Northern Lights

Mike Haigh compiles reports of anomalous lights over the Pennines

Anomalous light phenomena have been noticed travelling over the landscape by people throughout human existence. Each culture interprets these events according to its own belief system. When our own modern culture first apparently noticed these unusual phenomena during the 1940s it tried to understand them in terms of the hopes and fears of that post-war period. They were seen as spacecraft from another planet. Inspired by this exciting idea, many people throughout western culture began to study UFOs. Most, entranced by the awesome idea of extraterrestrials, continued to interpret UFO reports as sightings of alien spaceships. A few, however, noticed how relatively unintelligently many UFOs seemed to behave – indeed, many of the unexplained events seemed more like natural phenomena. They seemed to occur at random and move without purpose across the land. Also, as human psychology was better understood it became clear just how much of the intelligence and purpose ascribed to UFOs was due to wishful thinking by those witnessing or investigating the phenomena. This led a number of ufologists to postulate that most of the so-called ‘UFO phenomenon’ is due to a rare and transient natural occurrence.

Some researchers, having accepted a natural explanation for these events, began to look for a plausible mechanism to account for them. It was noticed that there was a strong correlation between the places where UFOs were observed and areas of geological faulting. It has long been known that strange lights are sometimes seen just before or during earthquakes. Researchers proposed that geological stresses building up in fault zones lead to the formation of pockets of energy which are discharged into the atmosphere but without being necessarily accompanied by an earthquake. These energy bundles are thought to retain their shape as they glide through the air. If they are seen in the dark, they appear to glow; during the day, however, they could appear as metallic discs as light bounces off them in the way that light reflects from the hot layer above a road in summer, making it look wet.

Further research involved filming rocks as they were subjected to enormous pressure in the laboratory. Afterwards the films were studied and small luminous spheres were observed. The latest research, previously reported in NE, involves studying the way that electric and magnetic fields, assumed to be produced by these luminous phenomena, could affect the human mind. Strange hallucinations seem to be the result, which may account for some of the bizarre stories of encountering aliens reported by some witnesses.

One of those involved in this research, Paul Devereux, coined the term ‘earth lights’ for this phenomenon and his two books on the subject are probably its most accessible investigation.

Northern Earth welcomes any earth light reports like the ones on these pages, either for publication or our database.


At around 9 p.m. one evening in late February 1994, David Belwood of Blackshaw Head was walking home along the track that runs through the deep valley of Colden Water, near Hebden Bridge in West Yorkshire. After a few days of very changeable weather, it was snowing heavily. With visibility very poor, Mr. Belwood took a wrong turning towards the ruined Lower Lumb Bank Mill. Realising the error, he turned back, and just below the junction with the valley road, at SD 977 283, he was startled by a ball of light that suddenly appeared at chest height a couple of feet in front of him.

The ball was about 2‡-3 feet in diameter and lit up the surroundings about 10 f.t around it. It lingered for about 10 seconds before disappearing as abruptly as it came. Mr. Belwood reported feeling some heat, but wasn’t sure if that was from the light – which he took at the time to be ball lightning – or from his shock at its appearance. He reported a sense of heightened awareness from the experience, but felt unable to tell anybody of the event until we interviewed him in March 1995. [ Report by John Billingsley ]


A colleague recently informed me of an aerial light he and his wife witnessed near their home in Clitheroe, Lancashire, in August 1992.

They were returning home at about 9.30 p.m. and walking, in the twilight, on a part of the Ribble Way footpath. When they reached a point (SD 749 442) on the south bank of the River Ribble, close to Castle Cement Works, they became aware that it had become very quiet. The swifts that were wheeling about in the air had suddenly stopped calling. The silence prompted them to turn around, and they noticed high in the sky to the north-east a ball of light, about the size of a football, slowly descending towards them.

After three or four minutes, the light was quite close, only about nine metres away. Its colour and luminosity were like a fluorescent tube. It was spherical, but did not appear to be solid, and was guessed at four to six metres in diameter. It slowly crossed the river about seven metres above the water. it did not appear to rotate, pulse or vibrate and it made no sound. It took about a minute to cross the river and then shot off “faster than a jet” in a south-westerly direction, gaining height and disappearing in a few seconds.

At first they had thought it was a helicopter coming towards them, but soon realised that this could not be so because of the lack of noise. They have no idea what the object was and remain baffled to this day.

Alongside the Castle Cement Works are the large active limestone quarries of Horrocksford, Banksfield and Bold Venture. These expose a dark grey, finely crystalline and often bituminous limestone. In Horrocksford Quarry, the Horrocksford Hall thrust fault is exposed. This is the largest reverse fault in the area, and has a maximum displacement of over six hundred metres. It runs as close as a hundred metres from where the light sighting occurred, and after the light had crossed the river, the direction of its disappearance followed the fault.

