Beasts, bugs and Bracken Tor…


It seems like an age since I last scribbled a blog, so without further ado…

Beasts - The Mysterious Beasts Research Group (based on Bodmin Moor!), invited some of us disbelievers and sceptics along to a 'tracking night', two evenings ago. The idea was to camp out, in the woods near Golitha Falls, to experience what the group get up to in an evening. The woods flank one edge, the wilder side, of the famous Bodmin Moor (Jamaica Inn, 'Beast of Bodmin Moor' and of course, Matilda Fly's very own 'Two Faced-Bride of Bodmin Moor'). For more pics, try this Google search: Bodmin Moor.

The ancient and mysterious Bodmin Moor.

The Moor - It's an ancient place, of whispering reeds and weather beaten trees, all shaped by the weather, history and personality of the place. But, it wasn't always like that. The moor is actually a man-made environment, shaped over thousands of years; there was once a wild, dense and dark forest, where old mine buildings now stand, naked to the elements. Think 'Fangorn Forest' from The Lord of the Rings, and you'll get a decent picture of what it must have looked like. The ancient people cut down the trees, to build the many villages and towns which still haunt the moorland world, as ghosts on aerial photography.

The Bronze Age people were late arrivals to the moor.

Their way of life, and knowledge of the ancient natural world, is as mysterious as the moor itself. Those unknown times were a turning point, in history, when man decided to utilise the forest, rather than revere it. Obviously, this is one of the themes explored in Barrow Hill, and it's sequel 'Bracken Tor', so the 'Beast Night' would prove to be great research for that particular project.

A massive Ent of a tree, with creeping vines and several canopies.

The Experiment - As most of you know, I am more of a 'ghosts' person myself, so haven't really delved into the legends of mysterious beasts, crypto-zoology and unexplained animal sightings. For every 'Black Dog of the Moor', there's a Nessie (Loch Ness Monster) sighting. I'll be honest, they never seem to impress me, or prove anything, apart from our desire to believe in such wonders. So, a chance to hang out, in the landscape, with those that state, without doubt, that such creatures exist was a chance not to be missed. Matt Clark, writer and creator of Barrow Hill provided my invite, so I expected to be set-up, and hoaxed…just a little. But, fact is, it was spooky enough, without the pranks and teasing. The ancient forest may be gone, but the earth itself is still rich with the rotting matter, roots and fossilised remains of that once leafy world. I found it strange, to think that I would be sleeping on the graves of such natural antiquity; basically, could the moor be haunted by a landscape long since gone? Could the animals, that once roamed that forest (lions, tigers, bears…oh my!), still enter our world, like spirit animals, unaware that their habitat is no more. A spooky, and melancholy, notion.

Notice this map is dotted with Hut Circles, Stone monoliths, ancient stone rings, etc's a Lord of the Rings world all of its own.

The Night - Steve, leader of the pack, is a huge beast of a man himself, and knows pretty much all there is to know about animal tracks, fur, gnawed bones and…of course, everyone's favourite…poo! He is one of those experts, like you see on natural history shows, that tracks animals by scent, snapped twigs and the occasional bit of disturbed leafage. It's a very impressive talent, which reminded me of that uncanny sense the aboriginal tribes of Australia share, where they seem spititually attached to the world they inhabit. I am envious of that kind of skill, to be honest. Spending time with those folks, in the wild, reminds you how domesticated and uninvolved you are, in the natural world. (Note: But, I also love my PS3 and microwave oven, so I'm not going native anytime soon!). But, tonight was the night to get back to nature, stare into the darkness, and see if anything was staring back. Would those eyes be physical or supernatural?

