Phantom hitchhiker encounters often share common themes and the one experienced by coach driver Stuart Garlick on the A454 Bridgnorth Road in Shropshire was no exception. The following account of the strange incident is taken directly from ANDREW HOMER’s own interview with the witness at the time.
It was during a particularly dark night in October 2000 that Stuart found himself driving a group of Black Country revellers to Bridgnorth in Shropshire.
Stuart recalls that he saw nothing untoward on that outward journey through the outskirts of Wombourne and out along the Wolverhampton to Bridgnorth road. Rather than park the coach and wait while his passengers had their night out, Stuart decided to drive back to Gornal, near Dudley, for a coffee in the coach company office and return later for the passengers.
Stuart started back the same way he had come and around 8.30 pm he was just passing The Wheel at Worfield public house on the Bridgnorth Road. Through the darkness he could see a man caught in his headlights walking along the side of the road carrying a petrol can. Clearly he had broken down somewhere and Stuart pulled up to offer help.
The man gratefully got on the coach and sat down at the front in the courier’s seat. Although the main internal coach lights were off as Stuart recalls, ‘he was dressed as though he had come straight from a 1960’s or 1970’s revival night which I thought was rather odd. He had a wide lapel shirt, bell bottomed trousers and an ear length George Best style of haircut.
Just the sort of thing you would expect for a 60’s or 70’s disco night’. The passenger explained that he had been making his way home from work along the road known locally as the ‘rabbit run’ and had run out of petrol. He was very grateful that I should stop and give him a lift, recalled Stuart.
‘We got to the island where you can go straight on for Wolverhampton, turn off left for Telford or turn right for Wombourne. There is a big pub [The Royal Oak] there on the corner. I asked him which way he was going as I was only really killing time and I said I’d drop him off at his car. He did say that the car was off towards Wombourne parked on the verge. I’d got to go that way anyway so we proceeded up towards Tinkers Castle and sure enough, there on the right hand side of the road, on the grass verge was a rather nice looking Triumph TR7 sports car.
My passenger said it was a TR8 and that it was pretty rare. I thought it was a TR7 but he was adamant it was a TR8. He also said that the car was a one off and was his absolute pride and joy. This was right on the crossroads at Tinkers Castle. So I pulled up more or less alongside the car, perhaps a little bit in front. He thanked me for giving him a lift, and said it would have taken him ages to walk back there. He got off the coach, thanked me again, walked across the windscreen in front of me, waved and disappeared out of sight. Whilst pulling off I then glanced in the offside mirror and he’d gone, completely disappeared.
I first thought it might have been a blind spot. With any heavy goods or large vehicle there is a blind spot so I stopped and stuck my head right out of the window bearing in mind I’d only travelled a matter of a couple of yards. The road was straight so there wasn’t a curve to obscure my view and he had definitely gone. I couldn’t believe it. I looked right out of the window and there was nobody there on that crossroads. It was totally deserted. Not only that, but the sports car had completely and silently vanished too.
In the space of about 10 to 15 seconds he had got to get off the coach, walk around the front, cross the road, open his fuel cap, pour the petrol in, fasten it back, get in his car, turn the engine over to pump the petrol through and then drive off. All of this in about 10 to 15 seconds and with no sound of an engine starting. Well, I can tell you, the hairs on the back of my neck stood on end, I just couldn’t believe it. I tried to get away as fast as I could, I was crashing the gears. I just couldn’t get away from the area quick enough’.
From Stuart’s point of view the experience was a very real one. He even remembered smelling a whiff of petrol from the can the stranger had. The hitchhiker’s conversation seemed normal even though his clothes seemed a little out of date. Stuart was also adamant that had the Triumph been parked on the verge at Tinkers Castle when he had passed by just half an hour before he would have noticed it. The nearest petrol station for miles around is at Worfield just before the spot where Stuart picked up the hitchhiker.
Stuart was so bemused by the experience that he contacted the petrol station to see who had been working that night to at least confirm that someone else had seen the mysterious hitchhiker. The manager of the garage explained to Stuart that because the location is so isolated a decision had been made many years before on safety grounds.
‘We don’t open for petrol here anymore at night’.
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