Witchfinder General

Witchfinder General Pamphlet Artwork

Most Mysterious Witch Finder Header

Authentic, hand-aged, copy of the title page from Matthew Hopkins’s 1647 book ‘The Discovery of Witches’.  During the upheaval of the English Civil War of 1645 and 1646, Hopkins, known as ‘Witchfinder General’, had around 300 women executed in East Anglia.

He described his activities in the book and, if true, this would make him one of the most prolific serial killers to have ever lived. The original manuscript is located at the British Library in London. Trimmed A4 Size – 28.8cm (W) x 20.0cm (H).

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  • Size: Pretrimmed A4 / A3
  • Height: 20 Centimetres
  • Width: 28.8 Centimetres
  • Dated Art Print Quality Paper
  • Materials: Art Paper, Inks, Graphite, Colour Dyes & Natural Organics.
  • Frame Not Included

Matthew Hopkins was a notorious witch-hunter active throughout the middle of the 17th century. He published a book, “The Discovery of Witches” in 1647. His flawed and abusive witch-hunting practices were later employed during the infamous Salem Witch Trials of Massachusetts. His activities were made possible by the King of England’s phobia of witches and the disruption of the English Civil War.

Hopkins’ began hunting witches during March 1644, when an acquaintance, John Sterne claimed that a coven of women in Manningtree were performing illegal feats of magic and were trying to kill him with witchcraft. Between 1644 and 1646, Hopkins and his gang are said to have been accountable for the execution of around 300 alleged witches. Records show that he had more women executed than any Witchfinder before or after him. His book survived him, and his dubious methods were later used at the Salem Witch Trials of Massachusetts during1692–93. This resulted in hundreds of residents being suspected and 19 people executed.

Wright Pat Grey Alien

Wright Patterson Grey Alien Artwork

Most Mysterious Picture Grey Alien Header

Authentic, hand-aged, creative reproduction of the allegedly missing documents from Project Grudge about the Grey Alien Sighting at Wright Paterson Air force Base in the USA with original sketches. The incident is said to have taken place several months after the infamous UFO crash outside of Roswell New Mexico.

This creative work is based on the reports at the time following the alleged transfer of aliens from the Roswell UFO Crash to Hanger 18 at WP-AFB. Trimmed A4 Size – 28.8cm (W) x 20.0cm (H).

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  • Hand Redesigned and Finished
  • Dispatches from United Kingdom
  • Size: Pretrimmed A4 / A3
  • Height: 20 Centimetres
  • Width: 28.8 Centimetres
  • Dated Art Print Quality Paper
  • Materials: Art Paper, Inks, Graphite, Colour Dyes & Natural Organics.
  • Frame Not Included

The artwork depicts part of a post operations AMC report into an incident that allegedly took place at the AFB. The sketches depict grey Aliens, a image that was largely unfamiliar at the time.
According to a former employee who worked at Wright Patterson Air Force Base in Ohio USA, aliens are being kept at the military center and have been for almost 40 years. An ex-engineer from the Wright-Patterson Air Force Base (WP-AFB), Raymond Szymanksi, claims that that aliens from the notorious Roswell incident in 1947 were moved from the purported crash site in New Mexico to the Dayton, Ohio, military complex. He claimed that debris from UFOs and other extra-terrestrial material is kept in a network of vaults under the section of the base known as Restricted Area ‘A’.

Many researchers now believe that WP-AFB is actually the real Area 51, and that Groom Lake / Nellis AFB in Nevada is actually just a decoy. Various reports over the years have claimed that the Greys from the air base occasionally tried to escape. Known as ‘Gink Runners” they have been the cause of extensive search and recovery missions known as ‘Bug Nets’.

Ezekiel UFO Vision

The UFO Vision of Ezekiel Artwork

Ezekiels UFO Vision

Authentic, hand-aged, interpretive reproduction of the UFO Vision of the Prophet Ezekiel based on the etching by Picart, Bernard, 1761 with original sketches. Trimmed A4 Size – 28.8cm (W) x 20.0cm (H).

The artwork is reproduced on aged and trimmed parchment-style 120gsm art card and hand-finished on both sides to add an authentic visual appearance and natural textures associated with the period.

  • Hand Redesigned and Finished
  • Dispatches from United Kingdom
  • Size: Pretrimmed A4 / A3
  • Height: 20 centimetres
  • Width: 28.8 centimetres
  • Dated Art Print Quality Paper
  • Materials: Art paper, inks, graphite, colour dyes & natural organics.
  • Frame not included

The artwork shows the original 1761 etching together with text from the ancient scriptures from the holy books of the Abrahamic religions. Many people believe that that the UFO Vision of Ezekiel was based on a real encounter with an extra-terrestrial craft sometime around the period 580bc in the region of the Chaldeans by the River Chebar, north of Babylon. Ezekiel’s description of the craft bears no resemblance to anything in existence at that time and has often been considered a problem for religious scholars who have tried to suggest that it was just a chariot.

