The stretch of the A644 (the length of which runs all the way to Denholme Gate) between Brighouse and Hipperholme is known as Halifax Road and represents one of the main routes for traffic heading from Brighouse to Halifax. A frequently noisy and dusty prospect, it is not the most auspicious location for a paranormal experience, yet according to Stephen Wade’s Haunting In Yorkshire it was the scene of a quite common supernatural encounter, although the writer fails to give any detail as to exactly where along its course the incident occurred.
Wade describes a “Halifax man” who was driving home one Sunday morning following an emergency plumbing job whereupon he saw a pedestrian with long hair and a checked shirt walking beside the road. The walker stuck his thumb out to hitch a lift, before quite suddenly turning and stepping into the road directly in front of the vehicle. The driver expected to hear a sickening thud as he ploughed into the seemingly suicidal individual. However no such impact came and when he stopped his car to investigate found no evidence of any collision or even that anybody was walking in the vicinity.
This story is a variation on the classic “phantom hitch-hiker” motif, a modern folkloric trope which is unique in its global ubiquity and its durability. A subset of the “road ghost” classification of hauntings, such spectral travellers were reported long before the invention of the motor car and will doubtless survive it. Whilst this differs from the classic account – in which the hitck-hiker is picked up and remains in the vehicle for some time before suddenly vanishing, often leaving some token of its identity which later proves its ghostly nature – it nonetheless bears a number of similarities.
Whilst phantom hitch-hiker tales remain one of the most commonly related types of ghost story in the modern age, they are often unattributed and frequently take the form of a “friend of a friend story,” otherwise dubbed an “urban legend”. The account recorded by Wade adheres to these criteria, with the identity of the “Halifax man” remaining anonymous and very little detail given regarding the precise location or date of the event. It is accordingly difficult to ascertain whether the story represents a true first-hand report or simply the transmission of a folkloric icon.
Assuming that it is an eye-witness account, there is telling evidence when Wade quotes the Halifax man as saying, “I was tired… red-eyed… I could have imagined it all” as the story bears all the hallmarks of a hypnagogic experience. Hypnagogia is the liminal state between waking and dreaming when the boundaries between the two become blurred, an altered state of consciousness in which vivid, profoundly realistic hallucinations can occur. Sleep deprivation can often lead to individuals slipping into such a state unnoticed whilst performing routine activity and consequently, in recent years hypnagogia has become a favoured explanation for the psychological validity of sightings of ghosts and UFOs .