Hickling Broad

Ernest Suffling, in his History and Legends of the Broad District (c.1890), tells the story of the Hickling Skater, or, as he is sometimes called, the Potter Heigham Drummer. About the time of Waterloo, a young soldier was home on a month’s furlough who had a sweetheart at Potter Heigham on the far side of Hickling Broad. Her father did not approve of him, as he was only a drummer boy, so they had to meet secretly. They arranged to meet in a marsh on the Heigham side of the Broad at a place called Swim Coots. The Broad was frozen and he skated to meet his sweetheart for several evenings; but, though cautioned against it, he ventured once too often – when near the wherry channel he must have gone through the ice, for only his ghost kept the appointment with the waiting girl. He was not found for several days, as the ice was too thin to walk on but too thick to pull through in a boat. Now he can be seen in February early in the evening skating across the Broad at full speed. He beats a drum while skating ‘and, said a native, “he du whistle along tu, master!”’ Suffling says that, at the time of writing, the ghost had not been seen for a number of years.

In a dialectal version of this story printed in Longman’s Magazine in 1903, an old wherryman explains that ‘th’ folks ha’ a notion that th’ Hickling drummer lad go skaten’ round Swim Cutes, a-beaten’ o’ his drum ter show that th’ ice ain’t safe.’ In the absence of other early versions, it is hard to say if the idea of the drumming as a warning is the writer’s own embroidery, or a genuine local tradition.



Haunted England : The Penguin Book of Ghosts – Written by Jennifer Westwood and Jacqueline Simpson
Copyright © Jennifer Westwood and Jacqueline Simpson 2005, 2008