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As it’s Halloween season, and just for a bit of fun (hey! remember that concept??) I thought I’d compile a list of places around the world that I have found particularly intriguing.  This isn’t limited to haunted places, or places that are regarded as UFO portal areas etc, they are simply places that have a degree of oddness to them which I find fascinating.   I haven’t been to all the places on this list – it would be a bit tricky for me to get to Bouvet Island for instance – but I have been to some.  Anyway, here is a short round-up of some truly strange places.

  1.  ALDWYCH UNDERGROUND STATION

I think there is something particularly eerie about Tube stations.  Perhaps it’s all that descending down into the depths of the earth, the dark tunnels, the bustling anonymity of busy stations, and the echoing creepiness of quiet ones, but they do generate a distinct Atmosphere about them.  The London Underground System and the New York Subway system have both accumulated a huge amount of strange stories over the years, with spooky tales of ghosts haunting the tunnels and stations, and of encounters with mysterious people.  Aldwych is one of a number of now defunct London stations, although the last I heard there were plans to open it as a museum.  It has also been used as a filming location for various movies and TV programmes.  Aldwych has a particularly imaginative Urban Legend attached to it in the form of the hairy cannibal Neanderthals, which some would have us believe lurk in the dark tunnels.  Vintage horror movie buffs will instantly shout Death Line, as in that film cannibalistic subterranean neanderthals prey on lonely commuters.  It’s a great Urban Myth and it still crops up from time to time.

2.   BOUVET ISLAND

Bouvet Island is one of the most remote islands on Planet Earth.   Owned by the Norwegians, it is about 1600 miles off the coast of South Africa.  Completely uninhabited, it is one of the most forbidding locations it is possible to imagine.   The temperature rarely gets more than a couple of degrees above freezing.  It has an intriguing mystery in that a rowing-boat was found washed up on the island in the mid-20th century, with no sign of any passengers or who it belonged to.  But for me though, the island itself is quite fascinating enough, without the need for any added puzzles.

3.   CALVADOS CASTLE

The haunting attached to this Normandy castle was one of the first true-life paranormal events I ever read about, and it stayed with me for years.  The haunting only covered a few months during the Autumn and Winter of 1875/76, and yet – if true –  is one of the most unsettling ever recorded.  We know about it due to the diary kept by the anonymous lady of the house at this time.   The family were subjected to poltergeist activity, violent pounding noises, and even the sound of a ghostly woman wailing in the garden.   The haunting ended as abruptly as it had begun at the end of January, and to the best of my knowledge, no subsequent residents have reported anything like it.

4.   DOWNING STREET

OK this one really is just a bit of fun.  10 Downing Street is the official home of the British Prime Minister, and has been used as such since the 18th century.   Curiously, given the huge number of historic events this classic London town-house has witnessed, it doesn’t seem to have much in the way of a haunting to it.   Legend has it that a ghostly gentleman in 18th century costume is said to haunt the garden, but he only appears during a time of national crisis … which makes me want to joke that these days he must be putting in an appearance all the time.   Horror author Amy Cross recently wrote a novella called The Vampire Of Downing Street, which has a weird ghoulish creature inhabiting the basement of No.10, and each Prime Minister is let into the secret of its existence.   Well Theresa May does look somewhat haunted these days ….

5.   ERDSTALL TUNNELS

I only came across this one fairly recently.  The Erdstall Tunnels are a network of subterranean passages which cross Europe from Scotland down to Turkey, with much of them concentrated in Bavaria and Austria.  The tunnels are thought to date from about a 1000 years ago.  The mystery is as to why they were built.   Many theories have been espoused, from hideaways to storage to religious rites.  The problem is that the tunnels are so narrow and small in places that none of these ideas seems practical.  Even allowing for the fact that people were a lot smaller in those days, these would have been a tight-fit.

6.   FLANNAN ISLES LIGHTHOUSE

I’ve written over 200 blog pieces over the years, and Flannan has consistently remained my most popular subject.  This doesn’t surprise me.  As a mystery it is up there with the most intriguing, and its romantic location, stuck out in the north Atlantic ocean, gets under people’s skin.  The enigma is that in December 1900 3 lighthouse-keepers vanished without trace on the island.  Many solutions have been posited as to what happened to them, but so far nothing conclusive has been proved.  The fate of the 3 gentlemen still remains a mystery to us, and continues to inspire writers, poets and musicians to this day.

7.   GLAMIS CASTLE

I cannot think of any castle which can surpass Glamis in terms of both history and horrific, bloodcurdling events.  Since Medieval times Glamis, in Angus, Scotland, has witnessed murders, cannibalism, vampirism (I’m starting to sound like Roddy McDowell in The Legend Of Hell House), Earl Beardie selling his soul to the Devil, and a legend of a monstrous, deformed Earl walled up in a remote part of the building!  There are even rumours of a monster lurking in Loch Calder nearby.  It is a truly fantastic place, in that old usage of the word.   On a more genteel note Glamis was also the childhood home of the Queen Mother, and it is here that she gave birth to Princess Margaret during a violent thunderstorm in August 1930.  Some of Glamis’s gothic quality must have rubbed off on Margaret, as bizarre rumours circulated during her early years that she was being kept hidden away because she was deformed, or a deaf mute.   In Penelope Mortimer’s biography of the Queen Mother, she remarks that in the early 1960s the then Countess of Strathmore was being plagued by poltergeist activity at the castle.   Nothing would surprise me.

