Sunday, July 7, 2019

On the Road Again: Travels with Superstition.

Photo by Myself.
Packing for my holiday, even now my mind wanders to one of my favourite subjects: travel lore and superstition. The fact that I used my blogging notepad to write my check list is not helping matters. It's inspired me to write a second post on the subject and I haven't written a Top 5 post for a while, so I thought this would make a nice little post to tide you, my dearest readers, over until my Holiday Blog. Yes, even though I'm going away for a week, I still intend to post a blog, wifi permitting. Until then, bring on the lore.

Unlucky for some.
In some countries the number Thirteen is considered very unlucky. In China the unlucky number is the number Four, due to the cantonese words for Four and Death sounding very similar. In Italy it's the number Seventeen, another number linked with death as the roman numerals for Seventeen can be rearranged to spell the Italian word Vixi, which translates to "I lived." As a result you'll notice that a lot of hotels will skip these numbers when they number their rooms and some people will refuse to sit in seat with these numbers on planes. Also, as mentioned in my previous Travel Lore post, some people won't travel on these days either.

Whistle Down the Wind.
Cruses are a wonderful and luxurious way to see the world, with ships sailing everywhere from the Caribbean to Antarctica, but if you're musically inclined you might want to stick to singing in your cabins shower. Whistling on a ship is considered terrible bad luck, as the wind itself could see it as a challenge. I've only been on ferries during storms, but trust me, a boat in a storm is not a situation you want to find yourself in. Some people say that this supersticion also stems back to 1789, when whistling was used to signal the infamous mutiny on the HMS Bounty.

Tis but a scratch!
Traveling in a brand new car? One piece of travel lore is that a new vehicle is more at risk of accidents than a second hand one. Since it's new and hasn't had any yet, that just encourages them to occur. Folks who believe this one will often deliberately scratch their new motor somewhere where it won't be noticed, in an attempt to ward off bad lick; the most popular places are around the wheel arch or the inside of the steering wheel.

Just keep walking.
Forgotten something? It might be best to just forget about it. In some places, going back for something you've left behind can bring you bad luck on your journey or on your holiday, as can looking back when you're leaving. So keep those eyes facing forward and just buy whatever you need when you get to your destination.

Take a deep breath.
This is a more dangerous one, in my opinion. The superstition that if you are successful in holding your breath whilst going through a tunnel or over a county line it can bring good luck. But don't try this one at home kids, since holding your breath for too long can cause you to pass out. Not something you want to happen while you're at the wheel of a car and this superstition has already been linked to several accidents. This is one superstition I remember from when I was little and for ages I couldn't remember why, until I traced it back to a Tiny Toons special where a group of characters going on holiday hold their breath going through a tunnel because if they do so successfully then they will get a wish granted, much like blowing out the candles on a birthday cake. 
Another variation of this supersticion seems to be holding your breath as you drive past a graveyard, just in case you accidentally inhale any lost and wandering soul that might be hanging around.
Photo by Myself.

So, what are your thoughts? Do you follow any of these superstitions yourself or do you know someone who does? Maybe you have your own version of one of them? Let me know in the comment below or tag me over on Twitter. For more odd travel superstitions, don't forget to check out my first post on the subject, if you haven't already and, once again, let  me know what you think.

Thursday, June 20, 2019

Bad Dog: the Black Shuck of Suffolk.

