The Ghosts of Stocksbridge Bypass
In 1988 a new section of road was laid across the Peak District in Northern England to divert heavy traffic away from a small town. Shortly after building work commenced on the Stocksbridge Bypass, reports of strange happenings began to surface and the road soon became notorious, not only for its paranormal activity, but for the amount of lives it would claim.
It was 17th November 1991. The sun had long since sunk beyond the horizon and the rolling hills of the Yorkshire countryside were bathed in a tepid darkness. A glow appeared over the treeline, the distant headlights of a car, cutting their way through the endless black. It was driven by a young woman, travelling home after a long shift at the hospital where she worked. The clock on the car’s dash read 2:51am. The high beams danced over a road sign, revealing a combination of numbers and letters. It read A616 Stocksbridge.
The young woman yawned and looked in her rear-view mirror and immediately wondered why she had bothered; the road receding behind her was pitch black. There was nothing to see. The darkness made her feel very alone and in that instant the air seemed to turn cold. An unborn fear, not yet realised lurked somewhere in the pit of her stomach. She had no idea why.
Regardless, she decided to turn on the radio to ease her nerves. When she flicked the switch, only static poured from the speakers. The sound of this alone sent a chill up her spine. Suddenly, she felt compelled to look to her side. The passenger seat was empty, but for some unknown reason she felt a presence there. Another look in the rear-view mirror revealed nothing.
It was a momentary lapse of concentration. And when she glanced back towards the road, her heart skipped a beat. She slammed both feet on the brake pedal. The tyres began to screech as the car swerved from side to side, succumbing to the road’s icy surface. She was now travelling sideways. There was an almighty thump and suddenly the car was rolling down an embankment before it came to a crashing halt.
The last thing to cross the woman’s mind before everything turned black was the lone figure that she saw standing in the middle of the road right before her accident. A figure which had now vanished without trace, as if it had never even been there. The headlights of the car died along with her as the smell of burnt rubber hung in the air. Another life had been claimed. It was not the first crash to have occurred on this road. And it wouldn’t be the last.
The UK’s most haunted road
25 years later in October 2016 the local radio reported yet another road closure. Police were in attendance, redirecting traffic. Unfortunately, this was the scene of a horrific accident involving a head-on collision between a van and a lorry. Whilst both drivers escaped with their lives, the van driver’s injuries were very serious. This was one of hundreds of accidents to have occurred on the same stretch of road since 1988. Since then there has also been 25 deaths, a rate of nearly one every year.
These collisions all occurred on a small section of the A616, otherwise known as the Stocksbridge Bypass, a road, which is now considered to be one of the most dangerous in the UK. But this is not the only thing the Stocksbridge Bypass is known for. It also happens to be one of the most haunted highways in Britain, and possibly the world.
Connecting the cities of Sheffield and Manchester, it has become a major UK transport route carrying over 18,000 vehicles per day. Though the main bypass is only five miles in length, it is part of a longer 38-mile road and allows easy commuting to the counties of Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire.
Despite its convenience and practicality, the Bypass is still avoided by many due to its darkly tragic history. It is said to have been built upon unhallowed ground, leading many to believe the road itself is cursed.
Bordering the ‘steel’ city of Sheffield, South Yorkshire, the modern day town of Stocksbridge is home to around 12,000 people. Back in the early 18th century, however, the area was mostly woodland; an unspoilt valley cradling the Little Don River, a handful of farms and just a few stone houses. A fuller by the name of John Stocks had the foresight to construct a wooden bridge over the Little Don, which would later give the area its name.
There was little more than a dirt track cutting parallel to the river at this time. Used mainly by local residents, the introduction of a toll road would result in a higher volume of traffic through the area and would later become the scene of a horrendous stagecoach crash. In the years that followed, people would often report seeing a phantom carriage travelling along the highway at night, which was apparently driven by the living dead.
Not to be deterred by tales of the paranormal, use of the route would in fact continue to increase, especially with the introduction of motor transport in the early 20th century. Work on the Bypass would begin some two centuries after John Stocks had built his bridge, and would encompass the old toll road. The site that would one day become the Stocksbridge Bypass was to be further plagued by paranormal activity during construction work, before the road was even opened to the public.
The monk of Stocksbridge Bypass
In September of 1987, security guards David Goldthorpe and Steven Brooke were working the night shift near Pea Royd Bridge. On the evening in question, the two men experienced an unshakeable feeling that they were being watched. A couple of hours into their shift, they heard what sounded like children singing in the distance.
