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Tracking Wiltshire’s latest crop circle


The internet photos of the latest crop circle, a 150-foot dragonfly, washed away years of apathy. It was sunny, the circle was only a few miles away, and my new dog needed a walk. Within minutes I was on my way.

Helpfully I knew the name of the village. Unhelpfully not which field. I peeled off the A4 and drove and found a settlement with no post office. No shop. Not even many houses. Signs pointed to an Organic Farm: surely they’d know.

Only it was though the bodysnatchers had been. Quad bikes, cars and go-carts lay casually abandoned in the garden. A telephone rang inside an open barn door and I looked in. Chalked on a blackboard I saw a sign saying ‘Aberdeen Angus, £50 for eight kilos’ which sounded like a good deal but not to be stored in a hot car full of dog. The telephone echoed plaintively.

A builder’s lad painting a barn door knew nothing. A white-van man didn’t know either. Desperately, through the tiny slit at the top of his barely-open window, I asked where the barley fields were and somewhat surprisingly he told me. I headed off across a spanking dirt road raising a huge dust-cloud that billowed red onto my rear window. At a by-way that arrowed between two fields of barley I shook the dog out and walked, peering through every gap in the hedge, climbing on every gate strong enough. Nothing.

This was ridiculous. I bundled the dog back in the car and took to the road.

A man in a floppy hat taking photos of a nearby cow was looking for the same crop circle but had no idea where it was. Helpfully he told me about another at nearby Milk Hill and showed me its location on a map. I pressed on with my search for the dragonfly.

The polling station was in the church but the vote counters suggested I return to the A4. “They usually do them where they can be seen from a main road”, they said, clearly not thinking extraterrestrials were involved. “You could ask at the Crop Circle Café.”

I had often driven past the Crop Circle Café, a slightly desperate-looking portacabin on an A4 layby. It was less than a mile away so I rattled off to ask. No news.

Back at the village it was just as well it was election day as it brought a gaggle of locals onto the quiet country lanes. A voter suggested I ask at Silent Circles that have an office next to a pub in Compton Basset. Though that is a serious crop circle information resource it was even further than the Crop Circle café. I asked another voting family and almost discounted my only first-hand sighting.

An early-teen girl told me she’d seen a crop circle, the previous day, when out riding. Her mother didn’t believe it. “It’s not a circle, it’s a dragonfly he’s looking for” she scolded.

The girl’s directions would have been great if I’d had a horse but lost something when I translated it into car. At a bus stop a woman with two toddlers straying around the verge helped me out. “There was a helicopter hovering yesterday for ages. That usually means a circle. It was over there.”

I passed the news on to a German in a campervan, whose wife and infant stayed in the back while he mapread, drove and ran out for inspections. We searched one field. Not the right one. He decided to go to the circle on Knoll Hill. At six weeks old this was well on the circling map and we could actually see it, just visible in the distance across the A4. But I took a farm track back into the barley to discover, to my surprise, a wind sock, a small airstrip and a woman nursing a baby on a picnic blanket. “It’s over there somewhere” she said, waving across a 30-acre field “Apparently. If you wait an hour my mother will tell you. I’ve just sent her up for her 73rd birthday present: a 60-minute flight in a microlight.”

My mobile went. Wife. Would I be doing the afternoon school run? No.

The dog was getting increasingly unwilling to get into or out of the car and I diagnosed thirst but hadn’t bought a bowl. The baby was tipped onto her blanket and her plastic child support pressed into dog duty. As I searched for a tap I found a makeshift club house, deserted but functional. What I’d thought was a barn was a proper flying club.

Dog refreshed I stepped out to find my dragonfly circle. Tarmac gave way to footpath and then I noticed a disruption to the waving, feathery sea of barley on my left. It was justy 100 feet out into the crop and standing on tiptoe I could barely see it, just distinguish a disturbance to the tractor tramlines that ran through the crop. I could see it was big, but then heavy rain can do big and, from ground level, would look much the same. I thought about threading through the crop to get closer but neither farmer nor druid would be pleased to find me taking a dog onto a crop circle so I returned to the airstrip.

Soon I heard the steady engine noise of an approaching microlight. Landing, the birthday granny was radiant with excitement, conceding only that she could have done with motion-sickness tablets. I approached the pilot, Tony Hughes. Forty quid, he said, would get me a flight.

Initially, part of the attraction of looking for a crop circle had been that it was free and would exercise a dog. But now I really wanted to see my dragonfly. Dog went into the car and chequebook emerged from back pocket.

The microlight had seatbelts, enough dials for a small plane (though the petrol gauge looked as though it came off a car) and two comfy seats, one behind the other. The engine was Rotax, looked reassuringly clean and seemed to have plenty of cylinders. Best of all, it had wheels for landing and take-off. This might seem a little thing, but my only experience of flight has been paragliding off India’s Western Ghats: compared to that this machine looked nearly a plane. We set off along the airstrip as fast as a fly.

I didn’t just see one crop circle. We overflew three. The first was a large design next to West Kennett Longbarrow, six weeks old and in oilseed rape but still looking clear from the air. Within minutes we were flying over the planetary, Pac-Man scallops at Knoll Down, less than a week old and still looking perfect.

Passing Silbury Hill and Avebury we steered clear of two RAF Hercules thudding in to Lyneham, before returning to our starting-point and the dragonfly circle that had proved so elusive.

It was perfectly pretty. The segmented body dripped out from the circle design, and the wings transcended the circle edges. Even the veins of the wing were beautifully traced, bare suggestions of patterns that brought the image to life. The tiny dots of five people – trespassers or landowners I’d never know – gave it scale.

If it was man-made, I don’t see how. If it was by aliens, I don’t see why.

There are many theories about crop circles. Ninety percent are found near Avebury, Silbury Hill and, perhaps most significantly, the Barge Inn in Honey Street. Though some people claim credit for crop circles they never admit which, or how many. This leaves open the possibility that some, perhaps, cannot be so easily explained. I’m not sure any of them can. You can’t unflatten a wedge of crop after a beer-blurred boob, let alone at night. All three I saw seemed flawlessly perfect.

My pilot Tony Hughes told me he had always assumed that the crop circles were man-made but a couple of experiences – where designs had appeared suddenly, in the daytime, between ten-minute flyovers – had left him unsure.

And actually, now I’ve seen three, in all their complex precision, I’m not sure either.

Factbox

Crop circles should still be visible from the air until harvest, though the experience from the ground fades faster as the crop springs back up. Good information on the latest circles is available at http://www.cropcircleconnector.com/ <http://www.cropcircleconnector.com/> , including photos and maps.

Many circles are near convenient hills: on flat land you won’t get much idea of the circle’s structure unless you take to the air. Though some farmers recoup crop damage by charging visitors, this one was too new. Tony Hughes’ microlight, taking one passenger at a time (max weight 110kg), costs £40 for 15-minutes: Wiltshire Microlight Centre tel 01249 811 000, wiltsmicrolights.com.

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