The List: Strange encounters

Concerned at the recent lack of UFO sightings, the Association for the Scientific Study of Anomalous Phenomena is having a conference at the University of Worcester on Saturday. It’s a problem foretold by the Fortean Times, a magazine of “strange phenomena” and “weird news”. Here its editor David Sutton picks five of his favourite reported sightings of the past 60 years.

1. Olympic monster (2011)

Rumours of a monster in the River Lea, near London’s Olympic Park, began to spread last year after boatman Mike Wells said he had spotted a large Canada goose being pulled below the surface by an unseen creature. “It disappeared so fast it didn’t make a sound,” he told reporters. It was probably a goose-eating Wels catfish, a non-native fish that had escaped and made its way into the Lea. That, or the goose may simply have been a floating log.

2. The moon (2008)

One evening, a confused local in south Wales called 999 to report a “bright, stationary” UFO that had been hovering “in the air” for “at least half an hour”. The police arrived to investigate. The transcript of the ensuing Control Room conversation reads:

Control: “Alpha Zulu 20, this object in the sky, did anyone have a look at it?”

Officer: “Yes. It’s the moon. Over.”

3. Dog-headed man (1999)

Just over 10 years ago, one of our readers wrote in to inform us that she’d seen a dog-headed man: “He was kind of like a basset hound with long floppy ears.” This is a new phenomenon as far as we’re aware, but we’re always quite delighted to find a new genre of strange encounters.

4. Gnomes (1979)

A group of schoolchildren reported hearing a bell-like sound and then seeing 60 small, gnome-like men with long white beards and red hats emerge from the woods in Wollaton Park, Nottingham. They were driving little red bubble-cars and playfully chased the children. It’s hard to see what could be misidentified as bubble-car driving gnomes, which would suggest these kids were fibbing – although they all stuck to their story, and adult witnesses also came forward to claim similar sightings in the area.

5. Roman soldiers (1953)

A young apprentice plumber was working in a house in York when an apparently solid Roman soldier walked through the wall, followed by more than 10 others, some on horseback and all moving at a lower level so their feet could not be seen. It turned out that an old Roman road ran through the building. This is a candidate for the Stone Tape theory, in which past events somehow leave a “recording” in the environment that is replayed to witnesses – though how this works remains a mystery.

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