August 1577. Suffolk, England.
A terrible storm rages over head as the parishioners of Blythburgh take shelter in the Holy Trinity Church, hiding from what they believe what must surely be Gods wrath. It sounds as if the very heavens themselves are tearing at the seams, but here in their pretty little church they are warm, dry and safe. Or so they think. A flash of lightning lights up the church interior, accompanied by a rumble of thunder best described as a roar, startling those huddled within. Shock soon turns to horror, as the roar of the thunder is replaced by the snarling of a beast and they realise that a huge black hound is among the congregation, running up and down the nave. The people panic, trying to get away or shield their loved ones as the great dog snaps at their heels. It's pandemonium. Fear fueled chaos, but it's over almost as soon as it started. The hound makes it's escape, forcing it's way out of the church and leaving claw marks burnt into the door, as well as three corpses and a lot of terrified people in it's wake. And the horror doesn't stop there. Leaving Blythburgh behind, the hound traveled to Bungay.
Twelve miles from Blythburgh, the people had taken shelter in St Mary's Church and they too thought they were safe. They weren't expecting a hellhound to burst through the doors in a flash of lightning. Once again, it terrorised the flock, biting, snapping and this time buring. No one saw it coming, nobody dared stop it and, by the time it had finished, two men were dead, others injured, the church door was destroyed and a lightning strike had caused the church steeple to collapse.
This, dear readers, is the Black Shuck. Alternatively known as Old Shuck, it is one of England's most infamous black dogs.
I've only covered this topic once before, and briefly, in a post about haunted Dunwich. It's name is said to have it's roots in the Old English word Scucca, meaning Devil or Fiend. A good way to describe a terrifying hound of indeterminate breed, being either of ghostly or demonic origin. It's described as black and, size wise, anywhere between the height of a calf to a pony. It's eyes are the size of saucers,  glowing red and firey. Some reports say that it only has one eye, giving it an even more terrifying, cyclopean appearance. Variations of this monstrous mutt has been sighted all over England and it was even the inspiration behind the Hound of the Baskervilles. Wherever you go, it seems that every county has a not so good boy haunting it's lanes and fields, although interestingly it's purpose seems change depending on the region, much like whether or not a black cat is lucky. In East Anglia the Shuck is a sign of bad luck, a sighting an omen of death for all who gaze upon it. In other counties it seems to exist just to stalk and terrifying anyone who crosses it's path, yet in some counties it's a benign presence, helping lost travelers and providing them with a calming companion on their journey.
Pew details from Holy Trinity, a lion or a gigantic hound?
Photo by myself.
The enduring mystery of the Black Shuck is that while we know what the hound is, we don't know WHAT the hound is. It's possible they could be a throw back to the vikings, to Odin and his wolves, Geri and Freki. They could just be a mixture of religion and superstition, the Hellhounds from Christian lore. Older sightings could just be wolves, whilst newer ones could be large stray dogs. The last known wolf to be killed in the UK died in 1680, hunted down in Perthshire. There were also rumours of wolf sightings in Scotland right up until 1888. Could this explain the Suffolk Shuck sightings? Yes and no. While it's possible that one attack could be put down to a rogue wolf and coincidental weather, two attacks seem very unlikely. Not even a starving wolf would attack a church full of people, plus it was August, prey would have been plentiful elsewhere. When it comes to the Black Shuck there aren't many theories trying to explain what it was, just a general acceptance that it is some sort of unearthly dog, with a bad temper. And, while I love a good ghost story and do believe in spectral animals, I have a theory that the Black Shuck that attacked that August may have been a living dog.
As with all my little theories, it's just that: a theory, an unproven one. But, I hope you'll find it an interesting one. You see in 2014, during an archaeological dig at Leiston Abbey in Suffolk, the skeleton of a gigantic hound was uncovered. In life, this dog would have weighed about 200lbs and stood at roughly 7ft on it's back legs. What's more, it is possible that it was buried around the same time as the attacks, and hastily so, judging by the fact that it was buried in a shallow grave near the Abbey's kitchens. It's believed to be the skeleton of a Great Dane, a breed that was likely to have belonged to someone relatively important. Dane's are wonderful dogs, very sweet, but also large and can be more than a little intimidating if you aren't used to them. When I was younger, a friend of my Father had three Great Danes, including one very large black one. His name was Duke, he was a sweetheart and thought he was much smaller than he was, often trying to crawl onto the laps of anyone sitting in the living room. But his bark was loud and fierce, even though it was only used to say hello. He may have been an old softy, but had I seen and heard Duke in a darkened church, in the middle of a storm? I would have been terrified. Darkness, flickering candlelight and flashing lightning could easily twist the familiar into something abominable. I believe that's what happened here. My theory is that the dog found at the Abbey belonged to someone accustomed to visiting the churches in the area, someone who would take their loyal pet with them on these trips. A big dog would certainly provide a bit of protection on the road, no matter how daft it was. When the storm struck in August 1577, the dog either got out or was separated from his owner. As dogs are prone to do, it followed the paths it would often pass down with it's master, leading it to the church. The hound gained access to first the Holy Trinity Church and then, still seeking its owner, St Mary's. Both times it was faced with screaming people, running away from it and trying to knock it away from them, probably even throwing things. Already frightened out of it's wits by the storm, these humans behaviour scared it even more, so it lashed out. In Bungay, its
Claw marks left on the door of the Holy
Trinity Church, photo by myself.
arrival coincided with the lightning strike which destroyed the steeple and melted all but one of the bells inside. Since electricity travels, it's likely that the power from the strike transferred to any other metal in the church, thus causing burns. Adding weight to this is that official records exist showing that the two men killed in Bungay that day were in the belfry when they died. But in the 1500's, they didn't understand how electricity worked, so the deaths and burn were associated with the dog. At some point after this, the frightened dog either ran home to the abbey or was caught by it's owner, but by that time the damage was done. People were scared, some were dead and one church was in ruins. If the dog were to be recognised then the abbey's reputation would suffer, so it was quickly euthanized and buried in a shallow grave were it wouldn't be too obvious. As time passed the hound became folklore and the poor great dane was forgotten.

Like I said, just a theory.

Visiting Blythburgh and Bungay.
The weather couldn't have been less like that in the story if it tried. Plenty of sun and blue skies, a slightly cool breeze that left off after a while. It was early in the morning and after a super healthy breakfast of McMuffins, we set out sat nav for our first stop, Blythburgh.
I think my friends (M and D.) and I were expecting something from a
Holy Trinity Church, photo by myself
Hammer Horror movie, but the Holy Trinity Church is a stunning 15th century building, easily accessible with a car park right next to it. A large church, it's deserving of it's nickname: the Cathedral of the Marshes. I could go on and on about the beauty of this building alone, but you're here for the folklore. Because this is the church with the infamous claw marks. At first we couldn't find them, it turned out that we were looking at the wrong door. Opposite the main entrance is a matching set of ancient wooden doors, and it is here that the Shuck left his mark. The marks are quite deep, but smooth and shiney from years of being touched by the hands of the curious. They are definitely burn marks, but claw marks? The sceptic in me says no, most likely candle burns, but I still love the folklore behind them. Before we leave we explore the church fully, delighting in it's architecture and calming atmosphere. I'd also like to point out that, as well as tours being available there, it does have a small gift shop (cash and correct change only.) and all proceeds raised from it goes towards the upkeep and restoration of this much loved building. Outside the graveyard is also a pretty one, with a path leading around the church and down some steps to the toilets.

Bungay is much bigger than Blythburgh and also has a
St Mary's Church, photo by myself.
castle (accessed through a restaurant, Jester's, which I really recommend for good food.), an observatory and a small museum that you can visit. We didn't just visit the church, but the whole town. The Shuck is everywhere here, even the town football team is named after it. On the outside, St Mary's Church is an imposing building, but inside it is warm and soothing. It's hard to imagine the Shuck wreaking havoc here too, but according to folklore that's just what it did. The hound itself appears here as a beautifully sewn tapestry on the church wall. Take a couple of quid with you, because here you can buy an illustrated booklet telling you all about the Black Shuck and the events of 1577. If ruins or memento mori are your thing then this is also the church for you, as behind it you can find the ruins of a previous church building and the graveyard is home to many well worn, but still beautiful, skull headstones.

