Reports of Alien Big Cats in the British countryside are all in a day’s work for MERRILY HARPUR, but an apeman on Salisbury Plain and a Gollum-like creature in Lancashire suggest that far stranger things than mystery felids stalk the land…
If Britain’s Alien Big Cats (ABCs) live in the interstices between the real and the unbelievable, there seem to be other – even odder – creatures which share that intermediate, daimonic reality. People who see them often report them to the national ABC research group Big Cats In Britain for want of anyone else to tell. Their testimonies present a picture of legion existences, shading in and out of ‘species’, categories and dimensions in an agreeably fortean way.
For instance, it was while asking a Gotham farmer about a conventional (if I may use that word) ABC sighting that researcher Nigel Spencer unearthed the man’s previous sighting of a different, weirder animal. It was “very large, the size of a small bull – six foot [1.8m] long; very muscular build, with a huge head and its tongue hanging out”. It was curiously coloured: “light brown with prominent dark brown spots, like knots on a piece of timber”. It had a long tail and it ran at speed as they chased it in the Land Rover, “clearing a six-foot [1.8m] fence with ease”. What was that? On 4 September 2004, a man at Poynings near Brighton, Sussex, went out on to his patio and saw an animal bigger than a large dog and with very bright red fur, “brighter and more vivid than an Afghan hound”, and a long bushy tail, pacing slowly around the adjacent field. “The animal turned and ran with spectacular speed across the field… It bounded in a very distinctive way, both sets of legs (front and back) precisely synchronised with each other and moving in opposite directions.” He anticipates our reaction: “IT WAS NOT A FOX; I HAVE LIVED IN THIS AREA FOR 20 YEARS AND I SEE FOXES ALL THE TIME. It bore no resemblance to a fox. I am genuinely bemused by this animal”.
So far, so relatively normal. George Price, however, reported something several degrees stranger – something which had lived in his mind, as clear as day, for eight years. It happened in September 2002, when he was serving in the Army. He wrote:
“We were on exercises on Salisbury Plain. I was a commander in the turret of our tank, and we were advancing to contact our warriors. I was scanning the landscape when I turned to my 5 o’clock and looked right at a large, ape-like figure. It looked scared because of the noise from the engines and tanks were moving at speed all around. I couldn’t believe my eyes, so I punched my gunner to look at it because he couldn’t hear me over the engine. We both saw it run into nearby prickly shrubs.
“Its fur was similar to an orang-utan in colour, and the length and flow of it. Its face looked black, or darkish, but I couldn’t see its facial features, being too high an angle above it. It was more its gait – the way it moved: it was very fast and seemed to run with large strides. Its height was impressive too, it must have been 6ft-plus, but it seemed to run with its back low, i.e. bent over. It was an amazing sight to see it disappear into the shrubs. I kept staring at the spot as my tank was moving away but it never emerged again, as if there was a hole below the bush it dived into. I observed the area at distance for a while via the tank’s optics but nothing else was seen. It must have been terrified to move with half the British army tearing Salisbury Plain up.
“I told my superiors as soon as we stopped but it was laughed off so I never mentioned it much after. I did ask my gunner about it and he said he had seen it but not well enough to describe it. It has bothered me to this day, so I thought I would share it with you. I wish I had stopped to see it now. It was right next to me. Very strange.”
Witnesses such as George are just as amazed at what they saw as you and I would be, and just as sure that what they are looking at is part of our everyday, tangible reality. However, the subtle, slippery gradations between that reality and another are well described by Darla, a Canadian woman living in Lancashire, who recorded one of the strangest sightings in the BCIB files. The event took place, perhaps significantly, at a liminal place in the landscape – a boundary between sea and lake; and her narrative thoughtfully includes the daimonic signifiers – such as the three unusual waves, the “thick and strange” atmosphere – that precede and conclude the event. Darla wrote:
“I live in the beautiful Lytham St Anne’s area with my husband Jeff, who is British. On the 19th of March 2010, my husband and I were sitting in our car at Fairhaven Lake in Lytham just before midnight. It was a very nice evening and we were enjoying the peace and tranquillity. There was no moon that night, but the air seemed very still and the lights shining onto the lake made things rather romantic and relaxing.
“We were both feeling very calm, talking about how nice it was, when I suddenly heard the tide come up from behind us. I found it a bit strange to hear the tide due to the fact that it doesn’t reach the shore that often.
“I said to my husband excitedly, ‘Listen to the waves!’ I thought it strange that we never noticed the sound of the waves before, or why they seemed a bit strong, but at the same time it was a very soothing sound to hear.
“After the tide hit the sea wall approxim-ately three times it stopped.
“We turned our focus back to Fairhaven Lake, but as we looked out in front of us, we noticed there was a strange animal crawling around. At first we thought it was a fox, since previous to this night we had seen two foxes on separate occasions. I was excited – I like foxes – and seeing another would have made the night just as good as the waves, the lights on the lake and our own relaxed, happy demeanour at the time.
“At second glance, it seemed the shape and outline of the animal was quite different from a fox, and we continued to look on, wondering what it might be. It was dark so we assumed it was most likely a dog. We waited to see its owner walk up in front of the car after this strange dog, but nothing. The animal still remained in front of our car and we began to study it.
“It hopped once, then stopped, and my husband and I joked that it was a kangaroo. I said ‘No, it’s way too small for that, it must be a wallaby, hahaha.’ My husband than suggested that we turn our headlights on it to get a better view.
“When the lights came on, I was instantly startled and wished for the lights to be turned off, not just because of the sight in front of me, but I felt a strange sort of pity for the creature and didn’t want to scare it.
“I discussed this several times with my husband to confirm the accuracy of the sighting, and we both recall and described the same thing. It was about the size of a medium-sized dog, except for its legs, which seemed to be much too long for its body. Its limbs were twisted, and gnarled or knotted in places (almost like misplaced muscles). It was brownish in colour, with no fur at all, and I do not recall a tail or ears.
“I say that it was, in my mind, a sort of mediæval-ish creature, best described as ‘Gollum’ (a character from The Lord of the Rings movies).
“It looked up at us as soon as the headlights came on and it snarled, squinting with one eye. I guessed it was due to the light shining on it. It had a face, almost human-like but deformed in a way. It was eating something which we couldn’t see. It did not look happy, we did notice that; it looked very sad, miserable and evil.
“I cannot make an accurate match with this creature, in resemblance, to any other animal I have ever seen in my ENTIRE LIFE.
“It crawled away eventually, but not in a way any other animal moves – sort of a slither/crawl type movement, twisting its body as it travelled on and eventually out of our sight, heading toward the path along the seafront.
“My husband and I were in total shock. We looked at each other and said, ‘Wow that was really weird, what was that?!?!?!’ We decided after a minute or two to get out of the car and have a look around.
“We did, very briefly. However, the night seemed to change, the atmosphere was now thick and strange, and when we looked towards the path it terrified us, and we did not feel safe any more. We got back in our car and drove away.
“I’m not sure what that was we saw, or if anyone else has seen it as well. I know one thing, that is the strangest creature we have ever encountered, and definitely a good memory/story for our future grandchildren. We thought we would share this with people to see if anyone else has had any similar experiences. Thank you.”
Read Merrily Harpur's investigations into the latest alien big cat sightings in Britain in the upcoming issue of Fortean Times, FT282, on sale 10 November 2011.