8.   HAMPTON COURT PALACE

A beautiful historic building, which should be a must-visit for anyone with a love of history, particularly if it’s the Tudor period which fascinates you.   The Palace, naturally, is awash with ghosts, from King Edward VI’s nursemaid, who roams the corridors carrying a guttering candle, to Cardinal Wolsey spotted watching an outdoor concert one evening, to duelling cavaliers in the garden.  The most famous ghost though is that of Katherine Howard, King Henry VIII’s 5th wife, who was beheaded for adultery in February 1542.   Katherine, on hearing of her arrest, ran down the gallery leading to the royal chapel, trying to get to Henry so that she could plead for mercy.  She was apprehended before she could reach him, and her hysterical screams are said to still haunt the area on November days.   It is now named the Haunted Gallery.

9.   ISLE OF IONA

Heck, this is all getting to be very long!  Anyway, moving on.  Scottish islands are a rich source of mysteries for the Unexplained enthusiast.  We’ve already had Flannan.  Eynhallow off the North Coast is a mystic place, which has an odd tale of two passengers on a tourist boat vanishing without trace on one trip in August 1990.  No one seems to know who these people were, and other passengers said they seemed to keep themselves apart from everyone else.   Iona, in the Inner Hebrides, has a long association with spiritual matters.  It was here, in November 1929, that Netta Fornario, a visitor to the island, and student of Occult matters, died in mysterious circumstances.  Her naked body was found lying on a cross which she had dug out from a peat mound, a look of terror on her face.  Some believe that Netta was the victim of a fatal psychic attack, that she had got embroiled in matters which were too dangerous for her.

10.   LORD CREWE ARMS

One thing Britain is not short of, and that’s haunted pubs.  You can’t move for them.  Every town, village and remote rural spot has them.   I’ve stayed in plenty over the years, but the one which stands out as being genuinely intriguing – as well as a fantastic building – is the Lord Crewe Arms in Blanchland, a remote part of Northumbria.  The Lord Crewe is very old, parts of it go back a thousand years.   It is a wonderful building, and there’s even a chimney where you can peer up and see an old hidey-hole, where priests were hidden away centuries ago.   We’ve stayed in the top floor room of the tower – which suitably enough overlooks a graveyard – on several occasions now, and I have to say it can be very spooky.  My husband, who is a scientist, so not exactly overly-fanciful, once woke up in the night to hear something moving around in the bathroom.  The following morning I overheard a guy on a nearby table asking his companions “did one of you come into my room last night?”  Everyone denied that they had, to which he said quietly “this place is haunted isn’t it?”  One of the ghosts is a Lady Dorothy, who haunts the lounge area on the first floor.   From what I remember you can see her portrait in there.

11.   MOTHERS OF DARKNESS CASTLE

This is one for the ardent conspiracy theorists.  The Chateaux des Amerois, aka the Mothers of Darkness Castle, is on the Belgian border with Luxemborg and France.   It is famous (infamous?) in conspiracy circles for being the playground headquarters of the Illuminati, where the upper echelons of the same gather for general depravity and Satanic rites.  Its appearance lives up to its grim name and reputation, with its Victorian gothic turrets.  There are some very dark tales about this place, which you can read for yourself by Googling.

12.   NORTH SENTINEL ISLAND

It’s very easy to assume these days that there is little we don’t know about Planet Earth, that everywhere has been thoroughly mapped and documented.  And yet some locations remain stubbornly out of reach of most of the world’s population.   North Sentinel Island in the Bay of Bengal has reputedly been home to the same tribe for 60,000 years, and they’re not a sociable crowd.  The island is surrounded by coral reefs and has no natural harbours, making it very difficult to access.  Attempts to take helicopters over the island have resulted in the island’s natives running out and hurling spears skywards.   Most of the interior of the island has very densely-packed vegetation, making it nigh-on impossible to see how the natives live.  It is thought that they have never adopted farming, and instead live by fishing and the natural produce of the island.  It really isn’t advisable to try and get too close to the Sentinelese.  As recently as 2006 two crab fishermen were killed by the islanders for drifting too close to the island.  It is said that North Sentinel remained remarkably unscathed by the catastrophic 2004 earthquake and tsunami.

13.   PLAS PREN

In its heyday Plas Pren, sitting atop the Denbigh Moors in North Wales, must have been an impressive sight.  It was built as a late Victorian hunting-lodge, for the nobs to gather for shooting-parties.   Its size and its isolation though didn’t make it very practical for the post WW1 20th century, and the house soon became abandoned.  No one ever lived in it afterwards, apart from perhaps the odd shepherd or farmer who needed somewhere to bivouac for the night.  Over recent years rough weather has reduced the house to a mere shadow of its former self, and yet, when I first saw it in the early 1990s, it was still an impressive sight, and you could see it from miles away across the moors.   I’ve included it here because its location, and its late Victorian architecture during its heyday, made it seem the very epitome of a haunted house.

