"On the old Roman road, called ' Ermine Street,' or ' The High Dyke,' . . . —and at a distance of some three miles from Ancaster, a Roman station . . . —and in the angle formed by the Sleaford and Newark road, which there crosses the Roman road — stands a solitary farm-house; its solitude only relieved by two cottages distant about one hundred yards, on the same side of the great highway, and, more recently erected, a small school building on its opposite side.
"Not less singular are the circumstances which are said to have given rise to the name "of ' Byard's (or ' Bayard's ') Leap,' or the Leap of the horse ' Bayard.' ... It [the Leap] is situated in the midst of what was once a lonely tract of high land, almost a waste, extending for many miles, and called Ancaster Heath. . . . The pedestrian who follows the footpath which runs along the Eastern side of the great Roman highway will observe, at a distance of some fifty yards northwards from the farmhouse of Byard's Leap, and near a pond by the roadside, four very large iron horseshoes, embedded in the soil. If he measures the distance of these shoes from the pond he will find that it is twenty paces or sixty feet, and sixty feet was the length of Byard's Leap. . . . Opposite the farm of ' Bayard's Leap ' is a plantation . . . consisting chiefly of trees of recent growth; but probably there formerly existed an older growth, whose pristine shades were more adapted to harbour weird spirits. Within that wood, inhabiting, as it is said, a cave, but more likely a deserted quarry of the famed Ancaster stone of the district (such places of abode being still used), there lived the pest and terror of the countryside in the person of an old woman, known far and wide as, par excellence, the witch ... a dangerous character was the old beldame to anyone who ventured to thwart her or cross her path. ...
|An alternative tale|
"He mounts the horse Bayard. He calls out to the old woman, asking her to come and ride behind him. Her reply (which has been preserved) is, ' Wait till I've buckled my shoes and suckled the cubs, and I'll be with you.' He waits, and in due time she comes forth. At his bidding, she mounts behind him. He at once plunges his knife into her breast. The old hag, in her agony, clutches at the horse's back with the long sharp nails of her fingers. The horse in alarm makes one wild, sudden bound, which lands him full sixty feet from the spot. The witch falls back into the pond and is drowned, so her career is ended.
"Tradition says that the horse made a second bound, equal in length to the first, and which brought him to the corner of the cottages which stand further on by the side of the road ; but only the first is marked by the four huge horse-shoes, which are carefully preserved, in situ, as described above, as standing evidence and memorial of ' Bayard's Leap.' . . . It should here be stated that considerable variations from the foregoing version of the legend exist, as is usually the case with such narratives, in the form of oral tradition still floating in the neighbourhood. For instance, the personality of the hero himself varies from that of a knight-errant of the age of chivalry to that of an ordinary cavalry soldier of a more recent period. . ."
"The Legend of Byard's Leap" - Rev J Conway Walter
(Bayard is Old English meaning horse)
Map showing the re-alignment of the A17
Reproduced with the permission of the National Library of Scotland