In the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, the Drumming Well at Oundle, in central
England, was famous for the booming drum strokes that came from its center. Legend said
that the well drummed out sounds before events that had great importance for England.
The long, continuous, sonorous sounds it produced anticipated the deaths of King Charles
II and King James II, as well as several battles with France. Soldiers who came near the
site even claimed the beats thrummed in time to a particular march.
Studies later found that the well, which was almost forty feet deep and on the side of
a hill, produced its drumming only when the water level was between six and eleven feet.
Investigators believed that when heavy rains caused the water to rise rapidly, pockets
of air were trapped in underground crevices surrounding the well’s wall. When these
bubbles were eventually forced out, they rose to the surface of the water, creating a
gurgling sound that reverberated along the length of the well.
This phenomenon is not uncommon. In central Oregon, there are many wells and caves that
produce strange noises caused by air circulation deep beneath the earth. The region has
millions of adjoining cracks and openings, smaller than a fingernail, all formed as
cooling volcanic lava shrank. The tiny crevices have not yet been filled with soil and
minerals, and when air swirls through it is trapped between impermeable layers of fine
dirt. In places where wells and caves reach the surface, the underground air responds
to changes in atmospheric pressure. When the outside air pressure rises, air floods into
the ground. When the air pressure falls (like before a storm), air rushes out. At the
cave openings, the drafts are sometimes so strong that objects thrown in are carried
back out by the wind.
To make a sound, the cave openings are covered, forcing the air to squeeze out through
other holes or cracks. In central Oregon, the Lavacicle Cave whistles and roars and
thousands of cubic feet of air are pumped out through tiny holes in the cave’s