14.   ROADS IN THE UK

No this isn’t an out-of-place rant about the state of roads in the UK, but simply a short piece about just how many haunted highways and byways we have here.  We seem to have almost as many haunted roads as we have haunted pubs.  There’s the legendary Bluebell Hill Phantom Hitch-hiker in Kent, the very haunted Stocksbridge By-Pass (which I’ve blogged about) in Yorkshire, and the M6 motorway has more than its fair share of mysterious oddities.   My favourite one of the lot though concerns a truck-driver called Laurie Newman, who had a terrifying experience late one night, when he was driving along the A4 from Chippenham to Bath.  As he approached Corsham – which in itself has some strange tales about it – he noticed a nun-like figure trudging along on the side of the road.  Mr Newman slowed down to pass her, only for the figure to leap up and hang onto the side of his truck.  Mr Newman found himself staring into the face of a grinning skull!  Quite understandably, he was traumatised for some while afterwards.  I came across a blog piece which says this happened in the 1990s, but I first read about it many years before that, and it is thought to have happened in the early 1960s.  It is one of my favourite true life ghost stories, and became the inspiration for my short story B-Road Incident.

15.   SNAKE ISLAND

If you have a snake phobia, then please scroll past.  Ilha da Queimada Grande off the coast of Brazil, is completely out of bound to most of the world’s population, and for a very good reason.  It is completely over-run by deadly snakes.  It is thought that the snakes became trapped on the island when it split off from the mainland back in ancient times.  It is home to the extremely venomous golden lancehead pit viper.   There is a lighthouse on the island (now fully automated), built in 1909 to keep ships away from the island, and there is a tale that the last lighthouse keeper and his family perished when the snakes got into their home.  I don’t know how true that is, but it makes for quite a story.

16.  TOWER OF LONDON

Nearly at the end now.  I couldn’t put together a list like this without including the Tower of London, often reputed to be the most haunted location in the entire world.  It is rife with mysteries, most famously that of the nephews of King Richard III, who disappeared whilst staying in the Tower in 1483.  Their fate remains a matter of much speculation and debate to this day.   The most famous ghostly inhabitant is Anne Boleyn, second wife of King Henry VIII, who was executed at the Tower on most-certainly trumped-up charges of adultery and treason on 19 May 1536.  Anne’s ghost is one of the most famous in England.  In the early part of the 19th century a soldier on sentry-duty here was court-martialled for fainting on the job, when he said he saw Anne’s ghost coming towards him.  Under her bonnet was simply an empty space where her head should have been.

17.  WEST WYCOMBE

And finally …. the Hellfire Caves in the small Buckinghamshire village of West Wycombe are a fascinating place to visit.  They were used in the 18th century as a gathering for various toffs and celebs of the day to meet and indulge in debauched high-jinks.   They acquired a sort of Dennis Wheatley-ish reputation for dubious practices, although I suspect it was more booze and sex that were on the agenda, than anything truly Satanic.  The caves are most famously haunted by a young girl called Suki.  She was a barmaid at the village inn, who was lured to the caves by some young louts, who deceived her into thinking she was going to meet her boyfriend there.   A fight broke out, and Suki was struck on the head with a rock.  She died from her injuries.  Since then her tragic, wailing spectre is said to haunt both the caves and the pub.   Many years ago, I did hear an unnerving screaming sound whilst staying at the George & Dragon in the village, but I expect it was just a screech-owl.  Probably.

 

 

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When an eccentric recluse, Margaret Clement, disappeared without trace in 1952 she became one of Australia’s most enduring, unsolved mysteries.  At first sight her story appears almost impossibly sad, a classic case of riches-to-rags, and yet was it?  Could it be that in her own way she achieved a strange sort of happiness?  Whatever the truth, her final fate remains a mystery to tantalise armchair detectives to this day.

Margaret Clement was born on 8 March 1881, in Prospect, Victoria, the third of 6 children. She was the daughter of a self-made man, Peter Clement, who had emigrated from Scotland at the height of the mid-19th century Australian gold-rush.  Peter Snr went from being a bullock-driver to one of the richest men in Australia, accruing a fortune of £50,000, not exactly an inconsiderable sum in those days.

Peter Clement died in 1890, and for several years his family were able to enjoy the fruits of his labours.  Margaret, her sisters, and their mother Jane embarked on a European tour.   It is said they were even introduced to royalty at Buckingham Palace.  They also travelled in the Far East.

