In fact it was summer 1977 when the trip to Dorset got underway. Three Society members accompanied myself. Yvette who was (then) BPOS secretary, and also an Initiate of a Cabbalistic Order; Charlotte, a psychic medium of long-standing and John, a member of the Society of Psychical Research, who knew quite a bit about legends of phantom black dogs from across the country.
We arrived in the general area described by Kennedy and spent the best part of an afternoon looking for the tree-lined driveway leading to the large old house where he had first encountered the ‘creature’. It was a task that turned out to be near impossible, for not only had Kennedy been unable to remember the exact location within a ten-mile radius or so, he recalled there had been no signposts, villages or towns, which was the main reason they had become lost.
Large old houses, there were many, but all lacked the long tree-lined drive remembered so distinctly by Kennedy.
Eventually, we tried to narrow the field down by trying to locate the Old Roman Crossing, but there was nothing called thus on any maps. There were plenty of indications of old Roman sites and tracks, but nothing to tell you if the word ‘Crossing’ meant a Roman ford that crossed some road, or maybe a site where two old tracks crossed each other.
By late afternoon we ended up in Cranbourne, a quaint little village some fifteen miles South West of Salisbury.
A few questions in one of the local pubs soon confirmed there was a ‘Roman Crossing’ some two miles up the road and a large black dog haunted the surrounding countryside. Apparently this was said to have this ‘devilish red eyes’ and could sometimes be heard howling in the night, and it. was supposed to be an ‘evil omen’ to any that actually encountered it.
I was a bit disappointed with this vague description. It seemed to be just a tale with over-tones from Conan Doyle and did not match the description of ‘stealth creature’ that Kennedy had encountered.
Another old local that we spoke to, however, seemed a little more encouraging. He said the apparition we were describing had been reported a little up country and was indeed known as the “Dowdsman” amongst other things. It had been seen a lot along deserted roads at night, and as far as he’d heard, it was a half-animal half-human type of creature, like the devil. There were many stories of people going mad after they’d seen it – although he couldn’t name any particular instance. The legend of this beast, though, was well established and even as a boy he knew the dangers of walking alone at night – especially at full moon – lest “old dowdy would get yer”. He knew of a place called “Hound Wood” near a village called Tytherley five miles east of Salisbury and he though the wood had been named after this hound.
As there was about three hours of daylight left, we decided to drive the odd twenty miles or so to Tytherley and see if we could find one of the creature’s said haunts where we could spend our nightly vigil.
Tytherley was a tiny village and people turned out to be decidedly unhelpful when we began asking questions about the ‘ghostly creature’. Perhaps discouraged by the fact that four strangers had invaded their tiny village not long before nightfall, and even trying to act like merely interested tourists, I nevertheless got the impression of the Dowdsman was simply taboo.
Checking a map, I discovered that an old Roman track ran straight across the countryside just a mile to the north of the village and decided somewhere along this would be a good place to lay in wait for the ‘creature’.
We parked the car and lit a small fire leaving Yvette and Charlotte to cook some food in preparation for the long vigil. I went over the ‘creature’s’ dossier again with John and we concluded that if it was to put in an appearance, it would probably keep to its usual pattern of following a roadway – in this case the old Roman track. This was not so much a calculated guess as we realised that many types of earthbound phenomena will stick to natural ‘lines of energy’ along the ground and most ancient track ways and sites were build directly along these lines. The main theory was (although it was more than a theory as far as I was concerned) that certain energy centres within the earth’s field itself were especially conducive to ‘magnifying’ or ‘conducting’ psychic energy and that once understanding the Laws relating to these cycles of energy, it was possible to estimate the type of any given phenomenon. Of course, this was not that easy for before any accurate comparison could be made, it was first necessary to have some idea of the nature of the original phenomenon; but it was exactly this that had bought us to our eerie environment.
After food and coffee, we settled back to wait; to see if the apparition might actually appear. It was nearly midnight and a bright moon provided fairly good vision, although this illuminated ‘black shapes’ in the distance which were in reality no more than clumps of bushes. The glowing fire lit the immediate area and we sat with our backs to this staring expectantly over the moonlit landscape.
John, Yvette and myself sat silently, just waiting and looking. Charlotte sat cross legged, her body taut and unmoving, and her face almost like a ghostly mask except for eyes that seemed to stare intently at something else which nobody else appeared to see. I had seen her like this before and realised she had entered into a state of ‘semi trance’; or had ‘tuned in’ to a level beyond the normal conscious mind.
I understood this perfectly. Most forms of psychic energy exist at a higher level – or ‘frequency’ – than the one we term ‘consciousness thought’ and most mediums or other advanced Initiates in mysticism, are able to ‘tune into’ this and are actually able to ‘see’ ghosts and other psychic phenomena. I knew that Charlotte would be the first to sense the entity if it chose to honour us with its presence.
Everything stayed quiet, almost timeless, and eventually I leaned back against a tree and allowed my mind to wander. I realised that too much expectation of things reputedly psychic could sometimes be a bad thing as ‘ghosts’ rarely appeared when anticipated to do so.
