A Christmas ghost story

The events told here are true, or at least some of them. They happened about 20 years ago in mid-Somerset, writes Community Care’s Keith “No living thing scares me but…” Sellick.

It was a cold and stormy Boxing Night. Five of us sat huddled around a roaring fire in a local pub. Outside the wind howled, swinging the pub sign like a man hanging from the gallows. The rain lashed the window shutters as we finished our evening of drinking warm cider.

“Time please lads,” said the landlord just before midnight. We clubbed together our last coins to buy some take-outs and, despite the rain, decided on a walk in the countryside for an hour before returning to our homes.

“Let’s go along the Butleigh Road, up to the playing fields and back down Gypsy Lane,” said one of us. We agreed and were on our way out of the pub when a voice from the corner halted our peregrinations.

“You don’t want to go up the Butleigh Road at this hour,” said the old man as he puffed on his clay pipe and sipped his cider. “Folks ‘round here got a strange name for the things that go on there after midnight,” he added.

“What’s that then?” we asked. 

“Don’t know, don’t come from round here.” And with that final comment he returned to looking into the bowl of his pipe.

We went on our way along the Butleigh Road, considering that the old man’s advice was either a seasonal joke or the ramblings of a brain addled by too much fermented apple juice.

Singing and joking we went, cheered by the drink and festive spirit, oblivious to the rain and wind. After about 15 minutes, the road dipped where a stream had eroded a small gully over thousands of years.

It was here we halted, the joking stopped and the singing came to an abrupt finish. We had all heard something that sent a cold chill through our bodies.

The sound of horses’ hooves! It started quiet but became louder and sounded like it was running either on a dirt track or without iron shoes. After about 10 seconds the sound of hooves was the only thing we could hear and we readied ourselves for it to appear, but it never did. The sound stopped just when we expected it to emerge out of the gloom. We looked around but could see nothing, we jumped over five-bar gates to see into the local fields but saw no horses, nowhere could we find the source of the sound.
The old man had been right, there was someone strange on the Butleigh Road.

The following summer, two of us were cycling back from a Sunday night drink in east Somerset. It was a warm, moonlit night and beads of perspiration fell from our faces as we cycled along the road through a succession of villages. About a mile after passing the last hamlet before home, with a tall imposing wood echoing with the sound of screeching owls on our left, we approached the gully once more, a few minutes past midnight.

Then we heard it again. A loud galloping sound of a horse as if it was on a dirt track or without shoes. Nearer it came and yet, even on a night so illuminated as this one, we still could not see it. And again, just as we expected to see a ghostly apparition of a horse with smoke coming out of its nostrils and breath as fire with a fell black-robed rider upon it, the galloping stopped as abruptly as it had started.

My friend swore upon Holy Books that he would go no further and despite my imploring that the road home was safe, he refused to pass the gully. So we made a long detour home.

The people involved have not spoken about what happened, in fact they haven’t seen each other for years preferring to put as many miles as possible between themselves and the memory of those events that so terrified their lives. Or it could be they just don’t get on anymore and were a bit embarrassed about drinking too much cider on both occasions.

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