Forests: they can be enchanting, relaxing, and near-magical places. They can, however, also be places in which monsters and other terrible things dwell. As you will now see. I'm about to share with you my five, favorite, freaky forests of the extremely strange variety. Two of them are in the U.K., one is in Texas, another in Puerto Rico, and the other on a huge mountain. Despite their differences in locations, they have one thing in common. That is, all of these forested areas have strange creatures in their midst. The list includes werewolf-like beasts, Bigfoot, flying monstrosities and much more. Now, read on...
RENDLESHAM FOREST, U.K.
Any mention of the mysterious locale that is Rendlesham Forest, Suffolk inevitably conjures up strange and surreal images of the famous, alleged UFO landing within the forest in the latter part of December 1980 – a startling event witnessed by numerous United States Air Force personnel stationed at a nearby military base, Royal Air Force Bentwaters. The bizarre affair has been the subject of a considerable number of books, numerous televisions shows, several investigations by military and governmental bodies, and unrelenting deep debate. Reports of strange lights, of small alien-like creatures seen deep within the heart of the woods, and of high-level cover-ups and sinister conspiracies, are all key ingredients of the case that has, for many, justifiably become known as the "British Roswell."
Close to forty years later, the events in question continue to provoke intense debate and controversy, with some believing that extraterrestrials really did land on British soil on that fateful night, or as some believe, across the course of several nights. Others hold the view that everything can be attributed to mistaken identity (of a nearby lighthouse, no less!), while some prefer the theory that a dark and dubious military experiment, and subsequent disastrous mishap, may have been to blame for all of the fuss. More than thirty years on, the debate continues to rage, and doubtless it will continue to rage for many more years to come.
As for the forest itself, it covers an area that is around 1,500 hectares in size and can be found in Suffolk’s coastal belt known as the Sandlings. It is comprised of large, coniferous trees, as well as heath land and wet land areas, and is home to the badger, the fox, the red deer, the roe deer and the fallow deer. According to some people, however, Rendlesham Forest is home to far weirder things, too.
Rendlesham Forest, as well as the Suffolk locales of West Wratting and Balsham, is reportedly home to something equally as strange – maybe even far more so – than a vehicle and creatures from another world. It is a beast that, locally, has come to be known as the Shug Monkey. Described as being a bizarre combination of giant dog, muscular bear, and large ape, the creature is said to take its name from either (A) an old English word – scucca – which means demon, and which, as we have seen already, also has a link to the naming of Shugborough Hall, Staffordshire; or (B) an old east-coast term - shucky – that translates, into modern day terminology, as hairy or shaggy. Maybe the name is even born out of a curious melding of both terms. But, whatever the true nature of the name applied to the foul, hairy entity, its presence in the woods of Suffolk is enough to strike deep terror into the hearts of those souls unfortunate enough to have crossed its path. Add to that reports of "Alien Big Cats" and witchcraft cults and you have a definitively weird forest.
THE BIG THICKET, USA
For many people, any mention of the words “Texas” and “the Lone Star State” provoke imagery of vast plains, cactus, tumbleweeds, and scalding hot deserts. In reality, however, the traditional image of Texas is very wide of the mark. Yes, much of West Texas is noted for its massive amounts of cotton fields. However, the desert environment that often springs to mind is far more applicable to New Mexico and Arizona. On top of that, most of east Texas is very heavily forested. Indeed, one only has to drive east out of the city of Dallas, to soon be in the heart of dense forest land. All of which brings us to a place called the Big Thicket, an undeniable magnet for mysterious apes and savage wild men.
To demonstrate just how heavily wooded Texas is, the Big Thicket alone – which is situated not at all far from the city of Houston – is more than 80,000 acres in size. It’s dominated by near-endless numbers of oak trees, beech trees, pines, and swamps and rivers. By day, the Big Thicket looks like pretty much any other large, sprawling mass of forestland. It’s after the sun has set, however, and darkness has fallen on the Big Thicket that things begin to change – and to a significant and creepy degree.
Much of the high-strangeness of the Bigfoot variety is focused in the vicinity of a six-mile-long stretch of fairly primitive road that runs through the woods and which is called Bragg Road. While that’s the road’s official title, it also has an unofficial name, too: Ghost Light Road. It takes its curious name from the fact that, for centuries, people have reported seeing, strange, eerie, floating balls of light flitting around the woods – balls of light that vary from the size of approximately a tennis ball to a soccer ball. And, it’s against this weird background that the Big Thicket Bigfoot dwells.