“The prophet Ezekiel explained his vision of a supreme being that showed itself to him by the banks of the Kebar River during the sixth century BC. Bizarre beings with four wings and four faces materialised in front of him along with clouds and fire. Along with the beings were machines of undetermined purpose; they had wheels within wheels together with enigmatic “eyes” set all around the border. These wheels or hoops could also fly through the air, and land on the ground before taking to the air again. As the smoke cleared, Ezekiel was able to see the supreme being in the centre of the craft.”

Ilton Druids Temple Sacrifice

What's Going on at the Ilton Druids Temple?

There has been some growing concern over the past couple of decades that something mysterious is happening at the Swinton Druids Temple in the forest near the town of Ilton, North Yorkshire. Several ‘animal offerings’ have been found on the Altar Stone raising questions again about dark rituals and witchcraft.

In 1820, the folly that has now come to be known as the “Druid’s Temple” was commissioned by the then-sheriff of Yorkshire and owner of Swinton estate, William Danby. He claimed that he created the stone temple in order to produce work for the local population of the nearby town of Ilton, many of whom were paid one shilling (approximately five pence nowadays) a day to do the work.

The idea that wealthy landowners would pay local unemployed men to build these follies purely out of the goodness of their hearts needs to be challenged. For example, Sir Francis Dashwood of West Wycombe also used unemployed locals to dig out a network of caves and tunnels supposedly as an act of charity. He later used this underground lair as the headquarters of his notorious Hellfire club.

Other wealthy landowners that used their private estates to live out their more eccentric views included Charles Howard, third Earl of Carlisle, Richard Temple, 1st Viscount Cobham and parson Thomas Eyre who recreated the Druid Caves at Rowter rocks.

From his own writings, Ideas & Reasonings 1876, we can see that Danby was torn between the call of good and evil. He warns that: “How watchful ought we to be over the humour of the moment.” “There are things in the sacred writings that are beyond our comprehension.” He also accuses the church of being more concerned about creating fear and awe rather than dealing with the inherent weakness of man and ‘our’ attraction to evil. He also said: “one must feed the mind, or it will prey on itself.”

Ilton Druids Temple
Ilton Druids Temple (C) Clint Pavenu

It seems odd that a man so philosophical and conscious of classical literature and moral values should choose to build a temple to pagan gods.
Danby also offered a regular salary to a person who would live at the temple as a hermit for seven years; however, the longest a person has stayed at the temple was reportedly just over five years.


Much of the Druid’s Temple’s architecture and aesthetics were influenced by the then popular Stonehenge. The same size stones were used and were placed in order to create a room that measures around 30 metres by 15 metres, with some of the stones being over 3 metres tall.
The temple also features a central sacrificial stone altar, which had been placed according to the positions of similar stones at other similar historical temples scattered around the country.

Ilton Druids Temple Gate Stones
Ilton Druids Temple Gate Stones (C) Clint Pavenu

The temple also features pillars of flat stacked stones, much like similar ones seen at the classic Stonehenge. The layout of the stones is said to be extremely accurate for the Neolithic period. Again, this is bizarre as Danby writes that any religion that combines violence with ritual is abhorrent.


According to the Megalithic Portal, Baroness Masham of Ilton allegedly claimed that her secretary was walking past the stones and found a pig’s head on the Altar stone. According to the Baroness, on another occasion she found a small group of Leeds University students who had spent the night at the druid’s temple. They were cold and frightened. The claimed to have seen shadows amongst the stones and together with the night country noises, such as owls hooting, they had fled.

Ilton Druids Temple Stack Stones
Ilton Druids Temple Stack Stones (C) Clint Pavenu

One of our researchers visited the site in 2012 and took the photos in this article including the one of the Altar stone. He also spoke to several local visitors who claimed the site had an urban legend reputation for dark magic and pagan offerings but disputed that anything sinister actually went on in the area. They attributed the strange happenings to local pranksters. Even so rumours persist to this day. The site was recently featured in the BBC programme – The Mysterious Moors of Yorkshire.

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-[ Ghosts & Hauntings ]-

Ghosts of Woodchester Mansion

Meeting the Ghosts of Woodchester Mansion

It’s the question that sceptics love to ask – “Have you ever seen a ghost?” Naturally, it’s a trick question. If you answer yes, then they look at you as if you’re crazy and need to be locked up. If you say no, then they usually say something like – “well there you go, of course ghosts aren’t real”.

It’s hard to convince a sceptic that ghosts are real until they experience it for themselves – like I did at Woodchester Mansion.

The old building is a Gothic Revival Country House commissioned by William Leigh in 1857 and designed by Benjamin Bucknall. It’s located in the hidden valley of Woodchester Park near Nympsfield, Gloucestershire. The building appears reasonably complete from the outside but is largely a shell with many unfinished rooms, missing floors and open ceilings that reveal the complexity of the timber supported roof. Many questions about its design, purpose, positioning and occupants still remain unanswered.

