Saturday, 13 August, 2016
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Longdendale LightsWoodhead PassLongendale ValleyfollkloreDevils BonfiresBramah EdgePhilip ShawLennie BlakeHollingworthCrowdenLaverne Marshall
By day the Woodhead Pass is beautiful, its tree-lined hillsides and reservoirs providing a scenic backdrop whatever time of year. But as the sun begins to fall something changes. Perhaps it’s the shadows of the peaks looming menacingly overhead. Perhaps it’s the loneliness; it's not a good place for the engine to misfire. Or perhaps it’s something altogether more primeval, an irrational fear awakened by the otherworldly sense of melancholy that hangs palpably in the air.
Whichever, the Longdendale Valley is steeped in folklore. Tales have long been told of strange occurrences, weird sightings and, most baffling of all, the spooky lights that are said to dance brightly around the valley’s forbidding terrain.
Countless suggestions have been put forward, the supernatural inevitably taking centre stage. Early witnesses referred to ‘Devil's Bonfires’ or told of phantom Roman soldiers marching across the moors. The area has an unfortunate reputation as an aircraft graveyard; some claim to have seen spectral airmen and even a ghost bomber flying silently between the peaks.
More prosaic theories suggest a geological cause. One possibility might be electrical energy generated by seismic activity. Another potential culprit is ball lightning. This might explain Laverne Marshall's terrifying journey one dark night in 1995.
Descending from the Woodhead summit, a series of golfball-sized lights appeared to enter her Vauxhall Cavalier. “There were seven or eight of them, dancing on the dashboard,” she said, before describing how they moved through the cabin. Terrified, Laverne pressed on towards Crowden at which point they abruptly disappeared. “I don't know where they came from, I don’t know where they went,” she said. “But one minute they were there, next minute they'd gone.”
Late one evening in January 2013, Lennie Blake was in her Hollingworth home when something caught her eye outside the window. Looking towards Woodhead she became transfixed by a series of white lights in the sky. Moving as a group they were repeatedly making formations and splitting apart, at one point forming a very obvious line before dropping out of view behind the hillside. Londoner Lennie had never heard of the phenomenon, only discovering it when looking for an explanation. Leaning towards the geological theory, she suspects she saw something natural in origin. “Everything is natural,” she says. “We just haven't discovered it yet.”
Understandably, she still looks for the lights but has never seen them again at night. She has, however, witnessed a blazing light moving across Bleaklow in the middle of the day. In this, it seems, she’s not alone.
As former leader of the Glossop Mountain Rescue Team, Philip Shaw is not given to flights of fancy and is well aware how conditions can suddenly change, making the mundane appear strange and eerie. The team’s record of sightings dates back to 1973. By far the majority can be explained as misunderstandings: aircraft lights or the headlamp beams of hidden cars. On one occasion a gas pipe marker triggered a hunt for a reported ‘red flare’.
But some defied explanation. In 1980, Philip himself observed “what appeared to be a large orange searchlight situated on top of the moor at the head of Small Clough.” It was broad daylight. Access by vehicle was “impossible”. Given his expertise, his testimony carries an extra layer of credibility. As does that of his friend and colleague who reported lights at Bramah Edge. Echoing Lennie Blake's story, they appeared to ‘dance’ in a line, rising and falling.
Of course, notoriety may have an effect; there are always those who ‘want to believe’.
But what of the few remaining sightings that defy all rational explanation? It seems certain that some people are seeing something up there, but the answer remains elusive. Perhaps one day the Longdendale Lights will give up their secrets.