Reputedly the ghost of a highway man named Thomas Pocock haunts the A39 around Ashcott. According to Laura Linham in her article published in Somerset Live [6 October 2017]. ‘If you live in Ashcott, Chilton Polden or anywhere else along the A39 between Bridgwater and Street, you may well know that the road and the surrounding area is said to be the favourite haunt of a restless phantom.For centuries now, tales have circulated about a ghostly horseman who appears at various points along the route riding a spectral steed, before vanishing.’
She goes on to describe that reported sightings ‘mention a black-coloured horse and much frantic galloping – but no matter how fast the horse seems to run, it never actually goes anywhere.
Also, the rider………supposedly appears slumped in the saddle as though badly wounded, with the look of someone trying to get away from something.
The reports all describe much the same thing, the latest being as recent as 1999, when a mother and daughter claimed to have seen a horseman appear on the road in front of their car, galloping on the spot.
So who is this mysterious phantom, and why has he returned to haunt mid-Somerset’s roads?
The generally accepted answer is that the man is Thomas Pocock, a highwayman believed to have lived in the area during the early 1700s.
Little is really known of the man himself but, according to legend, he was a heroic figure, robbing rich travellers and sharing his wealth with the poor, a bit like a West Country Robin Hood.
A number of stories exist about his exploits in life, suggesting he managed to evade capture for years by hiding away in a secret cave.
Even so, he was eventually cornered by the district’s lawmen, who injured him as he tried to escape, caught him, beat him and hanged him.
This would go some way to explaining why the ghostly horseman looks the way he does, if the accounts of his appearances are to be believed.
His violent demise may also explain his return from the dead, as supernatural activity is often linked with traumatic events.
Then again, it could be seen as his punishment for robbing so many people, despite his allegedly philanthropic intentions.
But why is he still trying to race to safety hundreds of years later, and why he is unable to get anywhere, no matter how fast his horse gallops?
There might be an explanation for this, as well.
The folklore surrounding Thomas Pocock suggests that the cave where he concealed himself and his ill-gotten gains was located somewhere near Chilton Priory.
The building, which resembles a small castle, can still be seen by anyone driving along the A39, as the road runs straight past the old structure.
Pocock’s cave, however, is thought to have collapsed sometime after his death, or been destroyed by his captors, and no one knows where it once was.
Perhaps, therefore, Thomas Pocock is doomed to ride forever, searching for a refuge he will never find.
On 2 February 2020 a follow up article in Somerset Live by Anna Gladwin describes a more recent sighting. ‘A woman has described the moment she and her husband saw what they think was a ghost while driving a Somerset road in the early hours.
In December last year (2019), Rachel Gosling and her husband Mark were driving from Street to Bridgwater when they both spotted the unthinkable.
When Rachel couldn’t sleep, she decided to keep Mark company while he dropped off some paperwork at a DPD warehouse in Bridgwater where he works night shifts.
As they were approaching Aschott on the A39 at around 3am., Mark said: “This is the part of the journey I hate.”
Moments later, they both spotted what they can only explain to be a ghost.
Rachel, 49, said: “Suddenly in the corner of my eye, I saw him.
“There was a man high up, wearing a light sandy brown long jacket and a black hat and he was pointing above my car.
“Never in my bloody life have I seen anything like it, I can’t explain it.
“If it was just me I would have shrugged it off but Mark saw the same.
“He said: ‘What the f**k was that?’”
Mark similarly described a man on a horse on the opposite side of the road pointing above their car.
“If we were on the other side, my husband would have swerved across the road to avoid it.
“It could cause accidents – there have been two cars in the hedge on the same stretch of road since.”
The couple barely had time to register what they saw before it vanished.