Phantom Planes Overhead?

Me and My Small Folk, Spooky Stories

We took full advantage of the glorious spring weather this afternoon, and headed out for a river walk from Hoveringham to Fiskerton, not far from where we live.  The River Trent winds round luscious meadows and woodlands, with plenty of cows, ducks and grumpy geese to greet walkers along the way.  On a day like today, it really is a little piece of heaven.

Half way through our walk, we heard a small plane circling overhead that, once spotted, quickly disappeared from sight.  It was at this exact point that we came across the stone memorials to the crews of two Lancaster bombers that crashed within weeks of each other in 1945.  It was hard to imagine that such a pretty piece of countryside had once been the scene of such devastating tragedies.  Though we quickly established that the plane we heard was very much real – as it whooshed above our heads once again – this did set me thinking about some of the accounts of phantom planes that I have read over the years, particularly those connected to wartime disasters.


Memorial at Hoveringham, Nottinghamshire.

A common theme in sightings of ghostly planes, is the sense that they are re-enacting the moments before they crashed.  Witnesses have reported hearing engines spluttering and seeing aircraft heading towards the ground.  Sometimes people believe they have seen a crash, other times the planes just vanish from sight.

Locals living in the ‘Dark Peak’ area of the Peak District, have reported numerous sightings of silent planes flying low before disappearing from view.  The Dark Peak has been the place of more than 50 plane crashes over the years; many of them wartime disasters.  Recent sightings of a Douglas Dakota plane have made the newspapers, with a witness reporting seeing the jet “… sideways on and then it vanished.”  In 1997, many people saw and reported an old plane with propellers crash on the moors just outside of Sheffield, but despite a large rescue operation, no sign of the aircraft was ever found. Spooky!


A Lancaster flying over the Lady Bower reservoir, Derbyshire.

The wide and varied witness accounts I have read whilst looking into this subject, suggest that this is a plausible phenomena (i.e. people aren’t just making it up!) though it just seems very sad to me that these ghostly planes are destined to re-enact their final descent to Earth again and again.  Perhaps there is some kind of peace for the lost crews in doing so, or perhaps they just don’t want people to forget their sacrifice.

I wonder if the planes that crashed at Hoveringham ever return to fly their doomed path. It will certainly make me think next time I hear an engine overhead…

Further reading:
Ghost Fliers







Do you Believe in (the Cottingley) Fairies?

Magical Beings, Me and My Small Folk

My small folk returned to school today after their two week christmas holiday.  It’s always a bit of a shock to find yourself back in a routine after a fortnight of lazy days spent lounging on the sofa, with the perfect excuse to eat far too much unhealthy food. Sigh!


Fairytale: A True Story (1997)

Before they went back to school, we had one last lazy afternoon crashed out in front of the telly watching Tilly’s film choice, Fairytale: A True Story.  Tilly got the DVD in her stocking this christmas, and though she’d not heard of it before, Fairytale proved to be perfect Bank Holiday viewing for an eight-year-old fairy-believer (and her mum!).

For those unfamiliar with the film, it’s the story of two young cousins who become famous after photographing fairies at the bottom of their garden.  They took the photographs as they wanted to ease the pain of one of the girl’s mothers who was struggling to come to terms with the death of her little boy.  The photographs are discovered and then championed by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (of Sherlock Holmes fame) and Harry Houdini (of bonkers escapology fame).  It’s  loosely based on the true story of the Cottingley fairy photographs taken in 1917 and 1920, but with a bit more glamour and a hunky Mel Gibson making an unexpected appearance at the end!


Frances Griffiths and fairy friends, 1917

Elsie Wright and Frances Griffiths took five photographs of fairies near Elsie’s home in Cottingley, West Yorkshire between 1917 and 1920.  Their notoriety came when Sir Arthur Conan Doyle declared them evidence of the existence of fairies.  Sir Arthur – the great novelist and creator of Sherlock Holmes – was a believer in Spiritualism and all things otherworldly.  He believed that mediums could communicate with the spirits of the dead.  When his son died following the Battle of the Somme, Sir Arthur became an even greater advocate of Spiritualism; perhaps desperately needing proof of life beyond the grave.  In his 1922 book, The Coming of the Fairies, Sir Arthur wrote about the magical photographs and how they proved the existence of fairies and spirits.  Some thought he was just plain mad, whilst others became swept along by the idea that maybe fairies do come out to play if we truly believe in them.

