Odds and Dead Ends : The curse of Alton Towers’ Chained Oak

Anyone who lives in the UK will recognise the name Alton Towers almost purely on principal. The premiere theme park in the UK and located in Staffordshire, England, is built on the grounds of an actual 15th century castle near the village of Alton, the Alton Towers of name. Converting to a full amusement park in the late 1970’s, it acquired the Corkscrew rollercoaster in 1980, the first in Europe to have a double corkscrew inversion, making a statement as to its future ambitions. It’s gone on to become bigger and bolder over the years, bringing in many top class attractions and world’s firsts, including Oblivion (the first coaster to feature a vertical drop), and The Smiler (the first with fourteen inversions). For the horror fan, it’s strangely homely, as it features a splattering of rides with dark and sinister theming.

Along with the ghost train Duel (a ride combined with a blaster game, where you shoot targets on ghouls and zombies to score points against your friends), many of the coasters are also horrifically themed. Th13teen is the principal coaster of the Dark Forest section, an evil woodland come to life, Wicker Man is a wooden coaster built around a sacrificial effigy in a similar vein to the film of the same name, and Nemesis is themed to be a ride forged from chains made to hold down an unearthed alien entity.

One of these rides is Hex, a flat ride located inside the towers itself. Hex is part walkthrough, part ride, where riders eventually sit either side of a large platform which moves in conjunction with the room, to create a disorienting experience where one eventually finds it hard to distinguish if they are moving, or the room alone, or both, or neither, or in which direction. What many people may not actually know is that the tree in the story of the ride is a real tree, and the story based off actual legend.

Traveling back home to the towers in the 1840s (though some say in the 1820’s), the Earl of Shrewsbury finds an old woman at the side of the road. Stopping the carriage, she asks him for a spare coin, to which the Earl promptly huffs, dismisses her, and travels on. As the cart pulls away, the old woman turns, points a finger at him, and calls after him, that whenever a branch should fall from a nearby oak tree, a family member of the Earl should die.

Sometime later, when the curse is all but forgotten, a storm kicks up. The winds batter the walls and howl in thenight, and in the darkness, a branch is ripped free of the tree and crashes to the ground. The curse soon comes true as a family member (a son in some versions of the tale, a daughter in others), falls ill and passes on. In some versions, another branch falls and someone else dies later again, but in all accounts, the Earl soon orders great chains to be forged. The chains are wrapped around the tree, lashing the branches to the trunk, in an attempt to avoid any future tragedy.

Where reality falls and tales begin is hard to distinguish, because the chained oak is a real tree, and there was a carriageway that ran close to it. Hollyman and Kelsall’s article on the story also describes a similar tale involving a fortune teller appearing at a banquet in exchange for shelter, and casting a similar curse when he is dismissed. We don’t actually have any idea as to how old the chains are, or when they were wrapped around the tree. Added to this, the Towers’ version of the story is embellished for the ride, adding in the Earl of Shrewsbury performing experiments on one of the branches to find a way to lift the curse. When you combine this with a lack of historical documentation for the woman in the road, chains being made, etc, you have a story which is likely created over time through whisper and rumour. At the same time, there’s nothing saying that the story couldn’t indeed be true.

It’s certainly interesting to see local folklore like this being brought to a wider audience through a theme park ride, even more that parts of it are true, if not the actual curse bit. Stone steps lead up to the real oak, rotting and degrading, like an altar. Though nobody in the current Earl’s family passed away when sections of the tree fell away a few years ago, the spookiness of it remains. A visit to the area may be a nice pilgrimage for all you horror hunters if you ever visit the park, though of course, careful not to break any branches off it whilst you’re there.

-Article by Kieran Judge

-Twitter: KJudgeMental

Bibliography

Hollyman, S. & Kelsall, G., 2008. The Legend of the Chained Oak. [Online]
Available at: https://web.archive.org/web/20130430220927/http://www.altontowersheritage.com/heritage/article.asp?articleid=99
[Accessed 02 05 2020].

KIDNAPPED BLOG: Released by Selah Janel

halogokidnappednotdateby Selah Janel

For me, a horror story begins as a what if. I like to suspend belief when I plunge my characters into a situation, and this also tends to keep me from uber-focusing on only one style or subgenre in horror and dark fiction. I’m just as open to writing evil invisible friends that can end the world as I am vampires, zombies, fairy tale eldergods, or naïve serial killers looking for love.

As you can imagine, my family is very proud.

However, sometime’s it’s hard to jump start an idea, or even find the right way to portray it to get it started on paper.

Flash fiction has always been a challenge for me, but I love writing prompts because they tend to immediately activate the what if portion of my brain. If I have a couple words or a phrase, I’m much more likely to start jotting down something than I am if you tell me “write something scary!”

You do that, you’ll probably get something sarcastic about bunnies, just sayin’.

At any rate, once I have a direction, the rest tends to just…pour out.

This is a classic example. I was taking part in a blogging campaign right when I first started my blog, and there were flash fiction contests every so often. I think the prompt for this was “wall” and I had like five hundred words or so to tell a tale. I love little moments like this, and I still really like this piece. It’s amazing what can come out of a person’s brain in five hundred words one you’re given a direction.

Released

Shadows crept along the wall as velvet grey fingers seared right through the mortar between crumbling bricks. The longer Morgana stared, the more her suspicions were reinforced. The crawling, skittering veins and puddles of effervescent nightmares were not attacking the wall, but were coming from it.

“I stared too long,” she murmured, as if to convince her terrified logic that she was still alive. “I looked too closely and saw into The Wall. Somehow it saw me.” Past scrawled orange graffiti, under the brick, Morgana had seen it. And it had been trapped safely away, because it was evil.

She’d been warned to ignore the Cobbington Village Wall. No one remembered when or why it had been built across Shepherd’s Field, but the entire village population was content to let the whole place fall to neglect if it meant they could ignore The Wall.

“I just had to go for a walk,” Morgana whimpered, unable to move or even blink away from the skulking, oozing touches of the vile nothing that leaked out. “I just had to listen to the talk shows and change things up a bit. I couldn’t just be content watching a movie, eating dinner on my own, and falling asleep on the couch.” What had seemed a horrible prison sentence even thirty minutes ago was suddenly heaven; why had she been so stupid as to long for more than her humdrum, cashier, sweat-suit life?

The black entity that The Wall had held captive for so long oozed and splatted onto the grass. It sucked the life and color away as it claimed the good and simple of everyday life into its clutches. Morgana watched numbly as the ground, the air, the ants at her feet screamed and shriveled into grey nothing. “All I wanted was something different!” she stammered as the tendrils crept towards her toes. “Why did I have to go outside today?”

The rippling darkness chuckled and slowly flowed over her feet like spilled porridge, devouring her beat-up sneakers in its cold, blank grasp. She choked back a cry when the slimy ice feeling gripped her ankles.

“This is better,” the living tar streaming over her feet burbled into her mind. “They tried to hold me back for so long…now I’ll use you to return to Cobbington. We’ll both break free from the village, you and I.” Morgana tried to scream, but the horrible realization that at least her life would finally be interesting actually made her smile as her thoughts stopped becoming her own. For its part, the darkness growled its thanks before everything Morgana knew faded.

***

Selah Janel writes in many genres and wrecks them all. When she’s not writing, she’s making trolls and other costumes. Check her out at the following places:

Blog: http://www.selahjanel.wordpress.com

Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/authorSJ

Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/SelahJanel