Wednesday, 29 December 2010

Ghosthunting in Gloucestershire

Gloucestershire is one of the loveliest counties in England. It stands at the head of the Bristol Channel, where the mighty River Severn could first be bridged, and much of its ancient prosperity relied on the fact that the produce of its fertile fields and mineral-rich rocks could be exported easily over the seas to hungry and profitable markets.

The county is dominated by hill and river. The River Severn runs through the area from north to south, its broad valley providing farmland as fertile and productive as any in the country. To the east rises the towering escarpment of the Cotswold Hills. Rearing to almost a thousand feet in height near Cheltenham, these hills dominate and influence the whole landscape. Not only are they striking physical features in themselves, but the soft golden sandstone they produce has been used to build most of the local villages and towns. The beauty of the stone is deservedly famous.

And Gloucestershire has more than its share of hauntings. There are some ghosts here that have their counterparts elsewhere: there are white ladies, black dogs and men in grey scattered round and about there are across all England. But some of Gloucester's ghosts are quite unique. The unearthly spectral screams that tear the night apart at Berkeley cannot be matched elsewhere and the ancient shadow men who lurk around the prehistoric burial mound near Bibury may be the oldest phantoms in the country. And the Mickleton Hooter is quite frankly bizarre.

The lanes that wind over the Cotswolds and spread across the lower land make this a delightful county to explore. There are modern roads, of course, the M5 cuts down the Severn valley while A40 slices east to west, but these arteries of modern thundering motor traffic have left much of the landscape strangely untouched. The Saxon minster at Deerhurst is as tranquil now as it was when the holy monks prayed there more than a thousand years ago. Chipping Sodbury is as perfect a country town as you could hope to find and every bit as charming as it was when an alchemist carried out an experiment that was to have repercussions down to the present day.

There is no knowing what supernatural phantom or spectre may lurk around the next corner. And phantoms can crop up in the most unexpected of places. Castles and churches are obvious candidates to house a ghost, but a modern shopping arcade is more surprising for a venue and even otherwise quiet roads can provide a home for a spook.

Gloucestershire is without doubt one of the most attractive and most haunted counties that can be found. Exploring its lanes and villages has been a wonderful experience, while the towns and the city of Gloucester have proved to be both welcoming and well thronged with otherworldly spirits to interest the travelling ghosthunter. But the most impressive thing about Gloucestershire has been it sheer splendour. It is a county to reward every traveller. 

Ghosthunter or not, get out there and discover Gloucestershire. It is well worth the effort.

This is an extract from:
Haunted Gloucestershire

Monday, 27 December 2010

The Tombs of Newgrange

The Megalithic tombs of Newgrange, in Ireland, are more than 5,000 years old, so they pre-date the pyramids of Egypt, and even the arrival of the Celts in Ireland. As is often the case with such ancient monuments, very little remains today to give a clue as the greater purpose behind their construction and this fine Stone Age necropolis is a source of speculation and intrigue all over the world.

Located near the banks of the river Boyne, to the east of Slane, the Newgrange tombs are known in the native tongue as Bru Na Boinne. According to pagan lore, Newgrange was the dwelling of Aengus, the powerful god of love. The site is also associated with the mystical race of the goddess Danu, also known as the Tuatha De Dannan. According to local superstition, these nature-loving pagans have left something of their spirit in the landscape and it is thought that Cuchulain, the legendary hero of the Celtic warriors, was conceived at Newgrange.

The Newgrange tomb is said to be the burial place of the high kings of Tara. The ash remains of these rulers would have been contained in large bowls in each of the three recesses of the burial chamber. Although this chamber has been described as cruciform in shape, given the fact that the tomb pre-dates the birth of Christ by around 3,200 years, it is more likely that this layout reflects the clover form that is so prevalent in ancient Irish artworks.

The builders of these tombs demonstrated considerable devotion to their construction. First, they made use of materials that were not readily available – the quartz must have been quarried and transported from the Wicklow Mountains, a considerable distance from Newgrange. Second, the builders were involved in a huge project – it has been estimated that the construction of the monument would have taken a workforce of 300 men more than twenty years to complete.
In common with the people of other ancient cultures, the lives of the Newgrange community would have been closely regulated by the natural rhythms and cycles of the earth, with the summer and winter solstices assuming great importance. At Newgrange, at the winter solstice, the dawn sun shines through a ‘roof-box’, down a short, straight passage and into the heart of the burial chamber, illuminating intricate carvings that are believed to represent the sun and the moon.

