'Which crop circles are the most iconic?' It's a common question for discussion over a drink in the crop circle bubble. We each have our own opinions. For The Croppie it's a matter of which circles have been the most important, the most recognisable and have best represented the public perspective of the circles phenomenon. You may disagree with some of the choices but all are viable contenders for the list...
GREAT SHELFORD, CAMBRIDGESHIRE
Great Shelford, Cambridgeshire, July 2001. Photograph by Steve Alexander.
Visitors to The Barge at Honeystreet will be familiar with this formation, nicknamed 'The Angel', as it forms the backdrop to the pub sign. It's an odd choice given the abundance of fantastic crop circles to have appeared in the near vicinity - Honeystreet is in Wiltshire and Great Shelford is near Cambridge - but the July 2001 circle's simplistic beauty and elegance speaks for itself.
CHILBOLTON RADIO TELESCOPE, HAMPSHIRE
Chilbolton Radio Telescope, August 2001. Photograph by Steve Alexander.
The Arecibo message was beamed into space during 1974 in the hope it may be intercepted by an alien intelligence. According to Andrew Griffin, writing for The Independent, 'Where the original Arecibo message had shown blocks of information including depictions of important chemicals like carbon, an illustration of DNA and a picture of a human being. The hoax reply [of 2001] was probably too perfect: carbon was swapped for silicon, the DNA was altered and the human being was replaced with a big-headed alien of the kind seen in science fiction.' The location of the formation also helped capture the public imagination; right next to the radio telescope at Chilbolton, Hampshire.
BARBURY CASTLE, NR SWINDON, WILTSHIRE
Barbury Castle, 2008. Photograph by Steve Alexander.
Beautifully executed, wonderfully minimalist and constructed across a public footpath under the slope of Barbury Castle, this formation seems to be a pictoral representation of the Pi mathematical sequence.
An explanation of the Barbury Castle circle.
10. CHEESEFOOT HEAD, NR WINCHESTER, HAMPSHIRE
Cheesefoot Head, August 1991. Photograph by Kit Nielsen.
Three simple circles all on a straight axis; the smaller pair flanking the larger central circle. Positioned in the Devil's Punchbowl, a natural amphitheatre at Cheesefoot Head, just outside of Winchester, these 'mystery rings' were bought to the attention of the local and regional media by Pat Delgado, an inventor and retired engineer, in the summer of 1983. Perhaps more importantly, Delgado also contributed a piece on the Cheesefoot Head circles to Flying Saucer Review; an article that would forge an irresistible link between cerealogy and ufology.
9. Chilcomb Farm, Hampshire
Chilcomb Farm, May 1990. Photograph by Colin Andrews.
This formation from May 1990 is simplistic by contemporary standards, but it marked a huge shift in the evolution of the circles phenomenon. Located just outside the Hampshire village of Chilcomb, it is widely recognised as the first pictogram due to the inclusion of straight lines in its construction. Doug Bower and Dave Chorley would later lay claim to having made the Chilcomb pictogram, Bower saying the straight lines had been inspired by those in an abstract painting: 'Young Woman' by Georges Ribemont-Dessaignes.
'Young Woman' by Georges Ribemont-Dessaignes.
8. Windmill hill, NR avebury, wiltshire
Windmill Hill, near Avebury, July 1996. Photograph by Steve Alexander.
How could it be possible to surpass the original Julia Set? Put three together to make a formation that continues to adorn circles merchandise around the world.
7. Bythorn, Cambridgeshire
Bythorn, September 1993. Photograph by Lucy Pringle.
Long after the Centre for Crop Circle Studies almost tore itself apart over the origins of this circle, Hugh Newman neatly described the impact of the Bythorn 'mandala' from 1993, writing '[the] stunning ten-petalled geometric ‘mandala’ with a five pointed star in the centre started a whole new style for the phenomenon.' Yes, this is where the era of the mega-doily circles began.
6. Crooked Soley, West Berkshire
Crooked Soley, August 2002. Photograph by Steve Alexander.
Late in August 2002, as the combine harvesters closed in, photographer Steve Alexander managed to snap a series of photos of an incredible formation close to the tiny Berkshire village of Crooked Soley. It appeared to resemble a circular loop of DNA and was constructed from 1296 quadrants, of which 509 had been flattened. This mind-bending circle raised numerous questions over its meaning and method of creation. It also inspired cerealogists Allan Brown and John Michell to produce a book on the formation entitled, appropriately enough, Crooked Soley.
