Paranormal events are inherently unpredictable, and can seemingly occur anywhere on the planet. But some places seem to act as magnets for such happenings. One such place is the Longdendale Valley. The valley is situated in the north-west of England, lying roughly between Greater Manchester and the Peak District National Park, in Derbyshire.
It stretches for ten miles, through a remote, rugged and breathtaking landscape, nestling in the shadows of high moorland and two foreboding-looking peaks, known as Shining Clough and Bleaklow. A single road skirts the perimeters of the region, but much of it can only be explored on foot, it is so wild, bleak and isolated.
Walking the high moors of the region can be a haunting experience, especially when one encounters the scattered, rusted remains of dozens of Second World War aircraft.
They were casualties not of war, but of wicked conspiracies between foul weather and geology, the former often concealing the latter from unsuspecting pilots, who flew straight into the rock faces. The Longdendale Valley has been the source of numerous ghostly encounters, UFO sightings and other paranormal activity for generations, but this two-part article will focus on the two most persistent and puzzling phenomena to haunt Longdendale, the Longdendale Lights and the Longdendale Ghost Bomber.
The Longdendale Lights
Laverne Marshall had a terrifying encounter with the mysterious Longdendale lights, just before midnight on February 14th, 1995. She was returning home to Glossop, after taking her son to Heathrow Airport, near London. She was accompanied by her daughter Stacey, and her baby, who were in the rear seat. Laverne related how they were driving along, chatting, 'when all of a sudden these little balls of light, four or five in all, appeared on the dashboard. They were really bright and dancing up and down just like they were being controlled by a juggler. The first thing I did was to look up and see if a plane was going over; but there was nothing above us. There were no houses around, and there were no headlights behind me. I said to Stacey straight away "take that torch off the baby" but she shouted back "mum, I've got the torch in my hand and it's not turned on." So Stacey grabbed the baby off the back seat and held her and as she did so these lights moved onto the roof of the car.'
Laverne watched in her rear view mirror, helpless, as the lights slowly wandered around the interior of the car. She was too scared to stop the car, as there was nothing for miles around, except isolated moorland. Stacey panicked in the back of the car, activating the central locking, and closing the sunroof. According to Laverne, the peculiar lights 'split up into two groups and we sat speechless as they went to the back window and then each moved back in single file to the dashboard where they regrouped, almost as if they were marching in order.'
Their ordeal lasted for seven minutes, as Laverne drove from the highest point on the Woodhead Pass, down into the darkness of the Longdendale valley.
The lights finally blinked out when the car reached the safety of some streetlights. 'As we got near the youth hostel at Crowden there's a turn to Glossop which takes you past the Devil's Elbow but even though I was running short of petrol I wouldn't go down that because it's even spookier than the main road,' Laverne added, continuing: 'we had no idea what was happening or where it was coming from or what it was. I still don't and can't explain it to you - but I know what I have seen.' The two women were deeply disturbed by their eerie encounter, but theirs was not an isolated experience.
Sean Wood's house overlooks the Woodhead Pass, where Laverne and Stacey's terrifying ordeal occurred. When interviewed by a local paper, he said: 'there are bright lights which appear at the top end of Longdendale ... but what they are I have no idea.' He first saw the lights in the early 1980s, over the desolate mountain ridge known as Shining Clough, not long after moving into the interestingly named Bleak House. He related the following account to Dr. David Clarke, who has conducted extensive research into the Longdendale Lights.
'It was about 9.30 p.m. on a November evening when I walked into one of the front rooms at Bleak House to chastise someone for shining a torch through our window. Of course there was no torch, nor indeed any person outside. However, the light filled the room with a chilly, moonlike glow. The effect was heightened by the lack of street lighting at this altitude and when I went outside to investigate I saw a large pulsing ball of light directly above the house, and not too far from the aptly-named Shining Clough. With the hair on the back of my neck bristling I went to telephone my near neighbours at the Crowden Youth Hostel. Guess what? They were outside watching the light in the sky too.'
The sightings continued. 'Two years after that I saw it again, beneath the skyline. In all I've seen them more than thirty times over the sixteen years I've been here. One of the times it was very, very big, and between fifty and seventy feet from the ridge; it was pulsing again and then stopping, moving back and forth and up and down. I've also seen three lights together, much smaller in size, like in a string, moving in an arch. I've seen these a few times, and also the big ones a few times.'
