Somewhere on the East Midlands crossroad that links Belper to Ashbourne, you’ll find the ghostly Horseman in Black. Guest writer ELLIOT DAVIES is going to track him down.
I only moved to Belper a few months ago, but I’ve had a copy of David Bell’s Derbyshire Ghosts & Legends for some time now.
Published in 1993, like all compendiums of local folklore, it’s charming in that all the information within is written as if it actually happened. Seldom will you see words like “apparently” and “alleged”, and the testimonies of eyewitnesses are trusted outright. If they say it happened, it happened.
The Horseman in Black is reported to appear “on a very old road called Chevinside in the area called “The Dalley”. Somewhere along this road you’ll find a set of crossroads which link Belper to Ashbourne. On these crossroads, you’ll find The Horseman in Black.
“The rider was dressed entirely in black [wearing] a three-cornered hat and cloak” reads David’s account, which is based on a series of sightings from one Mike Woodhouse.
Mike saw the rider on three separate occasions in August 1992. The first was allowed Mike to catch a glimpse of the rider – only to see him disappear after having diverted his gaze for a moment.
The second sighting is more interesting. This time, the rider was facing Mike straight-on; and he saw quite clearly that The Horseman in Black had no face.
“It wasn’t that his face was in shadow,” says Mike in David’s book. “There was just a black space where his face should have been!”
I don’t know if the exclamation mark’s an embellishment on David’s part, or if Mike (who David records as if he spoke to him directly), here spoke in such a distressed way as to warrant the use of such alarming punctuation.
Whereas on the previous sighting The Horseman in Black had disappeared when Mike allowed for his attention to sway, this time he apparently vanished into nothingness whilst Mike was staring straight at him. This left him “somewhat shaken, as you might imagine”. Thanks, David.
Mike’s third and final sighting occurred three weeks later. This one was similar to the second sighting, in that The Horseman in Black was facing Mike straight-on (so he could see the black void where his face should have been). Once again, the horse and its rider disappeared whilst Mike was looking straight at them.
David’s retelling of this story ends in this way: “Mike admits that he changed his route after this [third] appearance. He has returned to the area with his wife Joan, who is keen to see the ‘phantom highwayman’, but it has not appeared, so far.”
They’re my italics. David’s book was published in 1993. Mike’s sightings took place in 1992. Who knows how many sightings might have taken place in the intervening nineteen years?
This is why I intend to make The Horseman in Black of Belper the focus of my first ever ghost hunt. Watch this space!
And Mike: If you’re still alive and you’ve Googled yourself, please get in touch. We’d love to hear from you.
Belper phantom horseman, I shall hunt ye down!
I’ve been preparing in earnest for my first ever ghost hunt: My target is the mysterious Black Horseman of Belper – last seen by one Mike Woodhouse in 1992.
All I have to go on can be found in David Bell’sBe marvellous collection of Derbyshire Ghosts & Legends. It seems that this phantom highwayman appears on a road called Chevinside in an area called The Dalley – somewhere around the crossroads which link Belper to Ashbourne.
I’ve highlighted the area on the map below. The red circle is where I’m going to focus my investigations.
According to David’s book, Mike spotted the horseman on three separate occasions. Every sighting seemed to take place in the morning – as early as 5.30, as late as 11.30.
I feel a vigil coming on.
Though this is my first formal ghost hunt, I’ve been studying the method for some years now. I think I know of the various means ghost hunters use to try and prove a presence. They use thermometers, chalk outlines, infra-red cameras – the works.
I will not be using anything so elaborate. I’ll bring a camera, of course, and perhaps a banana. But little else.
That is, I’m afraid, the extent of my plan. I’m going to sit there – or, failing that, stand there – and hope he appears. At which point I’ll try and take a photo.
If you think that unscientific, I appreciate your sense of irony.
Speaking of the whole “lack of scientific evidence for ghosts” thing, there’s a very good reason for that. When sceptics talk about the supernatural, let’s take it as a given that they think it outlandish because those incredible things which people claim to have seen cannot be replicated in laboratory conditions.
Well, if you’ll pardon the pun, a ghost would never be seen dead in a laboratory. The only ghost that would ever appear in a laboratory would be that of a scientist. And scientists do not have ghosts. Of course they don’t. Were a scientist to ever come back as a ghost, they’d immediately disappear in a puff of disbelief – you can’t survive when not even you believe in yourself.
Finally, it might do to share some thoughts about Belper’s Horrifying Horseman in Black. We can call this bit “Belper’s Horrifying Horseman in Black and me”. I’m going to try and understand him – try and feel what makes him tick – in as much as it’s possible to read the feelings of an entity who, apparently, doesn’t even have a face.
The way I see it, there are two possible reasons as to why the horseman might be haunting a crossroad. The obvious one is that his haunt in death was his haunt in life – there he stood for hours on end waiting for a carriage to hold up.
A more poignant explanation, though, might be found in the age-old practice of burying suicide victims at crossroads with a stake in their heart – a fate suffered by the corpse of Quilp – the evil misshapen dwarf in Dickens’s “The Old Curiosity Shop” when his death is mistaken for suicide.
Did our hero the horseman cast himself from the nearby bridge into the raging Derwent below? Could that be why he doesn’t have a face – because he can’t face the sorrow?
Not for the first time, I really wish it were possible to hug a ghost.
Hunt for Belper Hoseman a washout!
The Horrifying Horseman of Belper reportedly appears in an area called The Dalley – the crossroads which link Belper and Ashbourne. According to an eyewitness, he “shows his face” in the morning – sometime between 5.30 and 11.30.
I used the old inverted commas there because the reason this horseman’s the Horrifying Horseman (as opposed to, say, the Boring Horseman) is because he hasn’t got a face. There’s nothing beneath his hat but a shadowy void into which you dare not gaze.
I’ve made two visits to the area in the past couple of days. The first visit replicated quite accurately the conditions in which The Horseman was apparently spotted by Mike Woodhouse in the early nineties: it was about 11.30 in the morning and I was being driven. On this occasion, he failed to materialise.
My second visit was made on foot. And this time, I had my camera!
I would dearly love to say that those figures weren’t there when I took the picture, but the high-visibility jackets give it away.
These weren’t spectres. They were a pair of innocent, safety-conscious riders on a bank holiday jaunt. They even said a cheerful hello to me as they passed-by.
It wasn’t raining, but I suppose my first formal ghost-hunt was a washout.
Below, though, is a picture of the whole area.
You really could imagine a grim presence stood sentinel on that grassy verge on the right.
I didn’t see The Horrifying Horseman. And it was already quite chilly, so I can’t even claim to have felt any kind of presence.
But it would take a great deal of arrogance to conclude that no spirits haunt those crossroads based on my amateur fumblings alone.
We’ll call my study inconclusive, then. And I’m not going to rule-out the possibility of making a few return visits to the area.
Maybe next time I’ll bring some friends and a flask of something. We’ll get bored and start chewing the fat. And then, just when our defences are at the very lowest, there’ll be a sharp intake of breath as we realise we’re being watched with cold eyes staring from a shadowy face which cannot be unseen.