In 1907 Margaret and one of her sisters, Jeannie, bought the 17-room Tullaree Mansion in South Gippsland, using their inheritance from their father.  Set amongst 2000 acres of reclaimed swampland, the property already had a reputation for being difficult to manage.   It had been abandoned by a previous owner at the end of the 19th century.  For a few years the estate was managed by their brother Peter Jnr, who seems to have made a competent job of it.   For a short time they were also joined by their by their youngest sister Anna.  Anna was notoriously spoilt, with what we would call these days, a huge sense of entitlement.   She once held up the departure of a steamer because she couldn’t be bothered to go up on deck for inspection!  When she was told she was holding everybody up, Anna retorted along the lines of “to the Devil with it, I’ll come when I’m ready!”  Fortunately Anna married and moved out.  It is said that her husband deserted her, and she would subsequently describe herself as a widow.

The family lived in quite some style.  They employed a staff of 10 people, and would drive into town in a horse-and-gig, which later became a car-and-chauffeur, where they would be treated like royalty.  Store-keepers would bring out their goods, so that the sisters could examine them without all the hassle of having to leave their vehicle.  The girls must have lapped all this up.   Reality was about to come crashing in on them with a vengeance though.

Things took a marked decline when Peter Jnr went off to fight in World War One.  The estate was left in the hands of unscrupulous farm managers who took the girls for a ride. In their innocence they were prime targets.  Oblivious, the women carried on living the high life as before, blissfully unaware that their fortune was being dramatically eroded. Things came to a head in 1916 when a bank statement alerted them to the truth of the matter.  Panicking, the sisters sold off some of the land, and sacked their staff, but flatly refused to move out of the mansion.

Peter Jnr came back from the War a changed man, possibly suffering with shell-shock.  He was never to fully recover.  He went to live on a farm at Wurruk, where, in 1944 he was found injured, suffering a gunshot wound to the head.  He died in hospital without ever regaining consciousness.

The sisters meanwhile became something of a local legend.  The house slowly decayed around them.  They became increasingly reclusive, except for 3 times a week, when they would hitch up their skirts and wade through the cold swamp water to get to the shops, where they would stock up on bread and tins of baked beans, which they ate cold (ugh). They had no electricity, no running water and no sewage.   They couldn’t afford to pay anyone to work the land, so it fell out of use, and was reclaimed by the swamp.  The house often became infested with snakes and rats.  They were heavily reliant on the occasional pound note and box of groceries sent by Anna, now living, with her son Clem, in a flat in Melbourne.   The women were intensely proud.  They refused help from the locals so often that people simply stopped offering.

Inevitably, the women, once known for their beauty, fell into decay as much as their house did.  They hacked off their now greying auburn hair with blunt scissors.  Some of Margaret’s teeth had broken from their stumps, and she walked with a noticeable stoop.  Jeannie’s legs were swollen, and her eyesight became so faded that Margaret had to read to her.

They lived this way for decades, cocooned in their own gothic little swamp world.  When devastating bush fires hit the area in January 1939, the women at least were safe, surrounded as they were by water.  They sat out on their veranda, watching the orange glow from the fires in the sky.   I can’t help thinking of the 1975 documentary Grey Gardens, which showed the reclusive squalor of the Beale women, who were relatives of Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis.

Jeannie died in 1950, and it was then that the full impact of the sisters poverty was seen by the outside world.  Police and undertakers had to wade through the swamp to remove her body.  The mansion was surrounded by house-high blackberry bushes, and the house was full of old discarded food tins.   Margaret mourned the loss of her “dear companion”, but stubbornly refused to leave her home.

It was around this time that Margaret was befriended by her new neighbours, Stanley and Esme Livingstone.  They offered to buy the mansion, and said they would build her a small cottage on the estate.  Margaret seemed to acquiesce to this idea.  “I will stay in my house with my books and my dog for the rest of my life”, she told a reporter.  Her little dog was called Dingo.  She had rescued him when she had seen a cattleman at a neighbouring house, kicking him.  Dingo had followed her home, wading through the cold swamp water.  Margaret now occupied her time, accompanied by Dingo, reading mystery novels by the light of a kerosene lamp.

In March 1952 Dingo died in appalling circumstances.  He had been found bitten, with his throat cut out.  His devoted mistress would soon meet an equally puzzling fate.  Margaret was last seen on Thursday 22 May.   Her neighbour, Stanley Livingstone, was the last person to see her alive.  When he hadn’t seen her for 3 days, he alerted the authorities on 25 May.    The local rumour-mill immediately went into operation, and the Livingstones became the prime suspects.  Stanley, a former footballer, was well-known for his physical strength.  His wife Esme, who was known to have suffered beatings at his hands, claimed that Stanley would intimidate Margaret by standing over her as she signed documents.

The house and surrounding area were scoured and searched for months afterwards, but no trace of Margaret was ever found.  All that was left behind was her walking-stick.  Margaret never left the house without it.  It seemed as though Margaret had vanished into thin air.  Without any shred of proof as to what had happened to her, there was nothing that could be used to charge Stanley or anyone else.

Stanley Livingstone restored the mansion, and sold it a few years later, in 1964, at 10 times the price he had acquired for it.  He became a millionaire, and died from a heart-attack in 1993.