When William Leigh died in 1873 work on the house was discontinued and his descendants seem to have lacked the funds and William’s passion to see the project completed. The architect, Benjamin Bucknall even wrote to William’s son in attempt to encourage him to complete the project. He is said to have written:

“There is nothing sadder to the sight than an unfinished work and it is even more forlorn than a ruin of a building which has [at least] served its purpose.”

Woodchester Mansion Unfinished Interior
Woodchester Mansion Unfinished Interior (C) Paul V.

Although William Leigh had hoped to sire a great Catholic family with Woodchester at the heart of a new catholic community, the last of his line, Beatrice Leigh, died in 1949. After passing through several owners, the unfinished mansion was acquired by Stroud District Council, who leased it to a building restoration organisation, the Woodchester Mansion Trust, in 1992.

We do know that for a while the house was used as hideaway for William’s brother, Vincent Leigh who was considered to be a borderline recluse and very odd fellow.

It was later used as a secret training ground for soldiers who would storm the French beaches during D-day when the Americans and British fought to recapture France.

It has been highlighted in television programmes such as Most Haunted Live (2003 and 2005), Hauntings and Ghost Hunters International.

in 2006, it was used as the location for a horror film based on the story of Dracula.

Ghosts believed to haunt the area include a phantom horseman, a floating head and a poltergeist said to shove the unwary. These phantoms are largely believed to relate to an earlier building, Spring House that was demolished prior to the construction of the mansion.

Woodchester Mansion Masonry Block
Woodchester Mansion Masonry Block – Makeshift Seat (C) Paul V.

I didn’t see any of these restless spirits when I visited during May of 2011. In fact, I found the property both charming and peaceful. I was inside the ruin when I heard the singing. It was beautiful! A girl’s voice with the lilting Somerset accent that is so endearing and recognisable. I looked around for the singer and, when I couldn’t find her, I assumed it was being broadcast on a hidden audio system and sat on a block of masonry near the inner courtyard just enjoying the folk songs. Most of these I didn’t recognise, but one reminded me very much of the tune Scarborough Fair but with different lyrics.

Woodchester Mansion Haunted Courtyard
Woodchester Mansion Haunted Courtyard (C) Paul V.

Eventually the music stopped, and I wandered over to a window.  There was a light mist in the courtyard that quickly evaporated. I headed back to the main entrance where I met up with my wife and my son who were both highly annoyed. According to them I had been away for at least an hour though to me it seemed like less than 20 minutes.

As we left, I mentioned to the volunteers at the entrance what a great Idea it was to have a hidden music system. They looked surprised and told me that they didn’t. I explained about the singing and an old local man on gate duty just nodded and just said I was lucky to have heard it and I wasn’t the first.

One of the old men did say that there had been some accidents with training down on the lakes and that there were still unrecovered amphibious tanks at the bottom of the water with the bodies of the soldiers still inside. Maybe he was just trying to spook me.

Swimming in these lakes is strictly forbidden and yet people still do it. Allegedly, several people have drowned over the years.

Since my visit, Woodchester Mansion has been in the news for paranormal events. As recently as 2012 the mutilated carcasses of at least two deer and three pet wallabies  were found nearby leading to speculation that a ‘beast’, probably a large cat, was on the loose in the estate. The story was featured in several British newspapers including the Guardian and the Daily Mail. In 2013, it was portrayed as a commune for wiccans in the novel ‘Caballito’ by Robin Baker.

Deer Attack Image Credit: BLM News

In 2018 a teenage boy went into the lake and soon felt a terrible pain in his foot. His friends dragged him out and found a serous crescent shaped wound. According to Bristol Live he needed nine injections into his foot and antibiotics. The cause of the wound is unknown. According to a spokesperson for the grounds, “”We do not allow swimming in the lakes. The water is deep and hides many dangers.” (https://www.bristolpost.co.uk/news/local-news/warning-not-swim-popular-lake-1756410)

There’s no doubt that the area is seen as a paranormal hotspot and although I started out as a sceptic, I can’t help feeling that I really did experience the ghosts of Woodchester Mansion. I’m sure there are many who will read this and scoff at this story. All I can say is this – wait till it happens to you.

Contributed by Paul V.
Full name withheld by request

Black Shucks - Ghost Dogs or Mutant Wolves?

Black Shucks – Ghost Dogs or Mutant Wolves?

According to eyewitnesses, they have been seen from the northern Highland mountains of Scotland to the desolate moors of Devon and Cornwall in the south. They are believed to be at the root of many legends including the Beast of Bodmin Moor and the Witch Hounds of Sussex. It would be nice to think that they were just ancient legends, but people still keep reporting encounters with these Black Dogs that defy rational explanation.

