Tuesday, 15 September 2015

Warminster 50

With two books about to emerge at any moment it's time to try and catch up with what's been going on this year.

On our way back from a holiday in North Devon we paid a visit to Cradle Hill, just north of Warminster in Wiltshire.  I'd recently read an excellent account of the so-called 'Warminster Thing' UFO flap in the mid-1960s (In Alien Heat by Steve Dewey and John Ries) and having never been there, thought it might be my only opportunity for a long time.  I had no idea it was the 50th 'anniversary' of the onset of the strange events that all got classified as UFO-related (even if they weren't), mainly thanks to the presence of local journalist and eventual UFO guru Arthur Shuttlewood.  There's a good overview article in this month's Fortean Times.

Cradle Hill was the most popular spot for groups of enthusiasts (many already expecting to see something) to gather and watch the skies for unusual lights.  Situated as it was, and still is, close to army training areas it's not surprising that low-flying helicopters and flares fired off at night were often mistaken for 'flying saucers'.  At the peak period in the mid-60s hundreds of people would gather there.  Shuttlewood himself claimed to have seen over 800 unidentified flying objects, but as the authors of In Alien Heat ably demonstrate, he was not a reliable witness.

Dr David Clarke is probably the most important figure in contemporary British ufology and I would recommend his books over the vast majority of poorly written, inadequately researched and sensationalist publications out there.  An excellent review of his latest book on the Magonia website (its name deriving from the book that shaped my teenage thoughts about the subject, Passport to Magonia by Jacques Vallee, that situates the subject quite rightly in the realm of folklore) really nails the heart of the whole phenomenon and Dr Clarke has recently written about Warminster on his own site.  Incidentally, I contacted him to contribute a chapter to my secret tunnel book, but he was too busy, no doubt on the recently published How UFOs Conquered the World.

Some photos I took last month on Cradle Hill: the graffiti is on the 'barn' which was reportedly often used at the time to sleep in after a long night's skywatching, but is now securely locked.

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