5 December 2008


On August Bank Holiday Saturday (23rd August to our American and Scottish readers) I paid a nostalgic visit to Cradle Hill, Warminster, along with arch-hoaxer and Warminster veteran, Dave Simpson. For a couple of years now Kevin Goodman, author of UFO Warminster Cradle of Contact, has been organising skywatch revival events with fellow author Steve Dewey (In Alien Heat) in order to, in his own words, ‘keep the flame burning’.

Well, my Warminster flame burned out a long time ago. Apart from a couple of brief drive-by visits my last serious, staying-up-after-bedtime visit to the sacred hill was in nineteen-hundred-and-blimey-was-it-really-that-long-ago. I admit, I have tried a bit of Warminster revivalism myself, for instance giving a talk to LAPIS in Blackpool, and boosting Goodman and Dewey’s books wherever I could, but wasn’t starting skywatches again taking things a bit too far? Who would come to them, apart from a few aging ufologists trying to recreate the excitement of their (comparative) youth? So when Dave Simpson rang up suggesting a jaunt, I accepted like a shot.

I knew from my earlier brief visits that the old meeting point at the top of Cradle Hill had changed. The famous ‘white gate’ now lay hidden in the undergrowth, the cart track to the infamous copse and barn had been tarmacked, and the military camps had expanded; but it was only after it got dark that I realised what a difference the latter had made to the night-time scene. Where there were once just a few lights from barracks windows and a line of street-lamps, there was now a row of very high intensity lights around the perimeter of the camp nearest the hilltop. The view to the east had been totally changed, making observation difficult in that direction. The copse was now a regular haunt for dog-walkers in the early evening (plenty of 4x4s taking our canine friends up there), and a different kind of dogging later at night (two other cars returned very rapidly after discovering a squadron of ufologists at their favourite trysting site!)

Kevin Goodman was in-situ, ready to greet all-comers, not quite sure how many would turn up to help keep that flame burning; few people had replied to his invitation. But as the evening drew on it was clear that Warminster still had pulling power, and not just for those who remembered the heyday of the ‘sixties and early ‘seventies. I think eventually there must have been getting on for thirty people clustered on and around the site of the white gates, with little groups making sorties up to the copse or further along the road.

I got talking to some people from the midlands, and suggested that the overcast conditions and threatening rain would not be conducive to good observations. “Oh, no,” one replied, “They hide above the clouds, out of sight, but they often come under the clouds so we can see them.” The ‘Chinese lantern’ UFOs weren’t lanterns, he explained, tht was an explanation put out by the Ministry of Defence. Midlands ufologists aren’t fooled by tricks like that!

The years fell away, and I was back with the original enthusiasts, crowded round, waiting for Arthur Shuttlewood, seizing on every glimmer and point of light as a potential Aenstrian space-craft: “they move rapidly then hide in front of a star, so you can’t see them”, “they are the ones called amber-gamblers”, “no, it’s not car headlights, far too high in the sky for that!”, “the army say they’ll shoot Arthur if he walks onto the ranges!”. (For a moment I thought that might happen to us, when a security van drove up and stopped near the skywatchers. Kevin skilfully defused the - not at all - scary situation.)

But then it dawned on me: these are not nostalgia freaks, these are modern ufologists who have come to Warminster to see real flying saucers, not reminisce about old times. Forty years on and nothing has changed. To be fair, Kevin and Steve, and one or two others, were there for old-time’s sake, to keep alive something of their own personal heritage, and although Kevin believes that something strange was happening in Warminster at the time, I don’t for one minute thing he was really expecting to see ‘amber gamblers’ or ‘coruscating shafts of light’ emerging from over the West Wilts Golf Clubhouse, but I think the majority of people there hoped for just that.

We didn’t stay the night, but drove back to London, amazed and somewhat baffled by what we had seen, the phrase “they hide above the clouds …” going round in my mind. They believe this, they really do. The Aenstrians are still playing hide and seek over Warminster and nothing has changed.

I enjoyed my brief trip into the past, but it left me more convinced than ever that ufology drove itself into the ground a long time ago, and my decision to make the next Magonia the last of the regular series is the right one. -- (Editorial to Magonia 98, September 2008)

1 comment:

Terry the Censor said...

> “they move rapidly then hide in front of a star, so you can’t see them”

That is the worst excuse I have read yet...but I've been looking at the UFO literature for only five years.