Records show that this phenomenon has been happening in Britain for at least a thousand years and has had a significant impact on the culture of the country. There are Black Dog roads, Black Dog pubs, Black Dog hills and even Black Dog woods. The have different names in different parts of the country but are generally the same creature. In the north they are known as a Shriker or Barguest while in the south they are Yeth Beasts, Witch Dogs and Hellhounds. In the east they are Skeffs, Grimms, or Haidens. So, while ordinary dogs may be man’s best friend, Black Shucks are definitely not.

Black Shuck Hellhound
Black Shuck Hellhound (SSPL / Clint Pavenu)

Both Ghost and Flesh

There seem to be two types of demon dog, the ghostly kind, and the very real kind.

The spectral version can appear and disappear at will, is able to pass through solid objects and has either one or two red eyes that sometimes glow in the dark. They are believed to be portents of death or disaster but rarely seem to attack people directly. Often seen near graveyards or in old forests, they are said to have a smell of decay about them and cause those who see them to literally shake with fear.

These black dogs are the ones described in the popular Harry Potter wizarding books as Grims where they are also portrayed as death omens. JK Rowling cleverly intertwined real legends into her wizarding world and by doing so reached out to our primal memories.

Paranormal investigators believe that these are real phenomena that are able to pass between the worlds of life and death. This connection with mortality might explain why they are seen in areas associated with decay or places of violent death such as old battlefields or hangman hills. Sometimes the Black Shuck even appears as if it has been dead for some time and has already started decomposing. Occasionally, these demon dogs are associated with hunting or war.

The Peterborough Saxon Chronicle written (1134-54) describes many witnesses seeing a ghostly group of ‘loathsome’ hunters who rode on black horses and were accompanied by a pack of jet-black hounds with eyes like saucers and horrible in appearance. This spectral apparition was allegedly seen on many occasions and last recorded at the end of Lent in 1127AD. It worth noting that archaeologists have discovered that at nearby Flag Fen Neolithic site, dogs were often sacrificed as offerings to the gods.

Sightings of this spectral beast have occurred regularly throughout history and even into modern times.

The author Alasdair MacGregor reports that around 1944, An American airman and his wife had rented a small flat-topped house on the edge of Walberswick Marsh. They were both at home when a terrible storm rolled in with both lightning and thunder – a fairly rare event in Britain. They heard something thumping against the door and, looking through the window, saw a gigantic black hound with shaggy fur trying to break in. Frightened, they piled furniture against the door and waited for hours until the sounds stopped as the storm dissipated and dawn broke. They went outside to see what damage the beast had caused but couldn’t find any nor did they find any pawprints in the wet mud.

Ghost of the Black Shuck Bungay Church
Ghost of the Black Shuck Bungay Church

In 1999 a boy living near the village of Foulden, on the outskirts of Thetford Forrest, reported that he was chased by a gigantic black dog along the street to his house. As he arrived at the gate to his home the dog simply disappeared. The victim has described the feelings of absolute terror that overwhelmed him and continue to trouble him many years later. (Source Hidden East Anglia)

As recently as March 2021, Dean and Veronica Buckley were researching the ghosts of Conisbrough when their cameras picked up and photographed the image of a ghostly dog. Research revealed that during the 1500’s a great dog had once rushed out of the nearby castle and killed a man close to where they took the photo. (source; Doncaster Free Press)

It seems that the ghostly version of Black Shuck is more a sign of danger or bad luck than actually being dangerous itself. This isn’t the case when the flesh and bone version seeks you out.

Flesh & Bone

A Suffolk Legend claims that on the 4th of August 1577, a gigantic black dog smashed open the doors of St Mary’s Church in Bungay. Outside there were flashes of lightning and a terrible clap of thunder. The foul beast ran up the nave where it attacked and killed a man and a boy. It then savaged another man who collapsed into a shrivelled heap with skin that looked as if it had been drawn together like a purse. The animal kept ripping flesh with cruel teeth and sharp claws. Lightning then struck the steeple of the church which collapsed injuring many people including the Rector who fell in front of the beast but escaped otherwise unharmed. When folk opened their eyes, the beast was gone. These events were recorded by Reverend Abraham Fleming in an essay he penned about the event entitled ‘A Straunge and Terrible Wunder’.

Fleming went on to state that the demon dog then reappeared at the Holy Trinity church in Blythburgh some 12 miles away where it killed another two people before vanishing into the woodlands nearby.

Black Shuck a Real Wolf Hybrid
Black Shuck a Real Wolf Hybrid? (C) Clint Pavenu

Unlike the more spectral versions of Black Shuck, this creature appeared very real and savage. There are researchers who believe that the beast behind this event was very much living flesh and bone. For the past four centuries wolves had been a constant source of problems for the folk of Britain. Historians record that Athelstan demanded tribute paid in wolfskins and the Norman kings offered land and lordships to men who could clear away the terror of wolves. By the early 1500’s most of the wolves in England had be driven out. However, during 1577, the same year that Black Shuck appeared in Suffolk, King James IV had made it compulsory to hunt wolves at least three times a year as so many cattle had been killed in Sutherland.

