate with a forest fill you with a sense of dread and unease. The forest almost appears as if it is not of this world. Navigation is difficult due to the density of the trees, and rough terrain, and it is speculated that some of the bodies may have simply been hikers who lost their way, and not suicides.
Japanese authorities have tried to combat the suicides, placing signs all over the area in an attempt to remind those contemplating suicide that life is precious, and help is available. Phone boxes connected to helplines are dotted around the area, however in a country with a serious stigma attached to mental health problems and a high suicide rate, sadly many will simply ignore these messages.
Locals believe that the high number of suicides and deaths have somehow filled the trees with energy, manifested as the Yurei, which are the angry spirits of those whose lives were ended in the forest. It is believed that the Yurei dedicate themselves to tormenting visitors to the forest, and attempting to lure hikers off the trail and into the wilderness, where they will meet their end.
In Japanese mythology, a corpse should not be left alone, as doing so disturbs the soul and will cause the Yurei to scream through the night, while their lifeless corpses crawl through the thick vegetation looking for fresh victims.
Throughout the forest can be found ropes and string tied to trees, either left by the dead so that their bodies might be found, or maybe used as a way to explore without getting lost. Abandoned camps, tents, and other possessions of the long dead are also strewn through the forest.
Whether or not the forest is actually haunted or not will depend upon your point of view, but there is no surprise that in such a tragic and tormented place, such rumours and legends persist. Perhaps the only people who know for sure are those unfortunate souls who met their end under the twisted and silent trees of the suicide forest.
So thats my choice for 5 of the creepiest forests on earth, have you had any creepy experiences with forests? Share your story in the comments below!