The Black Cloud of Terror near Burford
4 February 2024
Reports of a ghostly cloud that instills feelings of terror in all who encounter it has long been reported along a stretch of road between Burford and Minster Lovell in West Oxfordshire.
Watch out for the terror cloud!
Described as a dense black cloud which appears unexpectedly on the road, this phenomena is said to affect animals as well as humans, even driving them mad with fear. This feeling or fear is said to rapidly dissipate as soon as the other side of the cloud is reached, leading those who encounter it to be convinced that the fog is supernatural in origin.
The tale of the sinister black cloud is repeated in at least seven books about local lore (see the 'Sources' section at the bottom of the page), some of which add details such as the clouds ability to move independently of wind direction.
The earliest reference I've found appears in Anthony D. Hippisley Coxe's 1973 book Haunted Britain, which sums it up succinctly thus:
Burford is haunted by a terrifying apparition. It takes the form of a black cloud. If you drive through it you experience a feeling of utter terror. Animals are driven frantic.
Anthony D. Hippisley Coxe
It's possible that later references in books by J.A. Brooks (1981), Mark Turner (1993), Marilyn Yurdan (2002), Betty Puttick (2003), Roger Long (2008) and Ross Andrews (2010) are merely imaginative elaborations on this brief account.
In Unexplained Oxford and Oxfordshire, Marilyn Yurdan states that the dark cloud was mentioned in the 22nd November 1973 issue of the Witney Gazette, but I've not been able to track this down to confirm. If you have access to this issue, or know of any other mentions of the ghostly cloud that predate 1973, please get in touch by email or on social media and let me know!
Clouds: hard to pin down
One thing that unite all the various accounts of this ghostly cloud is the frustrating inability to name the exact stretch of road where the cloud has been encountered! All accounts agree that the cloud has been encountered between Burford and Minster Lovell, but the five mile journey between these two locations can be completed via a number of different routes.
Add to this the fact that the A40, which provides the most direct route today, was not built until the mid-20th century, and conjecture on which route to take if you wish to avoid an encounter with the cloud becomes even harder!
Terrifying supernatural phenomenon, or just some fog?
Is there really a road to the east of Burford that is haunted by a terrifying dark cloud? Sceptics seeking a rational explanation do not have far to look. Part of the pre-A40 route from Burford to Minster Lovell travels along the bottom of the Windrush valley, an area which, like many wide flat-bottomed valleys, is more prone to foggy conditions than many roads in the county.
The experience of hitting a sudden patch of thick fog whilst driving is always an alarming one, for personal safety reasons if nothing else, and relief when passing out the other side is quite natural.
That said, the roads around Burford seem to attract more than their fair share of other supernatural goings-on!
Other road ghosts of the Windrush valley
The roads around Burford are said to be haunted by a phantom coach driven by the notorious Lord and Lady Tanfield, a pair of particularly unpopular aristocrats who made themselves loathsome to the people of Burford during the 17th century.
The village of Asthall, between Burford and Minster Lovell has its own variant of the classic 'phantom hitchhiker' urban legend in the form a soaking wet young woman who flags down cars near Asthall Manor before disappearing.
The roads around Burford were also at one time a regular haunt of highwaymen, such as the Dunsdon brothers, who would surely have thrived in the foggy conditions of the Windrush valley.
The fear of highwaymen may have inspired another haunting reported on the roads between Burford and Minster Lovell, that of a ghostly highwayman known as Black Stockings who is said to have pulled travellers from their horses and has even been spotted by motorists in more recent memory.
If these were not reason enough to fear the roads between Burford and Minster Lovell, the manor house at Swinbrook is said to have once housed a gang of highwaymen from London, whose leader liked to play the county squire by day and terrorise travellers on the nearby roads at night!
- 'Haunted Britain' by Anthony D. Hippisley Coxe (Pan Books, 1973, ISBN: 0330243284)
- 'Ghost and Witches of the Cotswolds' by J.A. Brooks (Jarrold Publishing, 1992, ISBN: 0711702330)
- 'Folklore and Mysteries of the Cotswolds' by Mark Turner (Robert Hale Ltd, 1993, ISBN: 0709052472)
- 'Unexplained Oxford and Oxfordshire' by Marilyn Yurdan (The Book Castle, 2002, ISBN: 97819037747216)
- 'Oxfordshire Stories of the Supernatural' by Betty Puttick (Countryside Books, 2003, ISBN: 9781853068119)
- 'Curious Oxfordshire' by Roger Long (Sutton Publishing, 2008, ISBN: 9780750949576)
- 'Paranormal Oxford' by Ross Andrews (Amberley Publishing, 2010, 9781445600024)