Another story connected with Tan Hill is in Kathleen Wiltshire's book 'Ghosts and Legends of the Wiltshire Countryside'.
She collected it in person from the woman who experienced it, a Marney Gale (nee Wiltshire - perhaps a relative?).
Around 1962 or 1963 a schoolgirl of about 12 took her dog for a walk up on the downs, near the Wansdyke on Tan Hill. She eventually came across a house, and thinking she might see the occupants and say hello she walked into the yard. Chickens were scratching around, and a horse poked its head out over a stable half-door, but she couldn't see anybody about. When she returned home she mentioned the place to her friends, but to her surprise no-one knew where she could be talking about, 'not even the oldest shepherds'. Confused she later went back to search for the house, but couldn't refind it. Soon her experience was put to the back of her mind, but a few years later she had a copy of an old book, and there in one of the illustrations was the house she had seen, which had once existed up on the hill.
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]."
Large sections of IA/R-B earthworks on the slopes of Tan Hill. Lengthy sections are visible at the western end. Pastscape brief description:
Probable prehistoric linear earthwork, comprising a bank and ditch, on Tan Hill. Iron Age and Romano-British pottery has been recovered from the ditch, as has an undated skeleton. The earthwork is twice crossed by the Wansdyke.
Tan Hill fair had a bit of a reputation. An 80 year old shepherd, Daniel Swatton, speaking in the 1930s, said "Th' used to reckon as anybody could get a pint o' beer an' a smack on th' yead ver dreepence up at Tan Hill."
(from 'Shepherd Lore - the last years of traditional shepherding in Wiltshire' by Peter Gurney (C S Smith), published 1985 but written 1935)
According to Kathleen Wiltshire in her 'Wiltshire Folklore' the valley below Tan Hill was within living memory supposed to stand 'a miniature stone circle of 9 upright sarsen stones about 4 ft in height, in the centre of which lies a prostrate stone about the length of a man'.
Leading up from the circle was a path, to a chalk figure of a horse - or a donkey - on the hill above. 'This pony or donkey is 75ft from nose to tail, which stretches down much like that of the Uffington horse, and its head is very large.'
'Tan' is apparently an ancient word for 'fire' (it certainly means fire in Welsh) - perhaps indicating that this hill (the highest in Wiltshire) was used as a beacon? Also a festival was held on the hill on St Anne's day every year (geddit? - St Tan's) in July - given official status by Royal Charter in the 1300s, but effectively died out in the 1930s (though I suspect people will still be gathering up there). John Aubrey said: "On St Anne's hill, vulgarly called Tan Hill, every year is kept a great fair within an old camp.. the commodoties are sheep, oxen and fineries." His mention of a camp might have been a confusion with the earthworks of Wansdyke. (quote reproduced in 'The Marlborough Downs' by Kenneth Watts, 1993)
The author of this excellent and comprehensive website went in search of the rumoured stone circle* and the hill figure - pointed in the right direction by the locals they apparently found the right spot. No sign remains of the pony/donkey but they did find some stones, of which there is a photo. They don't look very big, but who's to say: they could still be ancient? Does anyone else have any information about this circle?