Wolfson on The Edge

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Castle Rock, Alderley Edge

In search of Alan Garner

My favourite book when I was a kid was The Weirdstone of Brisingamen, a fantasy adventure about two children who befriend a wizard and help him fight forces of evil. It was sort of like the Harry Potter of its day (except it was good). Like J.K. Rowling, the author, Alan Garner, chose to set his fictional tale firmly within the real world; specifically Alderley Edge in Cheshire. The wizards, witches, goblins, elves, dwarfs and other magical beings etch out an existence alongside society, albeit a secret one.

For a children’s story, it’s surprisingly bleak. The most memorable sequence is a prolonged chase underground where the children are pursued by monsters through the network of mines and caves underneath Alderley Edge. It scared me when I was a kid and haunts me as an adult. I decided to revisit The Edge and some of the other places where Garner set his stories to find out if the magic still lingers.

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The Armada Beacon, Alderley Edge

Alderley Edge

The mystical old man who chaperones the heroic youngsters in Weirdstone is based on the legend of Alderley Edge which goes something like this: A farmer from Mobberley is on his way to sell a white horse at Macclesfield market when he meets the fabled wizard who offers to buy the magnificent beast. He doesn’t offer enough and the farmer refuses. The wizard tells him that he will not sell the horse at the market and lo and behold, the farmer gets a peculiar lack of interest. He encounters the wizard again on the way home and gives in. The wily old sorcerer then opens a pair of iron gates that appear in the rock, revealing an entrance into a cave with a pile of jewels, inviting the farmer to help himself. It turns out the wizard cares for 140 knights who slumber deep within The Edge, waiting for the day when England needs them, and they are a short of a horse.

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The Wizard’s Well

The legend is given more credibility by the existence of a carving of the wizard above an old well, just below Castle Rock; The Edge’s most notable landmark. Sadly, the carving has almost vanished, along with the rest of Garner’s Alderley Edge. Nowadays, the village is more famous for being the abode of millionaires although you can still find several commercial establishments named after The Wizard so the association is not completely lost. The Edge when I was young was a quiet and eerie place. Thirty years on, like most other well-known countryside walks, it is overcrowded and the elves and goblins have nowhere left to hide.

Mow Cop Castle

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Mow Cop Castle

I was brought up in the shadow of Mow Cop Castle on the border of Cheshire and Staffordshire. It now seems to be called Mow Cop Folly, which doesn’t sound quite as impressive. I remember its foreboding outline on the horizon and the frequent visits to play there with my friends. Garner utilised the structure as the central location for his novel Red Shift. Unlike Weirdstone, I struggled to read this one when I was a kid; its multi-faceted and ambiguous themes were too much of a challenge. I tackled it as an adult instead. The castle seems smaller and less imposing to me now but it still cuts an impressive silhouette. It is cared for by the National Trust, ensuring that future generations will enjoy it, and probably breathe new life into Garner’s story.

Errwood Hall

The equally awesome sequel to Weirdstone exploits a gloomy ruin called Errwood Hall in Derbyshire for its climactic scene. Once the heart of a flourishing community, Errwood Hall was demolished in 1934 By Stockport Water Corporation to make way for nearby Fernilee Reservoir, along with almost everything else in The Goyt Valley. Quite why the company felt the need to knock down an impressive Victorian mansion that was nowhere near the water is a matter of dispute. The most likely explanation is that they did not have the funds for its maintenance. Now little more than a ruin in a sea of rhododendron, the Hall still gets thousands of visitors every year, drawn to the mystique of the mansion in the woods.

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Errwood Hall

In Garner’s The Moon of Gomrath, Errwood Hall is returned to its former glory by sinister magic; a fanciful concept that becomes easier to believe in the presence of such a spooky place. Slowly but surely, the house is being reclaimed by the wilderness and may one day vanish completely. If I was a billionaire, I would buy it back and return it to its original splendour; probably using builders rather than sorcery.

Read my next post for some strange experiences in The Goyt Valley. You could like my Facebook page or follow me on Twitter. Just a suggestion!

If you like Alan Garner’s stuff as much as I do and you have visited a place that he has written about, I would love to hear from you but feel free to get in touch about any weird and creepy bobbins.

D.W.