Have you been to Bungay or Blythburgh? Do you have any stories to tell, maybe you've seen something a little Shuck-like yourself? Let me know in the comments below or tag me on Twitter! I love hearing from you guys and, unlike the Black Shuck, I don't bite!

Sunday, June 9, 2019

A Welcome and a Thank You: June Update.

Hello, dear readers! I'd like to say a massive thank you to my regular readers and to anyone new to my blog! Telling stories of the strange and unusual is  a joy to me and I love sharing them with you all, so don't be afraid to comment and interact. I don't bite and I love hearing from you guys!
I'm pleased to announce that The Strange Ways will now be updating twice monthly. You can still expect the same tales of ghosties, ghoulies, long legged beasties and things that go bump in the night, but with more frequency. I'll also be attempting to visit more locations personally, sort of like a spooky travel guide, for your amusement and my own.
Also, a quick reminder for all, you can keep track of blog updates on my Twitter account and my Instagram. And now you can also follow my blog with Bloglovin!

Thursday, June 6, 2019

The Mystery of the Rendlesham Forest Incident.

Twas the night after Christmas, and all through Rendlesham Forest, not a creature was stirring, except for some mysterious lights and a lot confused American Airmen.
The 26th of December, 1980. It's the early hours of the morning, the night is still and cold. Personnel at the American Air Force operated bases of RAF Woodbridge and RAF Bentwaters (in Suffolk, England.) are expecting a calm, if not a little boring, night shift. They aren't expecting to see unidentified lights descending upon the nearby Rendlesham Forest. Despite the Cold War still being frosty enough to ice skate on, it was decided that it must be a downed aircraft, albeit one that hadn't called for help and was on an unannounced flight plan. The police were called and immediate aid was sent out, in the form of a three unarmed men, Burroughs, Penniston and Cabansaq. They didn't find a downed plane or helicopter. What they found was straight out of an episode of the X-Files. 
They found what can only be described as a UFO: a metallic cone shaped object, with glowing coloured lights, surrounded by a sickly yellow mist.
Penniston's sketch of the craft.
The object just sat there on three tripod like legs. It had settled down in a small clearing in the forest, seemingly unbothered by the curious humans surrounding it. It sounds like a bad 1950's B movie. I think most people would have just run, but these were soldiers and they had nerves of steel, they chose to hold their ground. Braving the fear of the unknown, these witnesses were able to get quite close to the object. Penniston even edged close enough to touch it, pulling out a notebook to draw the craft and describing the air as being full of electricity in a later interview. It was estimated to be about 10ft long and about 8ft high, with strange symbols on it's hull, not dissimilar to hieroglyphs. A short while later the unknown craft retracted it's legs and shot off into the sky. Although the men attempted to follow it, there was no earthly way they could have caught it. While this was occuring, the local police had arrived at the base. In their opinion the only lights they could see were from a lighthouse at the coast, a few miles away at Orford Ness. However the Orford Ness lighthouse is unlikely to show up on radar, which is exactly what the unknown craft that was seen that night did, when it was reported by a nearby military radar station. Sightings occurred again the following night, when a young Airman by the name of Lori Boeon spotted the craft whist on night watch. She wasn't alone in seeing it, as there were five fellow airmen with her that night. The strange lights were passed off as nothing more than fireworks.
Events seemed to come to the head the following evening. Whilst a party was happening at the base the UFO was spotted again and a team lead by Lt. Colonel Charles Halt headed back to the clearing where the the first sighting had taken place. Lt. Colonel Halt was second in command at the base, showing just how seriously this odd event was being taken. Although his initial intention may have been to debunk the incident from the previous two nights, he soon found that to be an impossible task. Searching the clearing they found clear evidence of the first nights events. Trees surrounding the clearing had been visibly singed and had broken branches from about 20ft up, in the center of the clearing were three visible indentations from the objects feet*, which measured out a perfect triangle and match Pennington's sketches. They had bought scientific equipment with them, a test with a radiation survey meter revealed that the levels of radiation in the clearing were much higher than the normal background levels of radiation found outside of the clearing. Not enough to be dangerous, but still abnormal. And if that didn't alarm Halt and his team, what happened next most certainly did. They saw IT for themselves.
UFO statue, based on Penniston's sketches. Photo by myself.
This time the craft flowed through the trees, dripping what appeared to be some kind of molten metal, traces of which were never found. Halt and his team chased after the UFO as it zipped along, causing no damage to the trees as it passed through them. It hovered through the air, firing beams of light at the air base and, at one point, it's fascinated pursuers. As Halt and his men followed it into a field outside the forest, the UFO seemed to explode into five different points of light before vanishing. Both bases reported having beams of light shone into them from above that night and, like the soldiers who first sighted it, Halt and his group had radio issues for the entire time the UFO was flying around.
During all of the incidents livestock in the area became franticly distressed and both Burrough's and Halt's groups heard what they described as a woman screaming, although it is possible that could have been a fox as they do make very similar sounds. It is also worth mentioning that the Police officers theory of the lights being from the nearest light house was debunked, since the lights of the mysterious craft and those of the lighthouse were both visible at the same time and a good space apart. What adds further credibility to the incident is that it was witnessed by Airbase personnel of all levels of command, from lowest to highest. These aren't just kids messing around, someone after a quick buck, someone stoned out of their mind or a drunk on their way home from the pub. These are sensible, down to earth people. In their line of work they have to be. Even Lt. Col. Halt was so convinced that something odd was going on that he personally got involved in the investigation. He recorded his experiences on a hand held tape recorder, which you can listen to here, and wrote an official memo on the subject to the MOD, which you can read here, a couple of weeks after the event. Someone prone to imagining little green men doesn't get that high up the chain of command and to this day he swears what he saw was a UFO.
I imagine that after reading all of that that you are asking the same question that everyone asks, the question that I've asked myself. What the hell was it? Not an easy subject to approach when there's so many conspiracy theories around the event, but at the same time so much evidence. To this day UFOlogists swear that it's the most compelling evidence of life on other planets visiting us, it's what has lead to the incident being referred to as the British Roswell. The most popular theory that I've read is that the base was either being used to secretly hold nuclear weapons or experimental jets, and that the UFO was attracted by that since it seemed more interested in the base than the humans around it. Adding fuel to these theories is that some evidence from the investigation was allegedly removed from RAF Bentwaters and was transferred to another American Airbase in Germany. This has lead some to believe that even though information on the incident was released to the public, something important is still being covered up. Further proof for these theories also comes from reports that Airmen involved in the incident have been bullied into changing their stories with threats of bodily harm or worse. Seeing that these claims come from the airmen themselves, I'd say these threats failed.
Rendlesham Forest. Photo by Myself.
More recently there have been reports that the whole thing was a prank, one played by the SAS on the terrified American airmen using a weather balloon, but even that doesn't sit right in my mind. Funny, but otherwise difficult and expensive to pull off, as well as being a PR nightmare if it turned out to be true. And, seriously, how does a weather balloon zip through trees? How does one drip molten substances, effect background radiation levels and just vanish into thin air. The simple answer is that it doesn't. I would love to tell you it was an alien space craft. I would love to be able to sit here at my computer, doing my very best Giorgio Tsoukalos impression, ALIENS! But I can't. Because I don't believe it was aliens. I'm not a big believer in them as we see them depicted in the media, little grey fellas with big, dark eyes. I do believe there's something out there, I believe we're aren't alone in this huge, crazy, magical universe. And I do believe those airmen saw something. But I don't believe this was the work of little green men from mars. What I do believe is that there is something going on there. You don't remove evidence if there's nothing going on, you don't try to silence people if there is nothing to hide. The announcement that it was a prank played by the SAS, which itself came from an anonymous source, comes across as a lame excuse. My personal opinion is that it was some sort of experimental equipment designed for observation, maybe some sort of early drone prototype, and that whoever built it was using the two bases for a test run. The sighting where the thing exploded and disappeared could have been down to a design fault or built in explosive charges. This is just my theory, it's most likely as far from the truth as any other theory out there. But when it comes down to it, theories are all we have. We will never know what the UFO was, where it came from or what it wanted.

