The Memory of Place

Are memories of people or events held in certain locations or buildings? Many will scoff, call me suggestible, weird, a fruit loop. Fair enough, I don’t give a cuss about other people’s opinion of me; as the old saying goes, I know what I know. I have witnessed instances of this on many occasions, from awful nights in the company of a deceased stable lad through the voices of the crofters in a long-dead clearance village to the amiable whistling of a wartime airfield guard but perhaps the most chilling was the presence of not a person but something else entirely.

In another life I used to spend many nights of the year sleeping outside. On this particular night I had pitched my basha (a single waterproof sheet hung from two trees in the form of a roof) slightly off the track which ran through an ancient wood. I had been asleep only an hour or two when I was awoken by an unholy rumbling, I assumed a large vehicle was charging through the woods towards me, maybe kids joy riding a stolen Land Rover. I needed to get out of my sleeping bag quickly, I didn’t want to be run over. Of course, in a hurry, in the pitch dark it can be hard to find your torch, boots and work a zipper and inevitably it stuck fast. As I wriggled and cursed the noise grew until I could make out the sounds which contributed to the whole.

There was a rumble, a creaking, a jangling, a drumming and a rattling. It was quite obvious what I was hearing. The rumble of iron shod wheels, the creaking of primitive springs, the jangling of brass harness fittings, the drumming of hooves and the rattling of a carriage. It was unmistakable. I was hearing a horse-drawn carriage careering through the woods at top speed. There was absolutely no doubt in my mind, and there still isn’t.

A footnote to this little story happened the following morning, after my disturbed night (needless to say I slept little afterwards). As I was packing my kit away A figure with a rifle over his shoulder was walking along the track. We struck up a conversation, he turned out to be the keeper and had been for many years. His favourite topic was history and the history of the estate in particular. He stamped a muddy boot on the track.

“Know what this was boy?” he asked in a broad Devon accent.

“No” I replied “What was it?”

“Main London to Exeter carriage road, that’s what.”

Something Out of Place

It must be over twenty years ago now. I was looking round a piece of ground of the Devon-Somerset Border. It was a scruffy patch of grassland and woodland, not more than 200 acres or so. Very little maintenance went on, the pastures were poor drained and poorly fenced, the woodland was worse, nothing had been done in there for goodness knows how long. In other words, it was wonderful! It was the perfect environment for snipe and woodcock, song birds abounded, it was a little wildlife paradise.

Up in the top corner, I recall, was a big old oak. At about ten feet off the ground the first bough emerged from the trunk at right angles. It was a thick lump of timber, maybe fifteen inches across. I love trees and as I was looking at this one I noticed something odd. On the main trunk, just below the bough chunks of bark were missing, it looked like they’d been roughly chiselled out. As the tree was on a slope I was able to go higher and be on a level with the bough. It was plain to see that the moss on the bough was scuffed and flattened. It was then that I noticed something under the tree. On closer inspection, it turned out to be a lamb leg. A quick kick around in the leaf litter revealed a fair collection of bones of varying sizes.

So, what am I saying? Well, at the time there was much hoo haa about out of place big cats, especially in the South West of England, the Best of Bodmin et al. No, I’m not saying that this was evidence of a big cat but I am saying that what I saw was entirely consistent with a leopard/jaguar type cat being at large. I have heard tales from many folks over the years who have nothing to gain but ridicule by retelling their experiences so I am not entirely cynical about the existence of out of place big cats in Britain, especially given the possible effects of the dangerous wild animals act in the sixties. As always though, a healthy dose of scepticism is a useful tool.

The Elves, Twitter and the Anthropologist.

There has been a story surfacing and resurfacing recently about Danish anthropologist Kalena Søndergaard who was supposedly kidnapped by elves. It was reported that she lived with them for seven years. This story has been spotted on a number of paranormal blogs and Twitter posts. There were even photographs of her dramatic rescue.

This struck me as more than a little suspect, as you can imagine, so, with just a small amount of work it was easy to discover that the story was a total fabrication, not even the hint of a mystery. So why is it that before these folks publish these stories do they not do just a little checking of their veracity? The only answer I can think of is that they so want to believe in such things that they cannot bear for them to be untrue. In the world of the paranormal, one of the most important tools one can posses is a healthy dose of scepticism.

The Fairies by William Allingham

I had forgotten about this poem until I heard Whitley Strieber read it recently.

Up the airy mountain, Down the rushy glen, We daren’t go a-hunting For fear of little men; Wee folk, good folk, Trooping all together; Green jacket, red cap, And white owl’s feather!

Down along the rocky shore Some make their home, They live on crispy pancakes Of yellow tide-foam; Some in the reeds Of the black mountain lake, With frogs for their watch-dogs, All night awake.

High on the hill-top The old King sits; He is now so old and gray  He’s nigh lost his wits. With a bridge of white mist Columbkill he crosses, On his stately journeys From Slieveleague to Rosses; Or going up with music On cold starry nights To sup with the Queen Of the gay Northern Lights.

They stole little Bridget  For seven years long; When she came down again Her friends were all gone. They took her lightly back, Between the night and morrow, They thought that she was fast asleep, But she was dead with sorrow. They have kept her ever since Deep within the lake, On a bed of flag-leaves, Watching till she wake.

By the craggy hill-side, Through the mosses bare, They have planted thorn-trees For pleasure here and there. If any man so daring As dig them up in spite, He shall find their sharpest thorns In his bed at night.

Up the airy mountain, Down the rushy glen, We daren’t go a-hunting For fear of little men; Wee folk, good folk, Trooping all together; Green jacket, red cap, And white owl’s feather!


Just popped down to the Strathnuin farm. There I found a large pig with its head stuck in a lawnmower grass collection box walking slowly across the yard with a collie hanging on to its tail. With every step its front feet would make a resounding ‘dong’ on the metal box. Really, you couldn’t make it up.

The Green Land Rovers

Did I ever mention the Green Land Rovers? No? Well, I’m going back to the period just before the last major foot and mouth disease outbreak. At the time I was on the road a lot and began to notice when I was travelling on the motorway that a green, civilian, Land Rover 110 Hard Top (i.e. a van) would appear travelling in the opposite direction about every five miles.

Not that odd I hear you say. Well, maybe not but it went on for weeks in the run-up to the outbreak and always the same vehicle type. It sounds like a pretty common Land Rover too but actually, it’s not. Look around, you’ll see them in green, white, blue, red, 90’s, 110’s, 130’s. Station Wagons, Truck Cabs, Hard Tops. Military and Civilian, private and commercial. That’s the thing about Land Rovers, they are infinitely variable. Certainly you’ll see some 110 Hard Tops in green, but not one every five miles. Then came foot and mouth and they vanished.

As the foot and mouth crisis took off a friend called me and began to tell me of the preparations being made…long before the outbreak hit the media….long before the outbreak in fact. A pilot friend telling him of holes being dug, of railway sleepers being stockpiled. A TA friend told of troop mobilisations. We began to think something fishy was going on. We registered the domain name footandmouthconspiracy dot com (now defunct)  through my account and within 10 minutes there was a police helicopter hovering outside my house. Of course, I went outside and waved to the pilot. He stayed there for around 15 minutes. Are all these things connected? Who knows?


The Old Ones

They were there again today, the old ones. I could hear them, plain as day through the trees of the plantation, through the ruins of their houses and shielings. They were going about their business. Herding cattle, chatting, cutting wood, stacking the peats. They were there long before the trees, long before the land was owned. They will be there long after we are gone.