highways to hell

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Highways to Hell

Britain's most haunted roads

Matt Rogerson journeys along some of Britain’s most haunted roads…

Photograph – manchestersfinest.com

‘The road is long
With many a winding turn
That leads us to who knows where’ [1]

Spectral monks, ghostly hitchhikers and werewolves…meet the British motorways where the impossible happened: the haunted highways, blood-curdling B-roads and spine-chilling streets that have inspired television and film over the years.

The A666 road connects Salford, Greater Manchester with the Ribble Valley and is colloquially known, perhaps unsurprisingly, as The Devil’s Highway. This name comes partly from religious connotations (‘Let him that hath understanding count the number of the beast: for it is the number of a man; and his number is six hundred and sixty-six’)[2] but also because it is one of the UK’s most notoriously haunted roads, with an accident rate almost three times higher than the average on Greater Manchester’s motorways.

It is on this isolated stretch of highway, cutting across the West Pennine moors that a hunched figure dressed in white appears every January, limping along the side of the road, using a gnarled stick to aid it in its mysterious journey and terrifying passing drivers, and causing accidents and collisions.

Interest in the apparent haunting has only increased over the years, with occasional photographic ‘evidence’ appearing from time to time and even some apparent dashcam footage of the ghost, presented alongside the shrieks of the terrified taxi driver who captured it in 2015. Upon receiving a copy of the footage, the Lancashire Telegraph interviewed local historian, ghost hunter and author Simon Entwistle about the phenomenon.[3] Entwistle considered that, due to the location (close to the historic Turton Tower) and the time of year, the supposed apparition could be the ghost of a monk that was executed there during the civil war of the 17th Century.

The dashcam footage itself? Well, its provenance is questionable (comments beneath the Lancashire Telegraph story attribute it to having been shot elsewhere) and the apparition seen in the footage could easily be someone dressed up for a prank. What cannot be denied, however, are two things: that there are stories of haunted highways across the length and breadth of the British Isles; that these stories have become so engrained in the public consciousness that they have become the subject of horror literature, television and film throughout the years.

A common trope in horror cinema and television is that of the hitchhiker. Typically, onscreen examples revolve not around paranormal phenomena but serial killers preying on unlucky motorists, such as in The Hitcher (USA, Robert Harmon, 1986) and The Hitchhiker segment from Creepshow 2 (USA, Michael Gornick, 1987). The real life stories, which are common on the roads of Britain, are often far more poignant and terrifying than anything presented on the silver screen…

Station road, Bedfordshire is a B road between Leighton Buzzard and Stanbridge. It was here, in 1979 that a young tradesman named Roy Fulton picked up a hitchhiker on the side of the road and began a journey that would haunt him forever. Fulton stopped to give a lift to a young man, as the night was dark and cold and the road isolated. The young man got in the passenger side, said nothing and merely pointed down the road when Fulton asked where he was going. It was only when Fulton offered his passenger a cigarette that he realised he was in fact alone in his van after all. ‘I leant forward and picked up the packet of cigarettes, turned round to offer the lad one, and that man or boy was not sitting there.’[4]

The experience saw Fulton enter the annals of paranormal infamy. His story was televised in a 1985 episode of Arthur C. Clarke’s World of Strange Powers (ITV, 1985) and has been covered in other media, such as The Little Book of Ghosts by Paul Adams.

Perhaps the most wretched example of the paranormal hitchhiker is that of Blue Bell Hill, a stretch of the A229 between Maidstone and Rochester.

On 19th November, 1965, Suzanne Brown and her two friends were travelling along the stretch of road in her Ford Cortina. Suzanne was driving home from her Hen night (she was due to marry RAF technician Bryan Wetton the following day) when her car spun out of control and collided with a Jaguar heading in the opposite direction. One of Susan’s friends, Judith Lingham, was killed outright. Susan and her remaining friend Patricia Fergusen were taken to hospital in critical condition, and later died from their injuries.[5] 

highways to hell

In the decades that have passed since the incident, there have been many ghost sightings reported. In some cases, motorists report a female hitchhiker dressed in white on the side of the road. When they pull over to help, the figure climbs into the back seat, only to mysteriously vanish moments later. Other reports have detailed a woman jumping into the road, then dissolving into the air as she is ‘hit’ by their car.[5] The spot, and the ghostly sightings there, became so infamous that its story was turned into a film almost 50 years later.

