There’s no denying towns and cities have their share of the weird people and places, but I believe if you want a full dose of strangeness the countryside is the place to go.
Many years ago I read a short yet sincere email in FHM magazine where a European visitor asked a question about London. His most memorable sight upon his first visit to the capital was not Buckingham Palace, Houses of Parliament or Trafalgar Square, but that of a man crouched down on a busy street, trousers around his ankles as he plopped a turd on the pavement.
He wanted to know if that was a normal thing Londoners did.
Personally I’ve not witnessed such an act, and although I find London a fascinating place, I’m glad I don’t live there. It’s noisy and way too garish for my tastes. The local urbanites are rude beyond belief. On every visit I’ve been pushed or jostled out of the way because I was busy staring at something I’d seen on TV.
And there are way too many tourist shops.
This one is huge and crammed with British trinkets of every type imaginable. Seriously. If you can stick a Union Flag on something you can buy it there. Turn a corner and you’ll find another shop selling the same junk.
So what’s so special about the countryside?
Well I’ll tell you, dear blog reader. The countryside where I live, and indeed in many parts of the UK, seems like a big place after escaping the city. Spend enough time there and you’ll grow accustomed to rolling hills, wide open spaces, fields of colour and stunning skies with amazing cloudscapes.
Compared to towns and cities there doesn’t appear to be a whole going on out in the sticks. And that’s how you pick up on the weirdness.
Gaggle of Gandalfs.
Last year around Halloween I drove home from work late. My route takes me through various small villages where the roads are unlit, save for the odd street light. It’s not uncommon to come across someone walking along a country road but on that particular night I was surprised to see six or seven people trooping on the side of the road.
My headlights picked them up some distance away and I noticed something different about them.
Long robes, big pointy hats and walking sticks. Seen from a hundred yards away the sight was a little unnerving. I pictured village people on their way to perform some ancient rural ritual. Something no outsider was supposed to witness. Why were they wearing such weird clothes? What was with the big pointy hats with wide brims? Why did they all have walking sticks?
As I approached the guy at the back glanced over his shoulder.
A long grey beard reached down to his stomach.
Who the hell were these people?
I slowed down.
For a moment I felt very exposed, like I was intruding on something very private and not entirely legal.
They were in a cult. Thoughts of magic, ritualistic chicken sacrifice, goats, altars and all manner of spooky things entered my head.
As I passed them I felt relieved.
They were all wearing Gandalf costumes for Halloween.
I chuckled and drove on. But it made me wonder if there really were people out there in the dark countryside who dress like that. Druids ? Satan worshippers? Witches? Order of Silent People?
Another village I drive through has a speed limit sign of 30mph. I suspect that many drivers ignore this and cruise through the village at forty of fifty.
There are home made signs on the lawns of a few houses in case drivers missed the obvious big 30 on the outskirts of the village. That’s fair enough. If I lived there I’d want drivers to be aware of the troops of school children in the road twice a day boarding or exiting the school bus.
What bothers me is that every morning I drive through that village, considerably less than the designated 30mph, and I see a pack of self-righteous mums stood either beside the road or actually on it, oblivious to their children roaming around, playing and chasing one another.
Without fail I have to slow down or stop because idiot children are gambolling around in the road whilst mums engage in irrelevant conversation of one-upmanship, horse debates or local gossip that can wait until their kids are safely on the bus.
They seldom seem to give two shits that their kids are running amok. Yet they have a sign with way too many exclamation points asking drivers to slow down.
Hey, here’s an idea: teach your kids to be aware of the large shiny things on the road, you know, cars!
On the subject of cars and deaths of pedestrians – I wonder if in an alternative reality things are different. Where instead of drivers having to be aware of pedestrians it’s the pedestrian who is at fault if they choose to walk on a road.
All too often I’ve seen total morons step out into the road without checking to see if there’s a killing machine coming. Heads down staring at their phones, or too busy chatting to their pals, or perhaps struck by the idiotic notion they are somehow impervious to injury from a vehicle.
In the modern world people seem to have evolved to a point where nothing can or should hurt them. Back when we hunted mammoths I think we had the sense not to stroll across the path of a pack of rampaging beasts. So why should it be any different now? Use your eyes and that thing between your ears to understand this:
Big shiny noisy thing = danger, injury, death. Keep well away.