Intriguingly, similar effects can be found at Stonehenge, in the pyramids of the Maya and Aztec, and in King Khufu’s pyramid in Egypt, where a curious shaft of light enters the tomb at the time of the solstice. It is unclear whether this shaft may have been intended to allow the king’s soul to ascend to the heavens.

Did these cultures have a common spiritual identity, or is there simply something innate in human nature that discovered great profundity in the movement of the stars and the cycles of the planet? These ancient farming communities possessed a knowledge and understanding way ahead of their time. It is impossible not to marvel at the skill that enabled these people to make the precise calculations necessary in order to align the passages of the tombs with the light thrown out by the stars or the sun.

Tuesday, 21 December 2010

Bigfoot, Sasquatch, and others the evidence considered

Throughout this book, I have tried to present the evidence for the existence of man-like apes around the world in as impartial a manner as possible. I have sought to give the interpretations put on the evidence both by those who believe in the existence of these creatures, and of those who are more sceptical.

None of the creatures featured has been accepted by the wider scientific community, though some individual scientists have stated their conviction that one or more of these beasts is real - or at least that they are willing to look at the evidence, which is a start. Perhaps the most important of the many problems in proving that any cryptid exists is the quality of the evidence. Quantity is sometimes a problems as well, but not with the creatures looked at here. There are quite literally thousands of reports of cryptid apes from around the world. It is the credibility of those reports that is in question.

Footprints can be faked, films can be hoaxed and nests built by human hands. Not only can these things happen, we know that they have taken place. Frauds and hoaxes of many different types have been exposed over the years. For sceptics this is all that is needed to cast doubt on all “evidence”.

The most controversial and at the same time most numerous type of evidence is sightings of the cryptid animals by humans. For some of the cryptids, such as the Almas or Maricoxi, eyewitness accounts is pretty much the only evidence available. Again frauds and hoaxes are not only possible but are known to have occurred. But even when a person reports in all honesty having seen a cryptid, it does not necessarily mean that they have seen an unknown animal. People can easily be mistaken in what they see, especially if lighting conditions are poor and the creature is seen only fleetingly.

There comes a time, however, when the author of a book such as this has to nail his colours to the mast and give his opinion of the evidence, and suggest what should be done about it. It is no good simply reporting evidence, then avoiding making any firm judgements on the subject. So here, for what it is worth, is what I think.

I believe that there is a Sasquatch living in the forested mountains of northwestern North America. And I believe that it corresponds to the figure seen in the Patterson movie. The evidence for its existence falls short of proof, but the balance of probabilities would suggest that there is such a creature. I think that it is probably confined to that area of the continent, though it was probably distributed much more widely until the arrival of the Europeans with their more intensive farming techniques.

I do not think that the evidence supports the survival of the Sasquatch outside of the western forests. Nor do I believe that the Skunk Ape is a real, living animal. The evidence for its existence is weak and largely circumstantial. I do not, however, rule it out completely and would be pleased to be proved wrong should more evidence turn up.

Moving to South America,

Sunday, 19 December 2010

Early UFO reports did not mention aliens

It is generally believed that the entire Alien Encounter phenomenon began with the startling sighting of “flying saucers” or Unidentified Flying Objects (UFOs) by American pilot Kenneth Arnold in 1947 – see Encounter Casebook No.1. Most studies of the UFOs or books on the subject feature the Arnold sighting and describe it as the first UFO sighting.

In fact this is very much a matter of using the wisdom of hindsight. At the time, neither Arnold nor anyone else even thought about aliens or UFOs. It was assumed that what he had seen was some kind of top secret military aircraft of revolutionary design. Nor was Arnold’s the first sighting of such objects. It was merely the first to make it into the national and international press. For that we must thank the reporter who took Arnold’s description of the mysterious aircraft he had seen and dubbed them “flying saucers”. The name caught the public imagination and made good newspaper copy.

The story took a dramatic new twist when it became clear that whatever Arnold had seen, it was not a secret weapon being developed by the United States Air Force (USAF). The speed, design and motion of Arnold’s aircraft were utterly unlike anything being developed. The first thought that most people in aviation had was that the Soviet Russians had developed some startling new technology – though Arnold’s aircraft seemed so far in advance of anything the Russians had used during World War II, which had ended only two years earlier, that this seemed rather unlikely.

It was not long before people all across the USA started coming forward with their own sightings of mysterious aircraft. These people had been reluctant to speak publicly before either because they feared ridicule or because they had not realised that they had seen anything particularly odd – like Arnold they had assumed that they were seeing some secret new type of aircraft.

It must be remembered that at this time jets, rockets and helicopters were all new inventions shrouded in secrecy and mystery. There seemed to be no limit to the inventiveness of aircraft engineers.

