12 August 2018

HIT THE ROAD

Peter A. McCue. Paranormal Encounters on Britain’s Roads. History Press, 2018.

This book covers a wide range of supposed paranormal phenomena, from UFOs, missing time and phantom hitch-hikers, to anomalous animals and mystery vehicles. Although some historical examples are included, the reports described are largely from the past twenty years or so. As such this makes an interesting collection of memorates of anomalous phenomena.

When we talk about paranormal road encounters, one’s mind automatically leaps toward ‘phantom hitch-hiker' stories, and these are indeed dealt with here. They are largely first-hand accounts, or at least told first hand to a named reporter, and are variations on the theme of strangers ostensibly being picked up by motorists and then vanishing, either whilst still in the car, or immediately on leaving. The further embellishment of the tale as it is often told, which involves the motorist visiting the hitch-hiker’s home, only to discover that their passenger was – usually – the daughter of the household who died in a road accident near the spot where the phantom was picked up, is missing from these accounts, which suggests they may be more authentic 'raw' accounts.

McCue claims that some areas are more prone to road-related paranormal phenomena than others, and highlights the Bluebell Hill area of Kent, which was also extensively covered in Neil Arnold’s Kent Urban Legends, and the Halsall Moss area of West Lancashire. I don’t know Bluebell Hill, but the Moss can be a very empty, spooky area, with unexpected mists on its flat surface, which is partly a drained mere. But as we know from UFO ‘flap’ areas, the preponderance of unexplained phenomena in a specific area could be down to the presence of a keen local investigator seeking out and publicising such events, which may be the case at Halsall. This is not to deny the validity of the stories that the investigator might uncover, but one cannot help but wonder if another area, chosen at random, might produce a similar level of accounts if it received the same scrutiny.

The book raises the question of whether or not the phenomena described it it are in any way specific to their road location. By their very nature phantom hitch-hiker accounts are almost exclusively confined to on-road situations, but for most of the other types of incidents their roadside location is simply because they are outdoor phenomena, and by and large, people outdoors are going to be on road. And late at night, when many of these spooky experiences happen that most likely means on a road in a car. This I think covers many of the accounts of mystery big-cats and the like, their appearance at roadsides being simply the result of that being the most likely place for an observer to be, rather than some quality inherent in the phenomenon itself.

Beside phantom hitch-hikers, the more road-specific phenomena include a recurring theme of a driver seeing another vehicle on the road, either ahead of them or in the rear-view mirror, which after their view has been obscured for a moment by a hedge or a turn of the road, has suddenly disappeared. In many cases the driver then or subsequently made a close examination of the stretch of road concerned, but found no point at which the mystery vehicle could have turned off.

There are also many accounts here of drivers seeing a figure run or jump in front of their car, sometimes even feeling the jolt as the car collides with them, but on stopping finding no evidence of anyone being hit. There are so many accounts of this from all over the country, that it seems to be a significant phenomenon in its own right. McCue quotes a number of cases like this in and around Warminster at the time of the great local UFO flap, providing an interesting example of how unexplained incidents can feed on each other to reinforce their apparent significance.

There are many accounts of UFOs seen from vehicles, and this is perhaps simply another case of a phenomenon being more visible from a road, rather than having any specific connection with the road itself, particularly for nocturnal sightings. A rather stronger case of a direct relationship between the phenomenon and the road or vehicle can be made for the ‘alien abduction’ experience, which is very strongly linked to long, nocturnal road journeys. McCue quotes as a significant example the Aveley, Essex case from 1974, involving the alleged abduction of a family of four, shortly before returning home from a long car journey. Examples of so-called ‘highway hypnosis’ are probably more prevalent on the long straight roads of the US, than on Britain’s twisting road network.

Although most of the accounts outlined here are relatively recent, from the past thirty or forty years, there is also an acknowledgement that some of these types of experience have a considerable history to them. One example being the Black Dog, a terrifying creature which is encountered on lonely roads by both drivers and walkers. Although often considered as mere ‘folk-tales’ from the past there are first-hand accounts given here from people who have experienced this ghostly hound in recent years.

McCue does not attempt to offer an explanation for any of these incidents, although he seems open to at least some of them them having a paranormal origin. He is wary of coming to any definitive explanation for specific incidents, but from time to time explores possible paranormal mechanisms that might be involved. You do not necessarily have to agree with any of the author’s speculations in order to find this a fascinating book full of extraordinary incidents. – John Rimmer


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