Monday, April 6, 2009

We'll Leave the Speed of Light on for You

We'll Leave the Speed of Light on For You
20th-Century Guests Stay in 19th-Century Hotel

From "World of Strange Phenomena" by Charles Berlitz, published 1988 by Wynwood Press.

It all began innocently enough in October 1979, when two couples in Dover, England, set off on a vacation together, intending to travel through France and Spain. It ended in a journey that took them to another world.

Geoff and Pauline Simpson and their friends Len and Cynthia Gisby boarded a boat that took them across the English Channel to the coast of France. There, they rented a car and proceeded to drive north. Around 9:30 that evening, October 3, they began to tire and looked for a place to stay. They pulled off the autoroute when they saw a plush-looking motel.

Len went inside and in the lobby encountered a man dress in an odd plum-colored uniform. The man said there was no room in the motel but there was a small hotel south along the road. Len thanked him and he and his companions went on.

Along the way, they were struck by the oddness of the cobbled, narrow road and the buildings they passed. They also saw posters advertising a circus. "It was a very old-fashioned circus," Pauline would remember. "That's why we took so much interest."

Finally, the travelers saw a long, low building with a row of brightly lit windows. Some men were standing in front of it and when Cynthia spoke with them, they told her the place was an inn, not a hotel. They drove further down the road until they saw two buildings: one a police station, the other an old-fashioned two-story building bearing a sign marked "Hotel." Inside, everything was made of heavy wood. There were no tablecloths on the tables, nor was there any evidence of such modern conveniences as telephones or elevators.

The rooms were no less strange. The beds had heavy sheets and no pillows. There were no locks on the doors, only wooden catches. The bathroom the couples had to share had old-fashioned plumbing.

After they ate, they returned to their rooms and fell asleep. They were awakened when sunlight filtered through the windows, which consisted only of wooden shutters -- no glass. They went back to the dining room and ate a simple breakfast with "black and horrible" coffee, Geoff recalled.

As they were sitting there, a woman wearing a silk evening gown and carrying a dog under her arm sat opposite them. "It was strange," Pauline said. "It looked like she had just come in from a ball but it was seven in the morning. I couldn't take my eyes off her."

At that point, two gendarmes entered the room. "They were nothing like the gendarmes we saw anywhere else in France," according to Geoff. "Their uniforms seemed to be very old." The uniforms were deep blue and the officers were wearing capes over their shoulders. Their hats were large and peaked.

Despite the oddities, the couples enjoyed themselves and, when they returned to their rooms, the two husbands separately took pictures of their wives standing by the shuttered windows.

On their way out, Len and Geoff talked with the gendarmes about the best way to take the autoroute to Avignon and the Spanish border. The officers didn't seem to understand the word "autoroute," and the travelers assumed they hadn't pronounced the French word properly. The directions they were given were quite poor; they took the friends to an old road some miles out of the way. They decided to use the map instead and take a more direct route along the highway.

After the car was packed, Len went to pay his bill and was astonished when the manager asked only for 19 francs. Assuming there was some misunderstanding, Len explained that there were four of them and they had eaten a meal. The manager only nodded. Len showed the bill to the gendarmes, who smilingly indicated there was nothing amiss. He paid in cash and left before they could change their minds.

On their way back from two weeks in Spain, the two couples decided to stop at the hotel again. They had had a pleasant, interesting time there and the prices certainly couldn't be beat. The night was rainy and cold and visibility poor, but they found the turnoff and noticed the circus signs they had seen before.

"This is definitely the right road," Pauline declared.

It was, but there was no hotel alongside it. Thinking that somehow they had missed it, they went back to the motel where the man in the plum-colored suit had given them directions. That motel was there, but there was no man in the unusual suit and the clerk denied such an individual working there.

The couples drove three times up and down the road looking for something that, they were now beginning to realize, was no longer there.

They drove north and spent the night in a hotel in Lyons. Room with modern facilities, breakfast and dinner cost them 247 francs.

Upon their return to Dover, Geoff and Len had their respective rolls of film processed. In each case, the pictures of the hotel (one by Geoff, two by Len) were in the middle of the roll. But when they got the pictures back, the ones taken inside the hotel were missing. There were no spoiled negatives. Each film had its full quota of pictures. It was as if the pictures had never been taken -- except for one small detail that a reporter for Yorkshire television would notice: "There was evidence that the camera had tried to wind on in the middle of the film. Sprocket holes on the negatives showed damage."

The couples kept quiet about their experience for three years, telling it only to friends and family. One friend found a book in which it was revealed that gendarmes wore the uniforms described prior to 1905. Eventually, a reporter for the Dover newspaper heard [the story] and published an account. Later, a television dramatization of the experience was produced by a local station.

In 1985, Manchester psychiatrist Albert Keller hypnotized Geoff Simpson to see if he could recall any more of the peculiar event. Under hypnosis he added nothing new to what he consciously remembered.

Jenny Randles, a British writer who investigated this bizarre episode, wonders, "What really happened to the four travelers in rural France? Was this a timeslip? If so, one wonders why the hotel manager was apparently not surprised by their futuristic vehicle and clothing, and why he accepted their 1979 currency, which certainly would have appeared odd to anybody living that far back in the past."

The travelers -- perhaps time-travelers -- have no explanation. "We only know what happened," says Geoff.


  1. One glitch in this story : paragraph 12 claims the travellers paid in (19) French Francs...I presume in 1974 French currency ? Wouldn't the hotel manager have noticed some discrepancy with notes/coins they used if it was 1905 or earlier? If you used British Sterling currency in UK from only 10 years ago it would be instantly spotted as being invalid.

  2. One glitch in this story : paragraph 12 claims the travellers paid in (19) French Francs...I presume in 1974 French currency ? Wouldn't the hotel manager have noticed some discrepancy with notes/coins they used if it was 1905 or earlier? If you used British Sterling currency in UK from only 10 years ago it would be instantly spotted as being invalid.

  3. Yes, that that has been pointed out by others in the past, and I wish the question had been put to the experiencers.

  4. I've been troubled by the currency discrepancy as well. Not only would the designs be different but also 1970s-era coins would have been cupronickel rather than silver. All of that should have set off alarms for any business owner.

    Beyond the currency question, it would seem that things like clothing and speech would also be different. Wouldn't the locals have questioned what the visitors were wearing, and possibly asked questions about how they spoke French? (Of course, there's always the possibility that the residents chalked up those differences to the fact that they were interacting with tourists ... and British, at that, haha!)