The Haunted Hill Fort: Chanctonbury Ring

by frankbeswick

Chanctonbury Ring in Sussex is an ancient hill fort with a reputation for some scary experiences.

Pre-Roman hill forts are found on the hilltops of England, particularly in the South of the country, and they are popular places for walkers and people bringing picnics.Most are quiet and peaceful places, but the occasional one is a site of paranormal activity.One such site is Chanctonbury Ring, an oval fort containing the site of a Roman temple. Some of the experiences are frightening, so readers who are easily scared must take note.

Image courtesy of StockSnap, of Pixabay

Chanctonbury Ring

Robert Macfarlane, whose book Underland I reviewed in Wizzley, is a daring fellow,He has delved deep into narrow caverns, crossed the Ridge of Norway's Lofoten islands in winter, braving a snowstorm in the process,and he has spent the night camping in Chanctonbury Ring. He says that he wishes that he hadn't spent the night there, though he later, unconvincingly, assured himself that the noises  were owls.

"I heard the first scream at around two o'clock,a high pitched and human cry, but trailing away."  [The Old Ways, p 317.] But he soon realized that this was neither fox nor owl, and soon it was joined by another cry. Moreover, the voices were at tree top height and were drawing closer. For fifteen minutes, alone and scared, he lay still as the voices called to each other until they were above him,then they ceased and he went uneasily to sleep.He was later to discover that he had camped the night in the most haunted spot in the South Downs, the chalk hills of Southern England.   

In the 1930s Dr Philip Gosse, writing in Go to the Country, said that when walking at Chanctonbury he was aware of being followed by a presence that stopped when he stopped. He was one of many people who have felt uneasy at the locality.  It must be said that some people experience nothing.

Chanctonbury is set on the chalk ridge of the South Downs near to another fort, Cissbury Ring. Do not think of a mediaeval stone fort. These are earthworks composed of ramparts and ditches. On the ridge nearby are some ancient barrows/ tumuli,  which were graves of Britain's bronze age and neolithic inhabitants.Shallowly buried within the centre are the remains of a rectangular Roman temple. The grave of an adult male was discovered within the fort's precincts. Various coins have been found dating from near the time of the Roman arrival in Britain to 385 A.D. Saxon coins have been found.

One story ties up with the Saxon coins. For many years the farm below the hill was the site of a haunting by a man said to be a Saxon or a druid who seemed to be searching for something. The story of the haunting became transferred to the fort, but in the nineteenth century on the farm there was discovered a buried hoard  of Saxon coins. Some speculate that the Saxon had hidden his hoard from the approaching Normans, but was slain ere he could retrieve it, but his soul was over-attached to wealth and continued to seek it after his death. 

Strange Experiences

The ring was always a spooky place in the view of local people, for they believed that it was a fairy site where the fair folk could be seen dancing on midsummer nights.It was said to be birdless, for birds were thought to eschew supernatural places,though whether there is any truth in this claim I know not,but in the early sixteenth century the astrologer and druid  Prince Agasicles the Carian spent his nights in the ring and was found dead there. He had left a note saying that they should bury him where he lay. This made the locals even more suspicious. Horses have been known to become disturbed near the summit. There were a few ghost stories about phantom horsemen,either visible or audible.

Legends  arose.If you run seven times round the ring at night the Devil will offer you a bowl of soup in return for your soul; and if you do it only thrice a woman on a white horse appears. These may be folk memories of pagan rituals at the temple as recast by Christian clerics. Others say that Caesar and his armies may be summoned.if you count all the trees on the hilltop.

In the twentieth century the fort attracted the attention of some of the founders of the modern pagan movement, the black magician Alisteir Crowley, who thought the fort a place of power, and Doreen Valiente, a Wiccan pioneer. Some rituals were held at the site, though not by these two. Valiente said that a local coven held meetings at the ring, but there is no confirmation of this.

But phantom lights have been noted, and while they are accounted as UFOS, it is well-known that such lights are linked with supernatural phenomena.In 1972 a glowing light was seen. 1978 a UFO light was seen hovering and observers underwent feelings of paralysis, tingling, chest pains and breathing difficulties until the light vanished.  In 1975 a light seen at nearby Cissbury Ring floated over to Chanctonbury where it was seen by a woman walking her dog. Lights tend to be orange,though one of the lights had four small lights displayed on its side.

What is the explanation for these lights I know not, but a coincidence between supernatural and UFO phenomena seems hard to believe, so I suspect that these have a paranormal character.They are not limited to Chanctonbury, but are widely associated with paranormal sites. How often have lights been seen I know not, but some speculate that archaeological excavations at the temple site disturbed or awakened something that has yet to settle.It appears that the most intense incidents have been in modern times, giving weight to the disturbance theory.  