Wolfson Investigates: Bigfoot

Origins of the Bigfoot Hunter

When I was a kid in the late 1970s/early 80s, the paranormal was all the rage. Magazines such as The Unexplained and television programmes like Arthur C. Clarke’s Mysterious World and Leonard Nimoy’s In Search Of developed my fascination with UFOs and things that go bump in the night. Many happy hours walking in the countryside with my granddad also contributed to my love of spooky mysteries.

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Wolfson aged 9

My favourite phenomenon was Bigfoot. The concept of a huge hairy monster hiding in the woods was entirely plausible to the imagination of a child. Even though I’ve grown up and realised that it’s probably a load of bullshit, I can’t shake off the tiny possibility that Bigfoot is real or at least concede that the myth has some grounding in reality. Join me on a journey.

Wolfson on Location

A few years ago, I went on holiday to the west coast of Canada and the north-western corner of the USA. I had several reasons to visit this magnificent part of the world but one of them was to see Bigfoot country for myself. My trip included 3 nights sleeping in a trailer in the backyard of my friend Paula’s home on Vancouver Island. This gave me an opportunity to get up at the crack of dawn and explore the woods where the enigmatic beast has been sighted. This was a dream come true. Imagining the dark forested realm of Bigfoot was a childhood preoccupation and now I wandered there alone.

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brave or stupid?

A characteristically large species hiding away from mankind in the wilderness is a hard concept to swallow, especially in this enlightened age of technology and communication. However, it gets a little easier to believe when you’re there. The woods aren’t like the cultivated versions in the UK. They are wild and thick and stretch for hundreds of miles. You can barely see ten feet in any direction and they are the domain of big predators that are seldom glimpsed, such as bears and cougars. I explored the shadowy forest trails with a lump in my throat. What would happen if I suddenly came face-to-face with an actual Bigfoot? Would anyone believe me if I did? At one point, I heard a twig snap from nearby and the realistic possibility of bumping into something big and hairy with fangs and claws overwhelmed me with bowel-loosening realisation. Needless to say, I initiated a hasty retreat, looking back over my shoulder; half in fear, half in hope.

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I just want a cuddle

Unsurprisingly, I didn’t spot the big guy but I found it easier to believe people that had. In Canada, they call him Sasquatch because that’s what the Native American people have always called him. To the Canadians I spoke to, Sasquatch was real. Some of them had seen him and accepted his existence. English people tend to be cynical and they take the piss out of everything. It was a sobering change to be among folk who talk about monsters with a straight face.

My Conclusion

It seems too much of a coincidence to me that no one has ever found an actual Bigfoot or the corpse of one, or even just a body part. I accept that the creature has a vast territory in which to hide but even so, surely a specimen would have turned up by now? Consider that he has cousins all over the world; the Yeti in Nepal, the Almasty in Russia and the Yowie in Australia to name but a few of the most famous. No physical evidence anywhere? Hmm.

It is also significant that in most places where a man-beast dwells, there’s also a bear population. A few bears have been recently caught on camera walking on their hind legs. In the dark of the woods, could a glimpse of a bear moving a bit like a man appear to be something more sinister and ape like?

Saying that, people still see Bigfoot and I’m sure that dismissing their encounters as misidentified bears would do little to comfort them. Perhaps it’s better if the puzzle is never solved. After all, life would be dull without a little bit of mystery.

Wolfson does Bigfoot

I once made my own ropey horror film about a hairy creature that lives in the wilds of the Peak District entitled … wait for it … The Horror of the Legend of the Night of the Beast. This cinematic masterpiece featured some amazing actors including Anthony Rothwell, Matt Ryan Rick Rushe and Ben Jones.

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From left to right: Rushe, Jones, Ryan, Rothwell

My collection of horror tales Hidden Places on Earth (available from Amazon) features a more serious take on the Bigfoot enigma called The Steve McQueen Story and I shall finish by treating you to an excerpt. By way of explanation, Steve McQueen is an American sheriff on the trail of a missing girl in Oregon. Betsy is his beloved rifle. Tammy is his naive deputy. Leoty is his extraordinary Native American tracker.

A scream awoke me. My eyes snapped open. I must have dropped off. I looked to my left and Tammy was gone. I turned to the right and Leoty was gone too. I shook the slumber from my head, grabbed Betsy and staggered to my feet. There was another scream but I couldn’t tell who it was. My heart was hammering.