The Cottingley fairy photographs kept public interest long after their initial publication. Over the years, many newspaper articles were written about their authenticity. It was only in the 1980s that Elsie and Frances finally admitted that the images were fake and that the fairies had been cut out of a children’s book.

I’ve always been interested in the Cottingley fairies, partly because Cottingley is on the doorstep of my dad’s home city of Bradford, and partly because the girls kept their secret for over 60 years.  Of course, anyone looking at the photographs today can see that they are fake, and that the fairies are beautifully drawn cut-outs.  I doubt that many who saw the originals when they were first published truly believed that they were looking at real fairies, but as the film depicts, the First World War was a time when people needed to believe in magic.  People needed to believe that angels were seen on the battlefield helping us to victory.  People needed to believe that the spirits of their young sons, killed in foreign lands, could be contacted.  People needed to believe that fairies danced for children whose futures were now so uncertain.  It’s a phenomenon that is seen so much in folklore – that the myth becomes the reality.  If you are told you are staying in a building known as the most haunted house in Britain, does that make it more likely you’ll see a ghost?  If you’re living in time of despair, does that make it more likely you’ll find your -otherwise rational – self believing in the existence of fairies and angels?


The final ‘genuine’ photograph, 1920

I love that at the end of her life, Frances Griffiths chose to keep a little of that much-needed myth and mystery going, by claiming that whilst four out of the five fairy photographs were fake, the final photograph was indeed genuine.  In one of her last interviews Frances claimed that. “I saw these fairies building up in the grasses and just aimed the camera and took a photograph.”  Perhaps she understood that, for some, there is always a need to believe and comfort in the idea that the world does contain true magic.

Fairytale: A True Story (1997)
Oxford Dictionary of English Folklore, Simpson & Roud (OUP, 2000)
Wikipedia (Cottingley Fairies)





But why is it called Boxing Day?

Calendar Customs, Me and My Small Folk

Our Boxing Day was a happy one spent, like many others, at home with the family.  We played board games, transformed the Christmas dinner leftovers into a feast and ate a disgusting amount of chocolate.  But the inevitable question did arise; “why is it called Boxing Day?”.  I hesitated and muttered that it was something to do with boxes, before heading to the bookshelf to see if I could find the answer.

It seems that it is to do with boxes – hooray! – but not the boxes normally associated with Christmas cheer (you know, the ones containing PlayStations and such like).  No, these were boxes containing money that would have been given to apprentices and servants; essentially a Christmas bonus from their employers for all their hard work that year.  Employees were also given the day off to spend with their families, and if they were extra lucky, they were gifted some festive food to take with them too.  This is a custom that dates back to 1600 and continued into the Victorian era, I suppose up to the point where we stopped having low-paid servants and when bank holidays were introduced.

Boxing Day is now an official bank holiday which, in theory, means that workers should still have the day off to spend with their families, though in reality many people have go to work as usual.  New traditions seem to have taken over in wake of the quiet time once offered by Boxing Day.  Now families go to football matches, head into town for the Boxing Day sales frenzy or head out on a much-needed long walk to burn off the excesses of Christmas Day.

Whilst I would love to receive a box of money from my boss on Boxing Day (hint hint),  I’m more than happy to use the day to work my way through a box of chocolates.  Or two.

Bramley Apple Day: An Autumn Celebration in Southwell

Calendar Customs, Me and My Small Folk

A dreary Tuesday morning was somewhat cheered by hearing a conversation on BBC Radio 2 about our lovely hometown, Southwell, and the Bramley apple celebrations that are taking place over the weekend.

Southwell in Nottinghamshire is well-known for many things: we have a beautiful Minster, an all-weather racecourse (which once flooded, I believe, but hey ho!) and a pub where King Charles I stayed shortly before he got the chop.  Chris Evans – host of the Radio 2 breakfast show – mentioned these, but mainly focussed on the town’s famous cooking apple and the festival that will take place this weekend.  He seemed a bit bemused by the sheer amount of activitibramley-leaflet-front-imagees going on during the Bramley Apple Festival, but the Bramley really is at the heart of our little town.  A local pub, our local newspaper and even a local nursery school pays homage to the Bramley name.  There are even coach tours that arrive from as far away as Japan bringing tourists to see the home of this unassuming little fruit!