5. Milk Hill, Alton Barnes, Wiltshire
Milk Hill, August 2001. Photograph by Steve Alexander.
The 12 August 2001 'galaxy' formation spanned an enormous 450m in diameter and some ten tramlines. It contains 400 circles and, according to the Circlemakers.org website 'if this formation was man made allowing for time to get into and out of the field under cover of darkness the construction time left should be around four hours. Given that there are over 400 circles some of which span approx 70ft in diameter that would mean that one of those circles would need to be created every 30 seconds' and that's one huge achievement.
Croppie Charles Mallett claims there is no way the 'galaxy' could be man-made as he was camping on Milk Hill at the time of its arrival and wasn't disturbed. In 2012 the actress Sarah Miles challenged any interested circle making team to precisely reproduce the 'galaxy' formation for a £100,000 prize. Given the ridiculous nature of terms and conditions placed upon any would be participants it's hardly surprising there were no takers.
4. Stonehenge, Nr Amesbury, Wiltshire
Stonehenge, July 1996. Photograph by Steve Alexander.
The appearance of the Julia Set formation at Stonehenge on 7 July 1996 beckoned in a sequence of crop circles resembling fractals - mathematical patterns which are self-similar at different scales. Its design and relationship to sacred geometry through a Fibonacci curve enough to capture the public imagination (American ufologist Michael Lindemann noted how quickly representations of the formation 'adorned websites, posters and t-shirts across Europe and America'), but the circle's iconic status was ensured by the tale from a pilot who had flown over Stonehenge and claimed it could only have appeared, in broad daylight, during a 45 minute window.
3. Barbury Castle, Nr Chiseldon, Wiltshire
Barbury Castle, July 1991. Photograph by George Wingfield.
In 2019 the (17th July) 1991 formation at Barbury Castle, near Swindon, is something of a withered icon. By contemporary standards it is nothing too impressive - just look at how one of the sides of the centre enclosing 'triangle' is bent enough to render it an irregular quadrilateral! However, in an historical context, the impact of this circle was massive, meriting it the title 'the mother of all pictograms'. It is easy to understand why. In a time when most pictograms sported rings, avenues, forks and ladders, the Barbury event provided the croppie community with something new. John Michel, new age author, geometer and editor of The Cerealogist suggested the formation's geometry held 'deep cosmological significance', whilst fellow researcher Peter Sorensen suggested it was 'perhaps the most significant crop circle of all.'
2. Crab Wood, Sparsholt, Hampshire
Sparsholt, Hampshire, August 2002. Photograph by Steve Alexander
The Crab Wood circle of August 2002 reflected renewed public interest in the UFO mystery, but it is surely also the most mind-blowing formation of all time. At ground level it was astonishingly indecipherable, but from above it was a pictorial representation of the archetypal grey alien presenting a disk. Inside this accessory was a coded binary message; 'Beware the bearers of FALSE gifts & their BROKEN PROMISES. Much PAIN but still time. BELIEVE. There is GOOD out there. We OPpose DECEPTION. Conduit CLOSING.'
For some, this message has been just as striking as the formation. Who are the bearers of false gifts and why is the conduit closing? Did the latter represent just the end of the message or did it mean something deeper?
The Crab Wood formation briefly featured in M. Night Shyamalan's 2002 crop circle themed movie Signs. Despite allegations from veteran circles researcher Colin Andrews in 2019, there is no evidence that this formation was a commission paid for by movie production company Touchstone Pictures. However, an article on the Crop Circle Wisdom website suggests the b1ackprojects group were responsible.
1. East Field, Alton PRIORS, Wiltshire
Alton Barnes, July 1990. Photograph by George Wingfield
The sleepy twin villages of Alton Priors and Alton Barnes rest unassumingly under the steep, southern escarpment of Marlborough Downs. On the 12th July 1990 they awake to the presence of a vast, 430 feet long pictogram in East Field, a vast grain field farmed by Tim Carson and his wife Polly. Unprecedented in its size and complexity at the time, the formation blew the minds of croppies and the general public alike. Tourists and television cameras made their way to the beautiful Vale of Pewsey to view the circle from the top of Knap Hill. Those willing to pay the £1 cost of admission could step inside the formation itself.
The lasting effects of the Alton Barnes event were twofold. First, it established the tiny village as the epicentre of the circles phenomenon around the world. Second, and most importantly, it demonstrated the strength of the circles in the public psyche; a photograph of the formation was used as the basis of the cover of seminal rock band Led Zeppelin's Remasters compilation album in October 1990.