Saturday, January 6, 2018

Mary Bastholm: 50 years on – not forgotten

With my local history interests I spend a lot of time reading historic newspapers, and I recently came across some coverage of the disappearance of 15-year-old Mary Bastholm in 1968, which is now one of Gloucester’s longest unsolved missing persons cases. Then I realised that today is the 50th anniversary of the day when Mary disappeared. So this post is to mark the occasion and to affirm that she is still remembered in the local area, even by those (including me) who weren’t born at the time she vanished.

Mary was on her way to see her boyfriend in Hardwicke, a village just outside Gloucester on the evening of 6th January 1968 (a Saturday in 1968 and in 2018). She was carrying a Monopoly game in a carrier bag. She left her home in Rosebery Avenue in Gloucester around 7.30pm and walked down Tuffley Avenue to the bus stop on Bristol Road. Her boyfriend had arranged to meet the bus at the other end but she wasn’t on it. Within hours Gloucestershire police launched a huge search but found nothing, and fearing the worst, decided to “call in the Yard”. Dept.-Supt. Bill Marchant and Det. Sgt. Morris Wenham were assigned to the case but by the end of the month they’d drawn a blank and returned to London. 

When the awful tragedy of Fred West came out in 1994 he became the obvious suspect, and many things point to him being responsible. He allegedly admitted to a couple of people that he’d killed Mary but he never formally admitted it to police, and he was very vague about where he’d buried her – farmland around Bishop’s Cleeve was one of the claims he made. It was before Cromwell Street and before he met Rose. He was living in Bishop’s Cleeve (just outside Cheltenham) at the time but his work brought him into Gloucester a lot, and he is thought to have known Mary via the café at 59 Southgate Street where she worked as a waitress (there’s still a café there today). He’s known to have murdered Ann McFall in 1967 and Rena West in 1971, so Mary’s disappearance in January 1968 fits into the ‘gap’ between his known offences. Offering lifts to young women at bus stops was also part of his pattern for later victims. Not that anybody knew that back in 1968.

Like many people, I’ve read stuff about the Mary Bastholm case online and in books, and there is a fairly consistent narrative. I thought it would be interesting to read the contemporary newspaper coverage to see in what ways the narrative differed back then. The 300 police officers who anxiously scoured the local countrside (and canal beds) in freezing conditions hoping to find Mary were not to know that her whereabouts would still be unresolved 50 years later, and they will have had a different perspective on the case from how we see it with half a century of hindsight. 

I found a few discrepancies between the 1968 reports and later re-tellings of the story. I’m not making any judgements as to which is the more accurate, but I will highlight some of the information I found in the newspapers which I haven’t seen elsewhere. 

All of the information here is from local newspapers, but not THE local newspaper. Unfortunately the relevant issues of the Gloucester Citizen are not yet available in the online newspaper archive I’m using, so these reports are from the Birmingham, Aberdeen and other local papers. In the event that any of the Gloucestershire local papers become available, which they probably will do eventually, they will probably contain more detail.

According to the 1968 newspapers, it was raining heavily on the evening of 6th January (not snowing, as some accounts suggest). Mary was described as slim and blonde, with a distinctive gap on either side of her front teeth. She was dressed in a navy blue and white striped coat with a royal blue umbrella and was thought to have been at the bus stop between 7.50 and 8.15pm. She had no reason to run away and her disappearance was totally out of character. She only had £1 on her. The ice and snow came the following day and greatly hampered the search efforts. The ground was frozen hard and the snow obscured everything.

The search extended over an 8-mile area and briefly included an Army helicopter on loan to the Home Office, though its usefulness was limited because of the appalling weather. Gloucestershire police had a team of five frogmen who searched parts of the Gloucester-Sharpness canal. One of these young officers was John Bennett, who 26 years later was to become the Senior Investigating Officer in charge of the Fred West case. Mary Bastholm was among the first cases he re-examined when West’s crimes came to light.

Police frogmen confer with detectives after a fruitless search of the canal near Hempsted bridge. It’s hard to pick out faces in a grainy old photo, but one of these divers is likely to be Supt. John Bennett who later led the Fred West inquiry. (Picture appeared in the Birmingham Daily Post, 12th January 1968)

The Monopoly game Mary was carrying belonged to her boyfriend; he had loaned it to her over Christmas and she was on her way to return it to him. The usual narrative is that some Monopoly pieces were found in the snow at or near the bus stop on Bristol Road, and it was this which made the police fear she had come to harm. However, the 1968 newspapers tell a somewhat different story. According to reports there were three separate finds of Monopoly money, none of them anywhere near Bristol Road. One wad of notes was sent in to the police anonymously by someone who claimed to have found them in Tredworth, which is on the opposite side of the city centre. Two more lots of Monopoly money were found in separate locations in Barnwood, which is even further over on the east side of Gloucester, and about 2 miles from the bus stop. Det.-Supt. Marchant was sceptical about its relevance: “It was pouring with rain on Saturday night and we have had snow and ice ever since then. But two lots of this ‘money’ were bone dry. The rest was found on top of the snow. We are investigating it but I do not see how it can have anything to do with the missing girl.” (Aberdeen Evening Express, 11th January 1968).