Perhaps Margaret, who got so much pleasure from mystery novels, might have darkly enjoyed the fact that her fate became one of Australia’s most puzzling unsolved crimes.  She never seems to have courted sympathy – she was probably horrified by the idea – and in fact claimed that she was happy to live the way she did.  She said: “A person has but one life and I am living and enjoying mine.  It is the way I want to live.  Whether other people agree with it or not doesn’t matter”.

Sandy Island in the south Pacific Ocean does not exist (perhaps I should add “allegedly does not exist” there), and yet for many decades a lot of people claimed that it did, and it even appeared on maps.   Situated 1000 miles North-East of Brisbane, Australia, it was reputed to be 15 miles long and 3 miles wide, and often described as even bigger than Manhattan.

It was first noted in September 1772, when Captain James Cook recorded passing it in his journal.  The subsequent map, “Chart Of Discoveries Made In The South Pacific Ocean”, was published in 1776.  It was also sighted in 1772 by Joseph de Bruni d’Entrecasteaux, a French navigator.   Sandy was still being recorded on British and German maps in the late 19th century, and was listed in the Times Atlas as Sable Island.   In 1876 the British whaling ship Velocity described heavy breakers smashing against the island.   The Velocity recorded it as “sandy islets”.  In 2012 the Telegraph reported that the Velocity may simply have mistaken the breakers, or a low-lying reef, for an island.

The legend of Sandy Island understandably became fascinating for travellers in the area.  Some claimed that perhaps it could only be seen at certain times,  which reminds me of the mythical Scottish village Brigadoon, from the musical of the same name, which only appears once every 100 years.   Some have compared it with the hit American TV series Lost.  In 2000 a bunch of Australian radio-hams decided that Sandy would be an ideal place to transmit from, and accordingly set out to find out.  The island proved very elusive.   A few years later, in November 2012, the Australian surveying ship, RN Southern Surveyor, found no trace of it in the area.  The crew recorded depths of no more than 4,300 feet, which ruled out any submerged mountains in the area.  It became accepted that Sandy had never existed at all.

In recent years it has been stricken from modern maps.  Wikipedia stoutly refers to it as “a non-existent island”.  Google Earth displayed it until 2012, although conspiracy theorists have pointed out that it was suspiciously blanked out by black pixels.   In the words of scientist Maria Seton it was depicted as “a big black blob”.

There are many theories as to how Sandy came to appear and disappear.  The most obvious one is that early travellers and map-makers simply made a mistake.  No one’s infallible.   Another is that it was a coral reef which broke apart, or that the island simply became completely eroded by the ocean over a long period of time.  I still prefer the Brigadoon theory myself ….

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A beautiful mid-19th century castle in the north-east of Italy may be responsible for cursing an entire European dynasty, and may even be held indirectly responsible for the start of World War One.   The Curse has it that anyone who sleeps in the place will die a violent death in a far country, and that was the grim fate which befell many of its occupants.

The Victorian era was a notable one for extravagant building projects.  It wasn’t unknown for aristocrats and tycoons to build grandiose dwelling-places for themselves, usually in a style which harkened back to a romanticised view of the Middle Ages or an elusive Arthurian era.  Those stern, forbidding Victorians were keen romantics at heart, and the Austrian Archduke Ferdinand Maximilian was no exception.

It is said that Ferdinand fell in love with the area, near Trieste, after sheltering there during a storm.  He chose to build a beautiful castellated castle on the rocky spur, overlooking the sparkling Adriatic Sea, and dedicate it as a monument of love to his wife, Charlotte of Belgium.  Building works were begun in 1856 and continued for another 4 years.  The couple couldn’t wait to move in, and inhabited the ground floor whilst the building work was in progress.

The couple were to enjoy their romantic idyll for only a few short years.  In 1864 he and Charlotte sailed to Mexico, to take up his new role of Emperor Maximilian I of Mexico, an idea encouraged by Napoleon III of France who wanted a monarchist ally in the New World.   Their short 3-year sojourn in Mexico was a disaster.  Maximilian was a conservative in outlook, whereas his new subjects were liberal.  There was also the problem of the American Civil War, which was just coming to a close, and the Americans’ objections to any European meddling in the affairs of the New World.   Things came to a head in 1866 when Maximilian refused to pull out of Mexico, in spite of Napoleon III urging him to do so.   Charlotte sailed back to Europe, to desperately drum up support for her husband.  But it was to no avail.  After trying to hold out in a siege, Maximilian was executed by firing squad on the morning of 19 June 1867.

Poor old Charlotte, whose mind was already in meltdown due to an acute (and probably justified) persecution mania, suffered a complete mental collapse.  She spent the rest of her days in seclusion, at Bouchout Castle in Belgium, still deeply in love with Maximilian right until she passed away in 1927, at the age of 86.

If that isn’t enough romantic tragedy, there is then the legendary Mayerling Incident.   The castle had passed into the hands of the Emperor Franz Joseph and his wife Elisabeth of Austria.   On the morning of 30 January 1889 their only son, 30-year-old Rudolf, Crown Prince of Austria – who was married to Princess Stephanie of Belgium – was found shot dead, alongside the body of his young mistress, 17-year-old Baroness Mary Vetsera, at the royal hunting lodge of Mayerling, deep in the Vienna Woods.   The incident, thought to have been a suicide pact, caused an enormous scandal and political ructions, and has since spawned numerous films, radio plays, operas, ballets, not to mention conspiracy theories.