This seemed out of place as it was late at night and the construction site was far removed from the rest of the town; there shouldn’t have been anyone in the area, let alone children. Upon investigating they caught sight of a group of youngsters in medieval clothing standing in a circle beneath a nearby pylon. They looked as if they were dancing around a maypole. The children then completely vanished causing the security guards to look at each other in disbelief.
Still puzzling over what they had just witnessed, they decided to drive around to the Pea Royd Bridge and park nearby. Pea Royd Bridge provides access to the nearby steel works and whilst it is busy during the day, it is all but deserted at night. However, shadows moving in the distance and strange noises had alerted them to the possibility of an intruder in the vicinity.
When Brooke shone his torch up at the crossing, both men saw a hooded figure, which appeared to be a monk looking down at them. Goldthorpe then drove up onto the embankment and parked on the bridge itself to get a closer look, but the headlights seemed to penetrate right through this apparition, which then promptly disappeared.
Stocksbridge Police investigate the site
The next morning, PC Dick Ellis of Stocksbridge Police walked into the station to find the two security guards utterly shaken by their experience. They spoke about the children they had seen beneath the pylon and would go on to describe the apparition of the monk, saying that it was evil and that they had felt threatened by its presence.
Nonetheless, PC Ellis, along with his partner John Beet treated the men’s story with some scepticism, saying that it was not a police matter and jokingly suggested that they sought the advice of a priest. To the officers’ surprise, they were contacted by the Rector of Stocksbridge Church later that day who informed them that the two security men were with him and that they refused to leave out of fear for their own safety. It was upon the Rector’s insistence that the police eventually investigated the strange events.
On Friday 11th September, three nights after the security guards’ sightings, Police Constables Beet and Ellis arrived on site at Pea Royd Bridge to follow up on the suspicious activity. It was midnight and they sat in their car with a somewhat blasé attitude to this particular assignment. They were not expecting to witness anything of interest.
However, within ten minutes Ellis was certain he could see shadows moving around on the overpass. He got out of the car and, wary of intruders, climbed the fixed ladder to bridge level. In the darkness, he could hear a flapping sound and with the beam of his flashlight, he soon identified a piece of plastic sheeting blowing in the wind. After securing it in place with a brick, he returned to the car and he and Beet joked about the possibility that the security guards were simply spooked by a piece of loose polythene.
Unfortunately for them, their amusement did not last long. Ellis was suddenly shocked when he turned his head to see the torso of a man pressed up against his side of the car, no more than two inches from his face. As he shouted in horror, it disappeared and within seconds, Beet noticed the same apparition appear on his side. No face was visible, with the upper body seemingly cut off at the shoulders. It was wearing a robe, which was tied around the waist with a length of rope. Needless to say, they were both overcome with fear.
Before long the spectre had vanished again and Ellis bravely exited the vehicle. There was no sign that anyone had been near the car, no footprints, no sounds of anyone fleeing the scene, no trace whatsoever. Beet turned the key in the ignition numerous times but the vehicle refused to start, only adding to the men’s panic. The engine did eventually turn over and fired into life, but once the car started moving a loud knocking sound could be heard coming from the boot/trunk, as if somebody was hitting it very hard.
Both police officers left the scene, believing that they had seen a ghost. Their accounts were so convincing that locals began to call Pea Royd Bridge, ‘Ghost Bridge.’ As for the security guards, they refused to set foot upon the site again, even in broad daylight. Neither man was ever quite the same after their ordeal and both were forced to quit their jobs, one within three days of the sighting and the other just a couple of months later.
Other paranormal events
These were not the only people to experience paranormal activity, however. Graham Brooke—no relation to the aforementioned security guard—and his son Nigel witnessed this same monk as they were out running near Wortley. Though it was dusk, they were out training for a marathon and had not ventured far from their home. The apparition appeared to be walking with its legs somehow sunken into the ground. Initially struck by the thought that his mind was playing tricks on him, Graham looked to his son for acknowledgement. He describes the monk as being dressed in 12th century attire, with a dark brown hood over its head. He remembered the face being completely black, like a miner’s face and also recalled the air being heavy with a musty scent.
Eerily, the Stocksbridge Bypass would eventually open to the public on Friday 13th May 1988. In normal circumstances, there was no reason for the newly-laid road to seem so treacherous, but within a few years, planners had become concerned by the unexpected number of accidents and fatalities; there were 14 deaths within the first ten years alone.
Some believe that both the mysterious monk and the ethereal children continue to haunt the Bypass to this day, with a number of further sightings in recent years and even claims that accidents have been caused due to the presence of paranormal entities on the road. There have continued to be various reports of seeing—though mainly only hearing—the ghostly children. Other recent witnesses have reported seeing witches, and a ghostly woman in white at the Bypass.