One of the lines of enquiry was that Mary may have been offered a lift while she waited at the bus stop. Det.-Supt. Marchant put out an appeal for witnesses and in particular asked for a couple of car drivers to come forward who had been seen in the area. “One was checking the engine of his Ford Consul car opposite the bus stop between 8.10 and 8.30pm, and another, driving a dark-coloured Morris, pulled into the bus stop without warning, making the traffic behind brake sharply.” (Birmingham Daily Post, 11th January 1968)

Police also interviewed a 19-year-old girl who said she had been walking along Tuffley Avenue at about 6.30pm – only an hour before Mary walked along the same street – and was approached by a ‘prowler’ in a dark-coloured saloon car who offered her a lift. There were two men in the car. She ignored them and the car drove off towards Bristol Road. (Birmingham Daily Post, 10th January 1968) Whether this was significant and whether it could have been the same “dark-coloured Morris” which was seen pulling in to the Bristol Road bus stop an hour and a half or so later is something that can now only be speculated. Some witnesses at the bus stop did remember seeing a car stopping but were unable to say whether anybody had been given a lift or not.

Major incidents often do attract some weird people and towards the end of January an anonymous phonecall was taken by a reporter on the Gloucestershire Echo (the local paper in Cheltenham) from someone with “an assumed foreign accent” who claimed that Mary was alive and well in Tadcaster, Yorkshire, and that if her parents placed an advert in Tadcaster’s local paper forgiving her for running away, she would come home. (Birmingham Daily Post, 27th January 1968) This briefly raised hopes that Mary might still be alive, and her father felt that there was nothing to lose by giving it a go. Unfortunately it seems to have been a hoax.

There is little more in the way of news after January 1968 and Mary seems to have vanished without trace. One more heartbreaking report appeared in March 1968, on what would have been her 16th birthday:

“It’s just like any other day,” said her mother, Mrs Doreen Bastholm, of Rosebery Avenue, Gloucester. “How can it be anything else when we don’t know whether our daughter is alive or dead.”
Mary’s father, Mr Christian Bastholm, said: “I don’t think Mary ran off. She wasn’t that kind of girl. We have always had happy days on Mary’s birthday, but all we can do now is just sit back and wait for news. I hardly got a wink of sleep last night.” (Birmingham Daily Post, 15th March 1968)

Fifty years is a long time, but for what it’s worth I think there’s still a chance she may be found at some point. And in the mean time, she hasn’t been forgotten.

Sources: Newspapers were accessed via the British Newspaper Archive.

Sunday, August 20, 2017

Boreham Wood crop circle, Lockeridge

I don't think I will ever forget visiting this formation, and it will always be a personal favourite. I didn't really know what to expect as I walked up the tramline. Marvin had gone on ahead and I had this moment entirely to myself. As I came up towards the outer ring of the circle I suddenly felt a swirling rush in my stomach and a tremendous feeling of euphoria. Elation and joy and an overwhelming sense of wonder which took the breath out of me. There was a perfect ribbon of flattened crop stretching along at my feet from right to left, with a blue-green sheen which contrasted with the yellow-green heads of the standing crop. It made me laugh out loud and for a moment I thought I was going to cry as well. It was very intense, and the whirling in my stomach was tangibly physical. I could feel it for the first ten or fifteen minutes that I was inside the formation. As I walked around it I thought I could feel different impressions in different bits of it. The great rush of euphoria came from the very outer ring, and it was slightly calmer once I'd got into the main part of the formation, in the ring which surrounds the seven petals – more of a general sense of benevolence. And then the inner ring, around the cube emblem, had more of a sedate feel to it.

This was the 3rd July and at that time the circle was still quite fresh, only a couple of days old. At that stage of the season the wheat is still green and pliable, which makes the lines of the formation very clean and neat, and the laid crop lies very flat. It was beautiful in every way, and the stems of the wheat still had their natural whitish bloom which gave the laid areas a silvery shimmer when the sun finally came out.

