The most haunted road in Britain and me
‘It’s disturbed something that would have been better left alone’
By Dan Hayes
It was September 1987, and two security guards, David Goldthorpe and Steven Brooks, were driving along Stocksbridge bypass late one night. It was just past midnight and there was a chill in the air. They were miles away from any sort of housing. Which made it all the stranger when they happened upon a group of young children in a circle dancing and singing by the side of the road. Shaken, they stopped the car, but the children had vanished into thin air. They braced themselves and got out of the Land Rover, headed to where the children had been, but there was nothing there. The mud beneath their feet showed no sign of any footprints apart from their own.
Shortly later, they saw a hooded figure stood on the bridge which stretched across the bypass. Strange as it sounds, the person was dressed in monk-like garb. But when they directed their headlights at it, the beam seemed to pass through the body. When they moved closer to the figure, it vanished. The pair, later described by their bosses as “down-to-earth South Yorkshire lads, one of whom was a rugby player and weightlifter”, promptly fled as quickly as their legs could take them.
Called out to the site at 4.30am, a manager from Rotherham firm Constant Security found the two guards still in a state of shock, their nerves shattered. The men were both physically shaking and had “white and pallid” complexions. One of them was even crying. Still spooked the next morning, they went to the local police station, who informed them that it wasn’t a matter for them and that they should find the local vicar. A short time later, the exasperated clergyman called police asking officers to remove the guards from his church.
A few nights later, two police officers, PC Dick Ellis and special constable John Beet were sent to investigate. Sat in their patrol car at Pea Royd Bridge, they saw a strange shadow on construction equipment at the site. They then both reported a peculiar feeling like someone had walked over their graves. After a figure appeared from nowhere, on one side of their car then another, they tried to drive away but their car wouldn't start. As the car finally spluttered into life they heard what sounded like someone hitting the back of their vehicle with a baseball bat.
The two security guards refused to work at the site again, and both left the industry shortly afterwards. Neither has ever spoken about what they saw that night. Their boss, bewildered by the reaction of two experienced night security men, people who aren’t normally easily spooked, has no rational explanation for their behaviour. “Policemen and security guards are very unimaginative people,” he is reported to have said. “So when something like this happens it makes you scratch your head.”
For The Star’s crime reporter Bob Westerdale, the story must have been manna from heaven. In the newspaper’s front page splash about the story on 21 September, 1987, “Ghost sightings on new road”, he reported that the terrified security guards had called in police and a clergyman after fleeing the scene in terror. The piece goes on to say that officers who subsequently patrolled the area “felt a presence” before their “panda car was jolted by mysterious thuds”. South Yorkshire Police refused to comment on the incident.
In the 35 years that have passed since those first sightings, many stories have been written about paranormal phenomena on the Stocksbridge bypass. Michael Aspel’s Strange But True? was one of the first television programmes to be made about it in 1994. As well as interviewing the police officers who witnessed the unusual events, the ITV show created reconstructions of what they saw and the security guards’ terrifying experience. If you can ignore the bad acting and high camp, they make a compelling case that something did happen up there on the hills above Stocksbridge. Exactly what isn’t clear, though.
All the same — narrative fogginess aside, these stories have a particular piquancy for me because I use the road regularly. It’s the quickest route back to Sheffield from where my sister lives in Holmfirth and I drive this way every couple of weeks. During the summer, the journey home takes place as the sun is going down. However, for around six months of the year, it takes place after dark.
For the most part, I’m a fairly rational kind of person. I’m not superstitious and I certainly don’t believe in ghosts. But ever since I heard the stories, that section of my journey home has always terrified me. On my way there it’s not a problem. In daylight it’s an enjoyable drive. Whizzing along the gently undulating dual carriageway with Elaine Page’s songs from the shows on Radio 2 on the car stereo, I sometimes feel like I don’t have a care in the world. On the way home it’s different. A familiar feeling of dread starts to build around Langsett: I know what’s coming up. Shortly after Underbank the road widens and you’re on the bypass proper. There are no lights on that section of it. All you can see are your headlights and those of other cars around you. For the next eight minutes it’s just blackness. Not even show tunes can take my mind off the fear.
As well as the dancing children and mysterious monk, Strange But True? also tells the story of two runners who saw a man walking along the road at the same time as both of them became aware of a dusty rotten smell, “like an antique shop”. When they looked closer, they realised the man was not walking on the road itself, but around a foot below it. Another couple driving on the bypass in broad daylight saw a man without a face “hovering above the road” before disappearing into their car.
The story I find scariest in the show is one related by Sheffield psychic Lucinda June. Driving along the bypass one night, she says her car became very cold and was filled with the smell of musty books. Then, all of a sudden, a darkness appeared to her left. “I felt very, very frightened,” she says. “And I did pick up the spirit of a monk that had been there 500 years previously.” Now, every time I drive on the road at night, I find myself looking in the rear view mirror more often than I look at the road.
The explanations for these ghostly sightings are varied. There are stories of a monk being ejected from a local abbey and buried in unhallowed ground but there has never been a monastery anywhere near the area. As for the dancing children, they are either victims of a mining accident or youngsters who died in a cart ride, but no record of either incident taking place has ever been found. For Dr David Clarke, an expert in folklore at Sheffield Hallam University, these are the kind of classic stories that often come out of unusual events, most of which fail to stand up to much scrutiny. Speaking to the Mysteries and Monsters podcast in 2019, he said people “come up with these tales to explain something which is inexplicable.” However, he does accept that there are too many reports, from too many different people, for the whole thing to simply be explained away as people playing games. “I am convinced that something very mysterious and unexplained happened,” he tells host Paul Bestall. “I just don’t know what.”
When I contacted Clarke recently about the Stocksbridge bypass stories, he told me he wasn’t aware of anything new being reported there for years. Similarly, Dennis Pindar from the Stocksbridge and District History Society said it has been at least “20 or 25 years” since he had heard reports of unusual events on the bypass and that the trail seems to have gone cold. Rationally, this should make me feel better about my solitary drives back from my sister’s house. Realistically, I know that next time I’m on my own in the car, I’ll still be scared.
Many thanks to Dr David Clarke for his help with this piece. His story about the Stocksbridge bypass and other “road ghosts” can be found here. Thanks also to Marc C. Green and Thom Burgess on Twitter for letting us use their brilliant images with the story. Thom is also a ghost story writer and his work can be found at his website.