By Mark Pilkington
It's that time again, and after over a decade of continuous activity in Southwest England the force behind the formations shows little sign of slowing down. Already by mid July there had been about 40 designs swirled into the fields around Alton Barnes in Wiltshire, the heart of circle country. This July weekend saw the third annual Crop Circle Celebration organised by the Wiltshire Crop Circle Study group. For £45, visitors from all over the world could hear international experts discuss the spiritual influence of crop circles in world affairs, discover the psychic world, feel the breath of Gaia and buy circle energised pendants, T shirts, key rings and doormats. About the only thing they wouldn't learn about was the source of their wonder, the circlemakers themselves, who, we later found out, were unwelcome at this otherwise spiritually superior gathering...
Farmer Fiddler wanted £1.50 for a look at the by now rather tatty crop pattern in his field, a string of circles with a kind of palm tree at one end known as the Lockeridge formation. So said the two cheery, baggy trousered young lads with the collection box anyway. Being three - myself, my friend Ed and our guide for the day, veteran circlemaker Rob Irving - we were granted a group discount. This was my first intrusion into a crop circle and I was surprised both by its size and the apparent simplicity of its design.A passing dowser also expressed surprise: "This one," he said with some authority, "is different to the others." He showed me how dowsing rods crossed at the conjunction of two of the circles, uncrossed inside the next, then crossed again in the largest of the set. Proving that the rods weren't affected by wind, he did it again, walking back the other way. He was sure this meant something. But what?
Rob Irving was more confident. This formation wasn't the work of professionals - it was cut too low on the hillside and couldn't be seen clearly from the road. "About an hour's trampling for three," he reckoned, adding wistfully, "I suppose you can get too nostalgic for quality." Though the tithe collectors didn't know who'd made it, a man taking soil samples earlier thought it had been produced by wind vortices. Colin Andrews, "World's foremost Authority on Crop Circles" and recent recipient of a research grant from Laurence Rockefeller, reported that mysterious lights had been seen in the area the night the formation appeared. The next night a mysterious glowing "Z" was seen over the sea along the West coast of England.
A helicopter passed overhead, darkly silhouetted against the grey skies. Sadly not the MOD, who had apparently been spotted recently in the area, but part of celebrations - a £35, eighteen minute tour of the latest agriglyphs. Once it had gone there was a swishing, rustling sound off to the side. Irving was spinning around in the crop, staring intently at the ground. He was back ninety seconds later, leaving behind a perfectly formed eight foot circle. Luckily we were prepared, placing Ed's compass in its neatly swirled centre. This was a genuine crop circle alright.
Alton Barnes is a cluster of small red brick buildings lining the road between several large fields. Our first stop, the Barge Inn, nestles on the banks of a canal behind a large lumber yard. Its garden commands a magnificent view of the famed White Horse, though this, it has to be said, looks a little tawdry next to some of the more impressive formations. Curious circle seekers will find everything they need to know in the "Education Department", the pub's back room, given over entirely to the phenomenon. Its walls are covered with maps, diagrams and photographs, its ceiling an artfully painted interpretation of the mythic landscape and its enigmas.
It all happens here, under the watchful eye of the Green Man. In the summer months the pub is a permanent circles convention. Scientists, psychics and circlemakers, ufologists, children, dogs and pool players; all jostle for space and attention. Everybody drinks a lot.
This year, perhaps as a result of waning interest in the formations themselves, the excitement seems to revolve around paranormal ephemera, particularly the mysterious balls of light (BOLs) seen on so many occasions. Welsh ufologist Matthew Williams was drawn to the area by nearby UFO mecca Rudloe Manor. On the same night that the Lockeridge formation appeared, he caught a glowing cigar shaped "mothership" on video while he harassed a low-flying military helicopter with a 1.5 million watt spotlight. Nearby two women, one an American abductee, saw a glowing light float cross the road into East Field, where circlemakers traditionally showcase their best designs and the location of this year's star turn, a fractal snowflake about 250 feet across.
Although the mothership attracts some scepticism, everybody takes the BOLs seriously, even Rob Irving. It was a sighting over East Field in the early 90s that first drew him into the circle scene. Photographer Steve Alexander famously filmed one flying over a tractor near Milk Hill in 1990; the driver reported it independently. CSETI leader Steven Greer actually communicated with one in 1992, coincidentally the same night that Irving and Jim Schnabel were flying an illuminated helium balloon. More recently Colin Andrews shot footage of a BOL pursued by an MOD helicopter, and the infamous Oliver's Castle video hoax purported to show three of them in the act of creating a formation. This year a Nippon TV crew are holding all night vigils, hoping to catch one of the critters on time lapse cameras - just long enough to catch human tricksters. Local scenester Lee Winterstone also claimed to have dramatic new BOL footage which we could see later on in his caravan; unfortunately we arrived late and he was nowhere to be seen.
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