The Rendlesham Forest UFO trail
The UFO Trail is very well marked. Photo by Myself.
Shortly before writing this blog I was lucky enough to visit the forest with my two friends, M and D. Although aware of the forest and its story, D didn't realise we were that close to it and I somehow had it in my head that it was further north. So when we stumbled upon Rendlesham by accident, it was a delightful surprise. The forest itself is dense and lush, a place of rich greens and deep shadows. With well marked trails its nearly impossible to get lost, but very easy to lose all sense of time. Not ideal if, like me, you messed up with the parking meter and only have two hours to explore**. We would have liked to have had longer time there, but we had a great time. The only UFO we found was the statue placed in a clearing, deep in the forest. We saw no odd lights and the trees are so thick, so close together that I don't see how mysterious lights drifting through them could have been mistaken for those of a light house. You'd be lucky to see lights from the coast at all. There were a few areas of the forest that seemed unnaturally quiet, which I found odd since it's breading season and birds are quite vocal when it comes to announcing their territory. However the rest of the forest was teeming with life. There's a well laid out and clearly marked UFO Trail that you can follow, compleat with information boards about what happened that night. Unlike Roswell you won't get arrested for taking photos. It even leads you past one of the bases, presumably RAF Bentwaters, which was handed back to the MoD in 1993 and is now no longer used. An interesting place, but not one accessible to the public. If you're interested in this story at all, or even just like a nice countryside walk, I would recommend a visit. It's a fascinating place.

What are your theories on the Rendlesham Forest incident? Have you an odd story of your own from the area? If so, you can tag me on Twitter using my Twitter handle or just drop a comment here on my blog. Don't be shy, I'd love to hear from you!

*The local police were called in to look at these indentations too, but claimed they were the footprints of some woodland creature. There are no creatures in Rendlesham forest that make footprints that shape or size, or are capable of burning trees.

Thursday, May 23, 2019

The Tower of London and it's Permanent Residents.

Photo by Haris Krikelis, CC
The Tower of London is one of England's most famous landmarks and one of London's most
imposing ones. Here people have been imprisoned, tortured, executed and murdered: it's history written in blood and horrors, which have seeped into the ancient stones that make up its walls and floors. The Tower was founded around 1066, so it's had a lot to time to accumulate quite a lot of ghosts, some of them innocent and some of them not. Some of them human and some of them not. My aim with this blog post is to provide a brief but info packed run down of all of the phantoms lurking within those old walls, so that any of you paranormal loving wanderers out there know exactly what you're looking for.

