During the Bronze Age, which according to Montelius lasted from 2000 B.C. to 800
B.C., three-quarters of England was dark with forests or drowned by swampy moors and misty
fens, haunts of wolves and boars, brown bears and yellow fevers. The Ancient Briton not only
had a job to live, but few places wherein he could live with comparative safety.
That is why so many of his barrows, tumuli, camps, weapons, cooking-pots, ornaments
and pathetic household goods are found on the high chalk downs. Chalk meant few trees.
Where there were few trees there were few wolves.
So the Ancient Briton built his huts, fortified his camp, tended his herds of sheep, swine
and goats, trained his wild horses, knapped his flints and lived his life mainly on the bare chalk,
the thymy downs. There the winds blew free. Larks sang. Harebells danced in the summer
breeze, like fields of asphodel. Conies burrowed in the chalk and were there for the catching.
The night dews filled the dew ponds with sweet water. His children gambolled on the short turf
in the bright sun. His stockade of pointed stakes was a barrier by day against foes, even as his
glinting fire, leaping in red and yellow tongues, was the terror of wolves by night.
Far below, in the valley or on the outflung green and sullen waves of the wealden plains,
there lurked every sort of terror that could menace a man and his family. Up here on the downs,
where a man might see for miles, ambush and sudden attack were not easy. Astride his fleet
horse, bow in hand, dagger in belt, hound at heel, the Bronze Age man was, in his far-off, fustian
way, a knightly fellow.
Now, although the chalk downs of Wiltshire and Gloucestershire, of Dorset and
Hampshire and all those wide and windy miles of still-lovely England are studded with the burial
mounds, the ancient camps and the shadows in the grass that mean their vanished homes,
although Stonehenge still stands against the stars in ghastly grandeur and cromlech and dolemn
tell the bloody tale of far-off sacrifices, ghost and hauntings are few and far between.
Here and there the Romans left their spirits behind. I know of a centurion who still walks
the Roman Strood between Mersea Island and the mainland, with ringing steps on moonlight
nights, and I could take you to a mud-flat on the Thames where a Viking in winged helm wades
ashore under the moon, in endless quest for his vanished longship. But although I have stood in
Stonehenge by night, and walked the glimmering woodland aisles of that ancient wood of the
Druids which they call Staverton Forest in East Suffolk, I have never met man or woman who
had any true tale to tell of a ghost of Ancient Britain, of a haunting of pre-Saxon days, until there
came a letter in the post in August, 1956. The writer was Mr. R. C. C. Clay, who lives at the
Manor House, Fovant, near Salisbury. Mr. Clay is not only an extremely busy professional man
with a practice which covers a wide extent of that country of chalk downs and glimmering
plains, but he is a Fellow of the Society of Antiquaries.
In his letter, Mr. Clay said: 'In response to your letter in the Salisbury Journal of 24
August, I am sending you an account of a personal encounter with a prehistoric horseman, just
over the Dorset border. Three episodes with 'ghosts' in my own house, which were not
witnessed by others, would not come within the scope of your inquiry and I have not included
Mr. Clay then went on to give the following account of the appearance of a prehistoric
horseman, probably of the Bronze Age. It is, I believe, unique in the annals of ghost-hunters.
Here it is.
'In 1924, I was in charge of the excavations carried out by the Society of Antiquaries on
the Late Bronze Urnfield at Pokesdown, near Bournemouth. Every afternoon I drove down to
the site and returned at dusk.
'One evening I was motoring home along the straight road which cuts the open downland
between Cranborne and Sixpenny Handley. I had reached the spot between the small clump of
beeches on the east and the pine-wood on the west, where the road dips before rising to cross the
Roman road from Badbury Rings to Old Sarum. I saw away to my right a horseman traveling on
the downland towards Sixpenny Handley, that is to say, he was going in the same direction as I
was going. Suddenly he turned his horse's head, and galloped as if to reach the road ahead of
me, and to cut me off.
'I was so interested that I changed gear to slow down so that we should meet, and that I
should be able to see who the man was. However, before I had drawn level with him, he turned
his horse again to the north, and galloped along parallel to me and about fifty yards from the