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Cannibals, Mountains and Death: All in the U.K.

Okay, here’s where things are at: over the last few days I’ve told some of the more important stories of giants, little people and weird people in what was is now the U.K.. I’m going to conclude this saga by focusing on the downright dangerous characters of the last few centuries. Crypotozoolgist Jon Downes notes of wild men seen in the counties of Devon and Cornwall that: “From the Cannibals of Clovelly to the Brew Crew of Treworgey, the whole area has attracted people who wish to live outside of our recognized society; and these people have often degenerated into a wild and lawless existence, sometimes even reverting to a surprisingly primitive lifestyle.” They were, by definition, men and women living wild, sometimes very wild, and in recent times, too; in fact: very recent times. And, thus, in their own odd and unique ways they, too, have become staple parts of the legend of the British wild man. We’re talking about cannibals in the U.K.

Preserved in an eight-page chapbook in the Pearse-Chope collection at Bideford is a sensational and controversial story of one John Gregg and his assorted family of murderers and thieves. The text is estimated to date from the latter part of the eighteenth century and it recounts the story of how the Gregg family took up residence in a cave near Clovelly on the north coast of Devon in the 1700s, and from where they were to live for an astonishing twenty-five years. So the legend goes, during this period they passed their time by robbing more than a thousand unfortunates, and merrily devoured the corpses of all those they robbed. Such was the horror the story generated that even the king himself – along with four hundred men – allegedly resolved to bring to an end their prehistoric-like and abominable existence. The cave was supposedly discovered and reportedly contained, according to the chapbook, “such a multitude of arms, legs, thighs, hands and feet, of men, women and children hung up in rows, like dry’d beef and a great many lying in pickle.” The grisly group were put to death. No doubt!

Then, there’s  Ben Macdhui, at 1309 meters(4296 ft), the second highest mountain in the U.K. and which lies in the heart of the mountain range known as the Cairngorms. Andy Roberts, the leading authority on the strange enigma of what has become known as Scotland’s Big Grey Man, says: “The mountain comprises of a high plateau with a sub-arctic climate and is often covered in snow for months at a time. Weather conditions can be extreme and unpredictable. Sadly the Cairngorms have been defaced by ski-lifts and restaurants but until recently have remained remote, requiring considerable physical effort and mountain-craft to navigate successfully. The wild nature and relative inaccessibility of the area has contributed to their popularity and the Cairngorms have been a playground for climbers, walkers, skiers, naturalists and those who love the high and lonely places for hundreds of years. Ben Macdhui has several spellings and its English translation is Gaelic for hill of the son of duff.” Whatever the “BGM” is, there’s no doubt that most people are terrified by it.

Cairngorms National Park

And, adds Andy: “Like any other area of land be it mountain, plain, or urban townscape Ben Macdhui and its environs have a large body of oral and written folklore which encompass phenomena which broadly fall into the Fortean and paranormal fields.” The past eighty years, Andy rightly notes, “has seen the Big Grey Man of Ben Macdhui become a staple for authors and journalists writing about Scottish legends. With the exceptions of the Loch Ness Monster and the Bonnybridge UFO hotspot it is arguably Scotland’s best known example of strange phenomena. So much has been written about the Big Grey Man that one could be forgiven for believing it is a well-attested experience with tens if not hundreds of witnesses. If only it were that simple! When put under the microscope, away from the conventions of story-telling or the obligations of having to make a profit, the Big Grey Man of Ben Macdhui, like the majority of other Fortean phenomena, takes on a completely different appearance.”

Andy notes that witnesses to the phenomenon known as the Big Grey Man – or the BGM – describe how they have variously encountered footsteps, a distinct sensation of a threatening ‘presence’, and an over-powering sense of panic while on the mountain called Ben Macdhui. The experience is graphic enough to compel witnesses to flee in sheer terror, often for several miles. Indeed, this shows that the U.K. – particularly the woods, on mountains and in isolated areas – are a magnet for dangerous entities and crazed people.

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Nick Redfern works full time as a writer, lecturer, and journalist. He writes about a wide range of unsolved mysteries, including Bigfoot, UFOs, the Loch Ness Monster, alien encounters, and government conspiracies. Nick has written 41 books, writes for Mysterious Universe and has appeared on numerous television shows on the The History Channel, National Geographic Channel and SyFy Channel.
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