‘Tammy!? Leoty!?’ I hollered and peered out into the darkness. I could see jack shit except for the fire and the tethered horses nearby and they too were in a state of panic. I called out again but there was just silence now. For the first time in my life I genuinely didn’t know what to do. I have always enjoyed sharp instincts and like my daddy before me, and his daddy before him, my decisiveness in an emergency got me my Sheriff’s badge. I stomped around for a while and shouted into the night. Before I could summon the sense to do anything useful, the ladies came out of the gloom, holding onto each other like goddam lesbians.

‘What the hell!?’ I yelled. ‘You nearly gave me a heart attack!’

‘Oh, Steve!’ sobbed Tammy. She ran over and threw her arms around me. She was shocked and I was shocked too but I held her lithe body close to me while she soaked my shoulder. I peered over at Leoty for an explanation but her perfect Indian features yielded nothing. I had to wait for my deputy to calm down.

‘I had to go pee,’ Tammy finally said.

‘Jesus, Tammy!’ I growled. ‘You should know better than to go wandering off into the woods by yourself at this hour.’

‘I’m sorry.’ She wiped the tears from her eyes. ‘A girl’s gotta have her privacy.’

‘Did you get a fright?’ I queried.

She nodded and all she could manage to say was ‘eyes …’

‘Eyes?’ I urged.

‘There were eyes watching me,’ she clarified.

‘An animal?’

Tammy shook her head.

‘A man?’

Tammy shook her head again.

‘Not an animal? Not a man? Then what in the holy kingdom?’

‘I don’t know … just eyes … horrible …’ Tammy started crying and wrapped her arms around me again.

‘This isn’t right, Tammy,’ I said firmly and sat her down by the fire. I grabbed a flask of bourbon from my coat and offered this as an alternative means of comfort. She took it and sipped, then screwed up her face and handed it back to me. I took an almighty swig myself and allowed the firewater to dull me down. I turned to Leoty.

‘I found her,’ stated the tracker.

‘Did you see anything?’ I asked.

‘I saw nothing,’ she replied.

Tammy glared at her, resentfully.

I crouched down and put my hand on her shoulder. ‘The imagination can do funny things out here, deputy.’

‘I saw nothing tonight,’ added Leoty; ‘but we are being watched.’

‘What?’ I scowled at her.

‘We’ve been watched ever since we started.’

I stood up and looked into the tracker’s strange yellow eyes. She was a tall woman and we were at equal height. ‘Why didn’t you say anything?’

‘I wasn’t sure,’ she explained. ‘I’ve caught glances of something through the trees; a stench on the wind, footprints here and there. I think your deputy has confirmed what I feared.’

‘Then what in the shit and shinola is it?’

Leoty shook her head. ‘I wish I knew, McQueen.’

That was pretty much the end of the discussion. Both women were spooked and, I have to admit, I was too. We stuck close to the fire till dawn and said little more. Twasimotokai’s warning bounced around my mind: ‘Some things are not meant to be found, McQueen.’

If you have any comments or experiences you would like to share, big-footed or otherwise, please get in touch. If you are a film company seeking original ideas, I’m your man!

D.W.

The Real Life Haunting of the Devonshire Dome

Buxton in the High Peak in the UK has some grand architecture for a small northern town. Arguably the most spectacular building is The Devonshire Dome. Seen from almost any high point in Buxton, the largest freestanding dome in Europe looks impressive and the interior is even more breath-taking.

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For a while, I’ve been aware of the rumours that the ex-hospital is haunted, perpetuated in recent times by the students who currently attend the place as a university. It is no surprise when you consider that most buildings of this size and age in England usually have at least one resident spook. It wasn’t until a man called Carl Bothamley got in touch with some stories about working the night shift as a security guard that I really began to take notice.

I present Carl’s reports for you in his own words but it is perhaps necessary to give you a brief history of the building first. Ghosts need context, if you subscribe to the belief that they are the restless spirits of the deceased (I’m not sure that I do but more about that later). Long before there was an actual dome, the place was a stable for horses, built by the fifth Duke of Devonshire in 1779 (who is based in Derbyshire, not Devon, confusing I know!) In 1859, the seventh Duke donated the first floor to trustees to turn it into a hospital although, bizarrely, the ground floor remained occupied by our four-legged friends! Twenty years later, he was persuaded to relinquish the rest of the building to the hospital and the horses moved out. 1880 saw the construction of the massive dome. The hospital closed in 2000, one of the few remaining hydropathic hospitals left in the country. As I’ve already mentioned, it now belongs to the University of Derby and the interior has a very contemporary feel. However, it seems that something lingers in the shadows … over to you, Carl:

