A Ghost story ?
cutter ridge ROAD
My earliest recollections of the little shack on Cutter Ridge Road, the byroad to Great Buckland and Harvel above the farm, cottages and the Golden Lion Inn at Luddesdown are from the late 1940s. At that time we lived in Sole Street, where I was born in March 1946 and my father often took the family in his car for drives about the local countryside. Until the early fifties the little single story white painted rendered block cottage with a central front door with small windows to each side, standing someway back from and a quarter side on to the road, with a lawn and a winding path to the front was inhabited, probably by a gamekeeper who worked on the Darnley Estate, who owned most of the surrounding land as were the four terraced cottages beside the Golden Lion Inn until the early 60s. I have vague recollections of another property built on the left-hand side of Cutter Ridge Road, halfway up the hill from the Golden Lion Inn. Though there is no evidence remaining of any structure today. (2000)
When we got our St Bernard bitch Julie in 1949, from breeders near Dode Church at Great Buckland the shack was then inhabited. Julie was taken for many walks in the surrounding countryside and I often accompanied my parents. We moved away to the Tollgate near Gravesend, in early 1950 and the little shack was soon abandoned and over the years partly fell down. Later around 1954, it was roughly fenced in with chicken wire, hung on long poles sited around the perimeter of the now derelict garden and was being used as a chicken house, presumably by the nearby farm or cottages.
During our summer holiday to Cornwall in August 1958, I had found a caterpillar of the Elephant Hawkmoth on its perambulations to find a place to pupate at Pendower Beach. In the course of my efforts to identify it, I had learned the life history of the species and considered that a place quite near our homes might be a suitable breeding ground for the moth.
One evening in late August at the end of the decade, Tony and I set off on our bicycles for a water meadow near Luddesdown, where the laval food plant grew in profusion. We had an enjoyable ride out through the lanes to Sole Street and made our way past the Cock Inn at Luddesdown to the field of our proposed operations (now the village recreation ground and football pitch) that was located in a hollow on the left just before the turning into Batts Road the small by-road that went to Cobham past the top of Cobhambury Park Woods.
It was still rather early to begin to search for the big caterpillars, which tend to work their way to the top of their food plant after dark. So we decided to pass the time with a ride up to Great Buckland and Horseholders Wood, where we proposed to go dusking for moths. We got to the junction at the Golden Lion Inn as dusk was falling, turned right and made the climb up the hill on Cutter Ridge Road towards Great Buckland. I happened to be in front and made a dash for the hill, as I breasted the rise and continued through the open fields, I realized that there was something different. Some way ahead of me on my right, the old cottage that had been a partial ruin and used as a free range chicken house for several years, appeared to have been rebuilt.
There was soft light like that of candle or oil lamps coming from the two windows either side of the central door, which was open and casting the yellowish light from inside down the garden path. A man in what looked like Victorian period dress was standing in the doorway, looking out onto the area that had until recently been the chicken run and was now a fine lawn (Tony and I had passed the ruined cottage earlier in the year on one of our trips to Birling Gap and the 'Buddleia Place') and there was a general low hubbub of conversation, as if a party was going on.
To the left of the door a table was set upon the grass under the big plum tree, which I remembered as an old dead twisted skeleton that the chickens used to perch in. Two men also in similar period dress were seated at this table, drinking from what looked like pewter tankards. A path wound its way across the grass from the door to near where I was on the road and I was not aware that I had stopped my bike, but I was now standing astride my machine in the middle of the road, looking towards the cottage that was now backlit in the afterglow of the last dying rays of the setting sun. Time seemed to have in some way lost all sense of meaning and I can remember thinking to myself that someone must have bought and recently rebuilt the cottage and this was perhaps a fancy-dress house warming party. I can recall my musings about how all the partygoers had got there, as there were no vehicles in evidence.
As I watched almost in a trance, the man in the doorway moved aside to let a beautiful young woman come out onto the path in front of the cottage. She wore a long flowing creamy white dress with a tight bodice, there was a deep blue stone on a silver chain about her throat and her blond hair fell to her shoulders. She had a glass of what appeared to be white wine in her left hand and she caught me with her piercing blue eyes and beckoned to me, with a gesture of her right hand.
I felt an irresistible wish to go to her and was preparing to dismount when I was hit, or rather my bike was hit violently from behind as Tony crashed his bike into mine. He frenziedly wrenched his cycle free from its locked contact with my machine and muttered in a strained voice "Come on, lets get out of here!" and with that, he heaved his bike around and pedalled off at a furious pace, in the direction from which he had come. Thinking back on this now it seems to me that Tony, who was only just behind me at the bottom of the hill, took an inordinately long time to arrive and crash into my bicycle.
I was rather shaken by all this and I turned and looked once more towards the cottage, the young woman was standing just as she had been before Tony’s arrival and as our eyes met, she again beckoned to me. The feeling seemed so strong between us and I wanted so much to go to her, I stood in indecision for what seemed an age and finally, with a great feeling of longing, loss and regret, I turned away remounted my bike and slowly pedalled off along the road and then down the hill, to where Tony was waiting on the road beside the terraced cottages next to the Golden Lion Inn.