Friday, 17 December 2010

Mysterious Northumberland - The Video

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The Barney and Betty Hill UFO case begins to unfold

For over ten years after the initial Kenneth Arnold sighting of 1947, UFO researchers tried to work out what the UFOs were and what their purpose was. It was gradually accepted by mainstream investigators that UFOs were highly advanced technological machines, almost certainly from another planet, and that they were crewed by beings with a deep interest in humanity.

At first the contactee experiences of George Adamski and others seemed to offer a solution to the UFO mystery. But as the number of contactees grew, and the points of agreement between their tales became fewer, that hope faded. Researchers began to look around for other sources of explanation, not a few beginning to suspect that the authorities, and in particular the US government, were covering up the truth.

Then a case came to light that seemed to offer a new perspective on the whole UFO experience - and a disturbing one at that. At first the encounter stood alone as a unique event, but soon it was joined by many others.

The story of the abduction of Betty and Barney Hill has become one of the great classics of the UFO story. It is worth retelling not only as it is interesting in itself, but to highlight a few points that are sometimes ignored by those more keen on the sensational aspects of the encounter.

On the evening of 19 September 1961 Barney and Betty Hill set off home from a holiday in Canada to their home in Portsmouth, New Hampshire. They expected to arrive home around 3am. The long night drive passed without incident until the couple were south of Lancaster, New Hampshire. Then Betty spotted a bright white light in the sky that looked like a large star, but which was tracking them.

Barney, who was driving, pulled over to have a look. He thought it was an airplane, and pulled out a pair of binoculars he kept handy in the car and climbed out to get a better look. Through the binoculars he saw that the flying object had no wings, but was large and dark with a row of windows through which peered a number of humanoid faces. The creatures seemed to be taking a deep interest in the Hills.

Suddenly frightened, Barney leapt back in the car, fired up the engine and raced off. There followed some strange beeping sounds coming from behind the car, which sounded out twice. Then the UFO was gone and the Hills were motoring home. They got home around 5am, two hours later than they expected and neither could account for the delay.

And that, so far as the Hills were concerned, was that - at least at first. As the study of UFOs stood at the time the sighting of humanoids inside a UFO would make this an interesting sighting in itself but it would have been unlikely to make any headlines. In any case, the Hills did not report the encounter. But events would soon take a radical and terrifying turn.

Tuesday, 14 December 2010

Roswell UFO Crash - the cover up takes hold

There is no doubt at all that the USAAF launched a concerted and determined campaign to hide from the public the truth about what really happened in and round Roswell in early July 1947. The problem that researchers have been faced with is finding out what the truth was that was hidden so effectively.

So far as the press and public were aware in July 1947, the first overt sign that the USAAF were making a concerted effort to kill the story came with Ramey’s press conference at which the general announced that the “flying saucer” was really a weather balloon. Ramey later went on to a local radio station to repeat the story, ensuring that his message was recorded and passed on to radio stations nationwide for them to broadcast either the whole statement or parts of it on their news bulletins.

If that was the first move in the cover up, it was far from being the last. Marcel and other serving military men were given orders never to talk about the incident again. Subject to military discipline as they were, these men could probably be counted on to keep quiet. But civilians had been involved and that meant that there were a lot of loose ends to be tied up.

There was, for instance, Mac Brazel, the rancher who had found the Debris Field in the first place. As witnessed by Kellahin, Brazel was taken on the afternoon of 8 July out to the Debris Field to ensure that the military had picked up everything from the ranch. Brazel was then driven by his military escort to the offices of the Roswell Daily Record. The newspaper had in that day’s edition printed the sensational story about a captured flying saucer. Now Ramey had issued his story that the “saucer” was a crashed weather balloon and it was essential that the newspaper printed both Ramey’s version and an update from Brazel that tied in with this.

Arriving at the offices of the Daily Record, Brazel was escorted in by two officers. Talking to the reporters, Brazel gave an interview that resulted in an article printed the following day. In this version, Brazel said that he had first seen the debris on 14 June when he had been out riding the ranch with his wife and two younger children, but that he had not investigated it closely until early July. The Debris Field was, he said, small and confined, being less than 200 yards across. He said that he accepted the official explanation that the debris had come from a balloon, though that it was unlike that from a weather balloon he had found some time earlier.

As he was leaving the newspaper studios, Brazel passed two men he knew, Bill Jenkins and Leonard Porter. Although the two men said hello, Brazel ignored them and pushed past. The two men thought that this was as odd as the military escort their rancher friend had in tow. The incident certainly shows that Brazel’s mind was preoccupied and is thought by some to indicate that he was acting under duress. 

