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WEIRD NORFOLK: Years before Halloween trinkets, East Runton boasted a skeleton that glows in the dark

PUBLISHED: 18:00 25 January 2020 | UPDATED: 11:53 26 January 2020

Sheep graze at East Runton 1964 the derelict windmill in the background. Picture: Archant Library

Sheep graze at East Runton 1964 the derelict windmill in the background. Picture: Archant Library

Archant

The ghostly light shed by a skeleton buried beneath the road at East Runton floats close to a cornmill whose cap was used by fishermen to guide them home.

This is an area famous for its skeletons. That belonging to the neighbouring village of West Runton has somewhat stolen the skeleton limelight with the remains of a Steppe Mammoth, which was found in 1990, dating back 700,000 years and which was the largest ever found in Britain.

But East Runton boasts a skeleton that glows in the dark. In 1906, when the A149 coastal road was being widened for motor vehicles, something unusual was unearthed close to the cornmill - the skeleton of a man buried four feet under the ground. He would have been around 5ft 10 to 6ft tall in life and his teeth suggested that when he died he had been in good health: local legends spoke of a smuggler who had been killed and buried at this spot after he tried to escape from excise men. Others claimed that the body was that of a pedlar who travelled from village to village selling watches, rare commodities in the 18th and 19th centuries and the kind that attracted the wrong kind of interest…from robbers. Whoever the man was, his remains were removed and laid to rest at the local churchyard and the roadworks rumbled on, cars eventually passing over the place where the man had once been buried. But although his earthly remains had moved to a different location, in some form, the man remained in the same spot.

Local people reported seeing a ghostly light close to the cornmill 600m away which would cross the fields close by and disappear into the earth close to the place where the skeleton was found. The excellent griffmonster-walks.blogspot.com, which offers a selection of walks primarily in Norfolk and Suffolk which take in local history and folklore, suggests a slight variation on the story. "It was easy to conjure up the ghosts of days gone by, wandering up the track known as Thains Lane," it reads, "maybe whispers on the winds were speaking of the secrets that lurked on this track. One side was Woodhill House, with the Coast Road in front where some poor unfortunate soul had met their fate many years ago.

"No-one knows exactly when. No-one remembers who. There is no marker. No headstone. Not even a simple cross. Just a skeleton, buried anonymously and only found when the road was widened in the early 1900's. A smuggler? A thief? Either way the tale makes out it was some reprobate who deserved such an end.

"Someone who wasn't worthy of a rightful burial, someone to be cast aside beyond the boundary of the village, and forgotten about. "

The description of the area then continues: "The Mill stands in all its glory at the top of Mill Lane…One could bet there are old stories that could be told by the walls of this monument. It certainly holds one ghostly secret.

"They say it was the source of ghostly lights. They say ghostly lights emanated from this location and then would dance across the field and go to ground in the copse beyond where there was another unmarked grave.

"One shouldn't hang about when these lights show and one certainly should not mock them least they follow you home. These spirits of the long departed. These Will-o-the-Wisps. These Jack o' Lanterns. They should not be tangled with for they are of another realm."

There is little evidence of the phosphorescence which usually explains the ghostly lights seen in East Anglia in this corner of Norfolk, so the mystery remains, tied forever to a modernisation programme which unearthed the dead.

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