UFO seen on the Cat and Fiddle Road

Unidentified flying objects or UFOs don’t make the headlines like they used to. It’s almost like they’ve gone out of fashion. This may be due to the fact that recent scientific research has established that although we may not be alone in the universe, visitors from another world probably aren’t traversing the vast distance to Earth just to frighten some poor individual on a lonely road. However, that doesn’t mean that people have stopped seeing strange lights in the sky as one woman found out in late July.

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The Cheshire resident who regularly visits Buxton witnessed an aerial phenomenon around midnight whilst driving on the A537 or as it more commonly known, the Cat and Fiddle road (named after the pub about halfway between buxton and Macclesfield). Like many who see such things, she wishes to remain anonymous. However, she wants to share the encounter in case anyone has experienced anything similar:

I kept seeing something in the corner of my eye and I just thought it must be a bat but it kept zipping, no lights, just movement, so so fast. I followed the road, then I started seeing green lights and again, zipping movement. I saw three red flashing red lights in a triangle, then it zipped off. I took the long way round and kept my eye on the sky, then I saw a very faint light ahead. I kept looking and it was just hovering. At one point, I stopped and tried to take a video but it was dark and cloudy. When I got closer, it was like someone turned the switch off and it just disappeared. Once I realised I was alone in the hills, I got scared. Well, I clearly wasn’t alone! I googled it when I got home and there was a similar story in the Derbyshire Times in January.

On the twisting Cat and Fiddle road, the lofty summits of Derbyshire offer a commanding view of the Cheshire plains, home to Jodrell Bank and its radio telescopes. A quick internet search will tell you that this part of the world is no stranger to UFO reports. In fact, the town of Chapel-en-le-Frith, about 13 miles away, has one of the first ever recorded UFO sightings in its parish register dated 1716. So what is going on? It’s easy to dismiss the object as a remote-controlled drone, rare cloud formation, weather balloon, figment of a tired imagination, etc. but as someone who has had a UFO experience, I know that it may never be fully explained and that it will continue to haunt you. One of the UK’s leading UFO investigators, Jenny Randles, used to live nearby and the advice she gave me was “keep watching the skies.”

Darcus Wolfson Halloween Special: Dicky’s Skull

Dicky’s Skull, or Dickie, is a fairly well-known Peak District legend. The haunted cranium is a standard inclusion in an endless sequence of Derbyshire guidebooks and much has been written about it already. However, my own investigation can provide you with an updated overview of the whole mystery, as well as the unearthing of an obscure stage play called Plays of Derbyshire Life: Dickie’s Skull. Seeing as the nights are drawing in and the witches’ eve is fast-approaching, I thought I would visit Dicky again and perhaps, finally put the poor soul to rest.

Origins of the Skull

There is some uncertainty about who exactly the skull belonged to and how it came to reside at Tunstead Farm near the town of Chapel-en-le-Frith. The most common version of the story specifies its owner as Ned Dickinson who returned from the Huguenot Wars in France (1562-98) to reclaim his farm, only to find it had been taken over by his murderous cousins who were not too keen to give it back. They chopped off Ned’s head and buried him in the garden, only to find the severed bonce back in the house one dark night, where it insisted on remaining.

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According to an 1895 collection of Derbyshire folklore, the fearsome skull belonged to a woman, killed by her sister after they fell out over a man. The tale specifies that the siblings lived in The Royal Forest of the Peak, which throws the age of the story back to medieval times. Dicky seems a peculiar name for a lady unless perhaps her surname was also Dickinson.

Whichever account of the tale is recounted, it seems to involve someone meeting an unfair and untimely demise and that anyone who seeks to remove Dicky from his or her unconventional resting place on a window sill at the farm is doomed. Various owners of the place have attempted to remove the grisly souvenir, balking at the absurdity of the claims, only to suffer some misfortune and end up putting it back again.