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The magnificent dome in Buxton is a fantastic and beautiful building. I was lucky enough to work there for a few years. Just after it closed as a hospital, through its change into the Uni and whilst it was open as the Uni. Many a strange thing happened over the years and these were witnessed by myself or myself and others. This first one was witnessed by myself only. I had just done a full patrol of the entire site. It was a warm summer night without any breeze. I was the early hours and the only occasional sound was the odd owl. I stood outside the old original doors (as I often did) having a smoke, when I heard the sound of children’s laughter. It couldn’t have been clearer. I realised it was coming from behind the main door, where only a minute or two earlier, I was stood. I thought that a group of teens had sneaked in and hidden from me. I quietly slid the key into the lock and burst into the hallway to confront them, only to find myself standing alone. No kids, no laughing and no sign of anyone inside! The same thing happened on another occasion too, the only difference was, I was already stood in the hallway and children’s laughter seemed to be surrounding me!

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the old surgical ward is often cited as “a chilly spot”

Another tale from the dome: I was stood inside the main entrance as I had done hundreds of times before. Now when it was the Devonshire Hospital, the upstairs floor was tiled and outside each room was a carpet runner. It was a quiet still night and from the far left end side I heard ladies footsteps walking towards where I was standing. The sound tip tapped over the tiled floor and made a muffled sound as it crossed that carpet. Then again the tip tap of the tiles and then the carpet. It kept walking until it stopped right above where I was standing, turned around and walked back to where it started then simply just went silent again. In went to investigate but there was no sign of anybody. That’s weird but the weirdest thing is that at least three weeks before the incident, the builders had ripped up all the carpets AND tiles, leaving just a concrete floor! So how did this ‘woman’s footsteps’ still make the sounds as if walking on tiles and carpet?

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Another time whilst on patrol, when Chiswick house (to the rear of the dome) was linked directly by an underground passage, myself and another officer witnessed the tunnel filled with smoke. We both thought that kids had broken into Chiswick house and set it on fire. We ran through the smoke to see if we could do anything but as we entered through the glass porchway, the smoke disappeared. There was no sign of intruders and certainly no sign of any fire! Another time I was showing some friends the former chapel when a large block of wood was thrown towards us. It bounced several times, the whole length of the dome floor (which is quite a feat in itself) and impacted the wall next to us. Again there was no sign of anybody other than us. I felt like a person or spirit had passed through me as i stood on the stairs, one time as I was locking up the former John Duncan school. A place I had been tens of times without any event. A friend turned up and without telling him anything, I asked him to stand on the same stairs with me. He did so and immediately said he also felt as if someone or something had passed through him. Moments later he claimed to see a face looking at us through the door by the staircase. We soon left ad you could imagine. To this day (as far as I am aware) one of the cleaners refuses to be in there alone as she heard laughing coming from a stall in the toilets, when she was alone cleaning!

Carl’s disturbing accounts are not the first that I’ve heard about the place. Back in the early 1990s when the hospital had its own radio station, DJ Tony Francis, aka Big T, told me about an equally frightening encounter. The corridor that led to the station studio had an unfortunate feature; the light switch was at the other end so the first person in or the last person out had to walk through darkness. It was while one of Big T’s colleagues was performing this minor act of courage that he felt someone brush past him, going the other way. The young man switched on the light and was horrified to discover that he was alone. Apparently, he refused to be the first or the last person to the studio ever again. The creepy corridor is no longer used but I’m sure you will agree that it retains an eerie aspect.

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Generally speaking, Buxton is not a very haunted town. I was once asked to provide information for a ghost-themed guided tour and struggled to suggest more than three stops. This has something to do with the people; Buxtonians tend to be very down-to-earth and pragmatic and they are not prone to fuss or flights of fancy. That’s why when one of them turns to me and says they have experienced paranormal phenomena, I tend to raise an eyebrow and take notice. Personally, I love a good ghost story (I’m from Staffordshire which is a different kettle of fish) but I struggle with the notion of an afterlife and therefore struggle with the concept of “spirits who are unable to pass over to the other side”. That said, I’ve spoken to many people who have seen, heard or felt something weird inside an old building and I have no reason to doubt any of them so I think there must be something going on; lingering souls being only one possible theory, albeit the most popular. I’m also fascinated by why some individuals experience by what appears to be supernatural whilst others do not. Veteran ghost hunter Wesley H. Downes once told me about a situation where two people were in the presence of an apparition but only one of them could see it.  You can read more about my afternoon with Wesley here.

