The Beast of Bodmin Moor
Stories and legends have been told about a mysterious cat like beast roaming wild on Bodmin Moor since Sir Arthur Conan Doyle published his Sherlock Holmes adventure The Hound of the Baskervilles in 1901, which was then serialised in The Strand magazine. The story centred on the fictional Baskerville Hall, which was located on Bodmin Moor in Devon, a bleak and sweeping expanse of open moor-land peppered with marshes, bogs, valley’s and caves. Bodmin Moor has inspired storytellers for generations and provides the backdrop for many a folklore and legend. Conan Doyle used this to create his tale of a wild hound who set about eating his way through the Baskerville family and Sherlock Holmes was dispatched to solve the mystery.
Since then the legend continued with farmers, who would report livestock slaughtered by a mysterious large animal and since 1983 hundred of reported sightings have been made of a large cat like creature roaming wild on the lonely moor. In 1996, as media attention increased, over 300 sightings were recorded and the subject was hot news in the gossip magazines of the time. Locals are convinced there are one or more large panther or puma like creatures loose on the moor yet no solid evidence has ever been found. Although that in itself is not conclusive as an army could hide on Bodmin moor, but you would think at least the odd carcass or dead body would have been found over the many years this legend has perpetuated. However, a local farmer sold her entire flock of sheep after four ewes were mysteriously ripped to death during one night in 1994. Despite the fact they were not eaten, as it is fair to expect a hungry wild cat to do with its kill, the farmer has now become one of many dedicated to finding the Beast of Bodmin Moor.
Hunting ABC’s (alien big cats) has become an obsession for many in Britain and is reminiscent of the hunt for the Loch Ness Monster but, like Nessie, the ABC’s remain undetected. During the mid 1990’s, as reported sightings around Bodmin Moor increased, the government dispatched the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (MAFF) to investigate but their report, published on July 19th 1995 concluded the was ‘no verifiable evidence to be found to support the theory.’ Although the report conceded that ‘the investigation could not prove that a big cat is not present.’ So that was a waste of money then. Less than week later, on July 24th, three brothers were walking by the River Fowey on the southern edge of the moor and found, what turned out to be, a large cat skull bobbing in the water. The skull was over seven inches long complete with two large prominent incisors and the discovery made the national news, particularly as it came just a week after the government report. However, the British Museum later confirmed that a tropical cockroach egg was found in the skull that could not possibly have been laid in Britain. They concluded the skull must have once been part of an old leopard skin rug that had once been imported to Britain.
In 1997 staff at Newquay Zoo identified tracks found to the south of the moor as the fresh tracks of a puma and shortly afterwards a now famous photograph was produced of a large black cat like creature, although the authenticity of this piece of evidence has not been confirmed.
Then, in 1999, the government sent in The Royal Air Force equipped with the latest military night vision equipment and thermo heat seeking cameras, but bad weather hampered their operation and nothing was found at all. Presumably they didn’t think sending them in on a warm summer’s night instead of an October evening would be a better idea. It wasn’t and more money was wasted.
The county of Surrey has also been the centre of ABC activity with twenty-one recorded sightings in 2005 alone. Villagers in Abinger Common claim to have spotted the Surrey Puma that is supposed to have prowled the villages south of Dorking several times in their area. Surrey has been a favoured Big Cat hunting ground for many years and sightings since 1959, when the first reports were made of ‘strange big cats’ on the Surrey and Hampshire boarder. The local constabulary ignored the reports at the time as they would dismiss reports of car theft and many other crimes these days but those involved were convinced.
One of the most graphic accounts came from a Mr Burnigham who, when driving along a secluded country lane one evening saw what he described as an enormous great cat crossing the road about forty yards in front of him. About the size of a Labrador dog, but with a ‘definite feline gait’, Mr Burnigham stopped and watched as the cat crouched in woods watching lambs in a nearby field. After several minutes the big cat moved out of sight and Burnigham drove away, only reporting his exchange the local press highlighted years further sightings a few years later.
In 1962 there were two sightings of ABC’s in the Shooters Hill area of London, the first by a lorry driver and the second by an on-duty policeman who was startled by what he thought to be a cheater jumping over the bonnet of his patrol car. Other sightings in Surrey prompted a mass Cheater hunt across the county in 1963 but nothing was ever found to provide evidence of ABC activity in the area. However, in 1964 Surrey residents reported terrible howling noises one night, unlike anything they had heard before. A herd of cattle stampeded and the following morning a steer was found dead in nearby woods. The examining vet reported the wounds had been caused by ‘an animal, which was not to be found in this country.’ (SIC)
However, the authorities have denied the existence of wild animal roaming the countryside although the general belief was that a private collector had released two or three puma cubs into the wild during the 1950’s, either deliberately or by mistake, and these had accounted for the sighting during that decade and the following one. There is no doubt Surrey provides the perfect conditions being less harsh than Bodmin Moor, warmer, less windy and if stocked wild game and livestock that could keep an adult hunting cat alive for a long period of time. Also, the dense and remote woodland couple with the fact that this type of big cat is nocturnal and afraid of humans they are likely to remain undetected for decades, if not for all time.
A survey by the British Big Cats organisation supports the sightings in both Surrey and Bodmin Moor and stated ‘there is little doubt that big cats are roaming Britain.’ There were 2052 reported sightings in 2005 alone with the majority being in the south east and south west of England (Surrey and Bodmin Moor) but there are no reported attacks on humans
And so the hunt continues, but one thing is for sure. Like Nessie, Big Foot and the Abominable Snowman all the time we don’t find actual evidence of their existence we can never disprove such legends and many people will always believe in them. I feel it is time to bring in Sherlock Holmes again.
Extracts from The President’s Brain is Missing (And Other Urban Legends)
Albert Jack books available for download here