Brazel was then driven to the studios of the KGFL radio station. Whitmore was absent, but Frank Joyce was manning the desk. There Brazel repeated the story that he had told at the Daily Record. Joyce had heard the original version of the story given by Brazel to KGFL and recognised that this new account differed in some key respects. Recalling the incident years later, Joyce said that he pointed out the discrepancies to Brazel, but that the rancher insisted that the new story was the truth. He had then glanced toward his military escort and muttered something about how “things could go hard for me” if he did not stick to the story. Then he had left.

Where Brazel went next and what happened to him are unclear. Bill Brazel, Mac’s adult son, says that he saw his father’s photo in his local newspaper alongside the report of a crashed saucer. Concerned that his father might need some help, Bill drove down to the Foster Ranch a couple of days later to find the place deserted. Knowing what work needed doing around a ranch, Bill set to but by Monday 14 July his father had still not turned up and Bill began to get worried. He drove to Corona and phoned Sheriff Wilcox, who had been named in the newspaper report as the person to whom Mac Brazel had reported his find. Bill Brazel was told that his father was fine and would be allowed home in a day or two. No reason was given as to why he was being held.

When Mac Brazel arrived back on the ranch he was little more communicative. Bill remembered his father saying “Gosh, I just tried to do a good deed and they put me in jail for it.” Bill was also told that the less he knew the better “that way nobody will bother you about it”. He got the impression that his father was upset and annoyed by the way he had been treated by the USAAF. Nevertheless, Mac Brazel said that he had been told that what he had seen and heard related to national security and that he had been instructed not to discuss it. For the rest of his life, Mac Brazel said very little about what had happened. It can only be surmised that he was kept on Roswell air base for the week or so before he was allowed home. Perhaps he was questioned, perhaps not.

Sunday, 12 December 2010

Investigating Poltergeists

Now a poltergeist is neither a classic ghost nor is it a crisis apparition. As we shall see in the chapters that follow a poltergeist is something very different again. However, it does share some features with both of these paranormal events which I have described and this might give clues as to the explanation for the poltergeist phenomenon.

What classic ghosts, crisis apparitions and poltergeists do share in common is the spontaneous and unpredictable nature of their occurrence. One of the key reasons why scientists do not study such phenomena is that it is impossible to take one into a laboratory and look at it. None of these phenomena can be made to perform to order so that, unlike chemical reactions or living creatures, they cannot be subjected to tests. Usual scientific method involves a scientist developing a theory or idea that he or she can then prove or disprove by testing. Ghosts, apparitions and poltergeists simply cannot be treated like this.

And then there is the prospect that a scientist might be subject to ridicule by his fellows and then starved of research funds by the authorities if he should announce that he is investigating ghosts.

Similar considerations have held back research into all manner of subjects and topics. No reputable scientist has gone in search of the Yeti or the Bigfoot. Few have taken UFOs seriously as a topic for investigation. Yet all these things, and many more, have been seen and attested by thousands of people.

With poltergeists the researcher does at least have some physical objects to study and look at. There are hundreds of witness statements to sort through and dozens of still living witnesses who can be questioned. This should make it possible to launch a detailed and thorough investigation that might produce some answers of use.

When studying unexplained phenomena such as poltergeists it is important to bear in mind that most people are taken completely by surprise when confronted by a seemingly impossible event. They show a tendency to remember only a few details of the event, and these are not necessarily those that an investigator would find th the most use. Shock, surprise and disbelief are more usual reactions than to whip out a notebook and start making notes.

The inevitable result of this is that accounts of unusual events, such as poltergeists, tend to be incomplete and partial. The witnesses are too concerned with coping with the bizarre situation in which they find themselves than with writing down a complete account of events, still less with seeking rational explanations - always assuming that there are some.

What is needed from a researcher is the ability to study the many different accounts and look for features that are common to most or all events. By creating a “typical” supernatural event from a vast mass of different accounts it may be easier to get close to what is really going on than it would be by going into enormous detail on one case. It is in the aggregate of cases that the answer may be found rather than in the bizarre or sensational individual incidents that make for good newspaper copy or thrilling horror stories.

It is with this in mind that we can now begin to study poltergeist visitations and the poltergeist phenomenon.

Wednesday, 8 December 2010

Surrey the Strange

Surrey is one of the most charming of English counties with a surprisingly wide variety of landscapes, towns and villages to attract both residents and outsiders.

There are the high downs stretching across the county from east to west. The bare chalk grasslands that crown these hills have offered grazing to sheep for centuries, and more recently have attracted the owners of racehorses. The races held on the downs at Epsom are among the most popular in the world -= especially the Derby held every June. North of the downs are extensive sandy heaths interspersed with shallow river valleys that run down to the Thames that forms the county’s northern border. South of the downs are the wide, low-lying forests of the Weald.