The design of this crop circle is all sixes and sevens. Two circular bands of standing wheat surround a seven-pointed geometric 'flower' which looks a bit like the aperture in a camera lens, in the way the leaves or petals are overlapped. Camera lenses are designed with overlapping blades because it's the simplest mechanical way for a circular hole to be opened and closed in a controlled way, and when I look at this crop circle I find it easy to imagine it as an aperture which can step down or open up to reveal more of what's on the other side. (Incidentally there's no standard number of blades inside a camera lens but seven is pretty common.) Inside the aperture is another circle containing a hexagon divided into thirds, which can be taken as an isometric cube if you want to see it that way. As I said, I felt the vibes to be a bit different in the middle bit of the formation, but it wasn't until I tried drawing my own version of it that it was brought home to me how very different these areas really were. Sevenfold and sixfold geometry are incompatible and I had to make a completely separate set of measurements for each element, making two lots of pencil marks on the paper which bore no relation to each other.

There are symbolic things underlying the geometry too. Sixfold geometry is very ordered and balanced, and has a certain beauty and perfection of form. A lot of crystalline structures have it: quartz crystals form six-sided points and so do ice crystals, which is why snowflakes always have six points, an outer expression of their hexagonal molecular structure. To divide a circle into six equal parts you mark it out at 60° intervals, which is nice and easy to do (360° in a circle, divided by 6, gives you 60°). Sevenfold geometry is a whole different matter. Divide 360 by 7 and you get an impossible number, 51.428571428571...etc. Try measuring 51.428571428571° with a plastic protractor on a sheet of paper ... yeah right. For that matter, try measuring 51.42857142871° on the surface of a sloping field full of ripening wheat – that must have been fun for the circlemakers. Fortunately the human eye is not equipped to see that level of accuracy, so when I draw this design on paper I aim for angles of roughly 51 and a half degrees and that looks quite good enough at this scale. But the fact that a circle is nigh on impossible to measure accurately into seven equal parts does give it some symbolic significance. It's an elusive number, set apart from the rest. From a sacred geometry point of view you can look upon a seven-pointed or seven-sided figure as one which never quite manifests itself fully on this plane, and won't blend or align with any other number. So one way of looking at the Boreham Wood crop circle design is as a viewing hole through which you can observe something on a different plane: the seven-sided aperture providing a glimpse of a more orderly six-sided place beyond.

I'm not necessarily suggesting that's what the circle designer intended us to see in it. The only view I have about the purpose of crop formations is that they're meant to stimulate the imagination. And that's how this one has stimulated mine. Yours may be different. See in it what you will!

Drawing the seven-pointed 'flower'. After measuring out the circle into seven equal(-ish) parts, you set the compass to a distance two points apart, as shown. From this position, swing an arc across the circle and it will meet up on the other side with another point, but THREE points apart rather than two. I find this endlessly fascinating and wonderful. Drawing this arc from each of the seven points around the circle is what gives you the 'flower' figure.

A couple of things which are worth mentioning about the design. One is that the tips of the seven 'petals' don't go right to the edge of the circle they're in – there is a gap all the way around it. On the ground you can see it clearly because there is a ring of laid crop all the way around, forming a path. Because of this there is enough of a gap at the point of each petal to enable you to move from one section to the next. If the points of the petals touched the inside edge of the circle, you wouldn't be able to get through. The same is true of the inner circle with its hexagon design; a ring of laid crop around the outside of the hexagon allows you to walk freely around it. These are what Michael Glickman calls hospitality portals and seem to be common to most formations, supporting the idea that they are designed to be walked around on the ground as well as viewed from above.

One of the 'hospitality portals' around the central hexagon – just the right size to allow you to walk around freely.

Another thing is that the design doesn't have an obvious "right way up". There is a point at which the tip of one of the seven petals lines up with one corner of the central hexagon – but only one, because the sixfold and sevenfold geometry don't fit together. Maybe this one alignment point is significant. What else does it align with in the landscape? Nothing obvious, except possibly one of the tumuli on Overton Down a few miles away, but to be honest there are so many ancient sites around this area it's bound to align with something somewhere! The other points on the hexagon also form possible alignments with landscape features, such as the one below, where one of the three central paths aligns with the edge of the woods on top of a nearby ridge to the north-west, and if followed beyond that (on a map) appears to line up with West Kennett long barrow, though I have no way of checking that. There may or may not be any significance in any of these alignments.

But certainly this crop circle doesn't align in any obvious way with the field it's in. The tramlines cut through it at a seemingly random angle. Nor does it align in an obvious way with its own miniature satellite circle, which sits at the bottom edge of the same field. Indeed this tiny circle doesn't seem to have had a lot of attention, but it is a fascinating little thing.

When Marvin and I arrived at the field, on the early afternoon of 3rd July, we almost walked straight past the little satellite circle. It was only a few feet in diameter, very subtle and unassuming, a simple design of one plain circle and two outer rings, which occupied an unobtrusive spot between the bottom tramline and the hedge. We had seen it in aerial photos and were intrigued by it, because it was isolated in a patch of standing crop with no tramline going directly to it and it was very delicately imprinted into the surface of the crop – not fully flattened. Very possibly it was placed there some while before the main formation, and had started to grow out. I don't know. But anyway, when we visited there was a path trodden through by previous visitors, and the circle was no longer isolated. So in we went, and we both had a sense that it looked slightly different from what we were expecting, but neither of us twigged why. It was only when I got home and compared my own photos to some aerial pictures taken 48 hours earlier that I saw how different it looked. It wasn't lightly pressed when we visited it, it was fully flattened.

