|Kathleen Wiltshire collected the following story, which is in her 'Ghosts and Legends of the Wiltshire Countryside':
She heard the story from Mrs Alice Maslen, of All Cannings, in about 1940. Her grandfather, George Tasker, was a shepherd. When he was young he was up on the downs working with an older shepherd, Tod Beake, and a young lad.
This night they were looking after their flocks just north of Tan Hill. Night had fallen and they were just settling down when they heard sounds like men and horses coming towards them along the Wansdyke. This (she says) would have been unusual enough during the day. The moon shone out from behind a cloud and the two men could see a party of figures carrying torches, walking behind a wagon drawn by black horses. On the wagon they could see a coffin strapped on, and lying on top of it a golden circle, perhaps a crown. The young lad hurriedly made his exit ('and never stopped running until he reached Cannings'), but the older men bravely stayed put. When the cortege drew level with them it vanished.
The experience understandably made the shepherds' hair stand on end: "Me fustian cap rose right off me head" George told his family.
In the light of the BBCs recent 'treasure hunting' (hmm) programmes I am inclined to romantically interpret the 'golden circle' (strange to mention it in this way, as opposed to claiming definitely that it was a crown) as a lovely golden torc.
Kathleen continues: "When telling the above story to the Marlborough Townswomen's Guild in 1969, a member told me how her father went courting her mother, and had to pass near the Wansdyke where it runs near the village of Huish [this is also on the edge of the hill, but further east than Tan Hill, beyond Knap Hill]. One night he saw the same funeral procession as had been described by the All Cannings' shepherds. This would have happened [around 1880]."
Posted by Rhiannon
11th September 2003ce
Edited 15th October 2003ce