“Random encounters with the unusual” is a repository for the oddities that me and Mrs J have encountered on our travels, which we find interesting or amusing in some way. Have a look, maybe you will find something interesting or amusing herein.

Sunday, 27 September 2015

The Devizes Millennium White Horse

Following on from my previous visits to the Westbury, Cherhill, Broad Town and Hackpen white horses in Wiltshire, here is another of the county's white horses, this time on Roundway Hill on the outskirts of Devizes.

The Devizes White Horse is also known as the Devizes Millennium White Horse as it was cut in 1999 as part of the celebrations for the new millennium. The Devizes horse (which is approximately 150 ft by 150 ft) is unique amongst Wiltshire's white horses as it is the only one that faces to the right, all of the rest face in the opposite direction.

The Devizes Millennium White Horse is not the first white horse to grace Devizes. In 1845 a local shoemaker cut a white horse into Roundway Hill beneath the hill fort known as Oliver's Castle - to the west of the location of today's horse. This original horse was locally known as the "Snobs Horse", with the word "snobs" apparently being a local word for a shoemaker. It seems that the Snobs Horse only survived until around 1922, when it was eventually lost due to a lack of regular maintenance and slowly encroaching turf.

The ghost of the Snobs Horse can still occasionally be seen however, when the weather conditions are just right. The Snobs Horse was made using a technique called "trenching", where a trench is dug and filled with chalk to create the white horse. This approach is used when the local chalk is not sufficiently near the surface to enable the horse to be created by just peeling back the overlying turf. This trenching means that the chalk that formed the white horse is at a different level to the surrounding chalk, this enables parts of the long overgrown old white horse to be seen from time to time when the weather is just right. From these sightings it has been determined that the original Snobs Horse was about half of the size of the present day white horse.

So if you ever visit Devizes and see the current white horse, be sure to make the effort to go a little further west to Oliver's Castle and try to see if you can see any trace of the Snobs Horse. If you do I would love to see your pictures!

The Devizes Millennium White Horse in the distance.

Looking a bit grubby!

Pictures: Wiltshire (August 2015).

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Wednesday, 16 September 2015

Weird Wessex is here!

Weird Wessex: A Tourist Guide to 100 Strange and Unusual Sights is a journey across the English counties of Wiltshire, Hampshire, Dorset, Somerset, Devon and Berkshire seeking out the weird and sometimes little known sights that wait to be discovered. Have you ever heard of:
  • Somerset's standing stones - the second largest circle of standing stones in Britain?
  • The murderous tale behind Berkshire’s Coombe Gibbet?
  • The Dorset building with a Civil War cannon ball buried in its wall?
  • The Devon village that flips a boulder each year to keep the Devil trapped below ground?
  • The Hampshire shop that once fought in the War of 1812?
  • The home of Wiltshire’s most famous poltergeist?
If not then let Weird Wessex take you there, and treat you to over 200 full-colour photographs of these weird and wonderful locations. You are certain to discover an unusual location that you never knew existed!

Written by Andrew May (of the Retro-Forteana blog) and myself, Weird Wessex is now available at Amazon here!

Please note this book is printed on demand. So if it shows as being “temporarily out of stock” on Amazon do not be perturbed, the printing press will fire up as soon as your order is placed!

Happy exploring!

Tuesday, 15 September 2015

The Gypsy Curse of Odstock

The pictures below show a grave in St Mary’s churchyard in the village of Odstock in Wiltshire. The grave belongs to a man named Joshua Scamp who was a gypsy and a convicted criminal.  The inscription reads:

In memory of Joshua Scamp
Who died April 1st 1801
May his brave deed be remembered
To his credit here and hereafter

Joshua Scamp's death and his subsequent burial in St Mary's churchyard are linked to an odd local legend, a legend about a gypsy curse. The details of the story differ slightly, depending on the source, but the general theme is as follows. In 1801 a local  gypsy named Joshua Scamp was condemned to death and hanged at Fisherton gaol in Salisbury for the crime of the theft of a horse.  As it turns out Joshua was not the perpetrator of the crime, it was his son-in-law who actually stole the horse. It is said that Joshua decided to take the blame for the crime and suffer the associated punishment to protect his daughter (presumably from losing her husband).  When it became clear that Joshua was in fact innocent of the crime he became a local hero to the gypsy community and the anniversary of his passing was celebrated each year by a party at his graveside.

Not being too keen on gypsy revellers holding their annual celebration in the churchyard, the church officials of the time, supported by local authorities, uprooted a rose bush planted by Scamp's grave and locked the church door to keep the gypsies out. In retaliation to this affront, a Gypsy Queen supposedly placed a curse on the church, so that anyone who locked the church in the future would die a sudden and untimely death.

Any untimely deaths of church key-holders clearly cannot be attributed to the gypsy curse with any degree of certainty. However it seems that the legend of the curse may have left a lasting impression. It is said that in the 20th Century, following the untimely deaths of two Church Wardens, that the Rector threw the key to the church door into the River Ebble where it presumably remains to this day.

St Mary's Church was unlocked when I paid my visit, so perhaps the current Church Warden is taking a cautious approach to the legend?

St Mary's Church, Odstock.

Joshua Scamp's grave stone and rose bush.

The inscription.

Inside the church.

Pictures: Wiltshire (August 2015).

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