The Two Princes.
These two little heartbreakers are allegedly the spirits of Edward (12 years old) and Richard (9 years old), sons of King Edward IV and his wife, Elizabeth. After the death of their father in 1483, their care was entrusted to their Uncle Richard, who promptly sent the two to stay in the tower, since this was not a prison at the time but the traditional home of those members of the royal family who were awaiting coronation. Poor little Edward never reached his throne. While they were in the tower, Parliament declared the boys to be illegitimate and their Uncle Richard took the throne. Although they were initially seen playing in the Tower gardens, the children were seen less and less until they disappeared completely. Rumors spread, saying that the two boys had been murdered, and unfortunately it's highly likely, although there is no firm evidence. The blame fell on the boys Uncle, Richard III. It is one of the things he is remembered for the most, even though he had no need to harm the boys as the throne was his and most of the "evidence" seems to come from the play written about him by William Shakespeare's, during the reign of his successor, Henry Tudor. During this time there was a lot of anti-Richard III propaganda, this is no surprise as history is written by the victors.
Their cause of death unknown, there was no sign of the boys until 1674, when some workers found a large wooden box while doing some work on the tower. Opening it they found the skeletal remains of two children with the remains of velvet clothing around them. It's believed by many that these are the bodies of the two princes, but these weren't the only bodies of children found at the tower. Some time previously a bricked up room had been discovered and inside were the skeletons of two children. Either the remains in the room or the remains in the box could be the two princes, but the box is the most well known story.
Since then the two boys have made their presence known about the tower. Sometimes the only thing heard is the sound of laughter, but sometimes two little spirits in white night shirts have been spotted playing in the grounds around the tower, on the battlements or wandering down the stairs. Sometimes the poor things have even been spotted huddled and weeping in the rooms they lived in, only to fade away when approached. Keep an eye out and maybe you might see these tragic and harmless spirits for yourself.

Anne Boleyn
The second wife of Henry VIII, poor Anne only lasted three years as his Queen. While she gave birth to a daughter, she was unable to give the tyrant the son he desperately craved, suffering a miscarriage and then later giving birth to a stillborn baby boy. It was around this time that Henry had started to court Jane Seymour, who was to become his third wife and in 1536 Anne found herself banished to the Tower, and was executed under false charges of incest, adultery and treason. In death her ghost is quite active and has been seen walking the tower and it's gardens, sometimes intact, but other times carrying her head tucked under one arm. She has also been spotted walking around St Peter's Chapel, near the Tower, where her body was originally laid to rest under the altar. The most famous sighting of her occurred in 1864, when a guard mistook her for a living trespasser and, when she failed to stop walking towards him, attempted to run her through with his bayonet. This of course failed miserably and the poor man just ended up running straight through the ghostly queen. He promptly fainted upon realising what had happened and narrowly avoided a court marshall.

The White Lady
What old English building would be complete without a White Lady? With so many deaths having occured at the Tower of London, this soul has no identity. She's very active, having been sighted by guards and members of the public alike, as she wanders around the rooms and corridors of the White Tower. Once she was even sighted at a window, waving to a group of visiting school children outside. While her presence is mostly benign, her perfume is not. Smelt most often at the entrance to St John's Chapel, her perfume carries a noxious odor that has been known to turn stomachs.

Lady Margaret Pole, Countess of Salisbury
Lady Margaret was yet another victim if Henry VIII's infamous bad temper. Her son had somehow offended the King, but was out of the country at the time and well out of Henry's reach. So Henry tuned his spite on the other mans mother instead, having the dignified older lady falsely charged with Treason (I'm beginning to see a pattern her, Henry.) and sent to the executioners block with not trial. In 1541, the Countess approached the scaffold. She was 70 years old, quite an accomplishment in Tudor times, and she was about to prove to the King, the executioner and the audience of over 100 spectators that she had plenty of life left in her, even if it was to be cruelly cut short. Facing the executioner she refused to lower her head for him, if he was to kill her then he would have to do so where she stood. Eventually guards forced her to kneel, but the executioner was rattled by the encounter and his aim was off. Instead of her neck, his axe met with her shoulder. Lady Margaret let out a blood curdling scream and, tearing herself from the block and the grasp of the guards, RAN. The poor woman fled around the execution site, trailing blood behind her, while the executioner chased after her trying to cut her down. When he caught up with her, probably due to her being slowed by blood loss and shock, it took him 11 blows to end the Countesses suffering.
Now on the anniversary of her death the whole horrid spectacle plays itself out again. It is said that the blood soaked spirit of Lady Margaret Pole can be seen re-enacting her desperate flight from the block, being pursued by a spectral executioner, franticly swinging his axe to bring the Lady down. Whether this is a residual spirit or a case of Stone Tape Theory is unknown, but if you are able to visit the Tower on the evening of the 27th of May, maybe you'll see this saddening sight for yourself.

King Henry VIII's Armour
King Henry was bad tempered, a cruel man and a couple of scones short of a cream tea. While he doesn't haunt the Tower himself, it would seem like some of his bad vibes have seeped into his armour and stayed there. Guards patrolling the gallery where it is kept have reported a horrific crushing sensation descending upon them when they get near it. One even felt as if a heavy blanket had been thrown over his head before it was pulled tight around his neck. He managed to escape but was left with marks on his neck to prove his story to the other guards. This nightmarish feeling is said to lift when the sufferer escapes the room and seems to be a nocturnal phenomenon, as I could find no reports of it effecting people during the day.
Henry VIII wasn't the healthiest of people. Knocked unconscious at a jousting tournament, when he awoke his personality had done a complete 360 from being a relatively pleasant man to being the foul, bad tempered, spiteful despot he is known as today. A recent theory has been put forward that the blow that knocked him unconscious may have resulted in brain damaged, which would explain the personality change. Whatever the reason, from that moment on his health spiraled out of control, as Henry began to rapidly gain weight and developed leg ulcers, which could not be healed and were instead kept open. On top of this, wearing heavy armour would have felt unbearable. I believe it's possible that the vibes given off by the armour are a type of stone tape effect, likely to be how Henry felt when he squeezed himself into it.

