Source:The Daily Mail (London, England) (April 14, 2000): p30. (2206 words)
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Full Text :COPYRIGHT 2000 Solo Syndication Limited
Byline: GLENDA COOPER
MARCH 24, 1997 had been a quiet night for the Peak District Mountain Rescue Teams. The few people out on the hills were hoping to catch a glimpse of the Hale-Bopp comet, but heavy rain clouds obliterated the night sky and they had gone home in disgust.
Suddenly, the rescue teams received three separate, disturbing calls - including one from a police officer - reporting an aircraft flying very low over the moors and crashing. One worried farmer said the plane was so low that he instinctively ducked. Then a couple reported hearing the crash and seeing an orange glow light up the sky. A major incident had obviously occurred.
The seven Mountain Rescue controllers, including Longdendale Valley's Phillip Shaw, immediately dispatched their teams, in the hopes of dragging survivors from the wreckage. No effort was spared and for 15 hours, more than 140 people plus an RAF helicopter searched every inch of moorland.
Yet no trace was found of any aircraft. No one ever reported a missing plane. Whatever it was that the callers had seen and heard, had simply vanished. No wonder, then, that people began to ask if the fabled 'phantom bomber' of Longdendale Valley had returned?
Longdendale, situated in the Pennines between Manchester and Sheffield, is commonly referred to as 'The Haunted Valley'. For centuries, tales of the paranormal, the supernatural and the plain weird have been spun about this bleak, ten-mile stretch of countryside.
It falls within what is nicknamed 'UFO Alley' - the most active place for UFO sightings in Northern Europe, partly because of the Longdendale lights.
These are eerie flickering flares which, in older times, were blamed on the devil, while modern superstition has linked them to alien spaceships.
The lights are also blamed for the high incidence of inexplicable plane crashes in this area during World War II- nearly 50 in all.
For the sceptical 21st century mind, colourful stories of ghostly spectres and close encounters stretch credulity. Even committed ufologists admit that the vast majority of occurrences have a logical explanation.
Yet such is the spooky activity that happens in the 'Pennine Triangle' that Europe's first tourist centre devoted to UFOs is due to open in June and scientists are conducting experiments to try to understand the phenomena that haunts it.
Walking to the top of Bleaklow Moor, more than 2,000 feet above sea level, it is not difficult to see how this valley got its dark reputation.
Forbidding gritstone crags rise up on all sides amid sparse clumps of heather. And when the wind drops, there is absolute silence. Barren, chilling and hostile, nature not man is firmly in control of the place Daniel Defoe dubbed 'the most desolate, wild and abandoned country in England'.
ON THE summit lies a vast array of twisted metal - one of the most spectacular wrecks that litter Bleaklow.
It is of an American B29 which crashed in 1948 on a routine flight, killing all 13 crew.
Now poppies and old wooden crosses decorate the slowly rusting undercarriage, while the engines lie at a drunken angle, and a near complete wing has been tossed some 20 feet away.
There is something undeniably unsettling about the wreck, and it is no wonder that local people claim to have seen the ghost of Captain Landon P.
Tanner, the pilot, resplendent in his leather flying jacket, wandering among the ruins.
It has been suggested that he, like many pilots, saw the Longdendale Lights and headed towards them thinking they represented the aerodrome and safety, rather than the surrounding wicked peaks.
The ethereal lights flicker on the moorland and hills, most commonly by an area known as 'Devil's Elbow' and sometimes appear as a ball of motionless light, and sometimes as a dancing string of lights.
The Mountain Rescue Team have been called out endless times to investigate - only to find nothing.
'Between them, the seven mountain rescue teams in the Peak are called out once a year by people who see lights in the hills and assume someone is in trouble,' says Phillip Shaw, the Mountain Rescue Controller.
'This has been going on for at least 20 years, but no one has ever been found. The reports have become so regular that police no longer pass on sightings of mystery lights to us unless they feel it is a genuine sighting of a red distress flare.' YET HE takes the Longden-dale lights seriously, though, after experiencing them himself. 'It was in 1980 at about this time of year,' he recalls.
'I was cycling along the road by Snake Pass and I saw what looked like a large searchlight on top of the moor.
It would have been about four or five miles away, and it just sat there, not getting brighter or dimmer.
'I know the moors so well, I knew it was in a place where you couldn't get a vehicle anyway near, so it couldn't have been a car headlight. Also, it was far too large. Then, there wasn't a cloud in the sky, so it couldn't have been a beam reflecting off a cloud. To this day, it is something I cannot explain.' Not that people haven't tried. Police point out that the Longdendale Moors lie between a major international air route for traffic approaching Manchester's Ringway airport, and so landing lights from aircraft could explain sightings of moving lights.
Others may have mistaken the flashing beacon of the Holme Moss TV transmitter to the north of the valley.
Ball lightning and arcing from the pylons that criss- cross the valley bottom have also been suggested as possible explanations.
Yet, as Dr David Clarke, an expert folklorist on the area points out, none of these theories account for the fact that stories of the Longdendale lights stretch back far before the arrival of planes, pylons and other manmade sources of electricity.
'If you look at accounts in the 19th century or before, you will see them described as 'devil's lights' or 'devil's bonfires'.' he says. 'It's only as you move into this century that they become ghosts and flying saucers - it is all down to the culture of the time.' Traditionally, the lights hover round a mysterious mound near the summit of Bleaklow Hill which some archaeologists believe dates back as far as the Bronze Age.
Popular folk tales claim the lights are the phantom legions of Roman soldiers who tramp across the moors on the first full night of spring. The ghostly glow is said to be flames from their torches as the auxiliaries marched at night, hoping to avoid the ferocious Celtic Brigantes tribes in the hills.
