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Ever Decreasing Circles

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.
 
The weekend's main event was happening in and around Alton Barnes' Coronation Hall. We weren't allowed inside to hear any of the talks, but we were able to plead journalistic license and avoid the 3 charge to enter the neighbouring field. Of this we were thankful. Inside was a marquee containing circle memorabilia stalls, tea and fine cakes. A smaller tent housed a Reiki massage parlour while a tepee housed star guest Rod "Cloud Bear" Berry from the States. Apparently Rod was a Native American seer. Definitely American, not so sure about the Native. Seer? Well who can say. I can't as the sweetly discourteous middle-aged woman who spoke for him told me he had nothing to say, thank you.
 
crop shot
 
It was inside this field of dreams that things began to turn nasty. Within seconds of entering the marquee I was quizzed as to my identity. Suspicions were running high. A BBC Country File crew seemed to be the source of the upset - word had it that they were in league with the circlemakers. I attempted to quiz one of the crew on this point, but she was very busy, though she assured me that everybody was very happy. Well I was having a fine time, anyway.
 
Back inside I met Will, a circlemaker of some repute. Immediately likeable, with the quiet confidence of one who knows, Will confessed that he'd been addicted to his art for six years, making up to ten formations each season. This year he'd done "a few", though he wasn't going to say which. Mystery, says Irving, is part of the art. Most of the circlemakers know what other groups are doing, but there would always be newcomers and unknowns, as there were this year.
 
Like many circlemakers, Will has experienced plenty of strangeness. Flashes and balls of light are common, rarer was an apparent column of light that others in his team saw descending from a cloud one night. Though his back was turned, Will did sense a strong metallic taste at the same moment. There have also been premonitions: "I've drawn something and imagined going out later to make it in the field, then found the same pattern already in place, right where I was going to put mine. All the instances of paranormal activity have some element of truth. Then they're built upon, catalysing others."
 
The circlemakers respect the fact that people find wonder and meaning in their work, sometimes they're even left marvelling at their own creations. But despite the fact that their efforts drive the phenomenon, this respect isn't mutual. Busty Taylor, one of the first to be fascinated by the circles, was not amused. "It would be nice if all this silliness stopped. I don't consider it art, I consider it a bloody nuisance." Although he left the scene after things began to get nasty, he's still a regular down at the Barge. "Nowadays, if you don't believe they're all real, you're dead," he grumbled dejectedly.
 
Equally unappreciative of the forces behind the phenomenon was Francine Blake who declined to speak to me. "It's a matter of wavelength," she explained. Such exceptions aside, most circle enthusiasts are accepting of the circlemakers and their art, happy to admit that some, if not most formations are the handiwork of human beings such as themselves and not aliens, secret technologies, highly trained beetles, crop geneticists or divine intervention.
 
Later, as the sun sets over the hills beyond the East Field, the faithful gather inside the snowflake and join hands in a "circle of life". Most look old enough to know better. Rod Berry dances and bangs his drum, blessing each in turn with smoke and feathers. They receive his energies eagerly, with cupped hands, releasing the flow back into the atmosphere like the Pope freeing a captive dove. They are clearly enjoying the occasion, enraptured in spiritual well being. Apart from Francine, who turns and scowls as we linger at the tattered edges of the fractal formation. Who, I wonder, are the real hoaxers, and what happens if one year the patterns cease to appear?
 
Special thanks to Ed Davey and Rob Irving.
 
A shorter version of this article first appeared in Fortean Times No.115.
 
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