by Richard Freeman (red text) and others where stated (black text)

Introduction - by Jon Downes

On the weekend of the 15th to the 17th of June 2001 we held our annual convention. Unfortunately the British fortean scene has become fragmented. There are speakers who appear at UFO conferences, pagan conferences, fortean conferences, or Earth Mysteries conferences, but who seem seldom to cross the boundaries of these similar genres. From the beginning it has been our intention that the Weird Weekend should be a conference with a difference - a truly multidisciplinary fortean experience. With occasional interjections from Jon Downes, Graham Inglis and Steve Jones, Richard Freeman tells the story...

Afficianados of the bizarre across the country have been sorely missing the Fortean Times Unconvention this year. A lucky few however managed to get their Fortean fix at the second annual Weird Weekend in Exeter. Whilst it could not boast the size of the Unconvention it still attracted Forteans from as far afield as Leeds and London. The three day event was run by the Centre for Fortean Zoology, Britain's only cryptozoological organisation, and the Exeter University Science Fiction Society.

DAY 1

The first evening saw three speakers. Cryptozoologist Richard Freeman opened his cabinet of curiosities, a strange collection of tales that included Ivan T. Sanderson and the giant penguin, and Jimmy Stewart and the smuggled yeti bones.

general view of the 'weird weekend'Part of the Weird Weekend gathering - picture © Graham Inglis / CFZ 2001

This was followed by the great crop circle debate. Squaring off were the two acknowledged leaders in the field (literally!). Matthew Williams, a Welsh crop circle researcher and author (as well as being the first man to be prosecuted for creating a crop circle) argued that almost all of the formations were man made.Pardoxicaly they seem to act as beacons for strange phenomena. He also told the audience of how he was set up by two particularly underhanded and unpleasant "researchers".

Arguing the case for the circles not being made by humans was Exeter`s own George Bishop. Veteran of countless hours of field work George has photographed odd balls of light in the circles, experienced them being created within minutes, and has discovered hitherto unknown phenomena such as "dragon`s footprints" strange, gigantic tracks in the corn that appear from nowhere and vanish just as strangely.

The pair found some common ground in the shared belief that the less complex single circles are the most likely to be real.

After this the masses retired to the student bar at Clydesdale House (1 a pint!) and drank the equivalent in of beer of the volume of Loch Ness.

DAY 2

Day two was the meat and potatoes of the weekend. The lectures kicked off with Steve Jones - witch, folklorist, and Britain's first pagan magistrate (no, Mr Redfern, he wasn't the guitarist with the Sex Pistols) - talking about sightings of hooded entities. Ghostly creatures with luminous eyes ranging in size from 3 to 7 feet, they are often misidentified as monks. They seem more akin to goblins or fairies. Steve has interviewed many witnesses and believes the beings to be earth elementals or genius locii that guard certain areas.

Nigel Watson author and UFO researcher spoke on fatalities related to UFO sightings including the infamous Mantell case and the collapse of the Silver Bridge in Virginia during the Mothman flap.

sir laurence gardnerSir Laurence Gardner - picture © Graham Inglis / CFZ 2001

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Sir Laurence Gardner, historical revisionist, lectured on his theory that Tolkien's "Lord Of the Rings" was an allegory for real events. Distorted by mythology the history of the original rulers in ancient Babylonia and even prior to this in what is now Transylvania have become legends. Their overthrowing by false leaders and the quest to keep their bloodline pure became the quest for the rings (symbols of royalty to the ancient rulers).

chris moiserChris Moiser - picture © Graham Inglis / CFZ 2001

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Chris Moiser, biology lecturer at Plymouth Collage of Further Education revealed that the British big cats living and breeding in our country have been hear for far longer than we have ever thought. Giving examples of big cats escaping from travelling manageries in Victorian and pre-Victorian times Chris showed that the current population had its genesis in these times and was added to throughout the 20th century due to poor legislation.

tim matthewsTim Matthews - picture © Graham Inglis / CFZ 2001

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Rounding off the day was magazine editor and paranormal researcher Tim Matthews. Tim gave a personal account of his life and times and how he became disenchanted with UFOlogy. He also spoke on personal experiences with a poltergeist in his own home. Tim rounded off the talk with a truly disturbing case that he stumbled onto quite by accident. This involved the US military being called out to investigate the disappearance of all the people in a tiny, remote Canadian village. Even the graves were empty and corpses missing.

Steve Jones writes: At the end, Tim mentioned a strange case in Canada where an entire town appeared to have vanished, complete with bodies from the graveyard. He gave it as an example he thought was real but couldn't be investigated as probably blocked by government and that UFO investigators wasted lots of time chasing stories and banging heads against wall. He said it was something new to him and he had never come across or read of anything similiar. I pointed out to him that Frank Edwards (not the most reliable of sources) has written "The Vanishing Villlage" and appears in his "Stranger than Science"p28-33 in my Pan paperback edition from 1963.

Unsurprisingly we then returned to Clydesdale and drank the equivalent of Loch Morar.

DAY 3

Day three began with a guided tour of weird Exeter by Richard Freeman. This walk encompassed several haunted pubs, the flight path of a dragon and a graveyard said to be haunted by a vampire.

exeter walkexeter bull meadow park
Exeter Cathedral - picture © Mark North / CFZ 2001

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Bull Meadow park in Exeter - picture © Mark North / CFZ 2001

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After the walk, witch Joyce Howarth spoke on the significance and history of stone circles in Britain. Jon Downes told the story of his adventures in Central America on the trail of the kangaroo-like, blood drinking, goatsucker. And to cap the whole weekend, Steve Jones enlightened us on how the minor theft of some dripping by a cook led to the great Leeds dripping riot of 1865.

Requests are already coming in for next year, including more cryptozoology and something on Norse mythology. Hopefully the event will grow and it will finally become an institution. It has been suggested that the organisers belong in one.