There are photographs of the skull in situ so we can be sure that it did exist and that the individual was not given an orthodox burial. It may be more likely that someone just found the skull in a neighbouring field one day, brought it home and made up a creepy story about it. The Peak District is strewn with ancient burial sites, after all. There were other skulls in nearby Castleton and Flagg and at one time, it was a bit of a fad, especially in the countryside where people were afraid of change. There are other examples of “something that should not be removed or bad things will happen” across the UK; the most famous of which are probably the ravens at The Tower of London. You could say that humans have now swung to the opposite end of the spectrum where alteration is so rapid that many people are scared of being left behind and feel like they will drop dead if they don’t have the latest app or gizmo.

Dicky gets Famous

The legend peaks in the 1800s when visitors to the area could buy postcards of the sinister noggin, like this one from the collection of Buxton Museum and Art Gallery.

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A railway bridge needed to be built on land owned by Tunstead farm which would have linked Buxton with Whaley Bridge. However, the railway company did not seek planning permission from Dicky; big mistake! The curse soon began to take effect on the building work; foundations collapsed and the workmen became ill. In the end, the company decided to put an end to the spiralling costs of going head-to-head with the jinx and decided to build higher up the line at Dane Hey. The story attracted so much publicity at the time that Lancashire poet Samuel Laycock wrote this poem in 1870 called “Address to Dicky”:

Neaw, Dickie, be quiet wi’ thee, lad,

An ‘let navvies an’ railways a ‘be;

Mon tha shouldn’t do soa, it’s too bad,

What harm are they doin’ to thee?

Deed folk shouldn’t meddle at o’

But leov o’ these matters to th’ wick;

They’ll see they’re done gradely, aw know-

Dos’t’ yer what aw say to thee, Dick?

The Legend Fades

After hearing about Dicky a few times, I grew curious and went to visit the skull myself. I wasn’t too sure about the precise location of the farm but I knew it was a stone’s throw from another mystery I had recently investigated where rock drummer Matt Swindells discovered the lair of a family of big cats. I was also aware that adjacent town Chapel-en-le-Frith was the location of one of the first ever recorded UFO sightings in the UK (it’s in the parish register dated 1716). The supernatural associations with this part of the world were starting to stack up. Wandering around Tunstead Milton on a gloomy day, the place seemed deserted and I found myself looking over my shoulder a lot. I found no one, alive nor dead, and went home, imbued with a sense of melancholy.

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It was not until recently that someone who resides in the area told me that Dicky was laid to rest decades ago, most likely in nearby Taxal Church. I was on a wild goose chase. Apparently, the new owners of the farm were horrified by the infamous skull. They sought to do the right thing and without making a fuss, returned him to the ground from whence he came. Upon hearing this news, I had mixed feelings. It does seem wrong that someone’s remains should become a ghoulish exhibit but also disappointing to know the owner had decided to put the brakes on a Peak District legend. I assume they didn’t endure some terrible consequence. Of course, this is only what someone told me; if you know different, please get in touch.

Dicky’s Skull: The Movie

Amusingly, my friends at Buxton Museum were reviewing their archives recently and found a story about Dicky’s Skull; not another guidebook entry, but an entire semi-fictional script for the stage. The drama is no.9 in a series called Plays of Derbyshire Life and therefore features lots of authentic dialect. There’s lots of “aw, reet?” (a greeting translated as alright? And still quite common today) It was written by someone called Crichton Porteous; a writer with a name even more ridiculous than mine. There’s no date but the adverts suggest it was published around 1930.

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In the story, a sophisticated young lady called Alice marries in to a Derbyshire family who live at Tunstead Farm. It’s not long before it becomes apparent that the family are afraid of Dicky’s skull, particularly Grannie; the somewhat menacing old crone of the household. Alice and her husband have trouble pleasing Dicky on their wedding night (a problem most newlyweds face). Quite why an intelligent and cultured woman decides to get involved with a clan not too far removed from the one in The Hills Have Eyes is not explained. Alice soon gets naffed off with pandering to the rotten old skull and chucks it. Of course, Hell ensues.

Any Hollywood directors wanting to discuss translating the tale for the screen, don’t hesitate to get in touch.

Happy Halloween.

D.W.