Chanctonbury Ring

"The local people call the spot Mother Goring; and at one time there was a custom of coming up to the Ring to see the sun rise on the morning of May Day. The Ring is said to be haunted by the apparition of a man on horseback...." - An ABC of Witchcraft Past & Present. Doreen Valiente.

Chanctonbury Ring is a hill fort based ring of trees atop Chanctonbury Hill on the South Downs, on the border of the civil parishes of Washington and Wiston in the English county of West Sussex. A ridgeway, now part of the South Downs Way, runs along the hill.


The Ring was originally a small hill fort in a commanding position looking across the weald to the north. Pottery found and carbon dating on an animal bone suggest the fort was built in the early Iron Age, in the 6th to 5th centuries BC, but some Bronze Age pottery has also been found on the site. After the abandonment of the hill fort, the ring was used by the Romans as a religious site (possibly due to similar Iron Age religious activity there). Two temples were erected, although it is not clear whether they stood at the same time or whether one succeeded the other. One, of Romano-British type with towered central sanctuary and outer ambulatory, certainly dated from the later Roman period. The second Roman temple may have been earlier and was more classical in form and consisted of a polygon of perhaps eleven sides. Human remains approximately 1,000 years old have also been found there.

However, the fame of the Ring is due not to the hill fort but to the beech trees, which were planted by the 20-year-old Charles Goring, heir to the Wiston Estate. There was a public outcry by local people when he started to plant them. They feared he was foolhardy and the line of the beautiful Downs would be spoilt for future generations. After planting the saplings, Charles Goring arranged for water to be transported up the 779 foot high hill until the young trees had taken root and were well established. Charles Goring died in 1829, having lived to be 85 years old and, fortunately, witnessed some of his trees in their maturity. In his old age he wrote a simple and moving poem about the venture he had seen come to fruition...


"Oh! Could I live to see thy top
In all its beauty dress'd
That time's arrived; I've had my wish,
and lived to eighty-five.
I'll thank my God who gave such grace,
as long as e'er I live."


The trees became a prominent landmark, very thickly wooded; however, the Great Storm of 1987 destroyed most of the trees and the replanted trees are only now beginning to restore the ring to its former glory. Near the trig point is Chanctonbury Dew Pond, a Site of Special Scientific Interest. Constructed about 1870, it was restored by the Sussex Society of Downsmen in 1970, and is maintained by them.

Local legend has it that Chanctonbury Ring was created by the Devil and that he can be summoned by running around the clump of trees seven times anti-clockwise. When he appears he will offer you a bowl of soup in exchange for your soul. Other versions of the tale substituted a glass of milk, or stated that Satan will 'offer you porridge from his bowl' after you have run thrice round the earthwork. Indeed the ways in which to summon the devil at Chanctonbury Ring seem as numerous as Goring�s beech trees themselves: If you run round seven times while the clock is still striking midnight, the Devil will come out and if you run round backwards seven times at midnight, the Devil will give you a glass of milk. It is said that if you run round the Ring three times at midnight on Midsummer Eve, the Devil comes out from the trees and offers you a bowl of soup. Other versions of the circumambulation also involve raising the Devil; thus, a teenage girl reported that seven circuits at 7.00am on Midsummer morning would raise Satan. Another informant stipulates that the circling is to be 'three times anticlockwise on Midsummer Eve,' while a more earthy variant calls for the practitioner to circumambulate '17 times stark naked on a night of the full moon.'


The Devil, however, is not the only being that may be raised - three circuits brought a view of 'a lady on a white horse,' while twelve rounds at midnight on Midsummer Night conjured up a Druid. In the 1940s, some people apparently feared to circle the Ring at night 'lest they should meet the old white-bearded ghost that walks with bent head, seeking his treasure.' Whilst a 50 year old teacher reported that circling seven times at midnight on Midsummer Eve would mean that 'all your wishes will come true.


If nocturnal perambulations seem a little to energetic then reciting "A Midsummer Nightï's Dream" by Shakespear within the Ring during the summer solstice will summon the fairy-folk too you. By simply sleeping underneath the canopy of trees upon the ring will greatly increase the fertility of women it is rumoured. The trees themselves are said to be uncountable, but anyone who does count the right number will raise the ghosts of Julius Caesar and his army. The ghost of an old white-bearded man is said to search for the treasure buried in the hill; and the hooves of invisible horses have been heard. In 1974 three members of a Worthing based paranormal research group visited the site and one member of this team was said to have levitated whilst walking amongst the trees which crown the hill. As the story goes, he remained suspended in mid air for several seconds and during that time he was crying out 'No more! No more!' and was obviously in some considerable pain. He was then thrown to the ground injuring his back.

'The Clapham Wood Mystery'


The Clapham Wood Mystery is the name given to a collection of unusual events which are associated with Clapham Wood, an area very close to Chanctonbury Ring. Events have included reports of people making unusual sights or experiencing unusual phenomona, and of family pets disappearing or sickening. There have also been several human deaths associated with the location.


Since the 1960s the area has experienced a rash of UFO sighting, reports of people, experiencing nausea or the sensation of being pushed by unseen forces, or of witnessing patches of strange grey mist developing suddenly on pathways through the woods. Some people have also reported a strong sense of being followed. Studies with a gieger counter have revelaed slightly elevated levels of background radiation in the area, which is surprising since the area is situated on chalk which is normally low in radiation, due to a lower level of Potassium 40. Early photographs of the wood appear to show a large crater or depression somewhere in the wood, though now the area is highly wooded and difficult to search.


In 1975, several reports (including reports in the national press) were made of pets going missing in the area. Initially, two dogs were said to have disappeared without a trace, a third to have vanished but later reappeared suffering from an unidentified illness for which it had to be put down. After news of the three cases became public, other dog owners came forward claiming that their pets had experienced agitation in the woods, or had become inexplicably aggressive.


Four deaths have occurred either in or close to the woods and have since become part of the lore surrounding it. The first death was in June 1972 when police officer Peter Goldsmith disappeared while hiking in the region. His body was discovered 6 months later. The second death was that of Leon Foster whose body was discovered in August 1975. He had been missing for 3 weeks. The third death was of Reverend Harry Neil Snelling, the former vicar of Clapham. He disappeared in October 1978 and his body was not found until 3 years later. English coroners ruled open verdicts in all three cases. In September 1981, Jillian Matthews - a homeless schizophrenic - disappeared. Her body was discovered 6 weeks later. She had been strangled and sexually assaulted.


In their 1987 book The Demonic Connection Toyne Newton, Charles Walker and Alan Brown claimed that Clapham Wood had been used by a satanic cult called the Friends of Hecate (FoH). Part of the book dealt with an incident in 1978 when Charles Walker is said to have been contacted by an initiate of the group, who claimed that it was responsible for the sacrificial slaughter of dogs and other animals. The man said that the FoH planned to use the wood for at least another decade before finding other locations, and he claimed that people in high places were involved, and would tolerate no interference in the group's activities. Walker claimed that the cult was later forced to leave the area due to a combination of press attention and a storm, known as Great Storm of 1987, which damaged large tracts of the wood the year that the book was published.