“Random encounters with the unusual” is a repository for the oddities that me and Mrs J have encountered on our travels, which we find interesting or amusing in some way. Have a look, maybe you will find something interesting or amusing herein.

Thursday, 22 August 2013

The Lydford Coin Tree

The pictures below were taken in Lydford Gorge in Devon, which is a beauty spot that is owned and managed by the National Trust.

Whilst following the footpath that loops around the gorge, my nephew spotted a rather interesting log by the side of the river. Looking at the log, it seems that numerous visitors over the years have hammered coins into the log until the surface of the log has been almost entirely coated by bent coins.

From what I could tell from a cursory inspection, all of the coins (mostly British but there were a few European coins) seem to be modern post-decimalisation coins, so I would suspect that this coin log is a fairly modern creation and probably no early than 1970.

It seems that the common explanation for people pushing coins into logs/trees is that they act as a form of "wishing tree", where people put the coin into the tree in a ritualistic offering in exchange for having a wish granted. There also seems to be some folklore suggesting that people once believed that a person suffering from an illness could hammer a coin into a tree trunk and the tree would take the illness away. And conversely, if someone removed the coin from the tree that they themselves would become ill.

I suspect however that the truth is less exciting and it is more a case of "monkey see, monkey do", and that people who see a coin tree/log just decide (without much thought) to copy what previous visitors have done and hammer their own coin in. This was certainly the reaction of my wife and nephews, who decided to find some low denomination coins and "have a go".

Whatever the basis of fact, I had my own attempt to create some folklore. During the course of our walk around the gorge I managed to convince my nephews that hillbillies lived in the gorge and that they abducted naughty children. On finding the log I explained it away to my nephews as a "hillbilly bank" - well even hillbillies need to keep their money somewhere!

The Lydford Coin Tree
The Lydford Coin Tree
Coin close up.
Coin close up.
The White Lady waterfall in the gorge.
Pictures, Devon (August 2013).

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Tuesday, 13 August 2013

Turning the Devil’s Stone

I recently happened across the village of Shebbear in Devon and found out about an interesting piece of local folklore.

On a patch of grass just outside the village churchyard lies a large boulder (estimated to weigh about 1 tonne). The stone is believed to be a glacial erratic i.e. a rock that is not from a local rock formation, but one that was probably transported to the area as part of prehistoric glacial movements.

Local folklore however proposes that the stone arrived in the village as a result of a battle between the Devil and God, a battle that the Devil lost. It seems that the Devil dropped the stone during the conflict and that the stone fell on top of him and flattened him under it. The local tradition states that it takes a year for the Devil to dig down and then back up the other side of the stone, and so every year the village bell ringers flip the stone over in a bid to re-trap the Devil and to protect the village from harm. This stone flipping ceremony occurs on the 5th November every year, in an alternative celebration to the typical Guy Fawkes night antics of bonfires and fireworks.

This turning of the Devil’s Stone to keep the Devil trapped beneath it is not a unique piece of folklore. Recently Fortean Times (FT303:30) ran an article on the “Witch of Scrapfaggot Green”, which explains how witches were sometimes buried at crossroads and their graves covered by a large stone. The idea being that the stone would prevent the spirit of the witch from being able to escape from its interment and from getting up to any mischief.

So if you ever happen to be near Shebbear on Guy Fawkes night, it might be worth a visit to see the turning of the Devil's Stone.

The Devil's Stone outside the village churchyard.
Shebbear village sign showing the Devil's Stone.
The Devil's Stone, and the impression of its previous resting place.
Another village sign showing the Devil's Stone.
The local ale house.
The pub's sign.
The most amusing grave stone in Shebbear's churchyard.

Pictures, Devon (August 2013).

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Tuesday, 6 August 2013

The Hoover Synchronicity

In 2008 I visited the engineering marvel that is the Hoover Dam, which holds back the Colorado River and forms the border between the states of Arizona and Nevada. It was during this visit that I became aware of an interesting synchronicity related to the construction of the dam.

The Hoover Dam was physically constructed between 1931 and 1936, but the project to build the dam actually began back in the 1920s when the site for the dam was initially identified. It seems that during the project to build the dam there were 112 officially recorded work related deaths. The first of these is recorded as the death of J. G. Tierney, who was a surveyor who drowned on December 20th 1922, whilst trying to identify the ideal location to place the dam. Strangely, the last recorded death on the Hoover Dam project occurred exactly 13 years later (to the day) on December 20th 1935. The last fatality being Patrick W. Tierney, the son of J. G. Tierney, who fell to his death from an intake tower on the dam.

It is noted that a number of deaths associated with the project were not officially recorded as work related deaths. As some deaths caused by carbon monoxide poisoning may have been diagnosed as pneumonia to prevent the need for the construction companies to pay out compensation claims to the families of the deceased. Notwithstanding this, it is still an interesting synchronicity.

The Hoover Dam
Looking down river.

The dam wall (look at the tourists for scale).
Where the water goes.
 Where the water goes. 
The other side of the dam.
 Looking down the other side of the dam. 
One of the statues guarding the dam.

Pictures Arizona / Nevada (2008).

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