A rainy Suffolk day and we have had our grandsons staying for the week. We've been lucky so far with the weather so plenty of walks with the dogs, a visit to Southwold and another to Aldeburgh and of course swimming every day at Sizewell beach. Charlie has had piano lessons from Jenny while I took young George to my workshop and taught him how to mount and frame a picture.
But what to do today, this last day of their stay with us with slate grey skies and drizzly rain. After a little thought it was decided that I'd take them out for a drive and a wander around Walberswick in the rain while Jenny stayed home with the dogs and had a rest. A twenty minute drive found us toodling through the village to the car parks and after parking the car we set off along the river bank inland to the footbridge. We crossed it and walked back down the other side of the river Blyth towards Southwold harbour. Great views, a bit of wildlife to spot on the river and plenty of chit chat. We had a nice lunch of cheese on toast with mugs of tea in the Harbour Cafe before crossing the river back again on the little ferry boat rowed by a nice local man, and trudged back to the car. The rain got a little heavier so it was time to return back to Leiston.
On the drive home the wind got up even more, the rain began to fall harder and the afternoon darkened as storm clouds scudded in from the north west. As we left the village I began to tell the boys of a young woman named Anne Blakemore who had been found murdered near Walberswick back in the mid 1700's. How a dragoon drummer named Tobius Gill (or Black Tobe) who had been stationed at Blythburgh to help put an end to the smuggling which was rife along this coast at that time, had been found drunk nearby and the locals insisted he be arrested for her murder. The confused and panic stricken Tobius was roughed up, escorted away and locked in a dungeon in Ipswich to await trial at Bury assises. All the time of his incarceration he noisily pleaded his innocence and begged for his life but his pleas fell upon deaf ears. In desperation he even begged that he be tied by a halter to the London Mail coach and forced to run beside it all the way to London, as a punishment in the hope of saving his life but it wasn't to be. He was found guilty of Anne's murder and sentenced to death. Fearing a riot if the harshest punishment wasn't administered his request for mercy was refused and so Tobias Gill was dragged to the gallows raised in Walberswick at Four Crossways, close to where Anne's body had been found. He was hanged in chains and his body left to rot for years, swinging from those gallows. As time passed his festering corpse is said to have fallen apart and his bones buried where they fell until only his skull remained..... turning silently in the sea breeze, baring it's deathly grin to all who could bear to look. One morning as day broke the skull was found to have mysteriously vanished....
There was hushed silence in the back of the car as I went on to tell the boys how Walberswick is now reputedly haunted by a phantom mail coach, drawn by four headless horses and driven by a headless man, the murderer Tobias Gill. On any dark and stormy night it's possible to hear the crack of a whip and the hooves of the four chargers can be heard clattering furiously down through the village towards the harbour, going hell for leather.
It was still pretty quiet in the back of the car so after a short pause, assuming that the boys must be really impressed with my story telling, I went on to tell them about the legend of the ghostly, massive, demon Black Shuck. He with the single flaming red eye, huge salivating jaws and fearsome white teeth who is said to roam the bleak and windswept coastline of East Anglia.
It is said that he takes the form of a huge black dog, and prowls along dark lanes and lonesome field footpaths, where, although his howling makes the hearer's blood run cold, his footfalls make no sound. You would know him at once should you see him by his fiery eye. He has but one eye and that, like the Cyclops', is in the middle of his head. But such an encounter might bring you terrible bad luck. It is even said that to meet him is to be warned that your death will occur before the end of the year so you would do well to shut your eyes if you heard him howling. Shut them even if you were uncertain whether it is the dog fiend or the sound of the wind you hear.
As we drove through Blythburgh I continued with the tale. On 4 August 1577 (I remember the date as it's my son's birthday) at Blythburgh, Black Shuck is said to have burst in through the doors of Holy Trinity Church to a clap of thunder. He ran up the nave past a large congregation, killing a man and boy and causing the church steeple to collapse through the roof. As the dog departed, he roared and left jagged scorch marks on the north door which can be seen at the church to this day.
At this point I began making faint howling noises from the corner of my mouth, increasing in volume as we swept through Blythburgh on our way home. I looked in the rear view mirror to gauge the effect my tale was having on the boys but much to my disappointment I realised they were both fast asleep.....