A dense and eerily atmospheric area situated deep within the English county of Staffordshire, the Cannock Chase is a high plateau bordered by the Trent Valley to the north and the West Midlands to the south. And it’s also the very location where I spent much of my childhood and teenage years. The huge and picturesque Cannock Chase has been an integral feature of the Staffordshire landscape for generations. Following an initial invasion of Britain in A.D. 43, Roman forces advanced to the south to what is now the town of Cannock, and along a route that became known as Watling Street: a major, and historic, Roman road. The surrounding countryside was heavily wooded even back then, as can be amply demonstrated by the Romans’ colorful name for the area: Letocetum, or the Grey Woods. And those Grey Woods are, today, home to some distinctly strange beasts.
For example, the local Birmingham Post newspaper recorded that: “In March, 2006, ramblers reported seeing a ‘fourteen-foot snake moving through the bracken’ near to Birches Valley. They said the beast had a powerful head and ‘coloring that stood out sharply against the greens and blues of the bracken.’” Despite the fact that there are without doubt no indigenous snakes in the British Isles of such a monstrous size at all, it is also a reality that, from time to time, stories of bizarre, snake-like and sea-serpent-like creatures do surface in the area.
Indeed, the story told by the Birmingham Post eerily paralleled one that had been related to me back in 1995 by a man named Norman Dodd. In the 1970s, Dodd regularly commuted to the vicinity of the Cannock Chase woods on business, and had a truly startling encounter with a large snake-like beast in the woods during the summer of 1976 – which turned out to be one of the hottest on record for the British Isles.
Dodd informed me that he could not recall the exact location on the Cannock Chase where the incident had taken place; but he was able to state with certainty that it was a small pool, no more than twenty feet by thirty feet in size, “not far from [the village of] Slitting Mill; and back into the Cannock Chase.” Dodd stated that he had parked his car, a Ford Cortina, on the grass-verge of the road that was adjacent to the pool and was munching on his lunch and reading a newspaper. “It was a bloody stifling day. I remember swigging something to drink and having a bite when there was something moving right on the bank [of the pool].”
He added that he was startled to see a creature that he estimated to be around six or seven feet long slowly surface from the water; and that then proceeded to “bask” on the banks of the pool. “It sort of wriggled,” said Dodd, adding that “it was like its whole body seemed to sort of shake or wobble as it moved.” Dodd further explained that the animal had a serpent like head and an oily-colored skin. Its body was thick and it seemed wholly unconcerned by his presence. “I know it saw me – or saw the car, definitely – because it looked right in this direction and then just went back to what it was up to: just laying there.”
But what was most puzzling of all to the highly shocked Dodd was the fact that the animal seemed to have “flippers near the front – or little feet.” He conceded that the animal may conceivably have had similar “flippers” or “feet” at its rear, too; but explained that the “back-end never came right out of the water; like as if it was trying to keep itself cool from being part [sic] in the water.” He watched astonished – and not a little concerned, unsurprisingly – for at least twenty minutes, after which time the animal simply slid back into the pond.
He concluded: “I wondered how a small pond like that might feed an animal that big for food [sic]. But what about its feet or the flippers: does that mean it might have been able to go from pool to pool for fish and things?” Dodd’s eye-opening report was one of those that almost sounded too good to be true; and yet the wholly independent story of a giant snake seen in the Cannock Chase woods in early 2006 suggested to me that strange creatures were indeed on the loose in the area – and, perhaps, they still are.