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Encounters at ‘Spook Road’: Radioactivity and paranormal experiences at an ancient stone circle

It is difficult nowadays to talk about radioactivity without images of Chernobyl, Three Mile Island, Sellafield or Fukushima being conjured before the mind’s eye. But nuclear power stations (not to mention nuclear weaponry) are purely technological constructs involving radiation levels conjured into an intensity not normally encountered in nature – not terrestrial nature at any rate. It is not these high levels of radiation that concern us here. 

Natural ionizing radiation (including alpha and beta particles, gamma rays, X-rays) pervades the whole environment. Beyond certain levels radiation is, as we know, harmful to human beings and other living things. The levels (‘dose’) that are considered safe or acceptable are subject to social, medical and political rules and laws.

This article is a modified excerpt from Paul Devereux’s The Powers of Ancient and Sacred Places, available from Amazon US or Amazon UK, or your favourite online bookseller.

Natural radioactivity in our immediate environment comes from both terrestrial and astronomical sources. Cosmic rays constantly bombard our atmosphere from deep space and from the sun. These interact with particles in the upper atmosphere causing secondary particles to rain down in shifting amounts. Radiation levels increase with altitude and also with latitude because more cosmic rays enter our atmosphere near the poles than the equator due to the shape of the envelope of the Earth’s magnetic field. Beneath our feet, numerous components of the Earth’s crust are radioactive, notably uranium, thorium, and potassium-40. These are dispersed through the ground in variable concentrations. Even vegetation can have radioactive properties because it grows out of the ground. Bananas, for instance, are radioactive due to potassium-40 (there is even an informal dosage level known as the ‘banana dose’ or BED!), as are numerous other foodstuffs – Brazil nuts in particular.

One of the decay products of uranium is the radioactive gas, radon (radon-222), which can emerge from the ground into the atmosphere. The igneous rock granite can be particularly radioactive, and areas where granite outcrops extensively, or where large amounts of the stone are used as a building material (Scotland’s ‘granite city’ of Aberdeen, for example), will have higher radon counts than places with less granite. Radon can accumulate in granite-built houses without good ventilation and become a health hazard. 

The Dragon Project and radiation monitoring 

It is estimated by the National Radiological Protection Board (NRPB) in the UK that in the average annual radiation dose received by the population, gamma-rays account for 16 per cent of the total dose, cosmic rays for 13 per cent, and radon for 33 per cent. Radon dosage of course varies from area to area depending on geology. Indeed, the official comprehensive monitoring of radiation dosage out of doors only began in Britain as relatively recently as 1980 – two years after the commencement of fieldwork on the Dragon Project (a group investigating the strange effects felt at ancient and sacred monuments – see The Powers of Ancient and Sacred Places for more), as it happens. The NRPB took at least one measurement in every 10km2 of the Ordnance Survey grid. While this gives a good overall picture of regional variations in radiation throughout the British Isles, it does not address the much more detailed information the Dragon Project (DPT) needed in order to try to work out how genuine radiation anomalies at sites might be identified. It obliged the Project to take hundreds of Geiger counter readings overall in order to be able to determine what an unusual high or low radiation count would be at any given site compared with its regional environment. 

While occasionally the Project had access to more sophisticated radiation monitoring equipment by means of begging and borrowing, limited financial resources meant that it primarily used simple radiation monitors (basic types of Geiger counters), which issue audible clicks in reading radiation levels. These detectors record essentially random events, and averages of their readings have to be used to give meaningful information. Primitive perhaps, but workable. Therefore, readings were taken at sites and in their environments for precisely timed periods of minutes or hours, then averaged to counts per minute (CPM). While CPM can theoretically be converted to specific units of radiation measurement, the work proceeded with CPM, and consisted mainly of comparing selected ancient sites with local background measurements, and in some cases with readings taken elsewhere. While the use of CPM does not provide quantitative radiation dosage information, it is adequate for comparing radiation levels at sites, backgrounds and control locations, thus revealing if levels are unusual at a given site. It also allows for comparison percentages to be used.