As I drew up beside him, I said "What the hell was all that about?" At first he wouldn't answer and then he muttered something about Beelzebub, a change seemed to come over him then, for he said "I've had enough of this, I'm going home" and he left me and pedalled off at great speed. I tried to keep up at first, but then gave up, I caught up with him again where Gold Street joined the main road through the village of Sole Street. He seemed to be acting strangely and was muttering things about the forth dimension and time travel, that I could not understand and we split up, each of us making his own way home where I arrived feeling rather sad, lost, confused and drained half an hour later.
I did not see Tony for a few days and when we did meet up again, he was most evasive and would not discuss what had happened at Luddesdown, I put the incident to the back of my mind and almost forgot about it. A few months later, I happened to be out with my father for a drive in his old Bentley shortly before its sale and by chance we were driving the lanes around Luddesdown. It was a well-known and favourite place of my fathers and I believe one of the areas where he had courted my mother.
We arrived at the Golden Lion Inn and made the turn up Cutter Ridge Road, to go to Great Buckland and Harvel. As we pulled up the hill I said that the old cottage so long a tumbled down ruin, had been rebuilt and was inhabited again. My surprise was total and my fathers look withering, as we approached and saw the old cottage for the first time. The chickens were scratching on what had long, long ago been the lawn, the plum tree was a long dead, broken skeleton of the tree it had once been, the door had fallen off its hinges and the roof had broken in the middle and had fallen in. In short it was just as it had been for years!
Upon arriving home, I could not get to Tony’s house quickly enough to tell him what I had just seen at Luddesdown. However, much to my dismay and confusion, when I mentioned the old cottage he cut me short, saying that he never wanted to think or talk about it ever again. The atmosphere between us seemed to be rather brittle and after a few minutes strained silence, I bid my friend goodbye and sadly returned home.
My friend Tony Pickles recollection of the Luddesdown incident and the only time he has ever talked of it. During the mothing season I was able on occasion to meet Tony at‘Hamstreet’, usually on a Friday evening. It was on such a night in late March 1971, when we were walking up the Woodchurch Road dusking for moths before darkness settled, having left Alec who had come down from Blackheath with him at the generators and lights in the rides off 'The Circus'. That I said, "Tony, there's something I want to ask you."Without any further comment from me he said "It's bloody Luddesdown isn't it!" I answered in the affirmative and Tony replied "Okay, I will talk about it, but it’s very hard for me!" "Just tell me what you saw that night", I requested as after so many years I had a few doubts as to the validity of my own memory.
He described the incident just as I remembered it, only of course from his own perspective. "When I came up behind you, I knew that you were about to get off your bike and go to the young woman in the long dress. I was filled with the utmost dread and terror and felt that somehow I had to stop you. I thought that by crashing into your bike, it might break the spell that it appeared you were under!" After a long pause he said "For years I have had recurrent nightmares about that incident Rex and even now as we are speaking, I can feel the hairs prickling on the back of my neck and I really don't want to think about it anymore!" Such were his awful recollections of the event that had occurred all those years ago.
I said "My feelings were totally opposite to his, I had felt nothing but a deep warmth and affection and regretted very deeply, not joining the young woman who had beckoned me to her and that I was constantly asking myself for an explanation of the event and the unanswered questions that came from it, had troubled me seriously and still did!"(They still do and I am convinced that I was somehow on that fateful evening, allowed a glimpse into and the chance to enter another nicer world) Tony replied "That is the most terrifying thing I have ever experienced!" and by mutual consent we let the conversation drift from Luddesdown and the happenings of twelve years previously, returned to'The Circus', joined Alec and had a very rewarding nights mothing!
The following is all hearsay and was told to me by an acquaintance Douglas Bryant, who as a child lived with his parents and elder brother Howard, who was a school friend of mine at Marlings Cross at the top of Valley Drive in Gravesend. In the early eighties he ran The Bosuns Locker a small second-hand yacht chandlery shop next to The Ship Inn in Rochester High Street and I had stupidly told him of my attraction to Margaret McCall, the girl with whom I fell in love with so desperately at the New Year party at Medway Bridge Marina and who I most sincerely believe was the girl who beckoned to me from the cottage in August of 1959, though my intellect tells me that it is all very nearly impossible! Though Margaret would then have been sixteen. Dr. Carl Jung would possibly disagree and may have offered his theory of ‘Synchronicity’ as an explanation.
As renovations progressed at the site of the shack, a deep well was found and Doug told me that he helped his friend to fill in the shaft, as it was considered dangerous. However, after a hard days work tipping site rubbish and rubble into the well, the workers returned the following day to find that most of the stuff had been removed and was scattered about the site. Further efforts to infill the well, met with similar obstruction and eventually the operation was abandoned and a cap was cast over the shaft.