It is also interesting to note that the light took its time crossing the river, which to me is reminiscent of the tradition that witches and spirits have difficulty crossing running water. [ Report by Phil Reeder]


A family in Crimsworth Dean, near Hebden Bridge, West Yorkshire, have witnessed earth lights on three occasions near their home. Each time the lights have followed a broadly similar route, appearing from near Outwood Farm (SD 9875 3052) and moving quite quickly diagonally uphill towards the ruined farmsteads of Lower and Upper Sunny Bank (SD 9898 3140). On the way, they pass an area of scattered rocks known as Charles or Karl’s Rough, which, along with the ‘Grim’ element in the valley’s placename, testify to the locality’s identification with Norse divinities.

The lights were first seen in 1984 by the whole family of Tessa and Gus Smith as they sat in their garden late on a warm spring afternoon. Two spherical objects, described as silvery but with a gentle goldish glow and about 2-3 ft in diameter, floated smoothly about 3 ft above the ground in a roughly direct line to Upper Sunny Bank, where they turned up a track towards the ruined Coppy Farm. At Coppy (SD 9872 3141), they rose in the air and disappeared. The distance of about ‡ ml had been covered in five minutes or so.

Coppy has a strange atmosphere, and on April 6, just a few days before I talked with the family, Giles, their son, had seen a white figure move slowly just below the old track past Upper Sunny Bank and turn up the lane to Coppy. Slender and about 4 ft high, Giles watched it for about five minutes as the evening light was fading. It was obviously christened the White Lady, partly because at the nearby Lumb Falls there is a White Lady who haunts the bridge over the waterfall at midnight when conditions are misty. Folklore connects her with a legend concerning the two pillars of Abel Cross, on the slope above Outwood, which are said to mark the graves of two swains who killed each other for her love – she then committed suicide by jumping into the falls from the bridge.

In 1987, Gus and Giles watched two lights like those they had seen in 1984 follow the same route up to Upper Sunny Bank, but from there they moved along the old road to Haworth, a track that follows the 1050′ contour, as far as Hardibut Clough, when they turned uphill and were lost to sight over the rise.

Before sunset on a fine spring evening in 1991 or 1992, Tessa had the closest experience yet of lights in this vicinity, when a single light came out from behind the sycamore tree at Upper Sunny Bank and descended the slope to where she was walking with her dog through the Lower farmstead. Again it was silvery, but not very bright, and measured about 3‡ feet across. Moving against the wind, it was about ten yards from her when it changed direction slightly and followed – but in an opposite direction – the route the other lights had taken. Tessa at this point had felt anxiety at this unknown thing coming straight for her – although the dog seemed unaware of it – and had a sense that her reaction may have affected the shift in its direction. This sense of interaction with the light was also present in her other sighting (see below). The light, meanwhile, changed direction again before it reached Outwood, floating to the east above the trees, across the beck and uphill towards the moorland between High and Low Brown Knoll (a.k.a. Lad of Law; see also Tessa’s other sighting, below)


Tessa and Giles Smith saw another anomalous light, in the late morning again on a fine spring day above Spring Wood, Pecket Well (SD 995 287), at the head of Crimsworth Dean. The light was not large, only a couple of feet across, and was a ‘luminous silver’ colour; the odd thing was that it was shaped ‘like a boxing glove’ or clenched fist! Their first impression was that it was a plastic carrier bag, as when they first saw it it was bobbing up and down – its movement later steadied and became more purposeful, dispelling the bag idea. It travelled north towards Pecket Well Clough and moved upstream past Kitling Bridge (SD 9942 2938), where there is a boggart legend; at this point, they turned off and lost sight of it, although they did see a group of boys on the roadside apparently watching it. However, the light presumably carried on through the village, as they saw it again climbing the hillside to the moor-edge farm that was their destination. It passed a field or so behind Delf End and went out of sight in the direction of High Brown Knoll (SE 0098 3042). From the map, it appears to have followed a watercourse upstream from Crimsworth Wood, where Kitling Bridge is situated, to the moor. Again, Tessa had a sense of connection with it – that it was somehow travelling with them. [Report by John Billingsley]

Two days after I talked with the Smiths in May 1995, Jane Keeping took this photo (Ilford HP5 400 ASA) at Coppy, though she saw nothing at the time. It was on no other negatives, and neither local photographers nor Ilford could explain it except as an occasional effect on old bellows-type cameras; Janes is a Ricoh KR10 with Tokina 28-70 lens. Tessa has since described it as exactly like what she saw…


Published in NE63 (Autumn 1995), pp.11-14