The Ghost of Blue Bell Hill (UK, Sonya Roseman, 2014) was filmed on location at the site of the crash and subsequent hauntings. The cast and crew reported ‘a nasty feeling’[6] on location, with director Roseman explaining ‘I felt it every time we were filming up there. I just had this terrible feeling.’[6] The following year, for the 50th anniversary of the tragic event that spawned so many ghost stories, a team of paranormal investigators joined members of the public for a gathering at the site of the crash. They ‘picked up some weird stuff’[5], with their audio equipment said to have recorded ‘voices, screaming and shouting for help.’[5]

A common phenomena in supernatural films set on roads is that of the endless road, an kind of linear version of the Bermuda Triangle where time and relative dimensions are corrupted by otherworldly forces. Cars and people disappear to be never seen again, or conversely appear out of nowhere. A number of excellent genre films such as Dead End (France, Jean-Baptiste Andrea & Fabrice Canepa, 2003) and the British production In Fear (UK, Jeremy Lovering, 2013) explore the creepy phenomena in studies of dread and terror.

In Dead End, a family driving home for Christmas take a short cut that leads them into a limbo of sorts. Each member of the family undergoes their own personal trials where they must confront their demons, and it is not until they have that the film ends, with a car crash that signifies their deaths were sealed from the outset. In Fear focuses on a young couple driving to a film festival in Ireland. Finding themselves on an empty, isolated road, their SatNav stops working and they soon realise that they keep returning to the same point on the road. A man in a white mask attacks them, and they are forced to both flee their attacker and somehow find their way out of an impossible loop of time and space.

Both films are excellent studies in limbo and in the metaphysical, but such phenomenon couldn’t possibly take place in the real world, could it?

On the A3, a short stretch of road near Guildford, Surrey, such a spot may indeed exist. On the 11th December 2002 (so close to Christmas), Surrey police officers attended a routine traffic call that turned out to be anything but.[7] Several motorists had all witnessed and called in an incident where a dark red car had left the road close to the slip road and crashed. When officers attended the scene, however, they could find no evidence of a crash having taken place. Not only was there no car, but no tyre marks, no debris, and certainly no dead or injured people.

It was not until the officers returned to the scene the following morning that they realised something was indeed amiss. In the light of day, a maroon Vauxhall Astra could be seen in the thick undergrowth by the roadside, at the spot where the crash had been reported as taking place. The car, however, was obscured by the brambles, and its battery had drained.

The driver was found close by, in what was the most chilling detail of the discovery. It was clear from the corpse’s placement that the driver had not died immediately, but had managed to pull himself free of the car and tried to drag himself back to the road. He had failed, and passed away in situ.

But his body? Well, what was in fact found was his skeleton, with very little by way of flesh, sinew or other tissue attached. Thought the car accident had been reported (by multiple corroborating witnesses) as having taken place the night before, the driver’s corpse was estimated by coroners as having been there for over 5 months.[7]

In Fear

Perhaps the most ominous road in all of the UK, for horror fans at least, is the B1249 in East Riding, Yorkshire, home to Britain’s most infamous werewolf sightings.[8]

There have been many werewolf sightings over the years, including tales told of an eight foot tall beast with the hair of a wolf but figure of a man, fiery red eyes and foul breath.[8] In the 1960s, author Charles Christian witnessed one such appearance of the werewolf as it attacked a lorry driver. Christian described his terror at seeing the red-eyed creature smash the windscreen of the vehicle.[9] More recently, in 2016, a woman motorist claimed to have seen the beast in a storm drain, standing with the limp body of a dead German Shepherd dog clamped between its jaws.[10]

The area itself has been known as the Wold Newton Triangle for years because of its strange goings on (it is reportedly also home to zombies, fairies, dragons and a phantom river of woe.[8] According to legend, wolves roamed the East Riding countryside from 900 AD to the 18th century, attacking travellers, digging up bodies from graves and turning them into werewolves.[8] According to Christian, in AD 937 King Athelstan commissioned the building of a hostel to shelter travellers from the wolf attacks, which usually took place in January. The Saxon name for the month was Wolf-monath, as it was the time of year when livestock would be scarce and wolves would turn to hunting humans for food.[8]