As well as Steve, we were joined by Cath and three members of the MBRG. Cath is a woman after my own heart - a technical whiz, with a love of gadgets, a brave heart and some seriously impressive walking boots (ex-Army clompers). She came armed with laser trip wires, camera traps, night-vision and all sorts of monitoring equipment. Both she and I would be based in the lower woods, well away from the moorland edge, so our human smells would not disturb any wild beasts prowling the open landscape. Exciting! Steve, Matt, and the other members, were taking the upper ridge, closer to the moor, and closer to the action. There are reports of animal carcasses, stripped trees and dung heaps in that area. So, if these beasts really exist, THIS area is likely to be the feeding ground.

One of many bones, scattered throughout the woodland - someone's dinner, perhaps? Something big, wild and exotic?

So, as you can imagine, I was feeling a bit weirded out by the idea of attending a 'Beast Hunt'. As a fearful fan of The Blair Witch Project, I couldn't help feel the night was going to be quite an experience. It was! Here's the event, as it happened…

21:00 - Just enough light to set up my tent. I've been 'told off' for not having a cammo-fabric version, army style. So, I have to set up in the bracken. It's itchy and full of bugs. I have a signal, yay, so have sent off a few messages to Facebook. I thought it would be reassuring, but instead, my so-called 'freinds' laughed about how they'll find my 'shredded body, and piece it back together' as some sort of gory adventure slider puzzle. Thanks!

21:30 - Mozzies. Damn critters. The woods are really buzzing with insects, and the heat is intense. A Cornish woodland can take on a really tropical feel, in these conditions. It's not exactly Borneo, I know!, but I'm finding the place very dark, hot and alive.

Hurrah! My home for the night. Bit bright, I am told.

22:00 - I got to see some (blurry or distant) images of beast sightings, from the MBRG scrapbook. Some may have seen this kind of thing, in your local press, where dog walkers, ramblers and other everyday folk, have seen large predators stalking through their neighbourhood. It's pointed out, that many of these sightings are made by those with no previous interest in the phenomena. Interesting.

22:45 - Monitors! I love a bit of surveillance activity, and this is great. I'm used to staring at domestic interiors, on screens throughout the night, as part of the ghost-hunting activities, so this natural world makes a lovely change. Plus, there's loads to see. The woods are alive with mice, rabbits, foxes and badgers, all using the well trodden animal paths. These paths look like nothing during the day (a muddy patch here, a few bits of fur on a bramble there), but operate as a wildlife superhighway by night.

A camera trap, and image feed. The 4 LEDs on the cam give off infared light, picked up by the cam, and sent to us, watching far away on a monitor. Cool.

23:00 - I've heard from Matt and Steve, who say that conditions were good for a sighting. The night is gloomy, with the moon hidden behind cloud, but the weather is good (hot!), and very still. The woods, too, are very still. The last of the birds have settled in, for the night, and the trees watch us silently, barely a branch moving. The sound, though, is bizarre; crickets, weevils, mosquitoes and marshflies fill the air. I've stopped thinking about the Blair Witch, and started thinking about Predator instead! Perhaps I am not as good a 'nature' person as I previously thought.

There are noises all around, but nothing to see. The forest creatures are good at playing 'hide and seek'.

00:30 - Crying! There is a baby crying, somewhere in the woods! A frightening, and bizarre experience. "Who, or why, would anyone have a baby out here, in the witching hour?"…damn, she's back! The Blair Witch is back in my head. Babies, witches, woodlands, druids, blood sacrifice…argh! Stop, stop, stop! Thankfully, Cath is on hand to give me a good slap a reassuring perspective. Young deer, I am told, make such noises. It's the right time of year for fawns to be calling to their parents, and 'yes', it does sound very human. I am not convinced, so my anxiety is increasing. What if Cath is wrong?! I still wonder if some of the 'beast sightings' are supernatural?

My mate, Mr.Antenna. Bless 'im.

00:35 - Matt and Steve have reported in. They can also hear the sounds, which they describe as 'mewing'. Hmm, sorry but 'mewing' does not sound like a baby crying. Hmmpff. But, the MBRG do this kind of thing, "all of the time", all over the country (weirdos!). I still regret leaving the ghost-hunting gadgets at home. Steve also thinks the deer may bring the 'beast' closer to our corner of the moor. Oh goody.

