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Last updated: Fri 31 Oct 2014

Haunted Nunney: the phantom hitchhiker

Haunted Nunney made headlines in the national press in 1977 Nunney when the village was in the grip of a ghostly visitor.

Haunted Nunney

Haunted Nunney was the subject of a report in the Sunday Express of Sunday 14 August 1977:

The two policemen listened sceptically to the story that motorist Gerald O’Connor told them in a lonely country lane late one night.

He claimed he had just given a lift to a middle-aged man who promptly “vanished” from the back seat of his locked car as he drove down the lane.

Not surprisingly police investigations into the bizarre tale did not get far. And Mr O’Connor looked like becoming a figure of fun in the village of Nunney, near Frome, Somerset.

Crash

Then it happened again. This time Mr O’Connor, a 20-year-old decorator, said he saw the phantom standing in the middle of the road near the same spot. He immediately crashed into a lamp-post.

There were no witnesses on either occasion. But despite this the stories quickly caught the imagination of Nunney residents. Other ghostly tales about the lane began the circulate. Stories were told of the phantom suddenly appearing in the back of moving cars.

No one seemed able to put a name or a date to the new stories, but soon they began to have a powerful effect on village life. Elderly people refused to walk along the lane at midnight. Motorists, who once used the lane to drive the three miles from Nunney to Frome, began taking a longer way round.

Vigilantes

Then the village held its Silver Jubilee celebrations and reports reached the organisers of some people staying away because they were too frightened to sue the narrow, twisting lane.

Now the Nunney Lane “phantom” has taken such as strong hold on the village that vigilante patrols have been formed to seek it out.

A group of residents, including two parish councillors, a local government official, and a building society manager, spent part of last week patrolling the lane after dark.

They armed themselves with noise detectors, tape recorders, light meters and nets. They clambered through hedges and checked trees in an unsuccessful effort to register any unusual lights or noises.

phantom hitchhiker

The story of the Nunney ghost also appears in Phantom Hitchhikers and Decoy Ducks: The strange stories behind the urban legends we can’t stop telling each other by Albert Jack, available on Amazon.co.uk.

Building society manager Mr Ron Macey, aged 40, said: “Some people are very worried about the ghost, and many won’t use the lane. When I drive down it now I keep on the lookout, and I would not give anyone a lift. It’s pretty frightening.”

“As secretary of the Silver Jubilee committee I was told some people were put off coming to the festivities because it would have meant coming down the lane after dark. That’s when I decided we should form patrols to get to the bottom of it.”

“Our first night out we did not see anything. But we met a couple who had seen a shadowy figure in the lane earlier in the week and think it may have been the ghost.”

Council purchasing officer Mr Owen Hillier, aged 55, said: “When I drive down the lane at night, I can’t help looking round to see if there is anyone behind me.”

Mrs Valerie McPherson, aged 46, of Frome, said: “I was travelling along the lane one night with a friend. After I dropped her off at her home I suddenly had a strange feeling that there was still someone in the car.”

“I kept going but I did not dare turn round. It was not at all pleasant. I have never known anything like it before, and normally I am sceptical about these things.”

Scared stiff

At his home in Frome, Mr O’Connor stuck to his story. “I was scared stiff,” he said. “If people don’t believe me, I can only say I hope they never have the same experience.”

“I picked up this man in the lane because he looked as if he wanted a lift. He got in the back and I locked the door for him. He kept saying how cold it was. I asked him some questions and he did not reply. I looked round and he wasn’t there.”

“I called out the police and they searched the lane. They even gave me a breath test, but I hadn’t been drinking.”

“The second time I saw him he was standing in the middle of the road. I jammed on the brakes and skidded into a lamp-post. When I got out of the car he was not there.”

A Frome police spokesman said: “I can confirm that a highly distraught motorist told us he had given a lift to a man who disappeared. We searched the area but found nothing.”

A curse on all motorists?

A week after this article about haunted Nunney, a letter appeared in the Sunday Express from one George Gardiner of Peacehaven, Surrey:

“I was interested in the story about the young man who said he had a ghost in his car while driving in Nunney, Somerset. Some 30 years ago, when I was heavy goods driver for a company at Avonmouth, I well remember one or two of our drivers saying they had seen what could have been the same ghost in about the same place.”

“In fact, the story was told of a man being knocked off his bicycle there and in his last breath laying curses on all motorists.”

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