Well, actually more-or-less on time for a change – I don’t believe it!
But I did say a couple of days. But to save me writing any news up now (little busy with other things to be honest) here is the short extract I promised from the new book. Can’t publish the whole chapter – well, I could but K. would ‘kill’ me! So here it is . . .
WE SET OFF for Dorset one hot July day in 1979. We had no idea of the precise location, except that the AA repair mechanic said ‘it’ had been reported a few times near the ‘Old Roman Crossing’. Really the only other clues were the long tree-lined driveway Kenny had described, and that it was on a ‘B’ road (or even a ‘C’ road) en route back to London But there was the possibility, of course, that locals in the area might provide more information, and we intended to talk to the local AA to see if they had anymore useful leads.
There was also a supposedly haunted wood near Salisbury named ‘Hound Wood’ that I wanted to visit (the name alone perhaps inspiring me to find out if there might be any connection between the haunted wood and Kenny’s experience); although we decided to check this on the way back, as the route was in a northerly direction, and more convenient towards London.
We didn’t rush, and avoided motorways, and eventually arrived at Cranborne, a quaint old village in Dorset – right in the centre of the area we planned to investigate. There was a lovely old pub there called the ‘Fleurs de Lys’ and we stopped there for a sandwich and a drink. It was late afternoon and the pub was almost empty except for a few locals at the bar.
A young friendly barmaid served us, who seemed more curious about two strangers than she did in the locals ordering their ‘usuals’ at the bar. We soon got into conversation with her and turned the subject to local history, and the ghostly figure that had been reported on roads round and about the area. She said the pub itself was supposed to be haunted by ‘Blackbeard’s’ ghost, although she had never seen it, and didn’t particularly want to! She said ‘yes’, there was supposed to be ‘something out there’ on the roads at night, but she wasn’t sure what that was. She said she’d ask her friend who was interested in ghosts, and soon another young barmaid came over to join us. Most people had heard about this ‘thing’, she told us; people saw it on the roads at night, and it was said to be a manifestation of the devil that appeared to take people back to hell, if they succumbed to its influence.
A customer was telling people only a year before, she continued, that he had seen it from his car, but afterwards it just appeared to vanish. He wasn’t a regular so she couldn’t be sure who it was. She then told us about her old school nearby, which was haunted. The school was very old, but most of the sightings that of a ‘shadowy man’ in black – were confined to one of its ‘loos’. Several girls and teachers had seen it over the years.
I couldn’t help but inwardly smile: her story was not in any way relevant to our original request, but we listened to more details out of politeness.
But on leaving, I gave her my card and asked her to let me know if she got anymore information on the ‘ghost’ seen on the local roads. She promised she would, and we headed back for the van; nothing exactly ‘concrete’ had come out of this exchange, but at least we had a little more information.
There were still a few hours of daylight left, and so we decided to try and camp out by one of the locations Kenny’s AA mechanic had described as the ‘Old Roman Crossing’. It was not that easy, because the course of the only Roman trackway marked on the ordnance survey map appeared to cross modern roads with no actual names added to the crossover points. It made sense to assume it must have been named at some point where the trackway crossed a ‘B’ road or ‘C’ road, where Kenny and his friends had got stranded.
But which one? It needed a little guesswork as the Fleurs de Lys was in fact situated at the edge of a large expanse of countryside known as “Cranborne Chase” which derived its name from a royal hunting estate owned by the Crown in times bygone: it was in fact a rich habitat for wild boar and deer – all ‘delicacies’ at the tables of the more affluent. Penalties for poaching were extremely severe, which in turn seemed to reflect its historical importance. The Romans were certainly in evidence there and – as far as I could tell – the Old Roman Road led directly to Old Sarum further northeast; which of course was the original name for Salisbury.
We slipped into some dimly lit alcove off the beaten track and parked the van. There was hardly any noise – at least from traffic anyway. We had picked a point where the Roman Road had passed a ‘C’ road, although exact identification was difficult, having only a map to rely on. There were no houses in the distance – not even a farm – but maybe, we thought, this could be around the right location. If this was the Old Roman Crossing, we had parked right at the edge of it. There was a large field in front with a small cluster of woods in the distance, which got even darker as the light slowly faded.
© David Farrant