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Hauntings aside, the university is a great place to visit; seeing the Dome itself is worth anyone’s time and I recommend the café, the restaurant and the spa. It just seems that it is not the right place to be alone at night, unless you relish the company of the otherworldly. If you have a story about the Dome you would like to share, or indeed any other place, please get in touch.

D.W.

with special thanks to Carl Bothamley

 

The Wolfson Collection part 1: 1979 Alien Toy

Into creepy stuff since I was a kid, I have retained many toys, games and books that have nudged their way into the annals of obscurity and wonder as the decades have passed.

Up first is a 19 inch tall action figure that I’ve never had the heart to part with, even though it’s missing its tail and inner set of teeth (the left arm is also blu-tacked on). I believe this was the first Alien toy ever manufactured shortly after the release of Ridley Scott’s ground-breaking science-fiction horror film in 1979; a long time before it became a franchise and spawned merchandise beyond count.

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just taking a stroll

I played with this toy loads even though I was too young to see the film but my mum and dad who had seen it, assured me that it was very good and that I could watch it as soon as I was 18. I think they caved in a few years later when it came out on Betamax. The somewhat gruesome plaything proved to be a great adversary for my Action Men, towering above them and thrusting its double set of teeth (activated by a discreet button at the base of its skull) while they had only their “eagle eyes” and naff rubber hands to save them from a grisly and inevitable demise.

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Alien is now happily married to Care Bear and they have two lovely children

I loved the way the H R Giger-designed cranium glowed in the dark so out of all my toys, I could still see it in my bedroom at night. Most kids probably would have been freaked out but I was a bit strange. I suspect that if my Alien was still in good nick and in its original box, it would pay for a holiday in Australia but what child of the 80s ever kept their toys in pristine condition? That would be even weirder than playing with the thing.

D.W.

Mystery Beasts of the Peak part two

In part one, I revealed sightings of big cats, phantom dogs, werewolves and …erm… wallabies in and around the Peak District. Think it couldn’t get any more disturbing? Think again!

Since my last post, a few people have got in touch to tell me about their own alarming encounters in Britain’s oldest national park. A lady called Gladys was shocked to read my account of a black panther sighting in King Sterndale because she had seen a similar creature near the same village around the same time. It seems that King Sterndale is the prime place to go beast spotting. Take a job lot of Felix with you.

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Lion skull from Buxton Museum

Even more hair-raising was an account sent in by someone who got too close for comfort with a monstrous moggy twenty years ago. Witnesses usually glimpse these creatures from a distance in the countryside but this was a face-to-face encounter in suburbia. The person in question came home from school to find a huge sand-coloured cat “like a cougar or a lioness” relaxing in his garden. The RSPCA arrived later to remove the unwelcome visitor from the home of the family, who were understandably frightened and upset. He mentioned how odd it was that the men from the RSPCA seemed remarkably blasé about the incident, like it was something they were used to dealing with, and had very little to say. I contacted the RSPCA to discover what became of the creature but they replied to say they currently had no staff to consult their archives; two decades on and still suspiciously little to say on the matter.

When you start digging around, the Peak’s unknown menagerie gets even more flamboyant than panthers and lions. Local musician Kenny Robertson told me about a series of incidents when he was a young man in Buxton. It is a strange tale that ends with the most frightening beast that I have heard about so far.

Whilst walking around on a summer’s night in the mid-90s, Kenny and his friends were perturbed to hear a chorus of chanting from a disused quarry round the back of Lightwood and Corbar Road. Normally a quiet and respectable part of town, Kenny told me that he felt compelled to investigate the cacophony. However, every time he and his pals got close, the peculiar choir would cease chanting and play salsa music on a ghetto blaster, as if to mask their weird commotion.

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Kenny

Little did Kenny and his peers suspect that this was merely the start to a sequence of troubling events. Over the coming months, they would stumble upon the scene of three ritualised sheep killings in the same area. The first carcass had been torn open and filled with manure. Then they discovered three lambs hung and left to die on a barbed-wire fence and finally Kenny witnessed his neighbour cutting down another animal from a tree in his back garden.

Kenny’s upbringing was not as trouble free as you might expect from a peaceful town like Buxton. However, as I have already established, other people have stumbled across occult activity in these parts in the 1990s, including myself.