Indeed, I tried to think of the countryside instead, and how some of its landmarks portrayed a lost and forlorn history.
The old Roman road, for example (although now a mere track), ran virtually unmolested until it connected up with Old Sarum to the West, and this swept in broken stretches until it met up with Winchester, another old Roman fortification some twelve miles to the east.
Shimmering now in the moonlight, I could just imagine this old chalk track brimming with Roman legions, and perhaps also serving as a ‘life-line’ for later Medieval traders. Was it possible that these traders later travelled with captive animals – some of them bears – to display at towns and fairs along the wayside? It was a well known historical fact that bear-baiting (the practice of enraging a chained bear with dogs) was a popular Medieval pastime, and presumably the animals needed some form of transportation.
A dense wood a little to the north also seemed to hold its own secrets, but the map told nothing about this other than to show that part of this was marked as a ‘Norman cemetery’. Not far from us also (though now hidden by the canopy of the night) lay “Hound Wood” – the place the old man had claimed had been named after the hound-like spectre.
Two hours elapsed but nothing unusual occurred until Yvette was suddenly startled by a darting animal.
Soon, for no apparent reason and at frequent intervals, several more animals started running past us, crossed the Old Roman track and disappeared in a northerly direction. These seemed to ‘come out of nowhere’ and were running in a wild zigzag fashion; mostly rabbits as far as it was possible to tell in the dark, although there were some larger ones and we could make out a badger. Something had disturbed these animals, but whatever it was, remained an immediate mystery. Even an owl suddenly flapped away loudly into the night, though we had not seen or heard one all evening.
Suddenly, Yvette whispered excitedly that she could see something moving to the left of the wood. We followed her gaze and, sure enough, there appeared to be an animal moving steadily away from the edge of the wood. It was hard to tell at a distance what it was, but through binoculars it appeared to be the size of a small cow, although certainly not the same shape. It looked ‘rounder’ and didn’t have a cow’s long legs. In fact, it didn’t seem to have any legs at all; rather being a large black shape.
If we had any doubt that the ’shape’ was other than some supernatural entity, these were soon dispelled when the next moment it went ‘straight through’ a closed gate. It reappeared in a matter of seconds some ten yards further on. Now less than 150 feet away, it seemed to be moving in a wide circle around us, almost like some giant shadow that had broken free from the darkness. It was almost certainly of supernatural origin and without much doubt the same figure that had been seen by Kennedy and had been reported elsewhere in the district.
It was large and apparently formless in that it was not possible to discern any particular features; even its head being just another part of the dense black mass that appeared to make up the body. But the ‘body’ itself did seem to slant upwards and was bulkier at the top than the bottom part and it was probably this that gave an impression that it vaguely resembled a gorilla or bear. But there was nothing to suggest that it was any living animal; it made absolutely no sound, and passed straight through bushes and trees as one shadow might ‘absorb’ another if being cast together. Yet more than this; it seemed to generate an impression of overwhelming ‘malignancy’, although it was some kind of ‘supernatural intelligence’ as opposed to any living creature.
This potent atmosphere of evil seemed to increase as the ‘shadowy mass’ melted in and out of the darkness; only to be seen when it passed a lighter background or caught faint illumination from the fire. We all stared at it in fascinated horror; the situation seemed almost unreal, like a dream that had somehow managed to replace reality.
I fumbled for my camera but as I tried to see the ‘thing’ in the viewfinder, a strange thing happened. Suddenly I was overcome by an acute sense of dizziness; so much so, that I was forced to steady myself and put down the camera. Blood surged to my head and for a minute, I was oblivious to my surroundings. Its almost as if pointing the camera towards it had invited a massive surge of unwanted psychic energy. Sensing danger, I fought against an overwhelming desire to pass out and made a tremendous mental effort to repel whatever it was that was ‘attacking’ me. To some extent, this must have worked for gradually the oppressive force weakened and I was able to take some account of my surroundings.
Almost immediately, my attention was drawn to Charlotte who was walking in a daze towards the ‘shape’ which had now stopped in the distance. John was attempting to pull her back while Yvette was entreating me to help. Telling her to stay where she was, I ran towards Charlotte and grabbed her arm. John was holding her but with some difficulty as she was in some sort of trance. Her eyes were semi closed and she made pitiful cries as we dragged her back to the others and the comparative security of the fire.
John made up the fire and Yvette and myself propped her up against a tree.
I noticed immediately how cold she was. Her flesh was virtually like ice, and the small silver crucifix which she always wore around her neck was missing. Also something about her seemed strangely alien, as if we were only looking at a replica of her body. Her eyes were fully open now and she stared around with a glazed expression, her face looking deathly white in the shimmering firelight. She was not yet fully conscious but seemed vaguely aware of our presence. Some effect from the entity, had obviously badly shaken her up, and in this case she had not elected to go into a trance to make psychic communication, but had somehow been induced to go into one. I had seen Charlotte go into controlled trances many times before, but this was the first time I had seen her affected in such a manner.
