A new book takes readers on a journey through some of Lancashire’s scariest stories from the county’s folklore. To celebrate Halloween, local historian and author David Paul shares the terrifying tale of The Pillion Lady of Garstang
After a profitable summer’s day at Garstang market, Humphrey Dobson decided that he deserved a well-earned drink at the Farmers Arms. Later that evening he left his friends and soon reached the point where the road crossed a stream; a stream reputed to be haunted by a woman who had been murdered at the spot many years previously.
Feeling a little apprehensive, Humphrey rode on, although he did notice a dark spot just ahead of him overshadowing the trees. His mind began to play tricks on him as he thought of some of the stories he had heard in his youth: those of a headless woman whose sole occupation was to terrify travellers in that particular area.
Undaunted, he sought to allay his fears with the words of an old song:
He rode and he rode till he came to the dooar,
And Nell came t’oppen it, as she’d done afooar:
‘Come, get off thy horse,’ she to him did say,
‘An’ put it i’th’stable, an’ give it some hay.’
Casting any ill thoughts to the back of his mind, he galloped on towards the bridge. Then, as he approached, he heard a blood-curdling laugh coming from under the arch of the bridge. The next thing that he was aware of was an icy arm reaching around his waist and a slight pressure on his back. He could now feel himself sweating and his heart was racing faster than ever before, but he was too terrified to glance behind him for fear of seeing ‘th’ boggart o’th’ bruk’.
As they neared the farm he tried to guide his horse into the yard, but to no avail. Whatever he did the mare would not respond, and she raced on past the farm gate. As the farm was then fast receding Humphrey heard another spine-chilling laugh, but this time, as it was so close, he involuntarily turned around in his saddle. Much to his surprise, the figure behind him was not the headless being that he had heard so much about, but a far more ghostly apparition.
Looking out from under the hood that she was wearing, all that Humphrey could see was a grinning skull with eyeless sockets and gleaming white teeth. The ghastly skull was so close that it was almost touching his face. So alarmed was Humphrey that he couldn’t turn his head away, but looked, transfixed, at the ghostly figure sat behind him. As they sped on through the night, the ghostly pillion passenger continued to chortle with her shrill laugh.
Humphrey noticed the arm around his waist was becoming tighter so he reached down to loosen it, only to find that the arm was no more than a skeleton. Humphrey had no idea as to how long his ghostly companion had been with him, but then – in a trance – his horse lost her footing at a bend in the road and stumbled and fell. Humphrey was thrown to the ground and lay unconscious for some time.
It was daybreak by the time he was regaining consciousness; the sun was shining, the birds were singing and his horse was standing some way off quietly grazing. Humphrey could not begin to contemplate the events of the previous night. Somewhat weak, tired and more than a little embarrassed, he made his way home to the farm. When he did arrive and retold his story to the gathered company, there were murmurings of disbelief; however, ever since that time no one from the farm could be induced to ride over the bridge.
* The Pillion Lady is published courtesy of Illustrated Tales of Lancashire by David Paul which is available from Amberley Publishing priced £14.99. www.amberley-books.com.