King Henry VI
Henry VI was not the strongest of monarchs, but he neither expected or deserved to be killed. He was imprisoned by the House of York, with Edward IV taking the throne the very day after his untimely death. While the first reports of his death state that he died of a broken heart, he was actually stabbed to death while praying at a small window altar in his prison cell in the Wakefield Tower. He died not long before midnight and on the anniversary of his death, on the 21st of May, he has been sighted pacing his room until he fades away to nothing at the strike of midnight.

Lady Jane Grey
King Edward VI had declared Jane his successor upon his death, much to the annoyance of his own sister, Mary. Abandoned by her Father, who chose to side with Mary to save his own hide, Jane found herself left to the mercy of the woman who would become known as Bloody Mary. Jane lasted only 9 days before Queen Mary seized the throne and started as she meant to go on, with Lady Jane and her husband being her first victims. Jane's father was pardoned, but Jane and her husband were charged with Treason. Jane was forced to watch the execution of the man she loved from the window of her cell, before being lead to her own death. She was only 16 years old.
In death she is seen as a floating, shimmering figure that walks the green and the battlements, eventually fading into nothing.
Jane is not alone. Her husband, Lord Guildford Dudley, has been sited around the Beauchamp Tower with tears running down his face.

Thomas Beckett
First seen 1241, Thomas Beckett is one of the first recorded ghosts at the Tower and one of the few to have been put to rest. Henry III was responsible for the Inner Circle of the Tower having been built, but his Grandfather, Henry II, was responsible for Beckett's murder and it seems the former Archbishop of Canterbury had neither forgotten nor forgiven. So when builders tried to build the wall, Thomas Beckett manifested himself and reduced it to rubble with one strike of his cross. This, allegedly, happened twice before Henry III had a tower named after Beckett. This seemed to please the spirit and he wasn't seen again.
Interestingly, in more recent times the spirit of a monk has been sighted in the same areas that the ghost of Thomas Beckett was. But is this really just a random monk? Or has Thomas Beckett returned to haunt the Tower once more?

Sir Walter Raleigh
In 1618 this great explorer lost his head to the Executioner after upsetting James I, being charged with treason and being imprisoned at the Tower. It wasn't the first time he'd been locked up there and had a relatively good life there, living in luxury with his family being allowed to visit. He was known to grow exotic plants in his rooms and his second son was even conceived there. 
His spirit has been seen and heard walking the battlements and one of the homes on Tower Green.

Henry Walpole
Henry had a rather dangerous occupation. He was a Jesuit Priest during the 16th century. When he was captured and imprisoned in the Tower he suffered many tortures, including the rack. Between torture and sentencing, he managed to carve his own name and that of Saints into the walls of his prison. Eventually this poor man was executed. His carvings remain, but it would seem that some trace of Henry does too. Lone visitors in this room have heard the low murmurs of a man praying and a golden yellow glow which grows to fill the room before it vanishes.

Guy Fawkes
This poor soul is heard rather than seen. In 1605, Guy was involved in a failed plot to assassinate King James I and his government. As you may already know, this assassination attempt involved rather a lot of gunpowder. After his capture, Guy Fawkes was horrifically tortured to get his to reveal the names of his co-conspirators and their plan. He resisted at first but couldn't hold out forever. Put on trial and sentenced to be executed by being hung, drawn and quartered, Guy Fawkes was so weak from the tortures he had undergone that he never got past the hanging part. His neck broke, killing him instantly. Despite being dead, he was still drawn and quartered.
These days we remember him with Guy Fawkes night and by his terrifying, pain filled screams that have been heard echoing around the rooms where he was held captive and tortured.

The Mysterious and the Inhuman
In 1977, two workmen in the Middle Tower heard heavy footsteps walking around on the floor above them. With some help they searched for the source of the sounds, but nothing was found. There was nobody there, nobody visible anyway.
In the 1960's a guard was found in shock after having witnessed a cloaked and headless figure which approached him.
In the Tudor Times the Tower was used as a zoo and it's said that even now the roars of Lions can sometimes still be heard. But when it comes to animal spirits, the Towers Bear is the first thing most people think of. In the 1800's a guard at the Martin Tower was alarmed to see the figure of a bear emerging from a doorway. In a panic he attempted to run the beast through with his bayonet, but this had no effect as it just passed clean through the spirit and got stuck in a door. The poor guard fainted from the shock and is said to have died three days later.
In the 1800's, the Keeper of the Crown Jewels had a ghostly encounter in the Martin Tower, where he lived with his family. Edmund Swifte reported that a liquid-like column floated through the room where he was sitting with his family. It eventually floated behind his wife and the distressed lady swore that it had tried to grab her. Edmund jumped to her defence, throwing a chair at the thing, but the chair went straight through it and the thing floated to the window and vanished.
In the 1980's a Yeoman Warder was astonished to come across two Beefeaters chatting to each other as they sat by a fireplace. This wouldn't have been unusual, but their uniforms were older one, very much out of date. When the two spirits spotted him, they faded into thin air.

Photo by Thorsten Hansen, CC
So, those are the ghosties and ghoulies that can be found stalking the ancient halls and rooms of the Tower of London. Have you seen or heard any of these ghosts yourself? Have I missed anyone out? Don't be shy, let me know. Drop me a message in the comments below or find me on Twitter. I would love to hear any stories you might have.
And if you intend to visit the Tower and are not 100% sure where to go, I've included a map to get you on the right path.