The Bramley was first grown in a garden on Church Street near to Southwell Minster.  A blue plaque commemorates this, and if you pop your head (politely) over the wall you can glimpse the original apple tree which is over 200 years old!  The tree itself made headlines earlier this year as there are fears it is dying due to some kind of tree fungus, poor thing.

The Bramley apple is so important to Southwell that an annual festival is held every October following World Apple Day.  A food festival is held in Southwell Minster, local shops and businesses adorn their windows with Bramley related scenes and the local primary school, Lowes Wong Infant School, crowns an apple king and queen following an apple-themed fancy dress parade.  Not being the most arty mother, neither of my children have ever been crowned, but they do enjoy taking part and it’s always fun to watch the parade.  My personal favourite costumes of recent years were the (Bramley) Apple i-Pod and the Statue of Liberty from the Big (Bramley) Apple.


Oscar dressed as a Bramley King


We’ll be out in town on Saturday morning celebrating the apple and the arrival of Autumn.  We’ll sample the local produce, watch the Morris Dancers and judge which shop window display is this year’s best.  That afternoon we may even bake some Bramley apple crumble using the apples from our own Bramley trees (direct descendants of the original, so I am told).  Having lived in Southwell for ten years, this a tradition that I now really enjoy and my own little born-and-bred Southwellians are certainly proud of their illustrious local apple.

For more information:

The Bramley Festival

The Odd Lore of Cats

Me and My Small Folk

A new addition to the family has taken over our lives and our sofa this week.  Spook – a mischievous fuzzy kitten – is a great hit with my children, but perhaps not yet so popular with our beloved ageing puss, Mog.


Master Spook Boughton

I’ve written before about black cats (of which Spook is one) and their cultural connection to witches and all things dark, but there are many folkloric references to cats in general.  Here are a few you may or may not be aware of… 

Cats have nine lives
Everyone has heard that cats have nine lives.  Sadly the truth is that if a poor kitty happens to get squished by the wheel of a car, he won’t have another eight attempts to learn not to run in the road.  The myth of nine lives probably originated from the fact that cats are pretty nimble, can squeeze into tight spots and run fast when they need to; in other words, if they are in a deadly situation they have a good chance of ‘getting away with it’.  An old English proverb said,  “A cat has nine lives. For three he plays, for three he strays, and for the last three he stays”. Seasoned cat owners will recognise that this pretty perfectly reflects the life of a moggy, and obviously the reference to ‘nine lives’ has stuck.

Cats can predict the weather
I have always thought that my cats could tell when a thunderstorm was coming.  They seemed edgy and nervous, unable to settle or doze off.  Looking into this, reassures me that this notion is not just an indication of me being slightly neurotic about my pets!  One brilliant folktale suggested that cats carried storms in their tails and that to prevent a damaging storm, owners should keep their feline friends content.  Sounds to me like a cat made that one up!  Talking of tails, according to folklore, a cat’s tail always points in the direction of the wind.  A cat sitting with all four paws tucked underneath is an indication of cold weather to come.  A cat washing it’s ears expects rain.  And if your cat hisses at you, you’d better leg it as there is sure to be an earthquake!

Cats give us signs
If your cat is enjoying a good wash and suddenly stops to stare at you, you will soon get an important message.  If the said puss is washing it’s face in front of the fire, the message is likely to be good as this is a sign of good luck.  You may be inclined to call a vet if your cat sneezes three times in a row, but it may be better to call a doctor as this is a sign that someone in the family will get flu.  Atchoo!

Cats can be unlucky
Black cats are traditionally linked to witches and the devil, but normal everyday moggies are not to be trusted either if you believe folklore… It is unlucky to have a cat on a boat and especially unlucky to lob it overboard as the crew will perish in a storm.  Forgetting to feed your cat on your wedding day will lead to a soggy wedding (and a hungry cat).  Moggies born in May will never catch mice, and will be prone to being sad for the rest of their lives.  If your cat follows you down the road, you will have bad luck (mine does this all the time, eek!).  Dreaming of cats is also unlucky and means that your friends will be nasty to you.  Dreaming of a black cat at Christmas means that you will become seriously ill imminently, and not just because you’ve over-indulged on mince pies.

Cats certainly have a magical mysticism about them, even when they’re licking their bottoms.  Pay more attention to your moggy, it may be trying to tell you something important…