The little satellite circle and its swirled nest.

The most obvious explanation is that it got flattened by visitors' feet. It was clear that plenty of people had walked around in it, and the floor lay was chaotic and trampled. But not all of it. There was a neatly formed 'nest' in the centre, with an anticlockwise swirl around the outside of it. This is the thing that intrigues me, because it's not like that on the early aerial photos. The centre has a slight bobble, but not a swirled nest. Indeed the crop is all standing upright in those early photos and not swirled at all. Don't ask me what's going on with all that – I'm just explaining what I saw.

It was in this small satellite circle that I got out the dowsing rod I'd brought with me, because I'd never dowsed a crop circle before and I wanted to know whether there was any telluric activity in it. There was. I didn't get any responses while walking around the circle but over the patch of bare earth in the centre of the nest I got a decisive upward 'positive' reaction. Much like the energy nodes I find at ancient sites. I also got a 'negative' downward reaction at the very edge of it on the north-west side which I took at the time to be a water response. In hindsight I'm not so sure that's what it was, but I wasn't doing any kind of systematic survey at this point, just casually exploring.

I decided against dowsing in the two outer rings, because they were so fine and delicate it wouldn't have been possible for me to walk around them without damaging them.

The outer ring around the satellite circle, with its path too narrow to tread.

I did a little bit of dowsing in the main formation as well, but as I hadn't dowsed a crop circle before and didn't know what to expect, I was a bit unsure where to start. The main thing I found though was that the very centre of the formation, where the three paths meet, had an energy node which gave me a downward 'negative' response – the opposite of what I got in the small satellite circle. I noticed that the crop had been laid from the centre outwards along these three paths – all three of them had the heads of the wheat pointing away from the centre.

The centre of the main formation, which dowsed negative. The area in the centre is slightly messed up by trampling feet and the bums of those who sat down here to meditate, but you can still see the general pattern.

We spent quite a bit of time looking at the sections of laid crop around the seven-pointed flower. These were beautiful, and consisted of large areas which were partly swirled and partly folded, all subtly different. They also each had a lovely little tuft of upright wheat left standing, generally at the origin point of a swirl. But they weren't in the centres – they were over to one side of each segment, the left-hand side if you stood looking towards the middle of the formation – except one, which was on the right-hand side. Make of that what you will!

Marvin noticed another curious detail: most of the tufts had a single stem of wheat wrapped around the rest of the bunch and tied in a little knot. We have no idea how that came about.

The sideways lay of the wheat in one of the seven segments. It almost looks like waves breaking on a shore.

A swirl with a tuft in the middle.

This sheaf is held together with a single stalk wrapped around it – you can just see the horizontal wheat ear at the point where it's been tied.

Another tufted swirl.

And a tuft shown in context, looking towards the middle of the formation

The arc lines defining the separate 'petals' were really fine – too narrow to walk along, as shown here.

One thing I will remember most about this formation is how hard it was to leave it – it had such a beautiful benevolent atmosphere, I wanted to stay there forever. On the other hand, I have since met somebody who visited it and thought it had a horrible atmosphere, so I guess these things are pretty subjective!

At the end of our visit while we were chatting by the car, a red helicopter turned up and started flying around over the formation. I'm fairly sure it was Steve and Karen Alexander, on a photo mission. I'm a great admirer of their work and Karen often posts hints and tips on their website about how to draw the formations, which I find enormously helpful.

Sunday, July 9, 2017

Dowsing at Thorn Hill crop circle, East Kennett

Crop circle visit on 3rd July 2017
The Thorn Hill formation in green wheat was one week old when I went there with my friend Marvin Naylor who has been visiting crop circles for a long time. It was all a much newer experience for me. I didn't know what to take with me and it was only really on a whim that I chucked a dowsing rod into my camera bag on the way out the door. I thought that dowsing a crop circle might be complicated by the fact that you don't necessarily know what responses are related to the formation itself and what was already there in the landscape before it was formed. But in practice, I found it was relatively easy to tell. Both the crop circles we visited today had their own localised energy spots which related to specific features of their design, and these spots produced a more decisive response from the dowsing rod than I'd normally get if I was dowsing randomly about the countryside. Telluric energies which belong to the landscape tend to have some flow or movement, often changing direction on some kind of cycle. The 'energies' (or whatever they were) in the crop circles seemed to be a bit more static. Or at least I got no obvious sense of movement from them. What happens to them after the crop circles are harvested is a question I can't answer for the moment! But there was enough dowsable stuff going on in them to make it well worth the experiment.

