The White Donkey - an apparition amid the heather - Benjamin Pond - Longshoreman

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The White Donkey - an apparition amid the heather

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Andover Advertiser 9th December 1967
By Benjamin Pond


As a boy I suppose I believed in ghosts because the old house in which I lived in Bridge Street, Andover was said to be haunted, footsteps being heard in the dead of night.
But when my family took me down to the coast in 1907 I forgot all about ghosts, spooks and apparitions, many years elapsed before I was to experience a terrible fright on a lonely Dorset heath.
At the time I had this scare (1929) I was living in an isolated villa on the fringe of Studland Heath and not far from the shores of Poole Harbour.
This great heath extended for several miles in length and width, not a road or house, even the new Ferry Road only runs over three miles of the eastern side of the heath today.
Since the end of the First World War I had become engaged in the fishing industry and to reach my lonely home I would have to walk five miles across the heath at night, unless tide and wind allowed me to sail the four miles journey by water.
So the nights I had to walk meant leaving my boat at Shell bay, but I was very fit at the time, five miles was nothing, striding along the narrow path ten inches in width, trodden by cattle in years long past.
Came a night , almost midnight and three days before Christmas, when having gone nearly a mile I saw a white object about a hundred yards ahead.
I stopped, only a sheet of newspaper perhaps, but the truth is I was puzzled, how did it get there?
There was no wind, yet did it move. It did, only slightly. I was now really afraid, alone on the vast heath in the middle of the night, I could not go on.
At last I decided to get into the scrub and bush heather and make an half circle to avoid the object and so to regain the path further on.
This I did, when I had gone half way I dared to look at the “thing” now I could see it broadside on, not end on as I had first seen it.
It was only a white donkey –– but wait. Laughing at my fears I regained the track and looked back, yes, there it stood, a white innocent donkey, or was it?
Then it was gone, a complete disappearance, it was no more.
Again I was filled with fear it could not have reached a clump of bushes forty yards near Bramble Bush Bay.
I hurried home, surely if I returned this way in day light I should see hoof marks on the peat and patches of loose sand.
But when I came back to the spot, there were NONE, not even one hoof indentation.
Never again would I tread that path by night, I would walk around the shore route; I made this vow after certain facts came to light.
Determined to clear up this mystery – if it was a mystery – I went to all the crofters’ holdings at the foot of Ballard Down, also at Studland, to see if anyone had allowed a white donkey to roam the heath; of more than forty donkeys in the area none were white.
At the Banke’s Arms one morning I found Jim Coffin, retired fisherman, to him I related the events of that night, he never interrupted until I had almost finished my story.
Then he gave me an odd look and said “I too have seen that donkey, ‘tis there three days afore Christmas. I knows, came the heath way myself, was I affrighted? Not arf.”
He went on : “You know old Fryer, the Boscombe winkle picker, well, often slept on the heath to be in time for morning low tide, he did see thic ther’ white donkey, so did some of Rigg’s gang when they went to hide a load of brandy among the sedges of Littlesea Lake, see, they ’ad to go that way.”
Old coffin new a lot more he continued: “Back along 150 years agone, a feller was riding a white donkey, three nights afore Christmas near Bramble Bush Bay when he was set on and murdered by a navy deserter who took his bag of money and a cask of rum the poor fella had, the donkey ran away.”
Think what you like, I’ve now returned to the Andover area after being away 55 years, recently I met old Kaffie. Spell it Cafe, he was in west street, gent had brought him in his car and had to visit Pontings.
While the car was being attended to I had a long chat to old Kaffie, ending up by saying, “Do you believe in spooks?”
“Course I do,” he replied. “Why not?” “When and where?” I eagerly asked.
“Well, every Christmas Eve I do make it a ’abit to visit EVERY pub on Poole Quay, then feeling o’ ’appy like, I turns up High Street to go home, and what do think I sees up over the Marine Store? Why. Two ships’ figureheads instead o’ one – she must ’ave a twin sister as only pays her a visit fer Christmas.
Funny fing, ain’t it?”

 
 
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