Biological response to radioactivity at ancient sites

The ‘Gaia Programme’ was a particular endeavour set up within the overall effort of the Dragon Project designed to take radiation readings at numerous sites and their backgrounds around the UK to see if any pattern emerged. When the results of the Gaia programme were processed in 1988, no sign of any consistent pattern showed up, but interesting results were nevertheless obtained – the findings do generally show a difference between stone circle readings and those taken at randomly selected control locations in the open landscape. 

A difference in readings between site and local environment is unexpected, but stone circle sites differed in radiation terms up to 33 per cent from their environments. While there is no meaningful statistical pattern overall in these results, there is at least a hint that natural background radiation levels seem in some way modified in the presence of megalithic groupings.

 Modern science states that “ionising radiation cannot be directly detected by the human senses” (NRFB 1988). This may be true for the five senses as such, but it seems that living organisms can have biological means of being aware of radiation. There are a few fragments of research and experience that relate to this as yet poorly understood area.

The author and researcher Lyall Watson described work of the early 1960s that shows that humble creatures like worms can sense radiation: 

Frank Brown has tested his planarian worms for response to a very weak gamma radiation emitted by a sample of cesium 137. He found that worms were aware of the radiation and turned away from it, but only when they were moving north or south. They ignored the radiation, no matter where it came from, if they were swimming in any other direction. This shows that gamma rays can be a vector force that somehow indicates direction as well as intensity.

(Watson 1974)

If other living things can sense or react to radiation, perhaps human beings also possess biological means that subtly inform the body of ambient radiation levels. If so, the old shamans may have been able to develop and refine such an ability and directly sense energy from some stones.

‘Spook Road’

I have come to the view that certain types of slightly heightened radiation environments can possibly help trigger a specific range of psycho-spiritual experiences in some people – hallucinations or visions, however one chooses to describe them. An old country ridgeway and county boundary (formally the course of a traditional gypsy route around the country) running alongside the ‘King’s Men’ at the Rollright Stones megalithic site became nicknamed by Dragon Project operatives as ‘spook road’ for reasons that will become clear. 

A stretch of this road about 360m (1200ft) long has been found to average over three times the levels of the normal radiation background. Although it is just possible that this effect is caused by some radioactive mineral geologically deposited in a thin strip along the top of the ridge where the road happens to run, it is much more likely to be due to radioactive elements in the road’s foundation material, such as granite chippings, beneath that part of the road. But no matter how caused, the higher radiation levels of that strip of road are natural and were initially found out only by chance because of the Project’s detailed energy research going on at and around the Rollright Stones. It was also only because of the work going on at the stones that volunteers involved in site-energy studies found themselves walking on that part of the road at various times of the day. Three of them, strangers to one another and on site at different times, independently handed me accounts of curious experiences they had on the road – at that time I alone knew that all three had their reported experiences precisely on the radioactive stretch of the road. The people involved were known to me over many years and I judge them to be totally reliable. 

The “King’s Men”, Rollright Stones (image owner Richard Croft from the Geograph project collection, CCASA 2.0 licence)

The first reported event took place on 16 February, 1980. The percipient was Roy Cooper, formerly an Oxford University surveyor. At the time the experience took place, there had been a large group of researchers at the Rollright Stones since the early hours of the morning. At 9 am, Roy left the stone circle and the buzz of activity there to walk out onto the road to his car, which was parked in the lay-by near the site’s entrance gate:

As I left the circle through the gate, I saw a car approaching … approximately half a mile away. I paid little heed to it. It appeared to be travelling 35-40mph, and I noticed it again as I reached my own car parked in the lay-by. I opened the boot [trunk] of my car (two seconds?) and suddenly realised the approaching car, with two occupants, had disappeared. The disappearance struck me much more forcibly than any impression of the importance of the car initially. It certainly had not stopped in the lay-by and no way had it had time to disappear around the next bend (300-400 yards away) … Either the car had disappeared or, somehow, I had suffered a time lapse. Usually I’m a very good judge of time, seldom wear a watch and can normally judge the time within five minutes at any time of the day and often at night as well. The distinct and overriding impression I had was that the car had disappeared [Cooper’s emphasis]. I’ve never experienced anything of this nature before … The experience was so odd that I decided to keep it to myself until the end of the monitoring period.