We walked to Thorn Hill straight from the nearby Boreham Wood formation, as the two are very close together – at least as the crow flies. If you're not a crow and you have to walk there along roads and paths then it's a more considerable distance, but still perfectly walkable. Despite their physical proximity, I didn't get any sense of the two formations being connected (just my own impression, and I make no claims beyond that). They had very different vibes. At Boreham Wood I was seized by a giddy euphoria and was so delighted to be there that I found it very hard to leave. Thorn Hill was also friendly, but not in the same way – it felt more serious and sedate, and seemed to command respect rather than generating any emotions. It occurred to me that they might feel different simply because the Thorn Hill one has been there for longer, but there is only a few days' difference between them.

One thing about the Thorn Hill formation is its lovely location. It sits in the hollow of a small valley formed by a long ridge on either side. When you're in it, there's a sense of being enclosed within a gently scooped out curved landscape (something which doesn't come across easily when viewing aerial photos, where the field looks flat). The high ground on either side means that whichever side you approach from you get a lovely view of the formation and can see its overall shape fairly well. It's not, however, visible within the wider landscape – you have to be on one of the ridges immediately next to it in order to see it.

This was demonstrated to us very clearly because a series of bizarre irrational thought processes (mostly on my part) meant that we managed to go completely the wrong way along the wrong track and for a while we had no idea where the formation was, until we came to the edge of the ridge and suddenly saw it down below. Although it was quite a trek, it is a beautiful way to stumble across a crop circle, so I've no complaints. Walking along the top of the ridge we were surrounded by butterflies everywhere – meadow browns and marbled whites – with the air full of the sound of skylarks. Plus a view of Silbury Hill which helped to put the whole landscape in context.

The only thing that interrupted the rural idyll was a drone which turned up while we were sitting in the middle of the formation. It came rushing in with a whining lawnmower noise and spent some time hovering directly over our heads. Now that is a weird experience, being out in the fields with nobody else around and suddenly finding yourself being photographed from above by a remote-controlled camera – not knowing who is watching you or where they are. So now I'm looking at all the drone footage I can find of the Thorn Hill formation, trying to see if any pictures have got us in them!

Our first view of the crop circle from the west side after the ... er ... slight detour.

And from the opposite side, the Ridgeway path on the east side. Those glowing green blobs are lens flare, before anyone asks. Though they do look quite evocative.

The formation consists of three circles along a central bar, with the circle at either end half enclosed by a curved outline, like a mudguard around a bicycle wheel. The middle circle is smaller than the other two and has a dot in the centre. This dot (formed by a small standing clump of wheat) feels like it's the primary focal point of the formation. There's some kind of polarity thing going on with the two larger circles at either end but it's not a simplistic case of one being masculine and one feminine or whatever – it's more subtle than that. Both poles can be taken interchangeably, as long as they're in balance. This was brought home to me partly by the way the formation is placed in the landscape, where you can view it from either side and it doesn't look much different either way, neither side being more 'the right way up' than the other. And when I was taking photographs in a circle at one end or the other I would often look up and find that Marvin was in the other circle down the opposite end. It happened a few times, though we weren't doing it consciously.

Even if the formation has an 'either way up' kind of vibe to it, that's not to say that the two main circles are the same, either in their design or their energy. They're not. The circle at the southern end, nearest the trees, comprises three concentric rings, all made from flattened crop but laid in different directions to make a distinctive pattern of its own. The outer ring is swirled clockwise. The next one is laid radially, with the heads of wheat facing outwards and just touching the edge of the outer ring. And the inner ring is clockwise again, with a flat rosette in the very centre. From the air this gives a beautiful two-tone effect so it almost looks as if the three rings are embroidered onto the landscape. At ground level you're more struck by how beautifully tidy the outlines are, and how the evenly flattened crop has been laid in different directions with such precision.

My attempt to draw the Thorn Hill design.

This southern circle was the first part of the formation we entered when we arrived and it immediately made me feel a bit light-headed and disorientated – though not in an unpleasant way. There were a few occasions when I struggled to keep my balance while walking about in this circle, and at one point, walking along a tramline, I almost fell over as if somebody had given me a sideways push. Every dowser is familiar with that "shoved sideways" experience, which is a weird sensation when it happens but is quite common when dowsing ancient monuments. I didn't actually have a dowsing rod in my hand when it happened, but it was very much the same phenomenon.

When we did dowse this circle there was no response over any of the concentric rings but we did get a strong upward ('positive') response in the very centre, over the swirled rosette.

The central swirl in the southern circle. The small patch of bare earth in the middle was the one place where we got a dowsing reaction.

