Bottlebush Down.

The Spectral Horseman

In 1924 Mr R C Clay, an archaeologist - at the time was in charge of excavations at a Bronze Age site near Christchurch - was driving home one night along the lonely stretch of the A3081 that runs by Bottlebush Down, when he suddenly became aware of a man on horseback galloping alongside his car.

The man wore a long flowing cloak, his bare legs spurred his horse on without bridle or stirrups, and he was brandishing some form of weapon, which he waved angrily above his head.

As Mr Clay looked on in puzzled astonishment, the horse and rider suddenly vanished into the burial mound on Bottlebush Down.

Not believing the evidence of his own eyes, and determined not to dismiss the figure as something so unscientific as a ghost, the archaeologist returned to the spot several times over the next few weeks.

But having ruled out tricks of the light, optical illusions, or any other scientific possibility, he was forced to admit, grudgingly, that he was one of a long line of people to have witnessed the appearance of Bottlebush Down's spectral horseman.

Once A Thriving Hub

Although today the area is remote and isolated, there is ample evidence to suggest that it was once a thriving hub of activity.

The number of low, round burial barrows that litter its landscape, suggest a sizeable population two to three thousand years ago. An immense earthwork, stretching for close on six miles - and known as the Cursus - must at one time have been heavily garrisoned, and the old Roman Road, that connected Salisbury with Badbury, would later cross it.

The phantom horseman - whose galloping wraith has appeared to Shepherds tending their flocks, cyclists returning home across Bottlebush Down in the fading light of day, and walkers enjoying an evening stroll in the country air - could be a vestige of any one of the ancient peoples who have lived here.

But Mr Clay's specialist training enabled him to date the figure as being of the late Bronze Age.

The Threshold of Another Realm

This earthwork might not be the easiest place to get to, but once you have managed to manoeuvre into what little parking space is available, and trudged along the muddy track that leads to it, you genuinely feel that you have arrived on a threshold that might admit you in to who knows what.

As you stand on top of the horseshoe-shaped earthwork and gaze down into the pool below, an eerie, almost surreal, atmosphere holds sway over your senses.

The banks that fall away to the shimmering water seem impossibly steep, but having struggled, or most likely slipped, down them you gaze into their mysterious depths, and waves of fear and fascination wash over you in equal measure.

The pool is thought to have been one of the places into which Sir Bedivere threw Excalibur, the fabled sword of King Arthur, and when the rays of the sun, glance off the gleaming surface, you really can feel as if a portal to another world, or even another time, is about to open before you, and reality deserts you for a few short moments.