Roads should be for vehicles, and maybe the occasional horse, but not people. There are specially labelled crossings for pedestrians to cross the road. Okay, maybe there should be more, but it makes no sense to me why anyone would attempt to cross a busy road filled with objects than can kill you.
And in this alternative reality it’s the pedestrian who is blamed for being too stupid to avoid the thing that can kill them. After all, people have pavements, cars have roads.
Okay, mini rant over.
This happened a couple of years ago. Again, driving home in the dark, turning a bend where I saw a dark stationary vehicle parked on the side of the road. As my headlights swept over the car I caught a glimpse of pale skin.
I was going slow enough around the bend to recognise that of a naked person. As quickly as it appeared it vanished.
A second later two faces popped up, stared into my headlights then ducked out of sight. In those fleeting seconds I detected expressions of anger on their faces. It felt as if I’d accidentally wandered into their bedroom, flashed a torch around, offered a few idle comments then strolled out.
Not much to say about that other than it made me smile.
It seems that dark country roads are calling out for horny folks.
Out in the sticks it’s a common sight to see walkers and hikers enjoying the countryside. They gather in herds using a village centre as a staging post before trekking into the wilderness for an afternoon of “taking an interest” and “exploring off the beaten track” which makes no sense as they follow the same well trodden track as the last group of walkers.
These people annoy me because without even engaging them in conversation the have an air about them that says:
“We don’t live here because we inhabit the big important city, and even though we’ve only been in your quaint little village for five minutes, we already know more about its history that you ever will!”
You can spot them a mile away because they wear funny clothes. Almost like a costume.
Sturdy boots with chunky socks clearly on display, a variety of wide-brimmed hat, stout legs, bright colourful waterproof coat, map or guide-book in hand, hiking pole (seriously, a damn hiking pole like they’re planning on trekking a vast mountainous range!) overly full backpack, and that annoying eager-to-explore expression. And one of the herd will always have a beard.
I don’t have a photo of the typical walker I’ve seen around my neck of the woods so the above will have to suffice. See the poles? I guess that makes sense since these folks are in a hilly area, but swap that background for the flat lands of East Anglia and maybe you’ll understand the absurdity of needing a hiking pole to scale a mole hill.
In my experience they tend to follow a guide who talks with a loud voice and points at things I see every day and take no notice of – an old sign post, a twig, a flower that looks the same as every other flower, an old building that just looks old rather than worthy of being photographed.
Sorry but… No, I’m not sorry, but these people are unbelievably annoying.
Smug, self-satisfied, somewhat arrogant, nosey, loud, way too happy and invasive. Sometimes it’s like being in a zoo where so-called sophisticated idiots from abroad come to stare at the indigenous species, take pictures to share with their uninterested friends, family and other members of the We Walk In the Countryside Because We’re Arseholes Club.
Walkers are a weird breed.
Last summer I passed through a village and headed up a long stretch of road. At first I figured I was seeing two walkers ambling through the countryside on a nice sunny afternoon. Only this pair looked very different, out-of-place or somehow lost.
The man on the left wore a pair of combat shorts. He had things dangling off his belt that swayed as he walked. I’m guessing a compass, knife, water bottle, spare sandwich on a key ring, that sort of thing. He had a blue backpack, hat and…nothing else.
No shoes, no shirt, no socks.
Beside him was a woman equally undressed. Similar combat shorts with dangly things on the belt. Backpack, yellow I think. Bikini top.
Aaaand nothing else.
I couldn’t work out where they were going. The nearest beach was over an hour’s drive away. It was as if they had parked up somewhere with the aim of strolling down the quaint country lane where just over a rise or a bend or track through a field they’d find the beach they saw on the map.
In short, walkers are weird. Semi-naked walkers doubly so.
The Top Hat Posho’s.
In March I drove to work through shrouds of mist that hung over the fields in a dreamlike manner. On the same stretch of road where I saw the semi-naked walkers, I came across a line of Range Rovers, clean and expensive looking ones, with not a speck of dirt on them.
I often see farmers in their battered Land Rovers parked beside the road. No mystery there.
However, stood beside these were a dozen or so people who made me feel very uneasy. No doubt the early morning mist added to the bizarre scene but take it away and it would still have looked very spooky.
These people wore what I can only describe as Victorian clothing. Posh suits, some had vague chequered patterns, waistcoats, shoes (not Wellington boots associated with farmers) and top hats. They were just stood there looking at a mist laden field. None of them were looking at their phones. None of them were talking. Just stood perfectly still on the grass verge.
