In March 2012, a new film appeared to capture a number UFOs over Bawsey, but is West Norfolk really on an alien flightpath? Bel Greenwood looks to the local skies to discover more…
On New Year’s Eve last year in Hunstanton, two women called Cheryl and Pat were watching a firework display over the Wash. It wasn’t long after midnight when they saw a large, orange, ball-shaped object travel slowly across the sky in the direction of the northeast. The orange glow, they reported, seemed to be shining upward into the night sky and not down towards the ground.
The first light was followed by a second. It circled silently. The two women report they were awestruck and are convinced that the things they saw were not Chinese lanterns but an unidentified flying object.
They’re not the only local people to report having seen strange lights or mysterious objects in the sky. Reports of unexplained sightings have been made for years, and West Norfolk is fertile UFO territory. The plethora of rural sightings may owe something to the lack of light pollution in the sky.
In a celebrated sighting in 1969, Robin Peck, an electrical engineer was driving home one night through Docking, a village which sits above Heacham and Hunstanton.
He was surprised when his car’s electrical system failed. He claimed he could smell static electricity in the air. Looking up, he witnessed a bright blue inverted mushroom shape in the sky about 400 metres above the trees. It disappeared as suddenly as it had arrived and Robin’s car started to work again and he drove home.
In 1996, the Eastern Daily Press reported that North Norfolk was plagued with UFO sightings with reports coming in from police officers and the coastguard.
As recently as March, there have been a number of claims that UFOs have been particularly active over Bawsey and King’s Lynn. There’s plenty of footage uploaded to YouTube, with reports of triangular formations of lights.
Malcolm Chambers, who was investigating paranormal activity at Castle Rising that month, said he saw a light in the same period.
“It was travelling at speed, and so low it was only just visible over the earthworks,” he says.
“It wasn’t an aircraft and it headed over Knight’s Hill. It was a bright, white light and it wasn’t normal paranormal activity.”
He added that he had seen another light in King’s Lynn later the same month. This time, the glowing light was green and hovered around the quayside near Devil’s Alley before silently making its way out to the Wash.
“It was the same time as the lights over Bawsey,” he claims.
There are innumerable reports of sightings on the internet going back years and some of these claims relate to alien ships as well as lights – but most claims are made anonymously or in the way of internet postings using cover names. Alongside the sightings there are often conspiracy theories, and a whole TV and film industry has grown up on dark mysteries, a chilling and thrilling mix of government complicity and the alien unknown – think Roswell and The X Files.
The mysteries of the unexplained may have inspired writers and programme-makers, but it has also inspired researchers.
Heather Dixon is the National Investigations Co-ordinator for the British UFO Research Association, (BUFORA). Her father was an aeronautical engineer on the NASA Space Programme. As a child she was surrounded by the wonder of space and it filled her with questions.
She is nothing if not vigorous in her approach to the phenomena of UFOS.
“We have a training course for Bufora investigators,” she says, “and it teaches you what can be observed in the sky. 98% of sightings can be explained.”
Vigorous scientific research is vital because there’s that tiny handful of cases which can’t be explained.
Sightings must be researched and evaluated. There are tens of thousands of sightings online, but without research they’re meaningless.
Heather believes we must look at the human face of ufology. Peoples’ belief systems and what that means, why sightings go up and down.
“Reporting was heavy in the 1990s and then the number reduced,” she explains, “but they’re on the increase again now. Why?”
There are so many possible explanations for mysterious sightings. Everything from laser lights to electro-magnetic fields, optical illusions and camera tricks can play a part. Notwithstanding the possibility of hoax and digital trickery – and Heather has seen it all in her 20 years of experience as an investigator.
There is still, however, “a residue of cases which do not have an explanation.”
The story of UFOs in the UK can be partially read through the mass of documents released by the government in August last year to the National Archives in Kew. Among their pages are unresolved mysteries, sightings and the results of government investigations. Winston Churchill had a keen interest but after calling on the MOD to look into UFOs, they came back with negative results.
If there’s a particular group of people who could be expected to have some answers about UFOs, it’s surely astronomers. Norfolk’s Mark Thompson is an astronomer who knows the region well. He is the president of Norwich’s Astronomical Society and sits on the Royal Astronomical Society’s Council.
He is passionate about the universe and is the resident ‘night sky’ man on BBC’s The One Show.
In his stargazing career has he ever seen a UFO?
“In my 20-odd years of astronomy I have never seen anything that could not be explained,” he says. “A lot of effects you can see could be in space, like the space station in orbit. Satellites can easily be seen as they’re very bright, or it may be ball lightning. There are so many different explanations.”
If it’s a matter of alien aircraft coming to the UK for a visit, then he finds it hard to believe – not least because of the sheer logistics of anyone travelling at the speed of light from even the nearest star system. It would be a 9-year round trip.
But Mark does believe in the possibility of alien life.
“It’s incredibly sad,” he says, “it’s a horrible thought that we are all alone.” But if there is life in space then it’s probably in very distant universe. This is definitely a case of keeping an open mind.