(Personal communication, 1980.)

I was dumbfounded to receive a letter from someone else telling of another ‘odd’ event on the same stretch of road on 6 March, 1980. The main witness was an archaeologist (now a retired county archaeologist), only slightly acquainted with the DPT, who has asked for anonymity. He had dropped by to visit one of the monitors at the King’s Men circle. Afterwards, he returned to his vehicle, a large van, parked in the smaller of the two lay-bys near the circle. It was 1.45 pm. Sitting in the driver’s cab, taking a bite of a sandwich, he suddenly saw “the back of a dog pass the [passenger] window from left to right – it was dark grey and short-haired, and I didn’t see its head”. The creature did not emerge in front of the van, so he opened the door of the vehicle and looked out, “but there was nothing to be seen”. The archaeologist added: “On reflection, there seems no reason for me to call the object a dog, but I was convinced immediately … that it was.” (Personal communication, 11 March, 1980).

I further questioned this witness, and apart from the inexplicable disappearance of the creature, whatever it was, it became clear that in order for its back to have been seen above the bottom of the van window it must have stood about 1.2m (4ft) tall at the shoulder. 

The third case that was reported to me as occurring along this specific length of road happened on 25 October, 1981. After a period of monitoring activity in the King’s Men circle, a volunteer, Caroline Wise, took a break and strolled absent-mindedly along the road where it comes closest to the King’s Men circle, and in the middle of the radioactive stretch:

I glanced down at the road surface and watched it [seemingly] form into a pattern of concentric circles about seven inches in diameter. Simultaneously, I felt like I was vibrating … inside my head. It was like a ‘buzzing’ … I was looking at the circles, and … the road instantly returned to how it [normally] looked before. I looked up and saw an old-fashioned gypsy caravan; it was [made from] green wood and was the horse-drawn type. I saw it from behind. It was going away from us but hadn’t passed us … I glanced away, and when I looked back, the caravan had vanished. This whole incident lasted only a few seconds ….

(Personal communication, 1987)

Old-style gypsy caravans would certainly have travelled along this road, the old ridgeway, in bygone times. 

Another odd experience seemingly associated with that stretch of road was kindly brought to my attention by the celebrated Shakespearean and movie actor, (the now Sir) Mark Rylance. He and his wife Claire had founded their theatre company, Phoebus Cart, in 1990. Shortly thereafter, they took the company on tour performing at various adventurous locations, including the King’s Men stone circle, where they put on Shakespeare’s The Tempest “to draw as large a crowd as we could inside the circle … to see what energy it created for them and us.” The company lived across the road in tents and vans for two periods of a few weeks each, so they had an exceptionally extended and intimate relationship with the site. Rylance recalls that some of the company experienced short-term memory loss as they stayed longer in and around the circle. He goes on:

Claire had a particularly bad short-term memory loss when a particularly low black cloud appeared over the circle during a performance. She was playing a musical instrument on the eastern side of the circle and had to pass around the North of the circle, on the road, exchanging her instrument for another and then moving to the West side of the circle. She found herself in position in the West, with the new instrument but could not remember how she had got there or picked up the instrument.

Claire does not ever normally experience these kinds of short-term memory losses. Others had some experience of this as well, and she remembers it occurring more when one moved around the North of the circle, on the road.

(Rylance 2019, personal communication) 

We cannot definitively ascribe the heightened background radiation to the causation of any of these experiences, but one can stretch coincidence only so far. This is emphasised by the occurrence of recorded instances of these apparent altered mind-states (or are they time-slips, or dimensional portals?) associated with places of slightly raised radiation backgrounds elsewhere. I detail examples of some of these locales in The Powers of Ancient and Sacred Places.

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