The other circle at the northern end of the formation is the same size but a different design. It has a single wide ring of flattened crop, exquisitely laid in a clockwise direction, plus a central ring where the crop has been left standing (intersected by a pair of tramlines). Dowsing over the centre area is a bit more of a challenge here because the standing crop is in the way, so I'm mostly left with just my own impressions. I had none of the disorientation here which I felt in the southern circle, and not much impression of anything else in particular, except perhaps for a sense of movement around the circle – almost a desire to run around it, which would not actually be possible because the linear bar along the axis of the formation blocks the way and prevents you from going full circle. In fact the access to the curved outer semicircle is also blocked at this end of the formation, so you have to walk the long way round to get to it, unlike the other end where you can walk into it freely – a subtle difference between the two halves of the design which I only really noticed after I got home.

The circle at the northern end, looking southwards, with the circle of standing corn in the middle.

This picture shows how the linear axis of the formation forms a continuous line which joins up to the central circle of standing wheat.

And this view from slightly further back shows the outline of the semicircle which curves around the outside of the circle. The two halves of the semicircle are separated by an unbroken line of standing crop, so in order to get from one side to the other you have to walk all the way round the inside of the circle. That's not the case at the other end of the formation, where the other semicircle has a continuous path and can be walked around freely.

Then there's the smaller circle in the centre of the formation. Unlike the two circles at either end, the crop here is laid in an anticlockwise direction, and fully flattened apart from a single clump in the centre which appears as a dot in aerial photos. Dowsing over the central tuft gave a 'positive', upwards response with the dowsing rod, and I could feel it twitching and tugging as I approached it, even from several feet away.

The central clump is looking a bit windswept now but you can see the swirled ring of flattened stalks wrapped closely around the base of it.

The outer edge of the central circle.

It's worth saying something about the alignment with the landscape. First there's the curvature of the surface of the field, which is like this:

I do find it amazing that the pattern looks so crisp and perfect in aerial photos when the field is not actually flat. The formation lies along the bottom of a valley with a very gentle slope. The field only has a slight curve but it's enough to curve the lines of the formation, as the photo shows.

The other thing the photo shows is the efficiency with which they've made use of the tramlines. The linear section which makes the axis of the design is formed very simply by the standing crop between two tramlines – giving it two ready-made straight edges. That's the essential structure, and everything else has been lined up around it. So then you realise that the alignment is not quite perfectly placed at the lowest point of the valley, it's actually lined up on the nearest tramlines. As a result the whole formation has a very slight tilt towards the east.

Super-efficient use of tramlines as a design feature

As I said, I didn't specifically set out to do a dowsing survey here today so it was just a spontaneous experiment, and we ended up making an impromptu video. Here you can see me dowsing the centre of the southern circle and then finding various responses along one of the tramlines, corresponding with gaps and other features in the formation. Most of the responses are upward but when I got to the northern circle I started getting downward reactions instead. I'm using a V-rod or spring rod made from two bendy plastic rods bound together at one end – an adaptation of the traditional 'forked twig' divining rod. The idea is to bend it outwards into a V-shape so that it's held in a state of unstable tension, and then find a neutral position where it's balanced in a horizontal position but can very easily spring in either direction (up or down). Very often I feel it tugging or twitching just before it reacts, but some of the reactions here are more sudden and localised.

So what is it I'm picking up here? I'm not entirely sure at the moment. But one of the things I often find while dowsing is the presence of entrances and gateways. For example if I'm dowsing on a site where there was formerly a building I can usually pick up the location of a doorway or boundary even though there's nothing visible there on the surface. These reactions felt very similar to that – so my working hypothesis is that the Thorn Hill formation is full of energy spots which act as entrances or gateways in some way. Which doesn't seem unreasonable. What is a crop circle if it's not a gateway?

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Dowsing the mound on Chosen Hill

I keep coming back to the little known and much underrated Chosen Hill (shown on maps as Churchdown Hill) between Gloucester and Cheltenham. It's one of my special places in my local area. And every time I come here I feel the same thing. An urge to do some dowsing!

The reason I've not done so before is that I didn't really know where to start. I don't have the time or resources to do a detailed survey, but there didn't seem much point in doing a half-hearted effort either. Besides which, Chosen Hill is a very popular place for dogwalkers and ramblers, and whenever anybody sees me swinging around a bent coathanger they invariably come and ask "whatcha doin'?" which is almost impossible to explain without sounding like a nutter.

But this week I went up there and gave it a go. I would love to hear from any other dowsers who have done any work up here, and whether they get results which are similar to or different from mine.

The church on top of its green mound.

That's some location for an old church.