00:40 - The group have gathered together, away from the moorland edge. Everything is set up, and we're ready to go. Hopefully, one of our cams will capture something amazing. Atmosphere in the camp is brilliant. I've felt this sort of buzz, before, on the larger ghost-hunts, but the woodland setting feels really intense, and new. The owls are calling, across the landscape, and it really feels like something was about to happen…

01:00 - I hear about Matt's trip to the top, and what they saw on the ridge. There are a lot of deer mingling with the moorland ponies. It sounds like a lovely scene, but I can't help think it sounds like a safari. The wild plains of Cornwall, waiting for a bloody natural drama to begin. The hunt! Many farmers, in these parts, are insisting that a beast does indeed stalk the moors, killing many young lambs, for their dinner. Seriously! It dents their profits to such an extent that huge government offices, like DEFRA, have called upon folks like the MBRG, to investigate areas like the moor, to prove, one way or the other, whether this is a real, and serious, issue. Hmm, that could account for the MBRG's budget!

02:30 - Definitely deer! They are gorgeous. I've seen these lovelies many times, while I've been in Cornwall, but it's always a fleeting glimpse, caught in the car headlights…and then GONE. But, there they are, hopping over the woodland boundaries (a good metre and a half of bracken and gorse bushes), and into the woods…with us. They are so agile, and graceful, and…SPOOKED.

02:50 - The deer have legged it. They entered the woods, to get off the moor. We are now totally convinced that something is tracking their scent. I am still wondering what we'll see. Obviously, a massive black panther would be cool, but it would be so, damn physical! What if the deer were spooked by something unknown to us, but visible to these nocturnal creatures? Ghosts of the wild?

03:00 - Badgers! Awww, bless 'em. They really know how to make you feel more comfortable. Bumbling, daft things. They are digging in amongst the roots and trees stumps, eating worms and bugs. They don't seem particularly spooked, so I am also feeling much more relaxed. A bit of fatigue is also creeping in, so I'm taking my weary self off to the tent, to have a nap.

05:00 - Damp, tired and aching. Boo hoo. The plan is to be on the ridge for the dawn, (now!), as it's a favourite hunting time, supposedly. The early morning light is enough to see by, so I'm shocked at the mess inside my tent. I live like a pig, in the dark!

What a mess - never invite me round for tea.

05:30 - I have been shown some of the oddments and weird things that Steve and Matt found last night. The bones are a bit creepy, and the poo pile is just wrong! Badgers have been marking their territory, against rival badger clans…and maybe something more. Hmm. Also, there's loads of evidence; scratched trees, claw marked earth and animal tracks. These are the best! Really big paw prints, in the mud. There's also some copperish coloured fur on the barbwire. I wonder if it's a fox, but the strands are very short, and thick. More like bristles...

Some badger poo. Nice. I went to bed after seeing this...I'd had enough!

06:00 - It's a lovely morning. Any thought's and fears about Blair Witches, Wererabbits and Predators have gone. Gone back to the dark corners of the imagination. I've survived the night, seen some brilliant things, and got a real buzz from the experience. But…any beasts? Not as yet. The MBRG have several hours worth of recordings to get through, so we will have to wait. For now, this is Jonathan Boakes, one of the last remaining crew of Alpha Camp, signing off…and going to sleep.



Afterthoughts - Certainly an interesting night, that really inspires some good adventure game scenes. Matt Clark and I are now busy putting finishing touches to Barrow Hill 2 (Bracken Tor), with gusto. It feels like the game has taken an age to reach this stage, but this is what happens when one has to spend half the year tracking down misbehaving publishers, and take them to court. It can really put you off making games altogether. Which is the sad thing. But, with the right attitude, and hope for the future, it is still possible to make adventures and not have a miserable time. It is the game itself that is important, and the experience you have making it.