Some historians believe that the giant black dogs that were appearing around this time were the result of interbreeding between Great Danes and isolated female wolves under pressure from regional extinction.

There has even been the suggestion that the progeny may have experienced a phenomenon known as growth dysplasia. This is where the offspring is considerably larger than either of the parents. This is well document in Ligers, the cubs of a Lion and Tiger. This effect has also been noticed occasionally by dog breeders.

Of interest is that there have been many recorded animal attacks across Britain over the years that defy explanation. This has been consistent for hundreds of years and are still happening today. This is particularly bizarre as the last wolf in Britain was killed in 1680 and the UK has no large predators in the wild.

Sheep Attacked by Predator
Sheep Attacked by Unknown Predator

In 1988 many sheep were viciously attacked in the vicinity of by Rhayader by an unidentified animal that became known as the Beast of Bodalog. The sheep were always killed by a single large bite on the chest which was followed by massive blood loss. Once dead, the fleshy parts of the animal were eaten by the unknown predator.

Just under a year later in 1989, the incidents started again near the village of Clyro. Over the summer dozens of sheep were attacked and killed. This time though witnesses claim to have seen a huge black hellhound or wolf leaving the crime scenes.

Steve Weston from Selby Yorkshire described seeing a huge black creature like a dog but far too big to be a dog hunting in the fields between Birkin and Selby. He was so concerned he reported the incident.

During January of 2018, a ‘mystery beast’ broke into the house of a pensioner from Thurnby Lodge in Leicestershire and savagely mauled the occupant. The man was unable to identify the animal except that it was exceptionally large and black.

Beast Attack WoundsIn 2019 Mathew Wild of Cornwall claimed he was attacked by a large and aggressive jet-black creature that got in through his window. He claims it would have easily been 6ft tall if stood on its hind legs and growled like no animal he had heard before. He believes the animal might have been a Panther.

During December 2020, some 30 sheep were killed when police believe a large dog got into the enclosure and either killed or terrified the sheep to death. The incident happened in Utkinton Cheshire and both the farmer and police have appealed for help in tracking down the culprit. What made this incident so concerning was that many of the sheep had died without any sign of visible injury.

The mystery of Britain’s demon dogs and unexplained livestock attacks continues. So … if you happen to see a giant ghostly dog with red eyes padding towards you – just run as fast as you can. Real or ghostly, the Black Shuck is not something you ever want to meet.

Ghosts and Other Mysteries of the Moscow Underground

Ghosts and Other Mysteries of the Moscow Underground

Underground railways can be scary places at the best of times, but some are definitely worse than others. At the top of the list of weird and disturbing underground rail networks is the Moscow Metro.

Beautiful Architecture of the Moscow Metro
Beautiful Architecture of the Moscow Metro (C) Envato

The metro has long been a great way of getting around the city. There are hundreds of stations and countless miles of rail lines. In fact, the majority of Moscow residents go down to the subway every day. They also have to deal with a ton of potentially weird and disturbing legends from ghosts to secret underground military bases.

As with any older metro system there are plenty of forgotten places, walled up stations and half-finished tunnels leading nowhere. There are rarely used sections where slime slides down the walls and stations built directly under cemeteries. The Moscow network is also supposed to have a complete second set of underground lines linked to sealed up military facilities all built during the nightmare WW2 days of Stalin, Beria, and Molotov.

Mysterious Tunnels of the Moscow Metro
Mysterious Tunnels of the Moscow Metro (C) Envato

It’s a strangely complex system and old enough that few if any people know exactly what’s down there. Located underground, in eternal darkness, and only lit by the occasional dying bulb, the metro and Subway II has become the source of many legends, stories of strange events and unexplained incidents.

Urban explorers and paranormal investigators are convinced that much of the Moscow Metro is still hidden from the eyes of both passengers and even employees. They believe that deep underground dreadful things lurk, living according to their own rules and purpose far from the ordinary train routes.

Stations of the Dead

Its widely believed that some stations on the Moscow subway were built either on or directly under graveyards and that this was kept quiet so as not to put people off using them. One of these stations is Sokol, where the graves of those who fought on the battlefields of the First World War were buried. To make things worse, this was the same place later used for state executions. Workers at the station say they often feel as if they are being watched. At other times they claim to have seen wounded people walking around with some partially dressed in prison clothing.

Savage Dogs and Maybe Worse

Another location built on a cemetery where ghosts are seen is Vladykino Station. According to the staff they sometimes hear terrified howling late at night. They are unsure whether the sound is from an animal or a human. Still, the area around Vladykino Station is known for packs of feral dogs and in 2005 a woman by the name of Valentina Arkhipova was bitten to death. There are those that believe her ghost now haunts the area.