First of all I should explain why this site is special, though the photos probably say all that needs to be said. The hill itself is an outlier to the Cotswolds and sits on its own – a 500ft high steep-sided lump sat in the middle of the Severn Vale. Perched on the north-eastern corner of the hilltop (which is not, incidentally, the highest point of the hill but it's pretty close) is the isolated medieval church of St Bartholomew, which was originally the parish church for the village of Churchdown, and a punishing trek up a steep slope for former parishioners. There is a newer church in the village now, but St Bartholomew's is still used for a handful of services and it's a remarkable place, full of historic curiosities, re-used carved stones from an earlier church, and images of dragons. It's also quite a landmark, visible from all around the local area, looking like a faery castle when the sun catches it in early evening.

The church is built on top of a steep-sided mound in the churchyard, which is a very striking feature, and suggests the place was sacred before the church (and its Saxon predecessor) was built. The mound has curious ridges or terraces around it, in a style which reminds me of Glastonbury Tor, albeit on a smaller scale. Some of these are visible in the churchyard, while others can be seen continuing some distance down the northern and eastern side of the hill, interrupted by field boundaries and clumps of trees but still visible if you make the effort to look. These lower ridges are on private property so it isn't possible to explore them close up, but they have intrigued me for a long time.

There is uncertainty as to whether the topographical features of the hill are natural or man-made, or both. Older maps show the whole hilltop as an Iron-Age camp; modern maps don't. I think it probably is an ancient camp because it has that sort of vibe and there have been finds of pottery fragments from that time period. Unfortunately the majority of the original enclosure has been destroyed by the construction of a set of covered reservoirs in the 20th century, but there are still some surviving earthen banks around the hilltop which look very much like ramparts.

It's the small green mound immediately underneath the church, however, which draws my attention the most.

Ridged pathways around the mound in the north-western corner of the churchyard, with a pedestrian gate at the bottom leading down towards the village.

The western end of the mound.

The southern side with old box tombs set into the slope of the mound.

The entrance on the northern side. I got a water reaction with my dowsing rods in the gateway instead of the usual 'entrance' response.

One of the things that intrigues me about the mound is that it has a direction of spin. I don't much like using the New Agey term 'earth energy', but I don't have another name for it and can't really explain what it is either, so I can only say that there is some kind of telluric flow which goes around the mound in either a clockwise or anticlockwise direction on different occasions. I feel this so strongly that I don't need dowsing rods to pick it up. Every time I visit the churchyard I immediately feel which direction the energy is spinning and feel obligated to walk around the churchyard in the direction of flow. It seems to switch over on some periodic cycle but I don't go up there often enough to know how often it changes. I can only say that it was flowing in a clockwise direction during my dowsing trip on the afternoon of 1st December, but on my previous visit two weeks earlier, on 17th November, it was going anticlockwise.

So even if I couldn't do a proper survey, I wanted to dowse the area of the churchyard and get a sense of what is there, hopefully to follow up any interesting discoveries later. My dowsing tool of choice is a V-rod, which is a metal or plastic version of the traditional forked stick divining rod. I also used angle rods to check my results afterwards and for those tasks which the V-rod doesn't excel at, such as directional pointers. To record the places where the rods reacted I used a handheld GPS to mark them as waypoints. This isn't perfect: the limitation of the technology is that it's only accurate to within a few feet, but for a job like this it's a lot better than faffing about with maps and measuring tapes. It was very cold and frosty on the hilltop on 1st December (most of the photos you see here were taken during previous visits when the weather was nicer) so I was hoping there wouldn't be too many people up there. A bit of a vain hope, and I got interrupted a few times. But over the space of about two hours I collected 70 dowsing response points, which were a mixture of water (negative) and earth energy (positive) reactions. When I say positive and negative, I only mean that the V-rod dips downward over water and upward for any kind of telluric stuff. I also get an upward response for boundaries and entrances, which are distinguishable from the telluric reactions only in that they feel subtly different. More static I guess, rather than flowing.

I got one of these 'boundary' responses while walking up the path towards the church, in an open area with no sign of any boundary. But when I looked around I could see a few clues, such as a change in direction in a nearby wall, suggesting that this was once a perimeter and that the line I was picking up was the original boundary of the churchyard before it got extended. When I got home I dug out some old OS maps and found exactly that – in 1924 and earlier, the churchyard boundary was on that very line. This is one of the things that draws me to dowsing, its uncanny ability to pick up the 'ghost' of things which aren't there any more. Not the ghosts of people (though it can do that as well), but of walls, doorways, paths and hedges.

A tomb with a view.

Water lines in the churchyard
The first thing I did was search for water lines – a bit of old-fashioned water divining. Water is the easiest thing to dowse for, and gives nice decisive responses. I found two parallel water lines crossing the path just inside the churchyard but had the feeling they were modern pipes. Then when I got to the mound itself I started picking up lots of underground water. The first one was a few feet in front of the church door and when I looked down I saw there was a cluster of small iron stop-tap hatches set into the ground. Well that explains that then! But actually it's really nice when you get that corroboration, that there really is underground water in the place where the rod decided to dip. It makes you feel like a bit less of a loony prancing about with a metal stick.

