Sunday, August 4, 2013

Of Photographing Menhirs and Sheela-na-gigs

The Devil's Arrows, Boroughbridge, UK
Seeing the Devil's Arrows twice in two weeks in September 2012 was amazing, but I was looking into other things around there too. For example, when I looked up the Devil's Arrows when I was still at SJ's, I found out that these stones are some of the tallest menhirs in the country. The tallest monolith in Britain is at Rudston church - funnily enough - in the East Riding of Yorkshire. The Rudston Monolith is 25 ft tall, the tallest of the Arrows is 22.5 ft.

Steve Jones told me about some standing stones in Todmorden, but after researching this, discovered they are only about 100 years old.

Then when I was at Burnsall, my cousins Mandy and Lynn told me they had not heard of the Devil's Arrows before. So after we visited Pateley Bridge and Ripon Cathedral, we went there - I was only there exactly 7 days earlier.

The previous day, when I arrived in Burnsall, I had gone straight to the kiosk to visit my cousin Mandy who was doing a shift there for friends. We got talking about the Arrows and I told her about the first time I saw them. It was the summer of 1996 and Aunty Julie and Grandma took me out for the day. They had told me about the stones and so I was looking forward to seeing them. When Julie drove up and parked on the side of the road, I saw two of the stones in the field. I remember asking where the third one was, when I turned and looked out the car window, and got the shock of my life when I saw the huge standing stone, looming out of the trees only metres away and looking absolutely huge. I remember the eerie feeling I got from the fright of seeing it. I don't know to this day why it frightened me so much to see it, but something also happened that day that made it strange.



I could not, for the life of me, take a photo of it.

I don’t mean I was too scared to, I mean the camera wouldn’t work. This was the days before digital cameras and I had an average automatic film camera that I had got for my 18th birthday the previous year. Cameras with good old films in them, where you could only take 24 pictures and then pay to get it developed and pay to buy a new film. My camera on that day would not take a picture of this one stone. I gave up trying and went to the edge of the field and took a photo of both of the two stones there. That picture worked - the camera clicked away as if nothing was wrong with it. I went back to the first stone to try to take a picture of it again. Nothing. The camera refused to work. Despondent and disappointed, I never got a picture of it that day and had to make do with a dull picture of the two stones in the distance, which did not show much as that camera had no zoom.

Ten years later, back in the UK in 2006, I got to see the monoliths again, this time with my mum and her friend Ellie who lives in Helperby. It had been 10 years since I last physically saw them, and the roadside stone seemed shorter and not so menacing. I recall in 1996, this large stone was looming out of the canopy of two trees, but in 2006, the tree branches had been cut back. It was in a happier mood this time, and let me take pictures of it happily with my mother's digital camera.

The same thing during both visits in September 2012 too - It was in a good mood and let me take pictures of it. But don't assume that the second, third and fourth times worked because I had a digital cameras, and that those pictures always work fine - I have had digital cameras not work on me before too. My mum's camera that I frequently used (that took the photos of the Devil's Arrows in May 2006), refused to work at the Mount Franklin Beltane Gathering, in October 2006 - the batteries were always seemingly dead, even though I had a huge packet of them - I got some pics that weekend, but not of important ones - I could not get a photo of us dressed in our ritual gear, or one of my recently fixed Obby Oss. etc.

I told Mandy about how pictures sometimes don't work with some stone items - a great example is the Hexham Heads - there are no great pictures that were taken of those two stone heads before they went missing. I found one on the internet recently but it’s very sketchy. I also told Mandy about a piece written in a book called Weird England: Your Travel Guide to England's Local Legends and Best Kept Secrets by Matt Lake. I took a photo of the small written piece - it was about John Harding who talked about how some things - usually stone objects of unknown age - manage to prevent pictures being taken of them. John Harding said that a man in Ireland taking photos of Sheela-na-gigs quite often found his camera did not work, so would 'ask' the sheela for permission - which worked!!! John himself had been taking pictures of the Croft-on-Tees Sheela-na-gig and had no photography issues.
Section from Matt Lake's 'Weird England' book

 

Perhaps those trying to take pictures of the Hexham Heads could have asked them permission. Perhaps I could have done the same that summers day back in 1996, just to see if it would work. Its like asking the pixies for your missing car keys - ask nicely. It certainly can't hurt to try it.
So in future if I ever have this problem again, and you never know, I might, it’s best to ask the object for permission. I speak to inanimate objects anyway, so would be no different to me.
Perhaps one of the only known photos of the Hexham Heads
Here is the Hexham Heads image that I found  - This is certainly them! Although there are no great images of them, there still seems to be this one. I believe on other occasions, no photos were able to be taken of them. I am glad to have had experienced a non-photogenic stone at some point in my life already - it brings me to attention about the fact that this sometimes does occur.


another Hexham Head
Now the Hexham Heads are missing, they have been since just after they were found. But a man claimed he made them in the 1950s and showed Paul Screeton his homemade heads in the 1970s - and ended up giving him one - here is a picture of me holding it. From this image, I'm pretty convinced that this guy did make them, as this one is so similar to the Hexham Head on the above-right photo. But if they were made with concrete as it is claimed, why was it so hard to take pictures of it, and why did so many strange sightings and ghostly activity occur after finding the heads???

 

Here is the Devil's Arrow that is by the road - the very one I could not get a photo of in 1996. Here it sits in its creepy little corner. I wonder if its ever done that to other people before - refused pictures of it. It's certainly likely...
I definitely think there was something up that day in 1996 - the other two stones let me take a photo of them, but this one didn't.

 Here is an old photo of the Devil's Arrows from years back. The third stone in the far background is the one by the road that refused a photo of it back on that summers' day in 1996. Today, it is surrounded by trees and stands next to a house.

 

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