After long months of hard work, the cottage was finished in 1966 and the new owner moved in. He was not to live there very long for he soon had a mysterious and severe fire, which destroyed much of the new roof. He became ill and had to be hospitalised in Gravesend and died shortly afterwards, the cottage becoming abandoned once more and again falling into ruin.
It was in this state, when I visited the site in the July 1969, while on a mothing trip to nearby Cobhambury Park Woods with my friends Tony Pickles and Alec Harmer. The original ground plan had been altered as the cottage had been extended, but it was still basically as I had always remembered it. Ten years were to pass, before I was once more at the old cottage and I found that the site had been cleared and was now fenced all round, with a high weather board fence. I was able to peer through a gap and noted that nothing now remained of the structure and that the ground was quite overgrown.
The next time I was to see the cottage was in the early summer of 1986. I had recently married Annette Tubb, a lady who had lived for some years in the area, at the time having a property in nearby Cuxton. She was fascinated by my story of the old cottage and one day after a walk in the nearby Cobhambury Park Woods, which we had entered via the track way that once served the now demolished foresters cottages, near the junction of Warren Road, Buckland Road and Luddesdown Road. We drove up Luddesdown Road and turned left at the Golden Lion Inn and made our way up Cutter Ridge Road towards Great Buckland and stopped outside the cottage.
It had been rebuilt again, but this time on a very much grander scale. Its position on the plot was different from what it had been originally and it’s aspect to the road had altered, it had been considerably enlarged and now appeared to be double story. A lot of time and money had obviously been spent on it, as from the small amount that one could see of it from behind it’s high dark fence, the fittings and fixtures were of high quality. I must confess that it gave a rather private, sinister and rather forbidding to me appearance, standing in it’s isolation shielded from passing eyes hiding behind it’s high weather board fence and thick hedge. At this time there was obviously someone in residence, for there was still some building work being undertaken on the new detached garage block.
In the summer of 1989, Annette and I returned to Luddesdown and after a drink in the Golden Lion Inn always a dismal and soul-less place, we drove up Cutter Ridge Road past the cottage. It was now evening and there were lights on inside, but it was still privately concealed behind the high fence and hedge and still gave a very forbidding, unwelcoming and somewhat sinister appearance, at least to me. The following year we moved away from Kent to the West Midlands.
In late November of 1999, I made my habitual ten yearly visit to the house now known as Cutteridge Cottage to find that it appeared to be once more empty and abandoned. I was able to have a bit of a look around and could see that it seemed to have been empty again for some years, as the garden was very overgrown and rampant growths of ivy were climbing over the roof and up the chimney, though it was partly furnished. It is much altered from the original and there has been a great deal of money spent on it. Now it is again all becoming very neglected looking and it has a very sad and forlorn feeling about it and is definitely not a happy place.
On Thursday December 2nd 1999, I paid another visit to the Luddesdown area, with the intention of trying to lay my ghost of the cottage, or at least to try to find out a little more about it. I was able to have a lengthy conversation with Peter Stanier, an old acquaintance from my days in Gravesend, who moved to the house opposite the Golden Lion Inn at the bottom of Cutter Ridge Road in 1964. He was able to shed some light on the cottage and was able to confirm that it had been extended and altered considerably in the mid eighties. He also said that it was a chicken shed, when he moved there and also reminded me of the four terraced farm workers cottages that once stood on what is now the extended car park of the Inn, the back gardens of the long demolished cottages now being the pubs beer garden. He said he remembered it being rebuilt and the subsequent fire in the late sixties and went on to tell me that the cottage to his knowledge was owned by a Colin Green, who had with his wife of the time who had since left him, carried out the big redesign and build in the early eighties. He still worked as a gardener locally and lived in the house but Peter gave me the impression that he did not have a lot of time for Mr. Green.
In the spring of 2009 the fiftieth anniversary of the strange and still unexplained experience that my longest known friend Tony Pickles and I had at the little cottage on Cutter Ridge Road in Luddesdown, I decided to write to Colin Green and tell him of the event. It had always been my intention and strong desire to go back to the cottage and celebrate for me what is a very important time, but I have realised that now living in South Africa this is not really practical, hence my letter to which sadly I have never received a reply.
During early September 2010 I used the Google Earth map facility on the Internet and browsing gave me a reasonable close-up aerial view of the site of Cutteridge Cottage on Cutter Ridge Road, which dated from late April 2007. It shows the house now almost engulfed in trees, shrubs and bushes indicating that it may have probably been abandoned since I was there in 1999. This goes some way to explain my lack of communication from Mr Green and one must assume my letter is atop a large pile of unanswered mail inside the front door of the cottage, if in fact it was ever delivered.
I have now contacted a couple of local village sites on the Internet and have posted a request for information concerning Cutteridge Cottage, so I now await any potential contact. In April 2011 I received a short note from David, who told me that to his knowledge Colin Green was still living in Cutteridge Cottage and that the inside was just a bizarre as the outside. He also confirmed it’s use as a free range chicken shed in the sixties.