Oh well, that explains the water response here then.

But I soon found more. In fact the stuff seemed to be everywhere. Some of it with very strong reactions, where the rod felt like it was tugging itself out of my hands. And then I realised the little hatches were everywhere too. Some stop-taps, some monitoring hatches, dotted around in odd clusters all around the church foundations on every side. Elsewhere in the churchyard I spotted two much larger inspection hatches which gave me minimal reactions ... one caused the rod a slight twitch, the other nothing. But most of the small hatches on top of the mound were close to points where I got a really strong water reaction. Surely an old church doesn't need this much plumbing? I can only assume that there are a load of springs on the mound, and that they are being actively managed to prevent soggy soil from undermining the church building. It's so precariously perched it's easy to imagine it sliding off down the hill towards Badgeworth after a heavy rainstorm.

As well as the drainage arrangements, I found water lines in a few more interesting places. There was a water line coming out from under the church at each of its four corners (at chancel and tower). This is quite a common thing that most dowsers find at old churches, though don't ask me the reason for it. But in this case, the water line in the north-west corner on the tower was very slightly off alignment. The other three were bang on. I don't know why that one corner should be off, but the tower was rebuilt in 1601 so it's not inconceivable that the water line may be aligned with the original tower; who knows.

It would've been interesting to dowse for water lines inside the church to see where the corner lines go and see if I could find the 'blind spring' which is almost always to be found somewhere near the altar of such an old church. But the church was locked as usual, so I had to limit myself to the outside.

The eastern side of the churchyard has a retaining wall which cuts off the slope of the mound. You can still just see two sculpted ridges in the mound on the right hand side of the photo. The wooden fence follows the line of another, wider ridge lower down. 

Telluric lines
This is where things get a bit more nebulous. The term 'earth energy' is often bandied about without defining what it actually means, and I admit I don't know either. In 30 years of doing this I'm no closer to understanding what it is I'm picking up and I only know that I'm picking up something. Whatever it may be, there are consistencies and patterns in where it appears and how it behaves, and that's good enough for me to want to dowse for it. It dowses positive (i.e. it flips the V-rod upward) but is sometimes more difficult to pin down than water, and more liable to change. It usually has a clear direction of flow but feels like it has less of a defined spatial position ... unlike water it may or may not be underground.

So having got that caveat out of the way, here's what I found. The energy goes around the mound in concentric rings. (It's possible it could be a spiral, but I think it's concentric rings.) These are elliptical and follow the shape of the mound. Nearer the top of the mound the rings are fairly narrow and close together, but as you descend the hill they get progressively broader and and more widely spaced. Dowsing the south side I counted nine rings in total, from the old churchyard boundary up to the church door. They might continue inside for all I know, but I didn't have access. Nor did I have access to the northern or southern sides of the mound, which are on private property. But I did dowse the terraced ridges inside the churchyard and found the energy rings corresponded to them closely, with some additional rings in between them as well.

I also picked up a broad energy line passing through the west wall of the tower, almost dead centre. A corresponding line comes out of (or into) the east wall, but this one seemed to be off centre. As I didn't go in the church, I can't be sure whether it's all the same line, and whether it's straight or not. I picked up another broad line going south-north through the church, but ran out of time to plot any details of it.

The elliptical shape of the hill on the north-eastern side, looking from the churchyard towards the Cotswold hills. You can't see the ridges and terraces very well in this photo, but they are there! The village of Churchdown can be seen on the left, down in the valley, with Cheltenham in the middle distance.

There were a couple of buttresses which seemed to have become active nodes for energy lines. One was on the north side at the edge of the tower. The other was on the south side (almost opposite in fact) on the outside of the south transept. This is not the oldest part of the church by any means, but it seems it's been there long enough to accumulate some telluric welly.

The buttress just to the left of the drainpipe has quite a zap to it. As does the one just visible to the right of the tower.

A small area just to the west of the north porch gave me a very odd reaction with the V-rod, as if something was pulling or jerking the tip of the rod to the right (towards the church). The same spot when dowsed with angle rods was not quite as strong, but the rods did ‘range’ and swing about.

Another oddity was that I got a decisive water response in the pedestrian gateway at the north-west end of the churchyard. I usually get a positive ‘entrance’ or ‘boundary’ response over a gate but the water response was far stronger. I tried dowsing over the hedge to the side of the gate and got the expected boundary responses.

The north porch is unusual in that it has two storeys – the upper floor being a priest's room which once would have served as basic living quarters.

This photo was taken on the public footpath down towards the village, on the north side of the church. My dowsing rod picked this up as an old track-line, running around the base of the mound and crossing the current footpath at right angles.