The Curse doesn’t stop there.  Oh no.  It would next strike Rudolf’s mother, the Empress Elisabeth.   I think it’s fair to say that the Empress – who went by the nickname Sisi – was the Princess Diana of her day.  She was very tall (for a woman), beautiful, a fashion icon, was beloved for her charitable works, and hugely popular with the public.   Her beauty regime became the stuff of legend.  It was said that she would spend 3 hours every morning simply tending to her long, lustrous hair, and she kept her slender figure due to a rigorous exercise regime.  She also seems to have been plagued with an eating disorder though.  At times of extreme stress she would stop eating for days on end.   At the age of 30 she decided that she would sit for no more official portraits, as she wanted to be remembered for being young and beautiful.

She loved travelling, and in 1898 the 60-year-old Sisi travelled to Geneva, with her lady-in-waiting, Countess Irma Sztaray de Sztara et Nagymihaly.  One morning the two ladies left their hotel on foot to catch a steamer.  Unfortunately, a young Italian anarchist, by the name of Lucheni, was also in town.  He made it clear he had come to Geneva “to kill a sovereign”.  It didn’t matter which one.  The victim was irrelevant.  The statement was all that mattered.  Poor Sisi came into his firing-line.  He ducked under her parasol to get a look at her, and stabbed her in the chest with a sharpened needle file.  Sisi manged to walk onto the steamer, but she died less than hour later.  On her death she had willed it that her jewellery collection was to be auctioned off, and the proceeds donated to her religious and charitable organisations.   Her death would see an outpouring of public grief which would be reflected nearly a 100 years later, with the death of Diana, Princess of Wales.  As for Lucheni, he was declared sane and sentenced to life imprisonment.  He would hang himself with his own belt 10 years later.

The Archduke Franz Ferdinand was said to have laughed at the idea of any curse on the castle.  This probably wasn’t a wise move.  His death would prove to be the most infamous of all.  His assassination, along with his wife Sophie, Duchess of Hohenberg, in the streets of Sarajevo, in June 1914, would light the blue touch-paper which would spark the world into a horrifying global conflict.   There is a wild rumour that a fortune-teller had told Ferdinand that he would one day “let loose a world war”.  Some have voiced scepticism of this one, and admittedly it does have a feel of All Wise After The Event about it, but it is also said that Ferdinand told friends, only a month beforehand, that “I know I shall soon be murdered”.

There is also yet another wild rumour that Ferdinand had shot a white stag on a recent hunting-trip, which was considered spectacularly unlucky.  This isn’t as famous as the Urban Legend about Ferdinand and Sophie’s cursed car though.  It seems the Habsburg family are awash with curses.  Much that has been written about the cursed car seems to have been total fantasy, most particularly the one that it was destroyed in a World War 2 air-raid.  From what I can gather, the car is still on public display – complete with bullet holes – in a Viennese museum.

At the end of World War One, the area of Trieste, including the castle, was handed to Italy.  The next occupant became Prince Amedeo, Duke d’Aosta.   During his tenure the Duke extensively restyled and modernised the castle, installing running water, central heating, telephone lines and even a couple of lifts.  He was a supporter of Mussolini, and became Governor-General of Ethiopia in 1937.   He died, possibly from complications from TB and malaria, in a British-run Prisoner Of War camp in Nairobi, Kenya, in 1942.

A Wartime occupant of the Castle was said to have been Austrian Nazi Fredrich Rainer.  Although he was reputedly sentenced to death, for crimes against humanity in 1947,  and a copy of his death certificate was sent to his widow, there are some rumours that he was never executed, and was still alive in the 1950s, working for the Yugoslavian Department of State Security.   They are just rumours though, and somehow I doubt the Curse let him fall through the net.

Up until 1954 the Castle was occupied by British and then American military.   I’ve even seen a fatal heart-attack suffered by one American general, in 1951, blamed on the Curse, although he was taking part in the Korean War at the time, but hey, who knows?   Finally, in 1955, it was restored to its former glory and opened to the public.  Since then it has become a popular tourist attraction, and I can only hope that the fee-paying public, who clearly very much appreciate the stunning beauty of this waterside castle, have finally laid the abominable Curse to rest.

Several years ago, back in the 1990s, I was contacted by a reader of one of my ghost books, asking if I’d heard of the Wantage Monster.  By then I’d been living near Wantage, in south Oxfordshire, for a few years, but I had to confess I’d never heard of this strange character.  My correspondent sent me some fascinating old press cuttings about the case, dating back to the early 1970s, which were certainly an eyebrow-raiser.   It would seem that sleepy old Wantage had had its very own Yeti, or Mothman!