The sequence of gruesome discoveries came to a culmination at Lightwood reservoir. Kenny and his friends were shocked to see an unearthly creature running up an old track. It looked like a goat but it moved abnormally quick on two legs. Kenny suppressed a shudder as he recalled the scene; he can still picture the goatman silhouetted against a dusky sky. He told me that they didn’t have the courage to follow the fiend in the failing light but they returned the next day and found hoof marks in the mud, eventually disappearing into the tall grass.

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Lightwood

Could the group responsible for the ritual chanting and sheep mutilation have managed to summon a demon?

The Lightwood reservoir monster fits the archetypal image of The Devil or the Greek God Pan. A few local places have an established association with Satan. Peak Cavern in Castleton is also named The Devil’s Arse, due to its vast cave entrance where you can sometimes hear flatulent noises caused by water draining away inside. Eldon Hole near Peak Forest is the deepest pothole in the Peak and was once believed to descend all the way down into Hell. Both places are only a few miles apart and were thought to be linked underground but more recent explorations have yet to reveal a connection, nor the flaming abode of Beelzebub.

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Taking a stroll: Old Nick

I asked Kenny if he thought he had seen the Devil on that fateful night but he laughed and said “if it was Big D himself, I would have expected something a little more. It was probably a minion of some kind.”

Are there monsters in this part of the world? Not only is the answer yes but it actually seems overcrowded with horned, fanged and clawed villains. Prehistoric remains tell us that the Peak District was once the domain of bears, wolves and lions. Although it might be stretching your imagination too much to believe that these critters still linger, it is a scientific fact that they thrived here thousands of years ago. The last wolf in England was purportedly killed in the Peak village of Wormhill only as far back as the 15th century.

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Wolf skull from Buxton Museum

I wonder if there is part of the human psyche that still clings to the distant past; something in our DNA that echoes back to a time when having your throat torn out by a wild animal was a realistic threat? When you are walking out in the countryside and you see that dark shape dart away out of the corner of your eye, is there really something there or is it some funny old part of the brain still dealing with survival? I’m sure we have all experienced the irrational feeling of being watched. Although I never doubt anyone who has seen, heard or felt something peculiar, I am aware that the human brain has its own internal landscape designated “here be monsters.” Best not to be complacent; it might be a very long time since anyone was devoured by a beast of the Peak but can you be 100% sure there’s nothing out there?

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Wolfson and the wolf at Chatsworth House

I currently have no material for a Mystery Beasts of the Peak part 3 but I would be very surprised if there are not a few more tales out there yet to be told. If you have an experience you would like to share, please get in touch.

D.W.

Grinlow Woods – again!

Grinlow in Buxton continues to be my local supernatural hotspot with this photo, kindly sent in by a nice man called Kevin. Visiting for the day, Kevin took this shot of his daughter on the approach to Solomon’s Temple, a Victorian folly that crowns Grinlow’s highest point. Not a particularly unusual image until you spot the monk-like figures behind the tree in the background. After noticing the spectral photo bombers, Kevin searched the web and found my original post about sinister figures at Grinlow. The ascent through the woods to Solomon’s Temple is a popular walk but Kevin mentioned that there wasn’t anyone else around at the time. At least, no one that belongs to this world.

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If the photo wasn’t creepy enough, it is a lesser known fact that Grinlow was actually an ancient burial site. As the skull in the local museum will testify, the foundation of Solomon’s Temple is a Bronze Age barrow that contained the remains of a man. The word low is an old English word meaning barrow or burial mound. However, this is only significant if you subscribe to the belief that ghosts are the lingering spirits of the deceased. I’ve never been terribly convinced, especially after my conversation with seasoned ghost hunter Wesley H. Downes although I remain open-minded.

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D.W.

 

Mystery Beasts of the Peak part one

Anyone who has lived in the Peak District in the UK usually has a creepy story to tell about the place. Being a national park, the Peak has miles of wilderness, drenched in history and atmosphere.

Professional musician Matt Swindells now lives in San Francisco in the USA but he was brought up in Whaley Bridge, a small town on the western edge of the Peak. Whilst taking his dog, Toddy, for a walk one day in the early 1990s, Matt suddenly stumbled upon some wildlife that could hardly be described as indigenous. During a recent visit, he was kind enough to take me back to the location of his disturbing and unforgettable encounter.

