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Monday, 26 November 2012

The Headless Horseman


In the eastern area of the Linconshire Wolds is an old track that runs from the hamlets of Scamblesby to Farforth and Ruckland, along which the terrifying apparition of a headless horseman is reputed to gallop. Some years ago when I was researching the folklore of this picturesque part of the county I was told the origin of the phantom by a couple who had lived in the district for many years. The story is as follows. One morning some two hundred years ago a crowd assembled on Gallows Hill to watch the execution of a highwayman who had terrorised the district for some months. As the condemned man was taken by horse and cart to a makeshift gallows, an ominous rumble of thunder portended a mighty storm. As the hangman moved to place a noose around his neck, the first flash of lightning was succeeded instantly by a thunder clap so loud it took the entire assembly by surprise. All that is except the highway man who sized his chance. He slipped his bonds and leaped from the cart onto the back of a snowy white horse mounted by an officer of the law, who was easily dislodged. The highway man dug his heels into the flanks of the startled animal which flew at a gallop through the protesting crowd. But as he urged his mount onwards with greater speed, a solider drew his sword and aimed a glancing blow at the rider which cut his head clean from his body. The head rolled down the sloping road and landed with a splash in the waters of the ford below. The horse its whiteness now speckled with the riders dabbled blood, continued hell for leather, its grisly decapitated mount still in place feet in stirrups and hands clutching the reins. According to local legend on June 11th each year phantom horse and headless rider are still attempting the journey to this day.

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