The Lonely Lineman

One of the most famous legends of the Moscow metro is the Lineman. It is said to be the ghost of a man who worked as a lineman for forty years. He died at the age of 82 but continues to come to work to check the tunnels and the systems. His ghost has been seen many times.

Black Machinist

A train once derailed, and the first carriage burst into flame. The driver was able to bring the train to the station, but after a few days he died of his burns which covered his entire body. Apparently, the authorities blamed the driver even though it wasn’t his fault and refused to pay compensation and support to his widowed wife. Soon, the ghost of the driver began to be seen in the metro in the form of a man burned black. Paranormal researchers claim that he will haunt the metro until his reputation has been cleared.

Black machinist - Moscow Metro
Charred Man – Moscow Metro

The Bunker Children of Chistye Prudy Station

Many people claim to have seen children and young teenagers looking lost at Chistye Prudy station. When approached these youngsters simply vanish – usually through the marble of the east wall. The story goes that Stalin wanted an ultra-secret bunker built and used orphans and abandoned street children to do much of the work. They chose Chistye Prudy as it was the deepest part of the metro in 1939 at the start of WWII.

When the Bunker was finished the children simply disappeared and were never seen again. People speculate that they were killed and buried near the station to keep the location of the bunker secret. Researchers believe that the ghosts of those children still roam the subway tunnels until their bodies are found and given a proper burial.

Radioactive Rats

New York may have albino alligators in the sewers but many people who use the Moscow metro believe that they share the tunnels with huge radioactive rats. The story goes that a second covert metro was built under the first so Stalin, and the soviet leadership of the old USSR, could move about in secret if the need arose.

Radioactive Rats of the Moscow Metro
Radioactive Rats of the Moscow Metro (EE/SSPL)

Part of the network was a series of bunkers that were later used for experiments involving radiation. It was a perfect place to hide Russia’s secrets from the prying cameras of the American U2 Spy planes. As it was part of the metro, people could come and go in their hundreds and never be noticed. Then something went wrong, and part of the system had to be closed in the late 1950’s.

Alone in the dark the rats were exposed to chemical and radioactive leaks. Over the decades they have grown to the size of large dogs which incidentally is their main source of food. Although some claim that, from time to time, the odd railway worker will also mysteriously go missing.

Moscow tabloids actually ran a number of stories about sightings of the rats which seemed to peak during the late 1990’s. Famous Russian urban explorers like Vadim Mikhailov actually claim to have seen giant rats close to where he believes is the entrance to the Secret Soviet metro.

Commuter Dogs

The whole idea that a tribe of giant rats could live off stray dogs isn’t as weird as it sounds. Moscow has long had a problem with feral dogs. The crazy thing is that they’ve learned to use the metro to get around the city.

There are an estimated 25,000 stray dogs in Moscow and many of them have ties to the subway. They’ve learned how to travel the lines, trick people into giving them food and even know how to use pedestrian crossings. The authorities have largely given up trying to cull them and now just neuter them as it’s believed they are effective at keeping down the rat populated and cleaning up old food. Maybe sometimes that rats bite back.


For many decades Muscovites have believed that there is a vast network of tunnels, bunkers and secret railways hidden under the existing Moscow Metro. There was apparently accommodation for 15,000 people as well as vast stocks of food, weapons, and defence laboratories. The fact that government officials rarely deny the existence of the network has added fuel to the fire.

Metro 2 Moscow Explorer
Metro 2 Moscow Explorer (SSPL)

Rumours circulate about urban explorers – known as diggers – that have mysteriously disappeared. One digger has even claimed to have seen her friend shot by shadowy guards that lurk in the depths of the tunnels.

According to researchers, the Metro 2 network is still operating and functions as a government underground communication system that connects all strategic assets not only in the city but also outside the city. Subterranean passages and railways are said to go as far as Ramenki, Pushkin, Fryazino, Odintsovo, Krasnoznamensk, Vnukovo and Barvikha.

Many people doubt it actually exists as there are no photos or video recordings, but many senior Russian officials believe it that it’s true. A US intelligence report from 1991, even verified its existence.

Some of the dangers of the Moscow metro are clearly real and some are probably no more than soviet inspired horror stories. The problem is nobody knows which is which.

Gold Silphium Coins - 308 - 277 BC

The Mystery of Silphium, the Lost Miracle Plant!

The Mystery of Silphium, the Lost Miracle plant!

Imagine that scientists announced tomorrow that they had found a plant that could cure cancer, worked like Viagra, provided safe contraception, stopped common colds, and tasted better than chocolate. Imagine if they then told you that they’d mysteriously lost it. Sounds a bit crazy but that is exactly what happened around 2000 years ago and there are plenty of records to prove it.