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Matt returns to the lair of the beasts

Matt and Toddy were crossing a field that borders an old abandoned quarry; a fairly common feature in this landscape. Gazing down into the quarry, Matt was shocked to see a group of “Alsatian-sized” cats lounging around amongst the rocks. It was hard to determine their exact breed but Matt recalls that the cats were coloured differently and appeared well-fed and content; their tails “swishing around”. Unlike domestic cats, they had very pronounced scapulas or shoulder blades. He watched the creatures for five long minutes, fascinated and scarcely able to believe his eyes. Usually eager to give chase, Toddy was clearly distressed or as Matt describes him; “in survival mode”.  More out of concern for his canine companion rather than himself, Matt decided to beat a hasty retreat.

Despite repeat visits, Matt never saw the mystery moggies again. Upon viewing the old quarry for myself, I certainly found the scenario easy to imagine. A few hares bolted from cover upon our arrival, providing an instant answer to what such large carnivores might include in their diet. The place seemed good shelter from the elements too and remote enough to stay hidden from humans, with the exception of the occasional plucky dog walker.

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The perfect hiding place?

Although Matt’s story is outlandish, a quick search of the internet will tell you that sightings of big cats in these parts are far from unknown. My own Aunty and Uncle witnessed an enormous black cat crossing a field more recently. The creature was walking towards King Sterndale Hall in the heart of the Peak and they noted its distinctive feline gait and tail. What disturbs me is that my Uncle is a native; a pragmatic type who was raised on a Derbyshire farm. In other words, he is not prone to flights of fancy or in danger of misidentifying an animal.

The Park Authority officially denies the existence of big cats despite the fact that people have confessed to releasing them into the wild back in the 1970s when laws on keeping animals changed. On the nearby border of Staffordshire, in a place called The Roaches, a variety of beasts were set free from a private menagerie and survived for some time, most notably a colony of wallabies. Bearing this in mind, is an itinerant group of feline predators an impossible stretch of the imagination?

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Wallabies in the 1960s, probably hiding from Jimmy Savile

Oddly enough, big black mystery animals of The Peak are not exclusively cats. Chicago-born tattoo artist and musician Jori Lakars had a frightening confrontation with a different kind of monster in Grinlow Woods, Buxton.

Jori was walking her puppy, Piper, for the first ever time. They were on the path up to Solomon’s Temple, above Poole’s Cavern, when a huge black dog came bolting towards them. Not unusual until you consider that the brute’s eyes were blazing red! Afraid they were under attack, Jori scooped Piper up in her arms, but the demonic hound just ran past. Nevertheless, Jori was understandably stunned:

I stood there shaking for a minute, thinking that his owner would be by shortly and I could mention he/she should keep a beast like that on a lead, but there was no one.  I’m pretty sure we were the only ones in the woods at the time; we didn’t see a soul except for the beastie. I haven’t seen it since, and quite glad for it! I do get some funny looks when I recount the tale, people think I’m making the red eyes up, but I swear I saw them.  Not looked much into the history of the demon dog, but if there really is a legend, it’s definitely what I saw!

piper
Aw, Shucks! Piper the dog

Not commonly associated with Buxton but unearthly black dogs have been reported around the British Isles for centuries, usually going by the name of Black Shuck. Did Jori come face to face with a legend? It was certainly one hell of a first walk for poor little Piper. Grinlow Woods in Buxton does keep cropping up as the location of curious encounters and I’m starting to get very suspicious about the place. I even have a couple of my own incidents that you can read about HERE.

If big cats and big dogs were not enough, there are werewolves in the Peak District too, if you delve deep enough.  In 1925, writer Charles Hoy Fort (as in The Fortean Times ) felt the need to mention events that occurred in Edale, in the north of the Peak, in his book Lo!

London Daily Express, Oct.14 1925 – the district of Edale, Derbyshire. Something “black in colour and of enormous size” was slaughtering sheep at night and “leaving the carcasses strewn about with legs, shoulders, and heads torn off; broken backs and pieces of flesh ripped off.” Many hunting parties had gone out but had been unable to track the animal. “People in many places refuse to leave their homes after dark, and keep their children safe in the house.” If something had mysteriously appeared, it then quite mysteriously disappeared.

Werewolf
I’ll be waiting for you in the woods

Considering the predatory big cats, red-eyed Shucks and untidy werewolves, the next time you’re out for a walk in these parts and you hear something rustle in the bushes behind you, you might want to quicken your pace!

If you have a tale to tell of your own mystery beast of the Peak, please get in touch, and I may feature it in part two.

D.W.