Sunday, May 5, 2019

New Growth: the Flowers of Spring

Photo by myself, Wildflowers in Highgate Cemetery.
Spring is here. Though I don't live in the countryside, I do live near the edge of town and, as a result, have had the pleasure of seeing the countryside coming back to life. Bare branches are now lush with bright green leaves and delicate blossom. Crops are growing in the fields. Wild flowers grow wherever they please, turning barren and muddy ground into a stunning bouquet. After the cold beauty of winter, it's a refreshing change and one of my favourite seasons. But it's not just rich with new growth, it's rich with folklore. Some of that folklore is as light and pretty as the Spring itself, but some of it is very dark indeed. Which of your favourite flowers are more dangerous than you think? Which ones will bring you luck, which ones will bring you sorrow? Read on to find out, with my Top Five favourite Spring flowers.

A word of warning: While I do mention which plants are edible in this post, I also go over which ones are not. NEVER, EVER eat any foraged plants unless you are 100% sure that what you have picked is the correct and edible plant! Be careful.

One of the most famous Spring blooms, a bunch of these beautiful, yellow flowers could brighten anyone's mood. Bought to England by the Romans, they're quite hardy and can grow almost anywhere. If you spot the first Daffodil of Spring, before anyone else in your household, you'll have good luck for the rest of the year. A bunch of them as a gift brings good luck to the person who receives them, while a single flower given brings bad luck. 
Eating them brings bad luck too, as all parts of this pretty flower are poisonous. Symptoms include nausea, stomach pain, sickness and diarrhea, so keep them away from young children and pets.

These beauties came to Europe from Turkey, and it wouldn't be spring without them or their heavy scent. Despite this, the story behind them is a gruesome one. In Greek myth, Hyacinthus was a young and beautiful mortal. The problem is that being young and beautiful in Greek mythology usually ends up with you being harrassed by some God or Goddess, and poor Hyacinthus found himself adored by not one God but two; Apollo the Sun God and Zephyrus, God of the Western Wind. Hyacinthus seemed to favour Apollo and Zephyrus was not happy. Normally the gentlest out of the winds, Zephyrus decided if he couldn't have the young man then nobody could. He waited til the two lovers were playing discus and, as the Sun God made his throw, used the Western Wind to blow the heavy disc off course. The discus hit Zephyrus in the head, a fatal blow. Heartbroken, Apollo immortalized the boy by causing Hyacinth flowers to bloom from his blood, the marks on the flowers petals are caused by his tears of grief.
Hyacinths are toxic and not edible.

As Fairy flowers go, these little flowers are quite useful. Primroses are said to mark the hidden doorways to the Fae Lands and can even be used as the key to enter, if you are brave enough. This might be handy if some elf has spirited away a loved one and you need to go on an epic quest to save them. Upon discovering a fairy door, you can open it by touching it with a primrose. Also, since Fairies are said to be so fond of the flowers, a posey of them on your doorstep will encourage them to bless your home and eating the flowers will allow you to see them. 
Yes, primroses are edible and make a tasty and visually appealing addition to a spring salad. They are meant to taste quite fresh, like lettuce. 

Covering forrest floors in a delicate carpet of blue, these are fairy flowers and, pretty as they are, tend to be on the darker side of Folklore. Because of their links to the other worldly, it's considered unlucky to walk through patches of them, or pick them and bring them inside your home, as this will anger the Fairy Folk. If you wander into a ring of them or hear their dainty bells ringing, it's even worse; you will end up bewitched by the Fae, and either be taken to the Fairy Realm or die shortly after. Children left in a Bluebell wood are likely to be lured away to the Fairy world, never to be seen again. If you are extra unlucky then you might find a vile changeling left in place of the child.
These beauties spread everywhere they can, and are an indicator of ancient woodland or hedgerows. A relation to the Hyacinth, they are also not edible and are quite toxic if ingested. So don't.

The Hawthorn will always be my favourite spring bloom. I have fond memories of night time car rides, on the way home from my Aunt and Uncle's as a child, the window down to let in the bewitching scent as the blossoms virtually glowed in the moonlight. Flowering in May, these tough trees can grow in the harshest, most barren and occasionally unexpected places. It's no wonder that in folklore they are considered to be fairy forts or meeting places, resulting in old roads changing course to avoid bothering them or lone trees growing untouched in farmers fields. Nobody wants to risk angering the fae folk. Their branches and blossom was traditionally used as part of May Day celebrations, as wreaths or garlands outside of the house. Inside of the house was a completely different story, since it was considered incredibly bad luck to bring the blossoms inside, as death would soon follow and who knows whom it would come for. This is probably linked to the medieval belief that the blossom smelt like death and the plague.
 It's younger leaves are edible, referred to by the old name as Bread and Cheese, these can be eaten (traditionally) straight from the branches or as part of a salad. It's blossom can be used for tonics or teas to treat heart issues and poor circulation. The berries (or Haws) can be used in jams or wines, they can be eaten raw but could cause cause stomach ache.

Photo by myself, Hawthorn and Blossom.

I hope you've enjoyed this short introduction to England's Spring flowers. My apologies if you haven't seen your favourite one included in this list, it's a personal Top Five rather than a general one. Have any interesting Folklore that's been left out of this post? I always love to hear new Folklore! Post it on Twitter and link me into your Tweet, or comment on this Blog's announcement post on my Instagram.

Monday, April 22, 2019

The Easter Bunny Man

I've been puzzling over what to write for an Easter blog for weeks now. Spring and the festivals based around it are fascinating, but I just wanted to do something a bit different. For a while I considered a post on my top 5 creepy Easter Bunnies, but while researching them I remembered that there's one Bunny out there that is much more frightening. And he doesn't want to give you a chocolate egg.
Photo by Jack Parrott, cc
Everyone out there will be familiar with some sort of urban legend. While such tales might be over exaggerations of the truth, that isn't the case here. The Bunny Man of Fairfax County, Virginia, is an odd but enduring urban legend that can be traced back to actual events. And those events are just as strange as the legend itself.

