A real life ghost story? Nah, you say, pull t’other one, it has bells on it . . .
Thanks to Quinn for hosting this blogfest: see link below.
Whatever your thoughts on ghosts and strange spiritual happenings, this incident did happen, and it all started with the early morning feed round in the stables, and sudden mystical apparition of a horse.
A really thick morning sea mist swirled around the stable block, and with half the horses already fed I happened around the corner from the tack room to see a dark bay – identical to my favourite horse. It was standing a little ways beyond the far box. He shouldn’t have been there he should have been inside his box, so it was natural to assume one of the stable girls had inadvertently left the bolt unlatched and he’d sneaked out to graze nearby lush pasture.
As soon as I made toward him I realised he was bridled and the rein broken, but no saddle. What in hell ? came to mind. Meantime he turned about and ambled off, unlike Barboy who would have stubbornly carried on grazing in defiant stance until made to return to his box. I never thought to look in Barboy’s box: needless to say he was standing at the back of his box and merrily munching hay whilst I made toward the apparent mirror-image horse.
The horse immediately swung about and took off at a meandering trot out of the main driveway and then headed off along the lane keeping a few strides in front of me. At times like these it's best to follow without trying to intercept a renegade horse, which is likely to spook just for the hell of it. So, there I was jogging in its wake hoping to hell no vehicle came our way and collided with either one or both of us. The mist by this time had thickened somewhat and there was nothing but eerie silence as we headed off the lane and down a track through sand dunes. By the time we hit the beach it felt as though the horse was leading me somewhere, but where and why?
It’s difficult to judge distance covered in fog, on open estuary it can be deadly, especially when the tide is out but on the turn. The incoming tide washes across these sand flats and flows up the river so fast it’s easy to get cut-off from safe ground, so few people ever venture beyond red flags. Unfortunately, in thick sea fog red flags are worse than useless.
Suddenly water is seeping across the sand so I know the tide is incoming, water rapidly deepening, and that’s when the horse turned about – me following in its wake – and before I knew it we were back on dry sand, the dunes directly in front of us. The horse stood motionless for a moment as though the fun was over and he was ready to give in. Nevertheless I approached with caution, and not wanting to alarm him I sat down, which usually incites a horse’ curiosity and they’ll come investigate why you’re sat down. Anyhoo, that’s when I heard voices, male voices yelling and splashing sounds out on the estuary.
If you’ve ever been out in real thick fog you’ll know when trying to discern exactly where sound is coming from it is nigh impossible. I looked to the horse, his ears pricked. He let go an earth-shattering whinnie, and replies came back. By this time I was on my feet, and shouting like mad trying to guide whomever and their horses to safety. More shouting came across the water, more splashing and eventual silence. I had no cell-phone with me, and although it was only a short jog back to a telephone it wouldn’t have mattered, and as hard as I listened there was only silence coming out of the fog.
The horse whinnied again and then took off at the gallop from a standing take-off; rein trailing in its wake as he thundered along the edge of the dunes. The horse I never found, nor sign of dead horses or people when the fog cleared quite suddenly as it often does with offshore breeze. There was nothing, not even a hoof print in the dunes. No one else reported hearing horses or voices, and I think people seriously thought I’d lost it.
Five days later out riding I met a wild fowler who’d been shooting on the salt flats up stream, and whilst passing the time of day he said he’d heard about my experience. He then confessed to a similar incident he’d had some ten years beforehand, and relayed a similar story told by a yachting family who were anchored out at sea and came in on a high tide. All had heard horses and men as though floundering in the waters of the rising tide.
The wild fowler revealed he’d already embarked on research some years back because his experience had haunted him, plus he learned through his findings that when the first dredging of the estuary was carried out in the 1900s (to allow larger boats access to the neighbouring harbour the other side of the estuary) bones were recovered and identified as that of equine in nature. Also some people with metal detectors had found horseshoes on the sand flats dating back to the 1600s.
Haunted day and night by the horse apparition I set to with historical research 1600s upwards to present time. What came up was a Castle besieged during the English Civil War by Cromwell’s forces, (castle above). Beneath the castle lies a cave, through which Royalist top brass reportedly escaped from by boat and sailed up river to where Royalist troopers and horses were waiting for them. They then fled northward to what they thought was a safe haven under Royalist control, intent on making for Chester and expected there but they never arrived. Unfortunately the only crossing point of a third river was under the control of the Parliamentarians, so the assumption being the Cavalier force lay low on the salt flats and undercover of darkness set out to cross the estuary.
All of the Cavaliers presumably perished, with exception of one horse: the horse I encountered, because he galloped along the fringe of the dunes quite hail and hearty. And given his broken bridle and no saddle, maybe his rider escaped a drowning as well. Who knows? But, that experience still haunts me, and if you’ve followed this blog for a while you might have read two snippets from historical novels set within the period English Civil War. This experience is featured in my latest Civil War novel, and I do feel a sincere affinity with this particular period in history. Given poetic licence the rider of the ghost horse survives, but that's all I'm prepared to tell you!
So, what happened that morning in the rolling sea mist, other than that of equine ghost expressing loss of fellow horses and their riders on the sand flats?
To see entries by other participants go here.