Visitors to Longdendale often report an eerie atmosphere. The valley itself has an extensive history of paranormal events, stretching back to earliest recorded times. Locals believe elemental entities have populated the moors since time immemorial. The Longdendale Lights have been immortalised in the region's folklore, with tales of sightings stretching back several centuries, to times when the eerie lights were known as the Devil's Bonfires. Some old folk tales link the lights to phantom legions of Roman soldiers, said to traverse the moors on the first night of the first full moon of spring. The lights are reputed to be the flames of their torches.
The lights were apparently very active during the Second World War, with locals trying to rationalize the sightings as some kind of military activity. However, the lights re-appeared in the mid-1950's, a decade after the war had ended. They were often assumed to be the distress flares of lost hikers, but no such hikers could be located by mountain rescue personnel. In the 1960s, a youth hostel opened at Crowden, near Woodhead. Shortly afterwards, visitors and staff at the hostel reported multi-coloured beams and pulsating balls of lights speeding along the the remote western face of Bleaklow, and Shining Clough. Police officers and mountain rescue teams often searched the mountains but found no-one.
Barbara Drabble, a schoolteacher, had a puzzling and disturbing experience one evening in July 1970, as she drove past the youth hostel, towards her home in Crowden. She described seeing a 'brilliant incandescent blue light' which 'lit up all the bottom half of the mountain, all the railway, the reservoirs and about a two mile stretch of road.' The phenomenon persisted for several minutes, with the light being much brighter, clearer and starker than daylight. As she drove through the light, Barbara suddenly felt very cold, and the hair stood up on the back of her neck, as if it was electrified.
'It was just all over the whole valley, lighting up, with perfect clarity, every single feature', she told Dr. David Clarke. 'It was certainly bright enough to drive without lights, and I can remember the clarity with which I could see the contour of the stone walling and the features on either side of the hills beside the road. The drive must have taken about five minutes and when I parked, or more accurately hurriedly abandoned, the car on arriving home it had an icy sheen and felt cold.'
A year later, dozens of guests at Crowden Youth Hostel, and the warden, Joyce Buckley, witnessed a similar, dazzling light shining through the windows. It appeared high on Bleaklow, in a region inaccessible to motor vehicles, which ruled out the possibility of it being headlights. Fearful that there had been a plane crash, Joyce summoned a Mountain Rescue search party led by Barbara Drabble's husband, Ken. He described 'very bright lights' high on a ridge, which he thought may have been distress flares. Several local residents had also seen the peculiar light phenomenon. But when the rescue team reached the summit of the ridge, they found nothing. They carried huge, powerful searchlights. Witnesses below described their lights as looking like tiny candle flames, when compared to the mystery lights seen earlier, which had flooded the whole valley with their incandescence.
Lights continue to be seen high above Longdendale. Witnesses often mistake strings of moving lights for hikers' torches high on the ridge. Other witnesses describe pulsating lights or searchlight-type beams. The lights have appeared all the way along the 15 mile mountain ridge, resulting in many reports to the police. But the elusive lights are said to melt into the ether as mountain rescue teams approach.
Utility company, the National Grid, discounts any connection between the lights and the pylons which litter the valley. Ball lightning has also been rejected as the phenomenon's source. The whole area lies directly below a major international flight path into Manchester Airport, and police and mountain rescue personnel often cite landing lights as the source of the moving lights. There is also a huge television transmitter in the region, which has been named as a possible source of the light phenomenon. But neither landing lights, pylon nor transmitter lights, can invade a car and meander around its interior for seven minutes. Neither can they bathe a whole valley in a brilliant glow, cause someone to feel very cold and as if they just passed through an electrical field. And what about historical accounts of the lights stretching back for generations, to times when there were no aircraft, TV transmitters or pylons?
The Longdendale Lights make for an enduring mystery. Similar light phenomena have been witnessed in many other parts of the world, most notably at Hessdalen in Norway, and Marfa, Texas. Are these natural or supernatural in origin? Are they anything we need to fear? Maybe one day, the Longdendale Lights mystery will be solved. Or maybe not.
Dr. David Clarke
Coming soon: The Mysterious Longdendale Valley - 2 - The Longdendale Ghost Bomber.