We scarcely had time to attend to Charlotte, when John spotted the phenomenon again. He pointed and I noticed a distant black shape moving towards the darkened wood. I quickly fired two quick shots from the camera but even as I did so, the shape appeared to disappear into nowhere. The lingering light of the flash made it impossible to tell exactly where it had vanished, but when the film was later developed that two pictures only showed darkened countryside, and even had it been visible it would have been lost amongst the distant blackened shadows.
We decided to wait until morning before searching for any clues to explain the phenomenon’s appearance. It had been a hectic night and Charlotte, for one, needed time to recover. Letting her sleep in the back of the car, we heated some coffee and sat close to the fire keeping an uneasy watch on the wood. The apparition did not appear again, however, and eventually a chilly early morning light began to illuminate the countryside. It was still very early, but somehow none of us felt tired; probably shaken into a state of ‘mental awareness’ by events of the previous night.
We had a brief look around after daybreak, but there were no physical clues, such as footprints or broken branches, that betrayed any clue about the phenomenon’s appearance.
I did find Charlotte’s small crucifix not far from the fire where we’d all been gathered. The clasp had been broken and it had been trodden into the ground, only its looped silver chain bringing it to my attention. I presumed she’d walked over this herself after it had fallen from her neck.
When she eventually woke up, sipping tea, Charlotte told us what she had remembered . . .
Looking surprisingly relaxed in spite of her ordeal, she told us that she had, in fact, been ‘concentrating’ on the wood, sensing that there was some ‘presence’ in that vicinity. She had not told us this as it was nothing really tangible; rather, just a sense or ‘impression’ that she had experienced in her capacity as a medium on other occasions. Attempting to effect ‘communication’, she proceeded to concentrate on this ‘presence’ asking it to give her some sort of message.
At this stage, she was still aware of everything all around her, but received a growing sensation that something was ‘returning’ her concentration.
At first, this impression was fairly mild but gradually some force seemed to pound into her forehead until she was aware of nothing but its presence.
It was like a ’dynamo’ of energy; stronger than her own mind and ‘alive’, in that it was an ‘intelligence’, like a living person. She tried to fight it off because she sensed it was evil; yet more than this, it was trying to ‘enter’ her body. She could feel a tremendous pressure in her head, stifling her thoughts and drawing her up into a ’black void of nothingness’ which was beyond the sphere of her reason. She continued to fight against it, but her efforts got weaker and weaker, while the pounding force increased all around her. She was totally at its mercy having lost all ability for logical thought. Yet she was conscious of the thing itself which was now communicating to her. It used no words, but gave out an overbearing impression of ‘heavy deadness’ and seemed to be demanding her completer surrender. She could do nothing; in fact, was aware of nothing save for the oppressive force that was absorbing her. Yet even in this semi-conscious state, she managed to realise that she was in extreme mortal danger, and she struggled and made a tremendous mental effort to break free from the force, but it merely overpowered her, and she felt her head swimming in a sea of icy blackness. She was blacking out and in desperation, although more by an instinctive action than by conscious effort, she entreated the help of Christ. At this stage, the thing seemed to go berserk with rage and grew violently agitated. It started to ‘attack’ her and she felt searing pain where it tore through her body. She couldn’t move and was suffocating, and felt the life being forced from her body, but she still struggled to hold on to the image of Christ. A minute or two later she must have lapsed in to unconsciousness for she remember nothing else until we awoke her in the morning. It was all like a lingering nightmare; but one which, in reality, she could swear actually occurred.
We had no reason to doubt Charlotte’s experience, nor were we in any doubt that she had, indeed, been under serious psychic attack. Having witnessed the apparition ourselves, it became increasingly difficult to believe it was anything less than an intensified form of supernatural evil; earthbound, and potentially dangerous in that it would ‘attack’ human beings. Like its formidable legend, the creature actually existed; though whether in substance as a manifestation of the devil, we had yet to discover.
At this point, however, the investigation could really proceed no further. We had done everything necessary in establishing the validity of the phenomenon (which, after all, was only our original intention) and succeeded beyond expectation, and now it remained to find out exactly what type of apparition it was (although I had my own theories on this, these had not yet been tested from an ‘occult point of view’) and what motivated its appearance. This, however, was not a task which could be accomplished by further vigils, or using another medium in the hope that she might be able to avert further psychic attack. It was obvious that the thing we were dealing with was powerful to the extent of being dangerous, and such entities could only be controlled by the medium of a full magical ceremony. This, though, was something that could only be arranged in London and must take its place along with other pressing Society investigations. For the moment, it seemed, the strange case of the Dorset Dowdsman would remain unresolved.
NB As explained, the last part of The Dowdsman has never before been published before in article form and was written from old notes only recently re-discovered dating back to 1978/9.
The copyright is exclusively my own and no part of this article should be reproduced without prior permission being obtained.
PS For Hesselius, Gareth has responded to your further points about ‘trapped ghosts’ which appears in the replies to “An Essential Question”. David