Events of a seemingly paranormal character are surprisingly common and can occur just about anywhere. Most of us spend a lot of time travelling on roads. Therefore, it’s perhaps only to be expected that many encounters with the strange will occur on our highways and byways. Reports have come from all over the British Isles, with Scotland producing its fair share.
A popular view is that ghosts are spirits, but I have my doubts about that notion, not least because there are reports of inanimate objects, such as cars, appearing in an apparitional form. For example, a Dr Martin Moar informed me of an experience that he and a fellow climber had had while driving on the Isle of Skye in the early 1970s. Just before a small hump in the road, they pulled into a passing place to make way for an oncoming car. The approaching vehicle disappeared behind the hump but didn’t reappear, and there seemed to be nowhere it could have gone without being seen.
Over the years, there have been multiple reports of motorists encountering apparitional figures on the A75 and B721 roads between Gretna and Dumfries. For example, in March 1995, a couple called Garson and Monica Miller were driving towards Annan on a stretch of the A75 known as the Kinmount Straight when the figure of a man jumped out in front of their vehicle. A Donna Maxwell had a similar experience on the old A75 (now known as the B721) in the summer of 1997. The most dramatic story about the A75 concerns two brothers who allegedly encountered numerous apparitional figures, both animal and human, on the A75 one night in April 1962. However, I strongly suspect that this particular tale is an invention. Furthermore, some of the material available on the internet concerning ghostly phenomena on these roads is inaccurate and unreliable.
Road users sometimes report seeing out of place big cats. In October 1980, a live female puma was found in a baited trap on the Cannich Estate in the Highlands. That could be seen as lending support to the view that a population of flesh-and-blood big cats is living wild in this country. However, there are aspects of the big cat phenomenon suggesting that many of these entities could be of an apparitional or paranormal nature.
In the 1990s, the Bonnybridge area of central Scotland acquired a reputation for UFO sightings. In January 1993, for example, a couple called Ray and Cathy Procek had a sighting while they were driving south on the busy A80 road. In the vicinity of the Castlecary railway viaduct, they spotted two large triangular objects low in the sky above them.
In some cases, witnesses to UFO phenomena experience strange memory gaps (‘missing time’). An acquaintance, whom I’ll call Susan (not her real name), told me about a disturbing incident that she and a friend experienced in the east end of Glasgow when they were about 13. They were heading home from a café where they worked part-time. They alighted from a bus around 10:45pm and saw a light in the sky, which Susan took to be a plane. They set off down a quiet lane. A woman was walking ahead of them. The light in the sky seemed to be motionless, but then it moved, very quickly, to another position. It seemed to remain stationary for a few seconds, and then it moved again, at very high speed. Each of these movements brought it closer. Susan was able to make out some features. It seemed to be a large, black or dark grey circular object, with a protuberance on top. There were two flashing red lights opposite each other on the underside of the circular base. And there was a circle of other lights (not coloured) on the underside, close to the edge. They may have been shimmering.
The UFO made further movements, getting closer to Susan and her companion. The girls stopped and stared, unable to move. The woman ahead of them, who was closer to the UFO, screamed, “Oh, my God!” and ran back. She took hold of the girls, and the three of them ran towards, and huddled against, a locked gate. The woman made the sign of the cross, and the girls did likewise. The woman said, “Hold together!” Then, they were strongly illuminated from above. After what Susan took to be three minutes at the most, things went dark again. When she looked, she saw that the UFO was still quite close, perhaps 100 yards or so away. The woman and the girls resumed their journey. After one or two further movements, the UFO took up a position in the sky in front of them, but somewhat to their right. Shortly after (perhaps within a few minutes), it shot up into the sky and disappeared. When Susan arrived home, it was some 50 minutes later than she would have expected, and she informed me that her friend had also experienced missing time.
Gary Wood and Colin Wright had an unsettling experience one night in August 1992 while travelling on the lonely A70 road in West Lothian. In the vicinity of Harperrig Reservoir, they saw a two-tiered disc-shaped object hovering over the road. Wood was doing the driving. He put his foot down on the accelerator, hoping to get away from the UFO by driving under it. As they approached it, the UFO appeared to emit some sort of shimmering mist, which touched the car, whereupon Wood and Wright were temporarily enveloped in a black void for what seemed like seconds. The car shuddered and they regained their sight. Wood had to fight to regain control of the car, since it was now on the wrong side of the road. When the men arrived in the South Lanarkshire village of Tarbrax, where they were due to drop off a satellite TV system, they discovered that they were much later than expected. Subsequently, they underwent hypnosis sessions, with each of them recalling an alien abduction scenario and being subjected to a medical-type examination, although there were some differences between their recollections.
The use of hypnosis to elicit recollections of supposed alien abduction experiences is controversial, given the possibility of fantasy and suggestion creating false memories. But setting aside the hypnotically elicited material, this case is still intriguing. In terms of an environmental theory, it might be suggested that Wood and Wright had experienced an electromagnetic event that had affected their brains, causing a period of amnesia. However, it’s noteworthy that Wood’s amnesia appears to have begun and ended at the same time as Wright’s. Since people’s physiology varies, that would perhaps be surprising if they were responding to some sort of ambient magnetic field or radiation. There’s also the question of where they and their car were during the period of missing time. Did they pull off the road and sit in the vehicle in some sort of trance for an hour or more, and while still in that state, was Wood able to drive away before he and his companion snapped back into normal consciousness? On the other hand, if the event is construed as an actual physical abduction, there’s still the question of what happened to the car during that period.
Paranormal Encounters on Britain’s Roads: Phantom Figures, UFOs and Missing Time by Peter McCue, published by The History Press, £12.99, is out now