As I drove by, slowing down to take a good look because I’m nosy like that, not one of them seemed to notice or acknowledge me.
By the time I reached the end of the road I looked in my rear view mirror and they were still there. Doing nothing.
Freaks. Or time travellers.
Head on a Pitchfork.
January this year I drove through another village, though since it has no shop, pub, post office or other feature I guess you could call it a hamlet. Little more than a smattering of houses that line the road in and out. You can drive through it in less than thirty seconds at little more than jogging speed so you can guess the size.
On the outskirts there’s a gate and dirt track that presumably leads to a farmhouse. That morning I noticed something different about the gate. Beside it was an old-fashioned farmers pitchfork, the trident type used in the olden days to flip hay into a horse-drawn hay cart. Unusual to see such a tool these days, but that wasn’t what caught my interest.
Jammed on the middle spike was a head.
Okay, I know you’ll be thinking I’m making this up, and I wouldn’t blame you one bit. It could have been a pumpkin or a football or even a misshapen marrow.
But it looked like a head. A human head.
I remember hair on the top and facial features.
There a lot of misty mornings out in the sticks, so that didn’t help lock away a solid memory.
On my drove home from work later that day the pitchfork and head were gone.
The rational bit of my noggin insists it was a pumpkin or something mundane. However, there’s a part of my brain that lingers in Imaginationland even when it should be paying attention to the real world. That part tells me that someone crossed the farmer, stole a sheep or potatoes or was caught ravaging the farmer’s daughter in a hayloft, and got his head chopped off.
Said head was displayed by said farmer in said fashion as a warning to other would be thieves or potential ravagers of farmers daughters.
I’m not sure which to believe.
The lure of Imaginationland is hard to ignore.
Cat Blood Sign.
And so we come to my most recent strange sight out in the sticks.
Whilst I have every sympathy for the owner of dead cats, I can’t help but question the intelligence of a cat owner who places a sign on the side of a road leading out of a village rather than the opposite side as a pleading caution to drivers about to enter cat ridden territory.
Despite the obvious distress this dead cat owner has, I sense they aren’t devoid of humour. The “aim” bit made me smile. On the other hand it could be that the dead cat owner is certain beyond any doubt there’s a single driver aiming to murder one cat a day like some gruesome sport.
The problem with the intention behind this sign is the lack of understanding around speed v squishyness of a cat. A one ton car going ten miles an hour less (for example as requested by the “kill your speed” bit) than the 30mph limit will still pop open a cat stupid enough to scamper across a road, compared to a car going at thirty.
I guess a slower driver would have time to slow down and avoid the unwary cat, but since this sign refers to multiple cat deaths (or possibly murders depending on the sanity of the sign writer) I suspect the cats in question are either extremely unlucky or plain stupid.
And since this is the country where weird customs and rituals live on since the age of the Druids, I wonder whether the sign was made with red paint or cat blood. Makes sense to use paint, but someone driven crazy by a plethora of dead kitties may feel that the only way to get the message across is to scrawl it in the blood of their poor deceased moggie.
Again, this prompts me to question the sanity of the dead cat owner. Do they understand that no one will take any notice that the angry sign was daubed with cat blood?
I should point out that this sign has replaced an earlier, less inquisitive version that stated: “Stop killing my cats. Slow down.”
I feel sorry for the cat owner. Unless you keep them indoors the simple fact is that cats are prone to wondering about. They prowl and hunt and sometimes get squished by the big shiny noisy thing they should have the sense to avoid.
The Sticks are Strange!
Other strange things I’ve seen out in the wilds include:
- Naked woman on a bicycle.
- Man in the middle of a field in the rain with arms raised to the sky.
- Horse with saddle but no owner grazing by the side of the road.
- A home-made sign in the middle of nowhere that said: “This is the country. Smile.”
- A row of recycling bins on the side of the road, nowhere near any houses, tracks or lanes.
- A complete pizza in the centre of a road, no box, no litter, just the pizza. I slowed down to avoid what I thought was an animal to see this one.
- A guy with a spade shovelling a badger carcass off the road. Not a farmer. This guy happened to have a spade in the back of his BMW.
And so, dear blog reader, that concludes my recent experiences of strange things going on in the sticks.
What strange things have you seen in the countryside?