The silphium plant was first discovered by the Theraeans around 630BC in a part of North Africa called Barka where Libya is today. According to the legend the local natives led them to a place where there was ‘a hole in the sky’ and a wonderful natural spring – the kyri. The Greeks established their new city colony and named it Kyrenia. (Today known as Shahat)

Spring of Kyra - City of Silphium
Spring of Kyra – City of Silphium (Image credit: Libyan Studies / WMC)

It was a beautiful location surrounded by steep hills that were unusually green and fertile. One day dark storm clouds filled the’ hole in the sky’ and there was a downpour of black rain. Soon after this the people of Kyrenia noticed a strange plant growing on the hillsides. At first nobody took much notice and soon it spread for miles but only ever grew in an area roughly 120 miles by 40miles. Soon after the people of Kyrenia discovered just how extraordinary this plant actual was. They saw it as a gift from the God Apollo and adopted it as their symbol. They called it Silphium.

The white sap from the stem could be turned into spice by mixing it with fine meal. As a spice it was delicious and unparalleled in flavour. Men who ate food prepared with the herb quickly found that it was also a potent aphrodisiac and women who used it found that it worked as a contraceptive. In larger doses it was also the ancient equivalent of the morning after pill.

As early as 1840, British botanists were sending expeditions to see if they could rediscover the plant also known as Laser. According to Aristobulus, only pines and silphium grew in the region and sheep that fed on the herb were delightful to eat. Sheep themselves craved the plant and would become agitated and run to it wherever it grew. Only a precious few sheep were allowed this delicacy and the main flocks were deliberately kept far from where it grew.

According to records from the time it was a natural antibiotic and amazingly effective against dog bites and other forms of septicaemia. Those that had coughs and sore throats used a syrup made from the plant to achieve an almost instantaneous cure. It was used to treat scorpion and snakebites as well as being used as a cure for the most serious of maladies. Modern researchers speculate that this was indeed cancers.

Silphium Coins
Silphium Coins (CC) Wikimedia ArchaiOptix

If this weren’t enough, a wonderful perfume could be made from the flowers and the heart-shaped seeds could be taken as love pills. Many researchers believe that the modern ‘lovers’ heart’ shape we use for Valentine’s day came directly from the outline of the Silphium seed. It soon became one of the most precious commodities of the ancient world worth its weight in gold and silver. Those who traded in it grew rich, for the whole of the ancient world craved it. It was depicted on coins and vases. The romans wrote songs and poetry about it. They called it the ‘Darling Herb’ and valued it so much that Julius Caesar had around 680 kilograms stored in his treasury.

Export of Silphium Taken from Bowl Design
Export of Silphium Taken from Bowl Design (CC) Welcome Collection Images: King Arcesilas of Cyrenaica overseeing the packaging of silphium (the country’s main source of income) into ships for export. Gouache painting after a Spartan cylix, c. 580-550 B.C.

What made it even more precious is that it could only be grown in the region around Kyrenia (Cyrene). Ever attempt to grow it anywhere else failed. Records tell of countless attempts to transport and cultivate it in other regions – some quite close by – without success. Try as they might, neither the Romans nor the Greeks could figure out how to cultivate it in captivity. Silphium could only be collected from the wild. To protect it the Greeks introduced draconian laws about how much could be harvested. Thieves who were caught trying to steal it were executed and traders desperately tried to find ways to bulk it out with other substances to make it go further. The Egyptians valued it so much they even created a specific symbol to represent it in their writings.

Cyrene had become rich on the profits from Silphium and honoured the plant by having its design stamped onto all of its coinage. The wealth of Cyrene was a magnet for the powerful and was conquered by Alexander the Great in 322BC. The region subsequently became part of the Ptolemy dynasty of Egypt who took control of the plant. By the time that Rome conquered Egypt and its vassal territories, Silphium was valuable beyond measure. Julius Caesar stockpiled over half a ton for his personal use and kept it in a vault in Rome. By 61AD, it had vanished. Legend has it that the last rooting plant was sent to Emperor Nero as a curiosity. In keeping with his reputation for callous debauchery, he promptly ate the plant.

Without the wealth of Silphium, Cyrene fell into decline and was eventually overrun by nomadic tribes. The last mention of a living Silphium plant was in by Synesis, the Bishop of Barka (Cyrene) who records that he sent a specimen of the plant to a friend for examination some time between 400 & 431 AD.

Silphium City of Cyrene
The Silphium City of Cyrene with the Hills where the Plant Once Grew (CC) WMC Maher27777

It’s commonly believed by historians that the Silphium plant was legally and illegally overharvested and eventually went extinct. According to others, the plant disappeared almost as fast as it had arrived. It simply stopped growing. Some researchers point to climate change while others suggest it was hybrid that evolved into something else. The truth is that nobody really knows. Some botanists believe it may still be out there hidden in plain sight.

Could be recognise it today? Theophrastus described the plants as having thick roots covered in black bark. They were extravagantly long; if you were to hold one up against the human body, it would be around the distance from the elbow to the tip of the middle finger. Records show it exuded a milky sap and was eaten by animals without any negative effects. Coins and picture show that it had similarities to the asafoetida plant and yellow flowers. Apparently, The French Geographical Society offered a prize in 1800AD for anyone who could find a single living Silphium plant. The prize has never been claimed. Over harvesting, climate change, nomadic raiders, changes in genetics and uncontrollable sheep have all be proposed as the reasons that the miracle herb vanished.