For Michael Greaves, who lives in Glossop, a small town on the outskirts of the valley, there is another possible cause. Mr Greaves, a spokesman for Glossop Paranormal Investigators, says: 'In 1838, the Woodhead tunnel in the valley was built by Irish navvies, forced to live in appalling conditions.
There was a cholera epidemic,
24 navvies died and were buried in unconsecrated ground.
'It is thought that the lights could be their unquiet souls still carrying torches to work.' That people are fascinated by the lights is not in dispute.
A year ago Debbie Fair, a local internet consultant set up a webcam (a video camera linked up to the Internet) trained on Devil's Elbow.
Now more than a thousand visitors log on to her site (www.hauntedvalley.com) every day in the hope of catching sight of the famous lights.
TO DATE, nothing more exotic than some birds, clouds and a model aircraft have been caught on the site, but Mrs Fair says such is the interest she has generated that she will continue to gather evidence.
But enjoyable as the more ghostly solutions are, Dr Clarke and Britain's only full-time ufolo-gist Jenny Randles believe a more intriguing explanation for the lights may have its basis in science, as is made clear in their new book, The UFOs That Never Were.
It is suggested the lights are socalled 'earth lights' - phenomena which occur during earthquakes when the tectonic plates of rock are put under tremendous strain and the ensuing friction produces sparking and glowing lights. This theory is backed by Dr Roger Musson, a seismologist with the British Geological Survey, who says scientists are presently trying to solve the puzzle of earthlights through laboratory experiments.
'Scientists now accept that these lights are seen during earthquakes, and now what we need to do is establish if and why they happen outside earthquakes,' says Dr Musson.
'It's thought to be something called triboluminescence, where friction between rocks gives off a charge - a partly mechanical and partly chemical process, but there still is a lot of fieldwork to be done.' Ms Randles says: 'It may not sound as exciting as aliens and spaceships, but this is potentially very interesting. It means that there is an extremely powerful energy force which could be used in future.' And if this theory is proved to be true, Ms Randles thinks it could also help explain other weird folklore.
Experiments show rocks with a heavy quartz content, like Longdendale's, can cause ionisation in the atmosphere, inducing altered states of consciousness in some people - which could explain the many tales of paranormal experience in the valley.
Walking in Glossop, a small but bustling town in the sunshine, everything seems so friendly and normal it is hard to believe that scores of ghost stories abound.
Yet there scarcely seems to be a pub or inn without its resident spectre - not all of which can be put down to an excess of the usual spirits behind the bar.
ATYPICAL tale is that of the 19th-century Norfolk Arms, where a ten-year-old girl, her hair in ringlets, has been seen running along the bar before ducking down and apparently disappearing.
According to Debbie Fair, during excavations, a previously unknown staircase to the cellar was unearthed at the exact spot at which the little girl used to disappear.
On The Haunted Valley website, she has painstakingly listed 20 separate locations for well-known haunted places, backed up by eyewitness accounts or contemporaneous newspaper cuttings.
These include the local theatre, newspaper office, railway tunnel and two local churches.
'My favourite tale is of the Partington Theatre which is said to be haunted by a Miss Hilda Knight, one of the founding members who died from TB,' says Mrs Fair. 'She appears in the shape of a colourful butterfly alighting on actors at the final curtain call, and has been seen so many times that a butterfly is now incorporated into the Partington Players' letterhead.'
However, many in Glossop are not content simply to recount the stories around the fire. The Glossop Paranormal Investigators, who have 30 members, spend large amounts of time conducting 'investigations' in haunted places such as the 16th- century Roe Cross Inn in Mottram, where GPI spokesman Michael Greaves claims to have seen the ghost of a woman called 'Elizabeth'.
She was hanged during the Civil War for revealing the position of Parliamentarian Colonel Robert Duckenfield's troops to Prince Rupert but now, according to Mr Greaves, haunts the restaurant by twisting spoons and breaking glasses.
Such is the fervour for the supernatural here that even somewhat unusual places are said to be affected. Mr Greaves says he has been called in to investigate the Co-Op superstore in Glossop after frightened staff claimed to have seen a small fair-haired child in a crinoline disappear around the superstore's Post Office counter.
He became convinced it was the ghost of Eliza Ann Hawk, a child who had been killed in 1856 while running through the railway yard (on which the supermarket was later built) to visit her grandmother in Surrey Street.
Not to be outdone, the rival Tesco supermarket in Glossop told the local paper soon after that they, too, had their own resident ghost, a grey-haired man in wing collars and a long black coat.
However, while these are all good spine-chilling tales to be swopped on a Hallowe'en evening, Dr Clarke thinks they also have a more serious purpose as well - and one that we should be treasuring.
'Longdendale is particularly interesting because the people who live here have done so for generations and are open to different types of belief,' he says.
'They see the mysteries surrounding the valley in a traditional way which we are beginning to lose these days.
UNLIKE OTHER places, the old traditions have not passed away and it is still rich in folklore. If we lived in Scotland or Ireland or almost any other country, these stories would be cherished and noted down as part of our heritage.
But because we are English, we get rather embarrassed and don't take it seriously. But we should.' As dusk falls on the moor, Mr Shaw leads us down the winding paths between the peat mounds and then suddenly stops. There in front of us is the very rare white mountain hare, traditionally seen as a wizard or witch's familiar. It pauses, eyes us and then vanishes in a leap.
Perhaps, comforting as all the scientific explanations are, it was warning us that Longdendale still has some secrets to keep.