South Downs

South Downs
South Downs
Tom Cunliffe, of Pixabay

Frightening Experiences

By the 1930s the reputation of the ring was such that tourists came to sample the spooky site, but already some mediums claimed that they had been molested by unseen forces and had finger marks to prove it. Various sounds had been heard, including crying babies.On recording devices it has been claimed that muttered voices not belonging to anyone visible can be heard. This is not uncommon at paranormal  sites. 

In 1966 members of the Southern Paranormal Investigation Group met at Chanctonbury at night, where they encountered members of a motor cycle group,tough men out for a night's camping.The two groups got on  well together. At midnight strange creaking sounds were heard by both groups.Shortly afterwards a female form appeared circling the ring and wailing loudly. Both groups were undeterred. But at 2.30 am there came the sound of bells and some members of the group experienced weakening and paralysis of limbs and feelings of intense pressure. The motor cycle chapter were so scared that they packed up and went, saying that they sensed evil. Tough guys, yes, but not that tough.What is significant is that there had been no prior collusion between the two groups, and the motor cyclists had  nothing to gain from making up a story, especially as it undermined their tough guy image. 

But there is worse to come.There are reports that on another occasion a member of an investigating group was physically injured in a mysterious way. Charles Walker reports that at eleven pm a Mr Lincoln was physically lifted by an unseen force, held in the air for a few seconds then dropped,hurting his back. He was heard to cry,"No more,no more"and  was obviously in pain. For obvious reasons, while other group members returned to Chanctonbury on other occasions, Lincoln did not.

A third reported incident is undated and the victim unnamed. A visitor to the ring who was wearing a crucifix around her neck had it wrenched off by an invisible force. When the crucifix was recovered it was found to feel hot! This incident is unlike the other two cases  uncorroborated. All these incidents occurred in the middle twentieth century.As far as I know no recent cases have been reported. But I  do not intend to find out first hand. Bad things have happened at Chanctonbury,, and even if only one account is true, that is one too many.The  evil that men do lives after them,quoth Shakespeare, and something badly wrong must have been done at the site at sometime.Folk tales merely regard the place as spooky, so the bad events might be recent. I leave readers to make up their own minds as to the veracity of the tales and the nature of the evil done. 


Sources: The Old Ways, Robert Macfarlane, Penguin Books, 2012

The A-Z of Curious Sussex, Wendy Hughes 

Updated: 09/14/2019, frankbeswick
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frankbeswick on 09/17/2019

Interesting that you said this, for Brother Raoul, writing in Deeper Into God, meditated at various sites in the Lynn Peninsula in Wales and found that places where monks and others had prayed seemed to aid his prayer. There were places that impeded it.

WriterArtist on 09/17/2019

Places that are haunted could be where the evil was committed. Therefore, the vibes and experiences incurred to many people who wandered there intentionally or unintentionally is painful and torturous. I have been to places where monks inhabited and meditated. Strange it might seem but the atmosphere is full of tranquility. Of course, a part of them has become noisy with recent activities, but the parts that are not inhabited are peaceful. A feeling of soothing and satiation is experienced even words fail to describe such experiences.

frankbeswick on 09/13/2019

1: There are now known to be two temples. There is no evidence that tells us of their dedication. It is likely to be local deities conflated with Roman ones, as often happened. Sussex was an area whose ruler had invited the Romans in to help him defeat his foes, so there was fusion between Roman and British cultures there.

2: Some have suggested that the soup offered by the Devil is a folk memory of the worship of Mithras, the Roman legion's deity, whose rites involved fasting concluded by a meal.Could something spiritual linger? I suggest that this is possible.

3: The note was written in charcoal on paper and as far as I know in standard English. It has not survived.

4: The counties that I have not visited are Sussex, Dorset and the Isle of Wight. All are on the south coast and the reason for my not visiting is distance. I live in the North West of England, so Sussex is over two hundred miles away.

DerdriuMarriner on 09/13/2019

frankbeswick, Thank you for the practicalities and products.
Are specialists aware of to whom the Roman-era temple was dedicated? Can there not be something lingering from the activities and perhaps sacrifices associated with worshipping particular deities and forces, such as the Dionysian rites?
Do you know what form -- carving into stone, writing on ground or paper? -- the note from Prince Agasicles the Carian took?
Is it distance that keeps you from visiting the two counties -- which ones are they? -- that with Sussex remain unvisited by you and your family?

frankbeswick on 09/13/2019

Daylight strangeness. I think that cases occur throughout day and night, and I suspect that many people who have had strange sensations when walking the site were daytime walkers.Those whose horses were nervous at the summit were almost certainly day time riders, as day is when people go riding.

I would be chary of going near the Ring.Anyway, Sussex is a long way from my home and is one of the three English counties that I have not visited.

You are right. Evil is best avoided.

blackspanielgallery on 09/13/2019

This was quite interesting. I have no idea what the cause might be. Some natural phenomena produce strange sounds and strange optical appearances, but to dismiss thing as natural is not always wise without proof. Is there any report of a daylight strangeness to your knowledge? I realize you did not experience these things firsthand, nor do I recommend that you do. Evil is best avoided.

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