On one hot Sunday afternoon in the summer of 1973, I decided to go for a walk up and over Lansdown Hill, and look for a secluded spot to lie in the grass and read a book. Turning off the main road as the hill leveled out about 2 miles from the city centre, I made my way down a rough and overgrown track which I knew would eventually lead to a flat stretch of land which overlooked the vista of western Bath.
As I approached this rough, unkempt meadow, I noticed something odd roughly in the middle of the knee-high, dry grass and I waded through to get a better look.
A vast and perfect circle had been depressed in the standing hay - I guess about 100 feet or so in diameter. When I got closer and stood in the depression, it was apparent the circle had been formed so that the flatted grass lay in a perfect spiral formation emanating from the exact centre, and the perimeter of it was so crisp and uniform, that whatever had formed it seemed to have stopped with the precision of the width of one stalk around the entire circumference. Although I believed - and still believe - that it must have been formed by some natural phenomena, it just seemed as though this phenomena could not be a wind-vortex alone. It was just too perfect.
Of course, this was in the days when crop-circles were unheard of - I had certainly not heard of anyone talking about them. It was also in the days before the internet, so the next day, I made my way to the public library to see if I could find any reference to them. What I found in a couple of books were images such as the one above - 17th century and earlier wood-cuts depicting the work of the Devil in places like Hertfordshire. This woodcut print seems to coincide with the time when the greatest number of 'witches' were burnt at the stake in Britain for want of better scape-goats for any number of minor catastrophes or lazy ways to explain the inexplicable.
It was quite a few years before the complicated, geometric patterns began to appear in standing crops, and this period coincided with two major social developments: the all-night, open-air raves in secluded areas which were fueled by the drug 'ecstasy', and the beginning of sophisticated CAD systems for personal computors which enabled highly accurate mapping systems to be drawn to scale for patterns of a previously impossible size.
The one feature about the simple crop-circles which often distinguishes them from the larger, more complicated ones, is that they are often to be found in out-of-the-way places which are not necessarily overlooked by busy roads, etc. One of the pilots that I flew in hot-air balloons with was a keen circle spotter, and we found quite a few of the simple ones in really remote areas of farmland over a couple of summers. From a height of about 1000 feet, it is easy to spot tracks and footprints in even short grass in the early morning dew, even if they are a few days old. In all the circles we saw, there was no sign that they had ever been visited by humans.
When the famous, large crop circle of Alton Barnes, near Marlborough first appeared, I got together with a fixed-wing pilot friend of mine, and we hired a light aircraft out of Bristol to fly over it. A striking feature from the air was the smaller, crudely executed design of a happy 'smiley' face next to it - the universal symbol for 'E's at the time. The next day, I got into the car and drove to it, as I heard the farmer on whose land it was, was charging a small entrance fee for going in to see it. I suppose he had to make up for the loss of revenue from his standing crops somehow.
Once there, the thing which most impressed me was not the huge, geometric design in the main field, but some smaller, more simple ones in the surrounding fields. I discovered that if you looked closely under hedges - sometimes having to pull the foliage apart with your hands - there were tiny but perfectly formed miniature circles of about 3 inches in diameter, which looked as though they had been made by eddies that had tangentially spun off the main circle, and these were very difficult to find - almost hidden.
In the Pewsey Vale near Devizes, there are two pubs quite close to each other in the same village. One is frequented by the crop circle die-hard enthusiasts like Reg Presley (he of the 60s pop-group, 'The Trogs' who used to almost break his neck with each performance of 'Wild Thing'). I am told that the walls of this pub are covered with crop circle images and notices, and that the group holds regular meetings there in the summer months in order to discuss the latest alien invasion.
The other pub is frequented by the local wags who actually go out at night and make them.