One of the long abandoned Tin Mine shafts...spooky places.

That bizarre night on the moors was just the ticket to get that good attitude flowing again. Things feel positive. It's a blast making games, and entertaining people with our mad little stories, so no-one, no matter how bent or deluded, can dent that. Games may be late, and mine will be later yet again!, but we DO get there eventually. I'm now working on Barrow Hill 2 - Bracken Tor with Shadow Tor Studios (thanks Matt!), so expect to spot some of my usual bits and bobs, here and there. It's really cool to work on a non-ghost game, and focus on archaeology and the ancient landscape. It's a creepy interest, shared by all involved, which is bound to create a good ol'yarn and enjoyable puzzle-driven adventure game.

Dark rites and pagan offerings in Bracken Tor - Time of Tooth and Claw.

Bracken Tor & The Moor - The landscape of Bodmin really is a spooky place, deep in legend and rich with folklore. The idea of combining the ancient people, stone circles, druidism and our modern times is a delicious one. The game, like the first one, explores how we (the modern folk) approach these dark places and rituals, and how the sites appear to us today. Those eerie monoliths, out on the moor, weren't always jutting from the naked peat, like Stoneage gravestones…no, they were once surrounded by deep forests of rowan, oak and pine. The Bronze Age people conducted ceremonies and rites, at these locations, which Matt can only hint at in his screenplay.

What Bracken Tor provides, and this really is exciting, is time travel! Both you and I can travel back and forth between the two time lines. Ancient and modern, then and now. We will discover what the ancient stones signified; we will learn their real purpose, and the role they played in those olden times. What bizarre acts took place, amongst the stones and trees?

In a way, I am glad that I didn't dwell on these matters, too much, while camped out 'there' on the Tor. Big, fierce wild cats are one thing, but the habits and ceremonies of those early civilisations really chill me to the bone. TV archaeology likes to paint a rosy image of those times, to educate and inform, but there WAS blood, sacrifice and devout pagan belief. It was a period of fear, and reverence, and horror...

...It was the time of Tooth and Claw.



Unknown said…
Jonathan - So glad to read your blog again. It reads like a short story. I'm sure I speak for everyone when I say "We've missed you, dude!"
Any news on the TLC2 front?
Keep up the great work!
GnP MMA said…
Sounds like an awesome time! Sorry I missed it! LOL The baby crying...yeah, kinda creepy! :o) It's like you were in The Bracken Witch Project! LOL
TJ said…
That was amazing! The pictures, the events and the story!
The video of the crow tree comes to a surprise to me! Just few days ago I've uplaoded a picture named the same!

And it's there in my FB as well.
Well, about the crying baby? For me, that's normal. Sometimes I even wake up in the middle of the night with someone calling my name, or feeling someone sitting on my chest, or sometimes I swear I could hear something said to me in a language I don't know (but sometimes sounds like Syriac).

The original Celts that inhabited the British isles did have indeed bloody practices but I would say not as frequent as the Mayans did. Roman resources, as far as I remember, reported that the natives did have some occasion when they build some huge human-like figure made of wood and hollow like a cage, and then it's filled with people and then set to fire as a sacrifice. Maybe the figure denotes Oghma, the sun god and the creator of the Ogham. Still, the controversy is on and on, since these reports were taken from the enemy #1 of the natives, the Roman invaders, and the whole thing could be just a propaganda!

This or that. These were really dark times...

Note: I think the guy who invented the microwave was a single guy too. This invention is just BRILLIAAAAAAAAAAAAAANT!
Anonymous said…
It sounds like it would be lovely there (aside from the insects and humidity), you get to do all the fun stuff. So who was the pressie for?

Jonathan Boakes said…
Ha ha. Well spotted. But, not a's a box of choccies. If the camp was attacked, I planned to stuff my face and die happy.
TJ said…
Just remembered you when I read this in a book I'm reading now: Irish Ghosts, by Geddes & Grosset.