EL YUNQUE, PUERTO RICO
As the United States Department of Agriculture, Forest Service states: "The El Yunque National Forest is the only tropical rain forest in the national forest system. At nearly 29,000 acres, it is one of the smallest in size, yet one of the most biologically diverse of the national forests hosting hundreds of animal and plant species, some of which are found only here." Not only that, El Yunque has a long history of paranormal activity. Indeed, I have numerous cases on file of strange creatures seen in the rain forest. Norka was a fascinating lady, who lived in a spacious and atmospheric house high in the El Yunque rain forest and who I met in 2004. She had a sensational story to tell.
It was dusk, on a stiflingly hot, weekday night in August 1975. The atmosphere – as day began to surrender to nightfall – was as normal and tranquil as it had ever been. It wasn’t long, however, before normality and tranquility gave way to something hideous. As Norka drove carefully and slowly along the twisting, climbing road (in a car, rather than on one of her trusty motorbikes, I should stress), something suddenly surfaced from the huge, dense trees that stood proud and tall, like gigantic green curtains, and which dominated each side of the road.
Doing barely twenty miles an hour to begin with, Norka was easily able to slow down as a curious beast loomed into view. Norka, looking into the camera, said that only about twenty feet in front of her was the strangest, most terrifying animal it had ever been her misfortune to encounter. For all intents and purposes, it looked very much like a bat. Except, that is, for one astonishing thing: the abomination was around four to five feet in height.
Not surprisingly, Norka could scarcely believe her eyes as the monster shuffled slowly across the road, its muscular legs taking slow but deliberate strides across the hot tarmac. With her eyes transfixed on the beast, Norka could see that its body was dark brown in color. Two large wings were folded tight against its back. The clawed fingers on its hands – that drooped in curious, limp fashion from its bony wrists - were of a distinct, white-yellow hue. Of a near-identical color were two enormous fangs that protruded from its gaping, almost slack-jawed, mouth. Most frightening of all to Norka were the eyes of the creature: focused intently on Norka herself, they were almost blazing, like red hot coals.
After what seemed like a torturous amount of time, but which was maybe no more than twenty or so seconds, the creature unfurled its wings. At this point, Norka could see just how big those mighty, membranous appendages were: somewhere in a combined region of twelve to fifteen feet. Norka said the wings flapped in a fast, furious and loud fashion that deeply shocked her. In mere moments, the beast took to the skies, vertically, and was quickly lost from sight. The Chupacabra, Bigfoot-type creatures, large black cats, black-eyed aliens, and even large lizards of an unidentified nature have also been seen in the El Yunque rain forest.
CANNOCK CHASE, U.K.
Situated near Broadhurst Green, England - in the Cannock Chase woods - is a cemetery that is a memorial to no less than 5,000 German servicemen, whose graves are marked by headstones, constructed out of Belgian granite and set in plots of heather. The cemetery has its origins in 1959, the year in which Germany made the first, initial approaches with a view to finding a site on the Chase near the existing Commonwealth Cemetery that contains the graves of 388 men from both the First and Second World Wars, including near three hundred German soldiers. In March 1962, the County Council made a gift of the land to the German Government, with the design of the cemetery and its surrounding buildings placed in the hands of Professor Diez Brandi of Gottingen, Germany, and Harold Doffman and Peter Leach, who were partners in a Stafford firm of architects. As a result of the construction of the cemetery, between 1964 and 1966 the bodies of numerous German servicemen, such as sailors buried at seaports around the British coast, airmen shot down inland, and soldiers – most of whom were prisoners of war buried in churchyards around the country – were transferred to the cemetery, which today boasts thousands of visitors per year.
In 2001, a man named Mike Johnson encountered a very strange creature in the Cannock Chase woods. As Mike described it: "I noticed a group of three elderly walkers rambling in the distance and thought I’d wait until they were closer. They were walking towards me, as far as I could tell; then I would take stock of my position with their knowledge. About ten minutes passed as I watched them approach. They got to about five hundred meters away from me when I realized I could hear every word they said; it was as if they were standing in front of me.
‘There was a tall man in cream trousers and a shirt with a small rucksack, and two women aged maybe fifty to sixty with waterproof coats tied around their waists. As I watched them, they simply popped out of existence. One second they were there and the next gone. I assumed they had descended into a gully and had gone out of sight but I watched for a few minutes and they didn’t appear. Then I noticed them approximately two hundred meters to my left of my peripheral vision; but now they had someone extra with them.
