Bottlebush Down. I was told that one evening a man lay down to rest on top of one of the barrows on Bottlebush Down, and was astonished to see a crowd of little people in leather jerkins, who came and danced round him. Since hearing ths tale, I have been told that the man was the late curate of Handley, the Rev. A.R.T. Bruce, but unfortunately he died before I could confirm this.
The Folklore of Sixpenny Handley, Dorset, Part I
Aubrey L. Parke
Folklore, Vol. 74, No. 3. (Autumn, 1963), pp. 481-487.
Can you doubt the testimony of a man of the cloth? Did his fatigue / relaxation predispose him to dreaming, hallucinations or Actually Seeing Something? Or did it happen at all - this isn't a first hand story after all.
Dr Clay supplied his first-hand account of the story to L V Grinsell for his book 'The Archaeology of Wessex' (p57).
'During the winter of 1927/8 when Dr R C C Clay was excavating the Pokesdown urnfield, he met with the following experience. One night he was returning from Pokesdown to his home at Fovant and proceeding in his car along the road from Cranborne to Handley, when about 150 yards past Squirrel's Corner he saw a horseman on the downs to the north-east, travelling in the same direction as himself.
"Thinking he was from the Training Stables at Nine Yews, I took very little notice of him at first. Suddenly he turned his horse's head and galloped as if to reach the road ahead, before my car arrived there. I was so interested that I changed gear to slow my car's speed in order that we should meet, and I should be able to find out why he had taken this sudden action. Before I had drawn level with him, he turned his horse's head again to the north, and galloped along parallel to me about 50 yards from the road. I could see now see that he was no ordinary horseman, for he had bare legs, and wore a long, loose coat. The horse had a long mane and tail, but I could see no bridle or stirrups. The rider's face was turned towards me, but I could not see his features. He seemed to be threatening me with some implement which he waved in his right hand above his head. I tried hard to identify the weapon, for I suddenly realised that he was a prehistoric man; but I failed. It seemed to be on a two foot shaft. After travelling parallel to my car for about 100 yards, the rider and horse suddenly vanished. I noted the spot, and the next day found at the spot a low round barrow."
'A few years later, the late Alexander Keiller reported to Dr Clay that two girls, returning from Cranborne to Handley from a dance, had complained to the policeman at Handley that they had been followed and frightened by a man on horseback. Within the last thirty years [since 1958] there have been other reports, from shepherds and others, of apparitions having been seen in the vicinity of Bottlebush Down.'
The story is probably retold in many books, but certainly in Devereux's 'Haunted Land' and forms part of his article in Fortean Times here.
Just one word of caution - Devereux claims 'the figure clearly saw' Dr Clay. Is this really apparent in his actual statement above - the figure turned to him, but does that mean it saw him?. It doesn't particularly tally with the Doctor's theorising which followed his experience: Peter Underwood, a writer on the supernatural, described in his 'Ghosts and how to see them' in 1993 that Dr Clay felt such images were 'a cinema of time' replaying certain emotion-charged moments at particular times to particular sensitive people. He also had had a vision of his brother when he was killed in the first world war, for whatever relevance you may see in that. A search of the internet revealed Clay was in charge of at least one dig in Wiltshire - I wonder if his colleagues knew about his unorthodox experiences?
Kathleen Wiltshire also records the tale in her 1984 'More Ghosts and Legends of the Wiltshire Countryside', though she doesn't say specifically where she heard it. A number of local people were asked about the sighting: an old shepherd was said to say "Do you mean the man on the horse that comes out of the opening in the pine wood?"
These barrows and the surrounding sites, of which there are many, used to be conveniently reached by parking in a small layby on the northern side of the road. Sadly this has now been blocked off and the only place to park safely is another layby about 100 - 200 metres west, this is however a very fast and dangerous road with no pavement so be careful.