Well, after a number of articles from me on the menacing Men in Black, ominous Black Eyed Children, UFO conspiracies, and diabolical monsters, it's time for a bit of light relief. And, no, the title of this article is not a joke! Nor is it April 1st! The United Kingdom is indeed home to "giant rabbits." At least, it is in a very strange and surreal fashion. As you read on, you'll see why. And how. I'll begin with a story from a good mate of mine, Jon Downes. He's the director of the UK-based Center for Fortean Zoology, a full-time group dedicated to the study of unknown animals. We're talking about Bigfoot. About Nessie. About the Chupacabra. And, yes, about those "giant rabbits" too.
Jon's story dates from the late 1970s, when he was valiantly hanging onto the final months of his teens. From a friend named Mike, Jon received a startling story, one which was focused on an area near to where Jon lived at the time: Powderham Woods, located in the English county of Devon. It was while walking through the woods that Mike encountered something remarkable. In Jon's own words: "Mike had been hunting for chestnuts when he was startled to see what looked like a rabbit, was shaped like a rabbit, and even hopped like a rabbit - it just happened to have been about three feet tall! I sat back slightly dazed. Mike was one of the most reliable witnesses that I have ever had the honor to interview, and he had just told me a spiel of utterly bizarre nonsense. It just didn't make sense."
No, at the time it didn't make any sense. Things soon changed, however. But, before we get to that, I'll share with you a story of my own. In the same way that Jon was hanging onto the last of his teenage years in 1979, I was doing likewise in late 1994, when my twenties came to an end. That was when I interviewed a man named John Platt. A resident of the English city of Norwich, Platt had a curious tale to tell of having seen a huge rabbit, in 1988, charging across England's Peak District. The Peak District National Park, where Platt had his encounter, is found at the southern end of the Pennines - from where reports of wallabies have also surfaced. At the time, Platt was visiting his daughter and son-in-law - who lived in the Staffordshire city of Lichfield. He was amazed at the sight of the over-sized, diabolical bunny, which both amazed and horrified him.
Then there's the story of a Welshman named Gwyn Fowler. In the summer of 1998 he saw, and I quote, "a massive hare" on a road near Scotland's Loch Lomond, which is located on the Highland Boundary Fault. Was he sure it wasn't a rabbit of the type encountered by Jon Downes' friend, Mike in the 1970s, and by John Platt in 1988? Yes, Fowler was absolutely certain. Two giant rabbits and a giant hare? What's going on? Well, something is. But it's not what it appears to be. Back to Jon Downes.
Intrigued by Mike's story, Jon decided to check out Powderham Woods for himself - with Mike along too. As they made their way through the old woods, and specifically to the area where Mike had his encounter, something very bizarre happened, as Jon notes: "I stopped dead. For a good two minutes, we stared at a giant rabbit, and the giant rabbit stared back at us. Then the figurative penny dropped. It wasn't a rabbit. It was a wallaby."
As strange as it might sound, there is actually nothing that unusual about seeing wild wallabies in the UK - there are more than a few colonies of them dotted around the land. As for how one had decided to make its home in Powderham Woods, the answer is relatively simple. In the late 1930s a woman by the name of Butler, who lived near Holcombe, Devon, kept wallabies in a private enclosure. When southern England was hit by a huge hurricane in October 1987, a number of those same wallabies escaped. Most of them remained free. Some of them, on occasion, were seen. Hence Mike's story of having encountered a "giant rabbit" in Powderham Woods. And, let's face it, it's not too difficult to see how someone might mistake a wallaby for a giant rabbit on a dark night.
It's pretty much certain that what John Platt saw in 1988 was a wallaby too. The Peak District encompasses portions of Staffordshire, Cheshire, Greater Manchester, and South and West Yorkshire. It runs to around 555 square miles. Its population of red-necked Tasmanian wallabies were part of a collection of animals that had been brought to the area - prior to the Second World War - by a landowner named Captain Courtney Brocklehurst, of Swythamley Hall.
As far as Captain Brocklehurst’s history is concerned, he was the owner of Roaches House near Buxton, where the wallabies lived contentedly – along with a variety of yaks, llamas and emus – after their transfer from Swythamley Hall. They stayed there until wartime regulations unfortunately required that his private-zoo be disposed of. No-one, of course, wanted to see the animals killed as a result of the stringent regulations, and so they were released onto the moorland. They lived there successfully for decades. Occasional reports suggest they may still be there. Albeit in vastly reduced numbers today. Most locals know the story. But, Platt - coming from the city of Norwich, near the east coast - would likely not have been exposed to the history of the wallabies.
As for Gwyn Fowler's story of a giant hare seen near Loch Lomond, Scotland, that's pretty much explainable too. Inchconnachan is an island on Loch Lomond itself. It just happens to have its own colony of wallabies. They were deliberately introduced there in the 1920s by Lady Arran Colquhoun. We may never know for sure how the wallaby in question reached the mainland, but the chances are that one of Inchonnachan's wallabies was Gwyn Fowler's huge hare.
So, if, one dark night, you find yourself walking through a shadowy area of UK woodland, and you stumble upon what looks like a giant rabbit, don't panic. It's just one of the nation's many out-of-place wallabies!