Anyway, life rumbled on, and I didn’t come across any mention of the Monster again until I read about it in one of John Hanson’s Haunted Skies books.   So I did a bit more digging around, and I came across a local news article from 2014, in which a journalist was trying to trace the eyewitnesses to the creature, but whether he had any success I couldn’t discover.  Forty years is a long time after all.  I even quizzed my elderly neighbour about it, who has lived in the area for over 50 years, but she said she’d never heard of it.

Here then are the few known facts about this intriguing case:

At 5:30 AM on the morning of 25 September 1971 Herbert Halstead of the newly-built Stockham Park housing estate, on the outskirts of the town, was driving to work, when his car headlights picked out a strange creature.  He described as having “a big white head which appeared to have two large eyes”.

This weird thing was also seen by 18-year-old Linda Milne, who said she saw a tall hairy creature with broad shoulders and large glowing red eyes, going into the woods near the old Wantage canal.  She said it moved very quickly.  Linda was quoted as saying she had no idea what it could have been, only that it had left her feeling very frightened.

A more detailed sighting was made by two 14-year-old boys, who said they were chased by it on the Stockham Park estate.  They described it as “8 ft tall, off-white in colour with furry skin, large eyes a foot apart and with horns and a pointed beard”.  The boys scaled a fence and the creature did likewise.  One boy, Derek Bull, said he was so frightened by the thing that he crashed his bike into a tree.   The police searched the area but found nothing.

To add even more strangeness to the case, the boys added that they had seen a disc-shaped object take off from a nearby field.  Apparently there were many reports of UFOs in the area.   Scrolling through a list of of UFO sightings for that year, I found a very intriguing case from around this time in Banbury, north Oxfordshire.

On 27 September, 2 days after the sightings of the Wantage Monster,  Len Delman, a lorry driver, was driving onto the new Bodycote flyover, when he saw what he thought was a man in a white suit, standing in the road directly ahead of his vehicle.  He hit the brakes, coming to a halt, fearing he may have run over the man.  He jumped out and went behind his lorry, but found no one there. Coming back around the front, he saw in the headlights what he described as a “spaceman”, 7-8ft tall, with big, staring eyes, and a pack on his back from which two tubes led to the head.

Len sounded his horn repeatedly, and the strange apparition jumped 3ft in the air, ran across the road, and leapt over the hedge.  Two other lorry drivers arrived upon the scene, and Delman watched a disc-shaped object take off from the field where the figure had disappeared.

There is a mysterious epilogue to this story, because Len Delman disappeared.  Police attempted to find him, but with no luck. His flat was left abandoned with everything in it, and his lorry was parked in the company bay with his personal items still in it.  He was never seen again, and his family speculated that he had been taken by aliens.  Though a local news story I read simply recorded him as having “gone underground” – possibly to escape journalists and UFO investigators.

When I read compendiums of British paranormal happenings, Oxfordshire tends to get dominated by Oxford University ghosts (ad nauseum), and yet it has plenty of other weird happenings.  The problem is that Oxfordshire can be a bit of a tight-lipped county, and they don’t get recorded that much.  The Wantage Monster is a case in point.   And yet, when I recently did a YouTube search for the area where I live (which is only a mile-or-two from Wantage), one of the first vids to come up …  was about a UFO sighted in the sky here in January 2012.  I hope it didn’t bash into any of the military helicopters which we have constantly circling around.

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The original recipe, which I adapted this from, included carrots in its list of ingredients.  I’ve been put off Carrot Cake ever since reading someone described as having “breath that smelt of Carrot Cake”, so I left them out [that + I didn’t have any in the house].  If the prospect of Carrot Cake Breath doesn’t faze you in the slightest then I’ve included carrots in the ingredients below.

INGREDIENTS

200g self-raising flour

2 tsp baking powder

1 tsp cinnamon

half a tsp nutmeg

150g butter, at room temperature

150g brown sugar

grated rind of 1 lemon

2 eggs, beaten

2 carrots, grated (optional)

1 mushed-up banana

115g raisins

2 tbsp milk

200g soft cream (I used Philly) cheese

40g icing sugar

Juice of 1 lemon

Grated rind of 1 orange

Chopped walnuts (optional)

METHOD

  1.  Line and grease 8″ round cake tins, and line with baking parchment.  Preheat oven to 180degsC / 350degsF / Gas 4.
  2. Sift the flour, baking powder, cinnamon and nutmeg together in a large bowl.
  3. Using an electric mixer, cream together the butter, sugar and lemon rind.  Add the beaten eggs.
  4. Fold in the flour mixture, then add the mushy banana, raisins and milk (this is also the moment you add the carrots, if want them).
  5. Spoon the mixture into the tins.  If you have a fast oven also cover the top with aluminium foil to stop the surface getting charcoaled.  Bake for 1 hour. At the end of that time do the magic skewer trick.  If it comes out clean, then the cakes are cooked.  Set aside to cool.
  6. When sponges are cool, do the filling and icing as follows.  Cream together the soft cheese, icing sugar, lemon juice and orange rind.  Smooth half over one sponge, place the second sponge on top, and then smooth the remaining icing over the top.  Decorate with chopped walnuts if you like.
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  • Comments Off on HOT CHOCOLATE’S UFO SIGHTING

Hot Chocolate, fronted by the gorgeous Errol Brown, were a very successful soul band who had a string of hits in the late 1970s/early 1980s, with songs like So You Win Again, Everyone’s A Winner, and It Started With A Kiss.  In May 1980 they seemed to take a departure from their normal output with a track called No Doubt About It, which is about a man witnessing a UFO sighting.  The catchy song became another hit for the group, peaking at No.2 here in the UK.

