The paranormal tales of Eggardon Hill are almost wearisomely famous — the mass stalling of vehicle engines on the track designated at the crossroads as “Unfit for HGV”, the dogs and horses spooked by some unseen but powerfully-felt force, the three-year-old child’s tremulous enquiry from the back of the car: “Who were the men with spears, Mummy?”
To grown-up people in the 21st century, these may appear to be the mythic remnants of a simple-minded, gullible, slightly barbaric age, events which have rational, mechanical explanations but, as they say in call centres, bear with me.
Back in the 1980s, living in West Milton in the days before Waitrose had a presence in Bridport, I drove my Mini every week into Dorchester for the desirable groceries and, after the first time, grew perfectly accustomed to the temperature gauge dropping to zero as I crossed the hill and returning to normal as I passed King’s Farm on the way down to Whetley.
Eggardon — or at least a near-Eggardon kink on the Roman Road — got the Mini in the end in a head-on crash in 1990 and thereafter I did my shopping in a muscular old, very old Land Rover.
Returning home from Dorchester one spring evening around ten o’clock when it was late enough to be quite dark, passing the bend to Maiden Newton and forging on towards Powerstock, I became aware of not being alone.
The road perches on the top of a steep escarpment which drops away to hold West Compton in its valley and in this wide cleft some gigantic transport was keeping pace with the Land Rover. I could see two lights set far apart horizontally, as if one of the great lumbering Hercules aircraft, which frequented these skies heavily at the time, were flying alongside me. At ground level. I closed the driver’s window and tried to speed up but you don’t get a lot of va-va-voom out of an agricultural vehicle. The shape and the lights remained steadily with me, neither ahead nor behind, for perhaps a whole minute, or perhaps a whole lifetime.
Together, in disciplined formation, we approached Eggardon when, as if it had finally found what it was looking for, my travelling companion made a dash for it, like Han Solo’s Millennium Falcon making the leap into hyperspace. It shot off towards the hill and for a moment I thought it was gone altogether, until it turned 45 degrees, broadside on to my line of vision and pointing at the sea.
You couldn’t say it hovered. It didn’t move a muscle. It simply hung in the sky displaying three graded rows of yellow lights like one of the great ocean-going liners of the 1930s. Only airborne.
How long it remained motionless above the hill I couldn’t possibly tell. Time seemed to have rewritten its own rules throughout the incident.
I put my foot flat to the floor to catch up with it but, teasingly, almost smugly, it hurtled out towards the southern horizon — and vanished.