The Spectres of Souther Fell 5: Explanations August 7, 2016Author: Beach Combing | in : Modern , trackback
How do you explain something like the Souter Fell sighting. Let’s simplify for a moment and focus on the 1744/45 sighting where some twenty six locals saw, for the last two hours of daylight, a series of horse men riding up the ridge to the top of the mountain. What options for explanation do we have here? To the best of Beach’s knowledge four have been suggested: (i) brocken spectre; (ii) fata morgana; (iii) meteorites; and (iv) clouds.
The broken spectre is, of course, a shadow being thrown out in front of a person, often on a height. It must be an awesome experience to have, but can it really explain two hours of cavalry? Beach is similarly perturbed by meteorites and wisps of clouds (note 1747: ‘they were nothing like any clouds or vapours, which he had ever perceiv’d elsewhere’). Perhaps the only credible item on this list is the fata morgana, a mirage, the consensus explanation by 1820.
Even here though the difficulties are immense. There are several (fascinating) cases of fata morgana from nineteenth century England with such entertaining things as churches and villages floating in the air. But this is the difficulty here. The spectres are never described as being in the air. They march or ride on the mountain, even to the point of hugging the landscape. The initial infantry, for example, had their route drawn on a map and went through a nick on the mountain top. This is not something that fata morgana would do.
‘The accepted explanation of this appearance now is, that on the evenings in question, the rebel Scotch troops were performing their military evolutions on the west coast of Scot- land, and that by some peculiar refraction of the atmosphere their movements were reflected on this mountain.’ John Pagen White, Lays and Legends.
The Scottish border was some forty miles away and ‘the west coast’ where Highlanders were possibly preparing over a hundred. Is there anything in science that can explain a body of cavalry being projected onto a distant mountain like a cinema screen and then the soldiers apparently walking on the mountain (even on impossible terrain) rather than in the air? Drbeachcombing At yahoo DOT com
30 Aug 2016: Bruce T., Hear me out, the phenomena seems to have happened several times, roughly at the same time of year, at the same place on the hill, and from roughly the same vantage point. Across the river from me there is a spot along the road at the foot of a steep cliff about 75 feet above the valley bottom and for roughly a quarter mile along the road where an inversion mirage takes place. I’ve seen it it occur 10-15 times in my life. It only occurs from mid-January to mid – February and two conditions have to be in play, a tongue of warm Gulf stretching up the western side of the Appalachians being overtaken by a fast moving cold front,called an “Alberta Clipper” moving in. The cold air moves in so fast it creates a layer over the warmer in the valley bottom. When this happens and you’re driving down this stretch of road, and conditions are just right you see the mirage, which only occurs in the late afternoon, about two hours before dark. Normally when looking east from this stretch of road, you see a small mountain in the distance with an array of four radio antennas along the ridge. When the mirage happens you see a range of mountains, four times the height and no antennas stretching from on side of the valley to the other. From the valley bottom you don’t see it and further east, the same happens as the road follows an incline that results in a drop of roughly forty feet or so over a quarter mile. When you reach that point, you’ve dropped below the lens of air that creates the mirage. It’s remarkably consistent and is often heralded by what is known as “thunder-snow”. When the freezing air hits the warm air a storm begins, snow begins falling from the disturbed air layer with lightning strikes. If the weather isn’t going to Hell in a hand basket, and the time of day is right, it’s time to drive over to the church parking lot to try to see the mirage. The cliff and it’s base are full of perennial springs, much of it covered by fill now. I’ve wondered if these springs and their water emerging at a constant temp. didn’t play a role in the mirage being seen from that particular area? As I’ve gotten older and observed it a few more times I tend to think it’s due being at the right height and position to be in the affected lens of air? The mirage is like an old friend for me now, I’m always happy yo see it. With the Souther Fell specter or whatever it’s called having a regularity due to time of day, year, and spot where it’s seen from it makes me wonder that it may be something similar going on? However, I’m still sticking with a bunch of turnip farmers never looking up enough to pay attention to what was going on, on the ridge. The first time I saw the mirage I though to myself, “That looks like Kennison Mountain!” Kennison Mountain is one of the first high mountains on the eastern fringe of Allegheny Mountains, and roughly 90 miles to the ENE of the point where the mirage occurs, essentially the direction you’re looking in from that spot. A Fata Morgana due the inversion layer has always been in the back of mind for this one, seeing it only when you’re in the sweet spot on the road here the lens effect takes place. It’s nearly always looks the same, but it can vary in intensity, you can sometimes see the actual ridges behind and mixed in with the mirage. If it was a Fata Morgana in Souther Fell, the key may be as simple as determining where the nearest military units trained and operated. Two, with it being fairly late in the day it could have been a bit of light defraction playing tricks on folks in the valley. A few guys riding around up there hunting, sky-lined on the ridge may have looked like many more than they were due to the distortion. Three, it could have been a longtime hoax played on, or by, the farmers in the valley on the unsuspecting. “Baronet Chumley is visiting the Squire, let’s scare the Hell out of him by pretending to be the Scottish Army again.”