I remember at the time thinking it was a bit of an unusual track for them, but perhaps not so.  During this era UFOs had very much gripped the public imagination, largely thanks to the massive success of the film Close Encounters Of The Third Kind, which had been released in 1977.  At around the same time The Carpenters had had a hit with the song Calling Occupants Of Interplanetary Craft.  It would seem nobody could get enough of UFOs.  Incidentally, 1977 was a bit of a seminal year in UFO folklore.  It was also the year of the Wow! signal, the Broad Haven Triangle, and the Colares UFO flap, sometimes known as the Brazilian Roswell.

Here in Britain we saw the release of the TV docu-drama Alternative 3, about a secret government plan to evacuate an elite few from Earth due to impending disastrous climatic changes, and relocate them to Mars.   The film was intended to be an April Fools joke, but due to a technicians’ strike, it didn’t get aired until 3 months later.  It had an Orson Welles/War Of The Worlds effect, with many people believing it was all true.  Because of the Climate Change theme it covers, it now has a prophetic feel to it.   1977 also saw the Southern Television Broadcast Interruption, when an alleged alien voice interrupted a teatime news broadcast on Southern TV, to warn humanity to get rid of all its evil weapons before it was too late [fat chance].  Although the broadcast is largely regarded as a hoax, no one has ever come forward to claim responsibility.

In the following year, 1978, punk singer Poly Styrene of the band X-Ray Spex claimed to see a UFO after leaving a gig in Doncaster.  It had a profound effect on her at the time.  She felt objects crackling when she touched them, and believed she was hallucinating.  Her mother sought medical help, and Poly was subsequently diagnosed with schizophrenia and sectioned.  Poly said later that being removed from the public eye was a good thing.  In an interview with the Independent newspaper in 2008 she described what she had seen as “a bright ball of luminous pink, made of energy – like a fireball”.   She described it as the moment that changed her forever.   Sadly Poly passed away in 2011 at the age of 53.

Very recently I was browsing through Albert Rosales’ book Humanoid Encounters 1970-1974, where he records being told a fascinating story which occurred in North London.  Valli Kemp was a stunningly attractive Australian model, actress and artist, who had arrived in Britain in the early 1970s to appear as a contestant in the Miss World competition.   She would go on to star alongside Vincent Price as his beautiful assistant in the cult British horror film Dr Phibes Rises Again!  

Valli stayed in London for the rest of the 1970s, living in a cottage in Totteridge Lane, in the borough of Barnet, North London.  She would move back to Australia in the early 1980s, citing the deplorable state of the British film industry at the time (it had reached its nadir then), and tempted home by the burgeoning Australian movie scene.

Anyway, she told Rosales that she had seen flashing lights and a cigar-shaped craft several nights in a row in the sky over her house in 1974.   She invited several of her friends to come and see, but many did not want to know.   Valli also claimed she had encountered a tall man-like figure with blond hair, pale skin, wearing a black uniform, complete with a black skull cap.  He carried a device under his arm which seemed to be a breathing apparatus.   A friend who also saw the figure collapsed in shock.

The spaceman told Valli that she must tell King Hussein of Jordan (whom she knew apparently) to try and forge peace in the Middle East.   Hot Chocolate visited Valli in 1979, and also saw a spaceship over her cottage.  Presumably this is what became the inspiration for No Doubt About It, released the following year.   The video accompanying the song, which you can find on YouTube, has a very Close Encounters feel to it, with stony-faced alien women and people standing motionless in front of a bright light.

Totteridge Lane has another dubious claim to fame when it comes to UFOs though.  Dr John E Mack was a highly respected and prominent Ufologist and author.   He was a Harvard professor who was famed for his researches into the alien abduction phenomenon.   On 27 September 2004 Dr Mack was visiting Britain to attend a symposium on T E Lawrence.  After attending the symposium dinner he decided to walk back to the house where he was staying.   It was late at night.  As he stepped off a curb near Totteridge Lane he was knocked down by a bloody fool of a drunk driver.   He died very shortly after.

Actress and New Age author Shirley Maclaine caused some controversy in recent years by claiming that Dr Mack had been deliberately murdered, saying that another man called John Mack had also been knocked down by a drunk driver in another part of London at the same time.  Some cite Dr Mack’s death as another on the list of UFO investigators who have met untimely ends.  Others say it’s all a lot of nonsense, and it’s very likely Dr Mack simply had the sheer rotten bad luck to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.   We all of us hang on the delicate thread of Fate.


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