I do not know why the dog shrinks to my side as we head daily home from the forest.
It is only on a certain path, the path homeward past the site of an old cottage, and he has not always done it. He began, suddenly, to walk to heel like a Crufts champion, maybe a year ago.
It spooked me, I’ll admit. The dog does not do Heel. He runs harum-scarum through the ragged forest, using every inch of the acres of space available to him. Sometimes, I wonder what would have happened if we had adopted the policy of a polite walk on the lead every morning and evening. This dog needs to stretch his running muscles. Wild and unruly in those ancient acres, he is placid in the house; but until a year ago one would not expect decorum from him on a walk.
And then, all of a sudden, he began acting strangely. At the top of the hill, next to the site of the old house, he would slink next to my heels. Not happily, either. If I had to choose a word to describe what he is doing, I might choose ‘cower’.
I knew it was unusual, but I wrote it off. It is entirely possible he is just very tired – he is eight years old now – or the architecture of the gully, which plunges, shored up by wooden boards, down through the earth embankments of an iron age fort, encourages him to my heels.
But yesterday I did hear more about the old house we walk past.
Not the house exactly, but its regular visitor.
The house was still there in the 1950s according to a local history writer, Roger Long, though it was derelict; in wartime it was occupied by a woman, her sister and her son. And it appears that one night the woman woke to find a man with a grotesque disfigured face and red hair standing over her bed. When she stirred and shouted for her sister for help he turned and completely vanished.
On another occasion the teenage son sped into the house and bolted the door, shouting to his mother to secure the doors and window because a man was coming, a man with his face ‘all screwed up’.
But when they ran upstairs to check outside there was no-one to be seen.
I have taken the dog for a walk in the forest at most hours of the day and night. Yesterday a perfect round Harvest moon was up in the sky as we pottered about the place. I rarely feel anything but at home there. It is so familiar, and so benign. But at the site of the cottage , the dog did his customary shrink.
Is this a doggie bogeyman, causing him to stay close so very much against his nature?
Whether or not Macaulay is seeing spectres, I have a little more to tell you about the wraith in question. Unlike so many ghosts he has a full service history.
But that will have to wait until another day.