There are others who suggest a more paranormal reason. They point out that the plant only appeared after a mysterious black rain and ask is it possible that this was something of extra-terrestrial origin that fertilised the soil and stimulated a dormant plant or even a mutation to grow. Then, as the fertiliser wore off over the centuries the plant reverted to its original form. There is no doubt that the plant was of earthly origin but did meteor dust or something else create the black rain that started the whole mystery. Finally, they ask, why was it called the ‘area with a hole in the sky’? Did they just mean that it rained a lot or were they being more literal and describing something else that is long gone today?

Whatever happened it seems that there really was once an elixir that tasted great and could cure any disease. What a tragedy that we’ve lost it.

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Starting in 1906, the people of Fort Bragg, California, had used three large refuse dumps along the beaches east and northeast of the town that became known as Sites One, Two and Three – or more often than not – ‘The Dumps’. These were largely used for scrap metal, glass, and general waste but in was not uncommon to see wrecked cars and large kitchen equipment from cookers to fridges. Beachside bonfires reduced most of the organic material, but the glass and metal were left to the ocean waves.

The Glass Pebbles of Fort Bragg Beach
The Glass Pebbles of Fort Bragg Beach (SSPL)

State legislation and a changing local attitude to rubbish disposal meant that the practice was officially stopped in 1967. Action was taken to clean up the area and remove the scrap metal and restore the area. As the area was cleaned up people started to notice that in the sand were even more brightly coloured gemstones that turned out to be naturally rounded and polished glass pebbles.

The residents soon realised that the thrashing waves had broken down the glass and worn them into pieces as polished as if they’d been made by a jeweller. Over the following years the ocean deposited hundreds of thousands of these ranging in size from a large pebble to a small bead and transforming three of Fort Bragg’s beaches in multi-coloured wonderlands.

Glass Beach Panorama (CC Dungar WMC)

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Glass Sources for Fort Bragg Beach
Glass Sources for Fort Bragg Beach (C) Clint Pavenu

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Word spread and visitors started to arrive from far and wide. In 2004 the Trovants Museum and Natural Reserve was established to protect these strange “growing stones”. Due to the rarity of these boulders the area has also been recognised by and protected by UNESCO.

Trovants of Romania that have expanded to join into a single unit (C) SSPL

There have been claims that during periods of heaving rain the boulders have moved of their own accord possibly due to the expansion of the base points. The spherical – almost biological – shapes of the Trovants are believed to date back to a series of paleo-earthquakes that once took place in the region.

So how do they do it? It would appear that when it rains the Trovants soak up some of the minerals in the rain. These microdeposits merged with the chemicals already available in the boulders and this creates internal pressure much like a growing tree. Over long periods of time the boulder start to grow as the minerals build up new layers inside the stone. It is estimated that this build-up occurs at a rate of roughly 4-5 cm every 1000 years.

Close up details of the the skin of Trovants boulder (C) SSPL

A scientific study of the Trovants has revealed that they do ‘expand’ in certain conditions and this is most likely due to a chemical reaction that takes place between the layers of deposited sandstone and the mineral carbonates in the presence of rainwater that causes the shell to expand.

When cut open these Trovants revealed that they had spherical and ellipsoidal rings similar to those found in the truck of a tree indicating periods of development.

Apparently, they have the ability to slowly move to new locations, possibly due to the expanding root-like extensions that develop underneath them. In truth, scientists have yet to determine and agree an explanation of these unique characteristics and behaviour.

In most cases, Trovants usually have smooth surfaces and form rounded nodules making them look otherworldly like giant eggs or larvae. These unusual shapes are believed to be due to irregular cement secretion and inverse weathering.

These rocks came into existence because of the earthquakes, which occurred six million years ago. The sand reservoir was created after the successive sedimentation of the detritic material transported by the rivers.

Trovants differ significantly in size and shape. Some of these look-like pebbles that can easily fit in your palm, while others are much larger and can reach up to 4.5 metres in height. There are hundreds of Trovants spread over at least 20 sites throughout Romania.

Twin Trovants of Romania with Sand Root Base
Twin Trovants of Romania with Sand Root Base (CC) Image Credit: Nicubunu – Wikimedia Commons

For over 100 years locals have believed that these Trovants are ‘living stones’ infused with supernatural healing power which safeguards those who look after them and provide them with water. Many locals have ‘talismans’ made from these stones or display lager versions in their gardens where they are said to bring good luck if well looked after.

One of the easiest ways to see these boulders in person is by visiting Romania’s Valcea county and heading over to the sand quarry near to Costeşti village or further along the river at Oteşani village. There are also boulders on display at the Trovants Museum situated in Costeşti Village.