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The Headless Horseman of Stockham Lane

September 27, 2011

The borough of Halton, which is comprised of the towns Widnes and Runcorn, boasts many myths and legends involving dragons, ghosts, poltergeists and UFOs. One such legend is the apparition of the Headless Horseman that is said to haunt an old abandoned stretch of road known as Stockham Lane, which runs through the middle of the green-belt called ‘the town park’ in Runcorn New town.

I would now like to take you back to a dark sinister night in 1982, where everything was not as it first seemed…

As a young boy growing up in Runcorn, I often overheard the seasoned elders talking about the many ghosts and spirits which were said to haunt the more older parts of the town. For instance, there were the tales of the ghostly monks which were often seen near the ruins of Norton Priory Monastery, the infamous poltergeist of Byron Street, the Witch’s grave in Windmill Hill Wood and, of course, the Headless Horseman of Stockham Lane.

Legend has it that on the night of the full moon, the ghostly apparition of a headless Cavalier, mounted on a phantom white steed, can be seen galloping like ‘a bat out of hell’ down the disused lane. It was rumoured that the sight was so terrifying that people who witnessed the spectacle often died of fright or became insane. In my formative years, I believed every word of it.

As the years rolled by, my childlike suspension of disbelief and general gullibility wore off whilst I went through the agonising phase in life called ‘growing up’. Somewhere along the line I began to realise that not everything told to me by adults was true.  Therefore, all things spurious such as Father Christmas, the Tooth Fairy, the Easter Bunny and tales of wailing monks and headless horsemen were speedily consigned to the ‘fiction’ department of my mind.

In 1982, shortly after my 19th birthday, with all thoughts of spooky Runcorn long since banished to the back of my hormone addled brain, two seemingly unrelated events occurred that would inevitably draw me into my own terrifying encounter on Stockham Lane: I started dating a girl who lived on the opposite side of the town park to me; and an article in the local newspaper caught my eye.

I saw the ghost of a headless horseman’ read the headline.  The article related the experiences of a man called Chris who had missed his last bus home and decided to take a short cut along the old disused lane which cut through the vast grassy wilderness known as the town park. He reported that an eerie mist had settled on the road, illuminated by the light of the full moon, which made him instantly think of Hammer Horror movies. Beginning to feel unsettled, he began to walk briskly down the spooky lane.

Suddenly, he heard the distinct sound of horse’s hooves thundering away in the distance. At first he saw nothing as he peered into the eerie fog, but without warning the ghost of Stockham lane, the legendary headless horseman on his crazed luminous steed, hurtled towards Chris at a dizzying pace.

According to the newspaper, Chris froze to the spot, terrified, unable to move even a muscle as the phantom cavalier shot past him with all speed. Suddenly gripped with primeval survival instinct, he turned and fled in the opposite direction, running until his lungs and limbs could take no more.

It was a very chilling story, made more so because of the tales I had overheard when I was a small boy. Could the stories that I had discounted as ‘old men’s tales’ have been true all along? Myths and legends were one thing, but who could deny a contemporary account?

As previously stated, the girl of my teen dreams lived on the other side of the town park to me. Most nights I would walk her home and then catch the last bus back to my side of town. On many occasions I only just made the bus, but on one lonely February night in 1982, the bus had decided to depart five minutes early. Completely stranded, I had no choice but to walk home. Since my spirits were high, I decided to take a short cut through the town park. After around ten minutes of walking, I reached the infamous Stockham Lane. No matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t get the recent news article out of my mind.

When my eyes had become fully accustomed to the dark, I began to notice a strange eerie mist which clung to the floor, illuminated only by the light of the waning moon. An instant later, I became aware of being cocooned in an unnatural silence. Normally you could expect to hear the sounds of distant traffic, the odd hoot from an owl and the occasional rustle of cats or foxes going about their business in the undergrowth, but on this occasion everything was deathly silent. It almost felt as though I was the last person on earth. I began to proceed down the lane at a brisk pace. After five minutes of rapid walking, my unease began to dissipate and my thoughts turned towards what delights the next day might bring.

Suddenly, my new found cheeriness became instantly replaced with utter terror as I heard the unmistakable sound of horse’s hooves approaching me from behind. Gripped with sheer panic, I ran as fast as I could down the lane, but the sound of the hooves edged closer. As I ran, I looked over my shoulder and, sure enough, caught a fleeting glimpse of a ‘ghostly’ white horse emerging through the mist. I instantly turned up the pace. As my feet pounded down the disused lane, my limbs began to ache and my lungs began to burn. Within minutes I was racked with so much pain that I was unable to run any further. Thinking that my number was up, I stopped in my tracks gasping for breath. I decided to turn and face my fate. The phantom horse galloped closer and closer.

As the beast was nearly upon me, I realised that this horse was rider-less, and as it slowed down and approached me, I realised that it was not a phantom, but very real.

The horse stopped just in front of me and nuzzled my hand. I was so relieved that I laughed out loud hysterically. Feeling simultaneously happy, yet completely stupid to have panicked so easily, I patted the horse and tore up some grass for it to eat.

Soon it was time for me to continue on my way, so I bade the horse a fond farewell. Unfortunately the horse was having none of it and began to follow me. I had obviously made an impression! After ten minutes of walking I came to the end of Stockham Lane and emerged into Runcorn New town, horse still in tow.

Despite my best efforts at trying to gently shoo the animal away, it stuck to me like glue. This presented me with a bit of a problem, as in what would my parents say if I came home with a friendly horse? I could picture their faces as I announced ‘Hi Mum, Hi Dad, look what I found in the Town Park’. Trying to accommodate a horse in our tiny bungalow wouldn’t have gone down well with the folks, especially in the wee small hours. So, with no other option available to me, I took it to the local police station and handed it in as ‘lost property’. You should have seen the look on their faces!

There is a moral to this tale, and it is this: Never ever let your imagination run away with you, no matter where you are. And if you do decide to venture out onto Stockham Lane in the middle of the night, don’t forget to take sugar lumps.

Stockham Lane in 2011, less remote now than in the early ’80s

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Origins

No-one is certain where the Headless Horseman myths originate, but they appear as part of the paranormal cannon of many different cultures from around the World. The earliest recorded accounts hail from Danish and Irish Folklore, where a headless spirit called a Dullahan was said to ride an equally headless horse.

India too has its ancient Headless horseman – the terrifying Dund, whose head is attached to the saddle of his sinister phantom steed. It is said that wherever the Dund was seen, destruction would soon follow in his wake. Interestingly, a correspondent from The Times Newspaper, Sir William Russell, claimed to have witnessed the apparition of the Dund for himself whilst reporting in North India in 1857.

However, the modern Headless Horseman, which is now synonymous with spooky festivals such as Halloween, has its origins in the short story ‘The Legend of Sleepy Hollow’, penned by Irving Washington in 1820. In it, the spirit of a Mercenary soldier, decapitated by a cannonball during the American Revolution, is doomed to spend the rest of eternity haunting the spooky township of the story’s title.

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4 comments

  1. Great article!

    http://anilbalan.com/


  2. Brilliant- both spooky and funny :)x


  3. brilliant


  4. I used to walk this lane for similar reasons. The mist was a regular visitor. I would then head up past the graveyard and past halton castle though the old village (were a witch who murdered seven kittens had resided!) and on to home. Always a spine tingling walk especially in the midnight hours. Many unsettled spirits around the castle hill and walls. Now as an older person I feel priveliged to have experienced such real fear!

    Fig



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