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.