The most common sighting, however, is that of the monk. Though some see this apparition on a bridge or in the distance, many drivers are said to see it appear in the middle of the road, right in front of the car, usually disappearing at the point of impact.
However, other drivers say that despite attempts to swerve out of the way, the figure can pass right through the vehicle. Other more chilling accounts tell of how the monk has appeared sitting in the passenger or rear seats of the car. One can only imagine the shock of looking up in the rear view mirror only to see the vision of a faceless friar staring back at you. Many ghostly sightings occurred whilst the Bypass was still under construction; this has given rise to a number of key ideas…
One theory for the monk’s presence at the Bypass is that his grave was disturbed during building work. No burial site or human remains were uncovered during construction, though some of the farms in the area were certainly known to be monastic. Legend has since placed the monk at Hunshelf Hall, though there is no evidence to confirm this. The monk’s grave has simply never been found.
Though there is no conclusive evidence, an explanation for the ghostly children is the ritualistic sacrifice of youngsters by former inhabitants of the area, perhaps even as far back as the Bronze or Iron Age. To complement this explanation – by way of an omen of death – a type of hell-hound or Black Shuck called the Barguest has also been reported to frequent the Stocksbridge Bypass. This is of particular interest as the creature is known to inhabit execution sites. At Stocksbridge, the Barguest is said to appear as a huge Black Dog with wild fiery eyes.
Finally, it has been discovered that a group of children died in a mining accident in Stocksbridge and some believe that their spirits may also haunt the area. With the road deaths came witness accounts from other drivers stating that they had seen the ghosts of those killed in previous crashes at the roadside. This is interesting and potentially cyclical; in some cases, paranormal forces are said to be involved in influencing the accident itself and, of course, the more deaths that occur, the more possible victims that pass over to the other side.
In an account from July 1990, David and Judy Simpson described events on one of the Bypass’ minor roads, the B6088 Wortley village. In this instance, the couple were travelling to work when they saw what they thought was a jogger “three feet above” the ground. The figure leapt over an embankment bordering the road and landed right in front of the car. At the point of impact, the jogger vanished.
Comparisons with other roads
Despite a recent fall in paranormal sightings, the road remains one of the creepiest and certainly most dangerous in the world with regular head-on collisions on the Stocksbridge Bypass since its opening. Incidents at the Bypass even compare in number to notoriously ‘dangerous’ roads – Leh Manali Highway, India, El Teide, Tenerife and the Guoliang Tunnel, China, – each of these locations are known for having steep verges, un-fenced cliff edges and narrow roads, impassable by more than one car in places. Whilst they may appear dangerous, speeds are generally low and drivers cautious.
Parallels have also been drawn between Stocksbridge Bypass and other apparently cursed or haunted roads; the construction of the iconic Route 66 was also said to have resulted in the disturbance of a body. There were said to be regular ghost sightings both on the main route and on side roads.
The ‘phantom stagecoach’ can also be likened to one of America’s most haunted road’s; Clinton Road, West Milford, New Jersey, known for its phantom trucks, which are reported to chase cars and pedestrians down the highway.
Meanwhile, the idea of ghostly apparitions appearing in front of your car and then disappearing is widely reported to accident investigators worldwide. Tuen Mun Road, is a primary expressway in Hong Kong, widely regarded as haunted, with drivers often having to swerve to avoid ‘ghostly figures’ in the middle of the highway. After a horrendous bus crash in 2003 resulted in the deaths of 21 people, eyewitnesses said that ghosts in the road were to blame.
Given all of these reports, we should be completely open to the possibility of a spiritual or paranormal explanation for at least some of the events. The other option is to rationalise, and maybe say that every single accident was caused by tiredness, confusion or the driver experiencing an intense episode of vehophobia, which is known to cause a loss of one’s sense of reality. Surely not all sightings can be the result of fatigue, hallucinations or a break down in one’s mental state?
Whatever the future holds, the story of the Stocksbridge Bypass monk, sightings of Black Shucks and singing children are nonetheless compelling and compare to just about any other haunted road you care to imagine.
We are faced with the question over whether the paranormal activity at Stocksbridge Bypass is prevalent because of the amount of accidents and deaths that occur or whether the accidents and deaths that occur are prevalent because of the amount of paranormal activity. The next time you hear that there has been a car crash on the motorway, a collision on the interstate or a temporary road closure, consider that engine power may not be the only force at play.