Of course, much of this natural landscape has been built over in the past century or so. Some already established towns such as Dorking, Reigate or Guildford have expanded across neighbouring open country. Other towns are entirely modern - there was nothing at either Redhill or Woking until a railway was built linking them to London in the Victorian period.

But no amount of building or modernisation can hide the paranormal face of this county. There are ghosts, monsters and poltergeists to be found here, perhaps rather more than in most counties. If the hairy monster of Reigate’s Shag Brook has not been seen for a good few years, the Surrey Puma continues to be seen with regularity. The ghosts of Surrey are an active lot, they crop up along roadsides, in pubs, around churches and in houses. Generally they seem content to potter about their business without taking too much notice of the humans that share their county. And Surrey also plays host to UFOs, poltergeists, apparitions and the little people.

Surrey may wear a face of suburban and rural normality, but lurking not far below the surface is a paranormal county of unequalled strangeness and activity.

Monday, 6 December 2010

The Mysterious King Ida of Bamburgh

After the collapse of the post-Roman state, Northumberland became part of the Kingdom of Kynelyn. Then, in 547, disaster struck. The mighty Roman fortress of Bamburgh fell into the hands of an Anglian warlord named Ida. This Ida is a mystery. An early genealogy composed perhaps 50 years after he died lists his ancestors and makes him the great great great great grandson of Woden, the leader of the pagan German gods. A divine ancestry is unlikely - though you never know. In any case, no document says where he came from, and it seems that within 50 years of his death nobody knew. He may have come from the Anglian homelands in northern Germany, or he may have already been employed as a mercenary somewhere in Britain. We simply don’t know.

Nor is it clear what he was doing in Bamburgh. The oldest source states simply that he arrived in Bamburgh in 547, founded the royal dynasty of the Northumbrians and ruled for 12 years. It is not clear if he had founded a kingdom, or was a bandit based in an impregnable stronghold. He may even have been a mercenary hired by the kings of Kynelyn whose importance was exaggerated by his more powerful descendants.

If Ida of Bamburgh remains a mystery, his son Athelric is even more so. Nothing is known of him except his name and the fact that he too lived at Bamburgh. Things become a little clearer with his alleged grandson Athelferth. This King Athelferth is said to have become king in Bamburgh in 593, so perhaps he was Ida’s great grandson given the average lifespan at the time. It was Athelferth who formed an alliance with the English of Deira, what is now southern Yorkshire. Together they conquered York, breaking the power of one of the three British kingdoms in the north. Progress was then rapid and within a generation the English ruled all of Northumberland, as well as most of the territory from the Humber to the Forth. The kingdom of Northumbria had been founded.

This is an extract from Mysterious Northumberland by Rupert Matthews

Thursday, 2 December 2010

Did Jesus visit Cornwall?

Down the estuary from Padstow is a sacred spring dedicated to St George. The flow of water never fails, no matter how dry the summer, and the waters have long been rumoured to have curative powers. They are also, if local legend is to be believed, touched by the divine.

One day, many centuries ago, a ship passing off shore came into the mouth of the Camel. A group of men came ashore looking for water. One of the men touched the ground and a spring of sweet, pure water burst forth. The sailors filled their kegs, then went back to sea and sailed away. That man, the story says, was Jesus Christ.

It is a simple tale, almost stark. By itself it is almost nonsensical, but it forms part of a wider cycle of stories about a visit by Jesus Christ to the southwest of Britain. Most of these stories relate to sites in Devon or Somerset, the story about Padstow being the only one with a direct link to Cornwall. Taken together the stories do make some sort of sense, though that does not mean that they are true.

The key figure in the stories is Joseph of Arimathea. In the Bible, Joseph of Arimathea makes only a fairly brief appearance in the Gospels, though all four do agree on his actions and background. According to the Gospels, Joseph of Arimathea was a wealthy man and a member of the Sanhedrin, the supreme religious council of the Jews at the time. He is described as being a secret follower of Jesus during the time when Jesus was preaching in Jerusalem. After the crucifixion, Joseph went to see Pontius Pilate and asked permission to take the body of Jesus away for burial. This was usually a duty of the next of kin, though the Gospels say that Joseph acted as he did because he was worried that some of the Jews might desecrate the body. Working with a man named Nicodemus who was a Pharisee, or learned theologian, Joseph washed the body, treated it with myrrh and aloes and then buried it in a new tomb that he had acquired.

This is an extract from Mysterious Cornwall by Rupert Matthews