As a full time angling guide I’ve seen my fair share of things over the past 30 years or so, I tend not to believe tales of monster Pike, ghosts, ghouls etc. however this tale I’m going to tell you has made me reconsider this.
It had been a very busy time with Christmas approaching and clients getting in as much fishing in as possible prior to the festivities. I retired early to bed after yet another long day trying to outwit the monster Pike of the Norfolk Broads, sleep strangely though didn’t come easy for some reason but eventually I slipped into a deep sleep, however on reflection I wished I hadn’t!
It was just before Christmas in 1859 and I was just a poor servant of the local Squire, scraping a meagre living by taking the masters guests out shooting and fishing,. This day though a guest of the squires a short, portly well to do affluent landowner from the Kent area was my charge and he wanted to catch one of the monster Pike from the Norfolk Broads. All started well, the chap who we will call Geoff, for that was his name, or in fact his correct title as he liked to be addressed was Lord Hornby of Chatham, had started with a very large breakfast and was in good form, slightly pompous you might think on listening to him speak and you understood from the start that you were the servant and he was the master!
The weather was very windy with a cold dark sky and the promise of snow later, despite this Lord Hornby insisted that I was to row the small wooden skiff up onto Hickling Broad, a distance of some 2 miles whilst he relaxed in the bow with the first of his many snifters of Brandy from the hip flask. After what seemed like an age we arrived at the top of Upper Deep Dyke and was met with two-foot high waves heading down the full length of the Broad towards us. Lord Hornby decided this would be the ideal place to start trolling some very large Roach live baits, which he insisted, would catch the biggest Pike out there!
Despite my protests that this was almost impossible to do Lord Hornby explained very, very clearly that if I wished to be continued to be employed by the Squire I had better get on with the task I had been set. When again I said Its an impossible task today the Lords manner changed from the mild, well spoken person to a snarling, peasant type voice with real menace in it “you will do as I say boy or you will face the dire consequences of your refusal” So off I go, after several hours of this we finally reach the top of the Broad and relative shelter, just at this moment one of the rods goes hammering over, the cat gut sang in the wind and the centre pin reel screamed off so fast that I was barely able to stop the fish before handing the rod over to Lord Hornby who had not moved at this point. Once the rod was placed in his large chubby hand all hell broke loose, the fish went this way, then that way, under the boat, tail walking on occasions before finally being gaffed by the boat. This was a truly impressive specimen Pike, some 60 inches long with a head like a crocodile, when weighed it moved the spring balance round to 55lb’s – despite this Lord Hornby insisted that it wasn’t the one, there was a bigger fish out there and I was to find it for him!
Several hours later and feeling totally exhausted we had had no more fish and I started the long row back to the dock, darkness was fast approaching and the bitterly easterly wind had started to produce some snow flurries. As we approached the “Holt” a lovely thatched dwelling on Candle Dyke we heard a shout over the howling wind. In the weak yellow light of the hurricane lamp we saw a young girl standing on the bank in the swirling snow. She was obviously distressed with no coat only a nightshirt on, as we approached her to offer assistance she suddenly leapt into the dark water of the River Thurne and disappeared. I looked to Lord Hornby for help but he seemed uninterested and said it was only a poor peasant girl and he wished to return to his carriage as he was getting hungry. Despite my protest that we needed to help this child, Lord Hornby insisted we carried on back, when I protested I found a hand around my throat and a snarling face with perspiration dripping from his bald head pressed up close to mine explaining how I would be in the water myself if I didn’t return home to the manor.
I had no choice but to continue back, I still remember the look on the child’s face as she disappeared into the inky black cold water, a few days later there was much consternation in my village when it was said that a local servants daughter called Mary had disappeared without trace! Posters were put up in the local villages but she was never heard of again and no trace of her was ever found!
I woke up, shaking, sweating and in a panic, only to find myself in my bedroom with my wife shaking me with a very concerned look on her face saying that I had had a dream.
Anyway, just a dream or so it seemed, work continued as normal and no more nightmares occurred, I had a phone call one evening from a chap who fancied a few days Pike fishing down on the Norfolk Broads, This guy was called Geoff and came from Derbyshire, I booked him in and the following month we arranged to meet for the first of his fishing trips. When he arrived all excited I stood back, there was something familiar about him, you know one of those moments when hey I’ve met you before but then again your not really sure. We fished all day and again the following day with Geoff taking many specimen sized fish, very good company and he told me during the course of the day that he originally came from Kent. Over the last few years Geoff has become a very regular client with some fantastic hauls of fish to his credit, this despite not having any idea of what he was doing, awful casting, but his results didn’t reflect this lack of ability. There was still something strange though and despite my best efforts I just couldn’t put my finger on what it was.
After a trip out recently with Geoff he caught a couple of his usual quality specimen Pike but then hooked something much bigger, we struggled in getting it up and when we did this gruesome child’s head appeared, in the panic it slipped off and despite our efforts and the police’s the body couldn’t be found again, it shook us up so much that we didn’t fish the next day and Geoff returned home to be consoled by his lovely wife Susie.
The other day I was compiling some photos for Geoff of Norfolk Pike he had caught and noticed that in one of them there was a blemish, on opening it up it proved not be a blemish but a ghostly face, made me jump a bit to be truthful. On checking the other images more closely most of them showed this face somewhere on them. Spooky or what, my wife laughed at it and said it was something on the camera lens but it wasn’t, she remembered my dream from several years ago and went to look online at local archives and she found the story of the missing child and also a picture of the chap who caught the biggest Pike in England, Lord Hornby, when she showed me I collapsed into the chair – the person was the same one, the cunning look, the chubby face and the black cold eyes!
Maybe just maybe that that dream wasn’t actually a dream, maybe I was there, maybe Geoff was actually the cold calculating Lord Hornby and maybe the child Mary he refused to help on that cold Winters evening has haunted Geoff ever since, we’ll never know but makes you think doesn’t it……….
But then again maybe it was just a doll’s head!