The Legend
If you go to the bridge on Colchester Road, at midnight on Halloween, you could fall victim to the sinister Bunny Man. The name of this horror adds an absurdity to the tale, it's hard to take someone calling themselves the Bunny Man seriously and gives me the feeling that he only catches people because they're laughing so hard they can't run. The bridge is officially known as the Colchester Overpass and doesn't look like anything special, just a one road tunnel under the train tracks. It really doesn't look scary.
Like most urban legends, there are a lot of various different variations of this one. As a result I'm going to focus on the most well known one. The story starts in the early 1900's when an insane asylum outside of the town of Clifton was closed down. Residents of the town had been horrified that an asylum had been built there, especially one that housed the most dangerous and violent of prisoners, so they successfully petitioned to have the establishment closed. It was arranged for those held there to be moved to other asylums elsewhere, but one of these transfers went disastrously wrong when one of the busses skidded off the road and crashed. The bus driver and most of those aboard died in the crash, but a handful of men escaped. Most of them were easy for the police to round up, but two of them eluded capture, Marcus Wallster and Douglas Griffon. Soon locals started to find the dangling bodies of skinned, uncooked, half eaten rabbits. The police continued their search and the bunny corpses kept piling up. Just when the police and locals thought it couldn't get worse, it did; the body of Marcus Wallster was found. Some say it was found hanging from a tree by the bridge, others say from the bridge itself, but poor Wallster was in the same state as all the rabbits that came before him. Mutilated. Skinned. Half eaten. But this body was accompanied by a note.
"You'll never find me. No matter how hard you try!
The Bunny Man"
It turned out the police had left out one very important detail when they'd announced Griffon's escape. He wasn't just a lunatic, he was locked up because he was a murderer who had killed his entire family with an axe, on Easter morning. A large search party was was formed by the police, and they frantically searched for Douglas Griffon, now known as the Bunny Man thanks to his mocking note. Eventually they managed to corner him by the train tracks. Determined to evade capture, Griffon attempted to get to the other side of the tracks, as a train was bearing down on him and his pursuers. Although he had named himself the Bunny Man, he wasn't as fast as a rabbit. The train struck him and killed him immediately.
The story continues that during the 1970's three groups of teens turned up dead at the bridge over the space of several Halloweens. Hung, skinned and with their organs eaten. There were a couple of survivors, but they were driven mad by the horrors that they had witnessed and ended up in the insane asylum that the Bunny Man himself was destined for. It is said the mad spirit of the Bunny Man has returned to continue the killing spree he intended to start with Marcus Wallster and if you visit the bridge at midnight on October 31st, you too could fall victim to this lunatic or, if you're very lucky, just see the light of his torch as he stalks down the railway tracks to the bridge.

The Truth
As you may have guessed, there is no truth at all in the urban legend. The insane asylum never existed, neither did Griffon or the ill fated Marcus Wallster. There's no evidence that any teens died at the bridge in the 70's or that any survivors were institutionalised. So where did this legend come from? What started an urban legend so enduring that the bridge involved has become known as the Bunny Man Bridge, even on maps? The answer is just as strange as fiction. In the 1970's the town of Clifton was going through a period of urbanisation, new buildings were springing up and new people were moving into them and it would seem not everyone was happy about that. One man was so displeased that he took to roaming the streets at night, welding an axe and wearing a bunny suit. The first sighing of this individual came from a couple who had stopped their car by the bridge. They reported that a man, wearing white clothing and something on his head that looked like bunny ears, had approached their car. He ranted and raved at them, telling them that they were on private property and that he was going to call the police. Then he hurled his axe at their car, where it struck the windscreen and went through it, nearly hitting the terrified occupants. Hitting the accelerator, the lad in the driving seat got himself and his lady friend out of there. Adding credibility to the story is the fact
that it isn't one of those "heard from a friend of a friend" stories. The frightened couple went to the police and reported what happened, and the driver was an air force cadet. Although the police searched the area, they found nothing. As for the axe that was thrown through the couples windshield, they were allowed to keep it when it yielded no evidence. They had it mounted next to a news article about the sighting and you can now view it in one of Clifton's museums. 
Not long after this another sighting was reported to the police. This one would be the part that adds Halloween night into the urban legend, as it was about this time that this Bunny Man began to stalk a construction site. It was on one of the new housing developments that he was spotted, by a security guard, this time vandalising one of the newly built houses. Even though the security guard didn't get too close to the strange man, he still became the target of his ranting and the guard reported that the man shouted at him:

"All you people trespass around here, if you don't get out of here then I'm gonna bust you in the head!"

Sensibly the security guard backed off, retreating to call the police. Once again the Bunny Man was gone by the time they got there and no sign of him could be found. As with a lot of stories like this, things went wild when the newspapers got hold of it. Reports of Bunny Man sightings started to come in from all over Clifton and surrounding areas, some more believable than others and some of which could have just been copycat Bunny Men. Think of it as similar to the Evil Clown craze of 2016. At one stage someone claiming to be the Bunny Man even contacted the police, demanding they meet him at the bridge on Halloween, but he never showed up.
Eventually sightings stopped, but people didn't forget. Instead of telling the story of what happened, which is an odd enough story on it's own, the tale got twisted into the gory urban legend we know and love today. I guess "Local Man in Bunny Suit, Angry About Housing Boom" doesn't really send a chill down your spine when you're telling creepy stories around the camp fire.

Visiting the Bridge
While you can drive through the bridge, I wouldn't bother stopping. I should warn you that stopping there is considered trespassing and, if caught, you could face a fine of up to $250 (£192.39 at the time of writing this blog.). It is also illegal and highly dangerous to try to walk on the railway tracks there. Plus if the authorities don't get you, then maybe the Bunny Man will.