The Strabane Station Ghost:

Strabane nowadays is far from a railway line, but until the 1950s it was a railway centre of some importance, where narrow-gauge lines from Glenties, Killybegs and Letterkenny in Donegal met the standard-gauge main line with connections to all the main cities of Ireland. One October night, three men, named as Madden, Oliphant and Pinkerton, were at work in the engine-shed, preparing an engine for an early departure. Shortly after midnight, they heard a terrific sound of knocking or hammering, which seemed to come from all over the building. This hammering was punctuated by a series of hideous screams and wailings. Opening up the doors, they were confronted by the huge figure of a man, glaring at them. Alerted by the same noises, another railwayman came running up from outside. He had taken the precaution of picking up a heavy spanner used for tightening rail joints, but the weapon made no impression at all on the figure, which remained present for almost two hours. The men, frightened to leave the engine shed, stayed there until it finally vanished.
The spectre returned the following night, when the same men were again on the night shift. Oliphant approached it, in an effort to find out whether it really was solid or not, but became overwhelmed by fear and collapsed. Again the figure uttered horrendous cries, and various objects, such as tools and pieces of machinery, were tossed about inside the engine-shed.
Although it transpired that a murder had been committed close to that spot, long before the days of railways, the manifestation has never really been explained.
Tom Baynham said…
Where was the standing stone photo taken. Looks like Nine Stones?
Jonathan Boakes said…
Cool story, TJ. I love a good railway haunting. I think you'd like the book, The Ghost Now Standing on Platform One. It's a collection of railway ghost stories, both fact and fiction.

The Ghost Now Standing on Platform One

Tom, the stone is one of 'The Hurlers', by Minions. Those circles, and the ones further out onto the moor, are the inspiration behind Matt Clark's new game, with the higher stones (and The C Ring) being the Bracken Tor of the title. We were up there, the other day, and found several sheep carcasses, all bloodied and open. Sadly it wasn't the work of the 'Beast of Bodmin Moor'. The silly creatures had fallen from the peak, down into the quarry. If you've been up there, you'll know it's quite a drop!

The photos of the circle came about by accident. We were hoping for clear skies that afternoon, to get some silhouettes for the title sequence, but, as you can see, it was pitch dark, and overcast! Good for photos though. :)
Unknown said…
Loved the blog, Jonathan. Nothing like a bit of camping to get away from the LCD screen. I believe I own all the PC adventure games you have been involved with, and I love them dearly except for an irritation it would be rude to post here. On tenterhooks waiting for to TLC 2 (and maybe DF 4 ?). All the best
Martin C said…
Hi Jonathan, Great blog. Played your game the lost crown. That was seriously good. Glad to hear that the follow up is still in development.

Got a little story... my wife and I used to watch that most haunted show and we decided to go to one of the places shown. So we headed over, with some friends and trepidation to the Schooner Inn on the Northumberland coast.

Had a great time. My wife insisted that we leave the light on overnight!

During the night, I had to go to the loo so wandered towards the toilet which was near the main door to the hotel room. When I got close to the door I could hear voices outside, so I put my ear to the door to listen in.

There were people conducting a seance in the hallway. One of was whispering "if there is anybody there, please give us a sign" and I had to hold back from the temptation of replying "If you want a sign please push £10 under the door!".

Nothing else happened that night. several rooms had the hotel lit up like a christmas tree all night. A friend took some photographs of some dust that was quite interesting floating past the camera.

Admittedly I am a bit of a skeptic about all this kind of stuff, but I must say really enjoyed your game and look forward to playing the follow up

Incidentally, I love the Devon coast - went to Beer this year and was tempted to wander into the town of 'Saxton' but could not persuade my family as they had never played the game and did not understand the excitement. Thanks Jonathan. Regards Martin from Buckley in North Wales.