I think every village in Britain has a secret or two. A couple of weeks ago, I was lucky enough to find one of the “secrets” of the village of Otterden, the mysterious “Lady in the Woods.”
A friend of ours, Dan, had told us about the Lady in the Woods. She’s a nine foot oak statue of a woman who can be found in the woods by a field in Otterden in Maidstone, Kent – but nobody knows for sure who carved her, or why. When Dan told me about the Lady, I knew I had to see her for myself.
Our journey started in a beautiful old pub fairly close by, the Park Gate Inn, which is right next to Leeds Castle. It turned out that it was an appropriate starting point for a pilgrimage to see a mysterious statue, as the landlord told us that the pub is haunted – the “most haunted pub in Britain,” he reckons! As we drank our coffee beside a blazing fire in an impressive old fireplace, the landlord regaled us with tales of all the different ghosts himself and the other staff have encountered.
There’s “Ralph”, a man who always sits at the same table and whose presence is signalled by the scent of parma violets. They call him Ralph the Pervert because apparently he always goes to the women’s toilets! Then there’s “Elizabeth,” a lady who never leaves the upstairs floor. There’s even a ghost dog who’s apparently responsible for knocking a roll of toilet paper down the stairs!
The landlord told us that some of the encounters with the ghosts have been more scary. He and his wife have been woken up by ghosts in the middle of the night. One time, after burning white sage incense in the pub, a presence that he described as “evil” manifested itself as a ball of energy. They’ve also held seances as the pub to try and connect more with the ghosts, and plan to hold more inviting small numbers of members of the public.
After we’d finished our coffee, we drove a little while longer into Otterden to seek the Lady.
She’s not too hard to find. There are public footpaths leading to her, which also pass by an old, overgrown railway. All the paths tend to be extremely muddy, so you should bring appropriate foodwear if you plan on visiting!
Eventually, as you pass through a small wooded area by a field, you catch a glimpse of the Lady near the footpath…
She is beautifully and expressively carved, and she appears to be pregnant. She has no facial features, and her hands are clasped in prayer:
As you can see from the pictures, someone has adorned her with a necklace and Christmas decorations. The adornments might be of questionable taste, but they do demonstrate that this statue has particular significance to someone who has gone to the effort to bring these items to her. It looks like she’s regularly decorated too; you can see other photos of her adorned with other ornaments here.
And there’s more evidence that for other people too, going to see the Lady in the Woods is something of a pilgrimage…
At the foot of the statue were an assortment of offerings – shells, buttons, nuts and even a supermarket shopping trolley token.
And that’s not the end of the Lady’s secrets. Follow her gaze, and you’ll spot this in a hollow log…
This box is a “geocache.” It’s been placed here deliberately for people to find.
Inside are a logbook, notes and little trinkets. The idea is that you can add to the logbook and take a trinket, provided you replace it with another. You then put the geocache back for someone else to find.
So who is the Lady In The Woods?
Legend has it she was carved by an Eastern European soldier during the Second World War stationed at the Tank Regiment at Otterden Place, perhaps as a depiction of a sweetheart back home.
However, the story of the Lady in the Wood that’s posted on a village noticeboard just before the walk up to her woods tells a more likely story…
“In the 1970s a student who had a gift for woodcarving chanced upon a fallen oak tree just inside the wood by the public footpath at Kite Hill. As the path is situated in a particularly isolated spot, the student could begin and complete his work undisturbed. Though there was one other person who passed this way regularly, saw the student at work and spoke to him. Once the carving was complete others noticed as they walked the public footpath, even newspapers reported the event though discretely. This was over thirty years ago, and many people have come to know of it and visit it for their own reasons.
But the lady in the wood is a standing reminder of the talent of this young man, and the fact that his name is unknown, will, in time, make this mystery a legend and is itself part of Otterden’s history.”
But who is the Lady in the Woods meant to represent?
With her halo-like hair, joined hands and pregnant appearance, many have thought that she might represent the Virgin Mary bearing Christ. Or perhaps she simply represents womanhood.
But it’s no difficult to see how the Lady in the Woods, with her pregnant belly and natural surroundings, could represent the Great Goddess for modern-day Pagans. And indeed, the necklace and ornaments suggest to me that there may be Pagans who’ve come to identify the Lady as a Goddess figure.
Whatever her meaning, I’m pleased to see that the Lady in the Woods being visited and cared for by visitors – and that she is indeed becoming a legend in her own right.