"This character was tall, with very thin arms and legs, dressed in what I presumed were grey trousers and a tight long sleeved shirt of the same color. He - I presumed it was a he - walked to the rear of them and when they stopped for a second he stopped also. Observing the group, I now came to the conclusion this added walker was not what he seemed. His hairless head was elongated and neck spindly, and his arms reached practically past his knees; I could not discern a facial feature. The clincher was when one of the ladies stopped and drank from a bottle of water: he approached her quite closely and I realized he was around three meters tall.
"At this point I had a feeling of intense disorientation and the added walker turned to look at me and put a hand on the lady’s shoulder - this gesture seemed protective, as if to show me they were under his protection and I dare not interfere. I turned away to pick up my rucksack and approach the group, and when I looked up again I saw the original path to the German Cemetery was again in situ, with a large German Shepherd dog bounding down it, followed by a group of children and adults. The sun had returned to the west and all landmarks were again in vision. The walkers had gone and so had the landscape with them. I practically legged-it up the path to the car park and drove away. To this day I’ve never gone back."
Then, there's the matter of the Cannock Chase's werewolves. One of the earliest reports – referenced in the Stafford Post newspaper on April 26, 2007, in an article titled “Werewolf spotted in Stafford” – came from a local postman who, while riding his motorbike past the cemetery on one particular, sunny morning, caught sight of what at first he thought was a large dog walking around the cemetery. It was not a dog at all: it was a walking nightmare. The man was amazed, and more than a little concerned, by what he could soon see was a wolf. But, it was a wolf of extraordinary size. That wild wolves have reportedly been extinct in the United Kingdom since 1680 made matters even more amazing. That was the year in which one Sir Ewen Cameron killed a wild wolf in Perthshire, Scotland; quite possibly the very last wild wolf in the entire U.K. Granted, there have been sporadic reports of wolves still inhabiting some of the less traveled, and even less inhabited parts, of the country. Nothing, however, has even surfaced conclusively to demonstrate that wolves have lived in the wilds of the U.K. since the 17th century. But, try telling that to the beasts of a certain cemetery. And good luck telling that to the witnesses, too.
As the man slowed his bike down to a complete stop, he stared in awe and fear as the bulky animal prowled around the gravestones, and making it abundantly clear to the man that this was no husky dog or something similar. The stone-cold facts hit the man suddenly and hard: there was a wolf on the Cannock Chase. As the witness watched, entranced and with his heart practically pounding out of his chest, something terrifying and unearthly happened. The wolf caught sight of the man, froze, and stared intently in his direction; its eyes firmly locked on him for a few terrifying seconds. It was then that the body of the four-legged animal began to change, to mutate. The postman could only sit and watch – near-paralyzed to the spot – as the hind legs of the wolf started to grow in length. Oddly, and for a second or several, the creature became blurry to the eye as its form began to change. Then, with its legs now very much resembling those of a human in shape, the beast reared up on its morphed limbs and took on a bipedal stance. Not surprisingly, all that the man could think of was: werewolf. Fortunately for the witness, the creature raced into the heart of the woods and, within seconds, was gone.
TREMPEALEAU MOUNTAIN, USA
In September 2009, I spent approximately a week in and around (a) the town of Winona, Minnesota, and (b) portions of nearby Wisconsin, with a team from the History Channel’s popular cryptozoology-themed series, MonsterQuest. We were there to investigate reports of large winged beasts that, in some respects, sounded not unlike the infamous Mothman of Point Pleasant, West Virginia. Others, however, were far more of a giant birdlike nature. And several even seemed like a bizarre combination of both. Being there for a week gave me a very good opportunity to dig deeply into some of the sightings, to gain the confidence and trust of the locals, and to see what I could uncover. Much of the action revolved around the heavily wooded Trempealeau Mountain. And we checked it out.
There was a very good reason for this: the mountain, which is contained within the Perrot State Park (named after a French explorer, Nicolas Perrot), has longstanding traditions of sightings of huge birds. Many of these stories and legends originated with Native American tribes, who believed the creatures to be the legendary Thunderbirds, which are an integral part of their lore and history. With the MonsterQuest crew filming, we searched the mountain for the best part of a day and night, and – rather intriguingly – did find some large branches that hung over the sometimes-near-vertical edges of the mountain. None of us could deny they would have provided large winged things with perfect points of take-off and to allow them to make use of the thermals to help keep their mighty forms aloft. Whether or not they actually did, however, is quite another matter.
Late at night, we even used full-volume, call-blasting equipment, playing the calls of owls and eagles, as we sought to try and entice our quarry to show itself. It was to no avail. However, the witness testimony, combined with the Native American accounts of centuries past, convinced me that Trempealeau Mountain and its surroundings were, and maybe still are, home to fearsome fliers of the unknown kind.