1 July 2020

WOODLAND WEIRDNESS

Peter A. McCue. Britain's Paranormal Forests: Encounters in the Woods. The History Press, 2019.

This informative and often entertaining work mostly covers, as the title indicates, unusual and bizarre encounters in Britain's woods. In particular McCue covers strange incidents occurring in the woodlands of Kent, Cannock Chase, Rendlesham Forest and Dechmont Woods in Scotland amongst others.
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The author adopts a healthy scepticism towards the unexplained, and in cases where there is only one witness, plausible alternative suggestions for incidents are offered. For example the alleged sighting of a UFO in Dechmont Wood in 1979 by a forestry worker David Taylor is thoroughly investigated, with even Taylor's medical record including a past of heavy drinking being noted, and the author concluding that the incident "isn't a very strong case", in spite of the fact that the local authorities have installed a Dechmont UFO trail.

In another case the author debunks "the Dering Woods Massacre" of twenty people, including eleven children, in 1948, pointing out that the story was based on a fake newspaper article (the price of the paper was shown as 1p at a time decades before decimalisation). In general I find I agree with most of the author's conclusions on the incidents, which are mostly based on his exhaustive reading of other authors' primary research.

I found his chapter 'Briefer Reports' particularly entertaining. In one report he writes that "people have supposedly heard strange banging noises" coming from Hermit's Wood near Ilkeston. I leave it to the reader to speculate on probable causes. More seriously, the author tends to take the line that many of the accounts in the woods, such as those of large hairy creatures jumping out in front of cars, strange lights and sounds etc, can possibly be put down to practical jokers (eg pranksters wearing an animal costume) or the witnesses' own subjective experiences.

On the other hand, the author admits that "overlap cases [...] are hard, if not impossible, to explain satisfactorily..." Such cases include the simultaneous sightings of UFOs by witnesses in different but nearby locations, eg witnesses on opposite sides of a valley seeing a UFO at the same time. The author posits the possible existence of a unitary trickster intelligence to explain such cases, and this element of tricksterism does seem to ring true to me from my reading of other accounts of paranormal investigation. McCue, however, correctly points out that, since the theory is impossible to disprove if untrue, it is of no use for a scientific investigation.

It occurs to me that this book might be a handy companion to anyone already engaged in research, as it provides short but well documented accounts of numerous incidents. At the same time for the general reader the book is balanced, readable and handily interspersed with numerous maps and photographs. -- Robin Carlile.

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