It is these legends and sightings that are, of course, at the heart of An American Werewolf In London (UK, John Landis, 1981). While Landis’ wolf itself was inspired by Lon Chaney’s role in The Wolfman (US, George Waggner, 1941), the setting of Yorkshire, with its sprawling moors, unwelcoming public houses and warning of ‘Boys, keep off the moors, stick to the roads…’[11] the werewolf which mauls two American tourists is clearly inspired by the stories told about the B1249 and the Wold Newton Triangle.

Sources:

[1] Scott, B and Russell, B. (1969) He Ain’t Heavy, He’s My Brother. Los Angeles: Capitol Records

[2] The Holy Bible. Revelation. 13:18. New International Version (1979). London: Hodder & Stoughton

[3] Al-Othman, H (2015) VIDEO: Local historian sheds light on possible ‘ghostly’ sighting in Blackburn, Lancashire Telegraph, 10 January. Available at: https://www.lancashiretelegraph.co.uk/news/11714914.video-local-historian-sheds-light-possible-ghostly-sighting-blackburn/ [accessed 21 January 2023]

[4] Adams, P (no date) Phantom rider: Haunted by a hitchhiker, The History Press, no date. Available at: https://www.thehistorypress.co.uk/articles/phantom-rider-haunted-by-a-hitchhiker/ [Accessed 21 January 2023]

[5] Sharp, J (2019) The True Story Behind the Blue Bell Hill Ghost, Kent Online, 22 October. Available at: https://www.kentonline.co.uk/maidstone/news/the-true-story-behind-the-ghost-of-blue-bell-hill-214650/ [Accessed 30 January 2023]

[6] Cole, A (2014) The crew of The Ghost of Blue Bell Hill film felt a ‘terrible feeling’ while shooting the two-hour movie at the spot where ghosts have been seen, Kent Online, 10 October. Available at: https://www.kentonline.co.uk/maidstone/news/blue-bell-hill-ghost-film-25048/ [Accessed 30 January 2023]

[7] Birchall, C (2022) Spooks, spectres and hairy hands. Dare you drive on Britain’s most ghostly roads? Carparison, 10 October. Available at: https://www.carparisonleasing.co.uk/blog/haunted-highways-spooky-streets-10-of-the-uks-most-daunting-drives [Accessed 30 January 2023]

[8] Newsroom staff (2018) The fearsome wolves of Yorkshire: Inside the mysterious Wold Newton Triangle, Yorkshire Post, 27 February. Available at: https://www.yorkshirepost.co.uk/news/the-fearsome-wolves-of-yorkshire-inside-the-mysterious-wold-newton-triangle-341140 [Accessed at 30 January 2023]

[9] Evans, A (2019) The most haunted roads in Yorkshire revealed – and the chilling stories behind them, Yorkshire Evening Post, 31 October. Available at: https://www.yorkshireeveningpost.co.uk/news/traffic-and-travel/most-haunted-roads-yorkshire-revealed-and-chilling-stories-behind-them-824083 [Accessed 30 January 2023]

[10] Campbell, J and Moran, M (2021) Werewolf hunter reveals UK’s ‘paranormal triangle where terrifying beasts gather’, The Daily Star Online, 30 May. Available at: https://www.dailystar.co.uk/news/weird-news/werewolf-hunter-reveals-uks-paranormal-24215553 [Accessed 30 January 2023]

[11] An American Werewolf in London (1981) John Landis. [Feature Film]. London: Barber International Films

Picture of Matt Rogerson

Matt Rogerson

Matt Rogerson is a PAGE International Screenwriting Awards finalist. In addition to Horrified he has bylines at Diabolique Magazine, Dread Central, Horror Homeroom and Long Live The Void.

His writing will soon be published in the book Filtered Reality from House of Leaves Publishing, and he is currently writing a series of books on Italian horror, covering the Vatican’s attitudes toward genre cinema, and Roman Catholic themes in Lucio Fulci’s filmography.

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