May 31, 2022 I Nick Redfern

Monsters in the Heart of the U.K.: It's Terrifyingly True!

Who would have thought that the U.K. might be home to large, mysterious animals animals - except for the Nessies of Scotland, of coursse. The facts are very different, however. Today, I'm going to share with you two stories of uknown animals in the waters of the U.K. And with that said, let's begin. Rhayader is the oldest town in mid-Wales. Its origins date back more than 5,000 years, and specifically to Neolithic times. Rhayader’s long legacy is also evidenced by the fact that, in 1899, a large collection of gold jewelry was found buried on the town’s Gwastedyn Hill. Archaeologists were able to date the priceless artifacts to the 5th century and link them to a princess named Rowena. She was the daughter of a local, powerful, warlord, Hengest, and someone who married a much-feared character known as High King Vortigen. Neither Hengest nor Vortigen were able to instill as much fear in the people of Rhayader as did a deadly and mysterious beast that surfaced in 1988. It was between September and December 1988 that the town was hit by a spate of mysterious deaths. Not, thankfully, of people, but of sheep. Although several farms were targeted by the stealthy predator – and always under cover of darkness – it was the Bodalog Farm, owned by the Pugh family that suffered most of all. Over the course of several weeks, they lost close to forty sheep to the deadly intruder. Oddest of all: the sheep were not eaten, whether in whole or in part. The only evidence of the attacks were deep, penetrating bites to the sternum.

That was when the conspiracy theories began to take hold. There were claims of a local police cover-up. The stories grew and grew, amid claims that “Men in Black”-style characters from “the government” were roaming around town, doing their utmost to silence those with knowledge of the attacks. Supposedly, there was good reason why the MIB wanted to stifle all the talk of the deaths: the sheep had been drained of blood, vampire-style. Inevitably, and despite the best efforts of the MIB, the British media soon latched onto the story and it made the headlines across some of the nation’s major, daily newspapers. As the death rate increased, so did the wild rumors: there was talk of a large, black cat in the area – such as a black leopard. Of course, such animals are not native to the United Kingdom, something which only added to the mystery. Plus, no-one actually saw the big cat, if that is really what it was. It was simply a theory – but, undeniably, one that provoked a great deal of food for thought in the town’s pubs on weekend nights. With concern growing, a decision was taken to use foxhounds to try and chase the monster of the early hours. And this is when things became decidedly intriguing – and sinister, too.

(Nick Redfern) Men in Black and mysterious monsters

The dogs soon picked up on the scene – their wild behavior made that very clear. They picked up on something else, too; something that had previously been overlooked. In certain parts of the fields where the sheep had been killed, corridors of flattened ground were uncovered. They gave every indication of something not walking along the fields, but slithering along them. In mere moments, all the talk of big cats was gone. In their place were giant snakes. On top of that, and as the dogs continued to chase down the scent, they were led to the banks of the 134-mile-long River Wye, the fifth longest river in the UK. The conclusion was all but inevitable: some form of large, unknown water beast was – undercover of the night – surfacing out of the depths of the river, stealthily crossing the fields, and feeding on the blood of the unfortunate sheep. But what could the creature have been? Certainly, there are no large snakes roaming around the UK. Yet, the flattened areas of field suggested a beast somewhere around twelve-to-fifteen feet long had indeed been slithering around. Richard Freeman, of the England-based Center for Fortean Zoology, took a lot of interest in the case when it surfaced. He said of the snake theory:

"Britain’s only venomous snake, the adder, Vipera berus, is far too small to have killed the sheep. This case begs many odd questions: why would an animal go to all the trouble of wasting venom and energy killing so many sheep, then not eat any? If it was a large, exotic, venomous snake that had escaped from captivity, how did it cope with October in Wales?” Freeman’s question was – and still is – an important one, as snakes require warm climates in which to survive and thrive. There is nothing warm about mid-Wales in October! Perhaps aware that it was being hunted down, the creature ceased its violent killing spree in early December 1988, and Rhayader finally returned to normality and there were collective sighs of relief all around town. Decades later, the mystery of what that water-borne monstrosity was remains precisely that: a mystery. There is, however, one last thing to muse upon: in 1912, Ella Leather penned a book titled The Folk-Lore of Hertfordshire. It told of how, centuries ago, people local to the River Wye believed that the river was home to something terrifying that required a human sacrifice once a year, as a form of appeasement and to ensure that the beast did not launch an all-out, murderous rampage around the area. Based on what happened in Rhayader in 1988, perhaps the old legends had a basis in terrifying, savage fact. Now, onto our next story...

(Nick Redfern) Deadly Creatures and deadly waters

In June 2015, a monster-sized fish was spotted by two astonished and terrified anglers on the River Nene, in the Fens, Cambridgeshire, England. One of the fishermen told BBC Radio Cambridgeshire: “I enjoy going out on my boat. One day we were on our boat going up towards Whittlesey and the boat suddenly juddered as if there was something large in the water. My friend and myself looked at each other and I looked down to see what we had hit. I saw the most extraordinary thing. I saw the biggest fish I have ever seen in my life. I like boating and I like wildlife, but I had never seen a fish like this before. It was absolutely huge - it was over six-foot long. It was swimming alongside us and our boat had struck it and it was as if it was showing us the side of itself where the propeller had hit it and we could see the white flesh. My friend saw it and exclaimed ‘Blimey is that a dolphin?’ It was so big. We're going to go out again this year and see if we can see it.” The two men speculated that what they had seen was a sturgeon. Not an impossibility, since sturgeon can grow to impressive sizes. But, the catfish was also offered as a potential candidate – echoing the Center for Fortean Zoology’s experiences at Martin Mere in 2002 (see Monster of the Mere). Then there was the theory that the creature was a giant eel, a creature that, on occasion, has been suggested for the Loch Ness Monsters. 

The witness was forty-one-year-old Michelle Cooper, who was prompted to come forward by the June 2015 encounter. Her sighting, however, occurred one year earlier. She spoke out to the Cambridge News: “I told people about it last year and they just took the mickey but now that these anglers have seen it too I know what they mean by being terrified. I am 5ft 4 inches tall and it was bigger than me. The water was crystal clear and I had a good look at it. I didn't see any white like the fishermen. “I saw dark brown and when I researched what it could I found it looked exactly like the giant eels you get in America. I was really shaken up by it. It was terrifying but I don't think it would hurt anyone. It seems to just stay low down on the river bed. It was so big it did create a wave and knocked my boat. I've seen pike and catfish and it definitely wasn't that. I went for my camera to get a picture of it but it moved too fast and was gone before I could get a shot.” Whatever the true nature of the immense leviathan, its identity remains unknown. The U.K. most definitely has large, marauding creatures in its midst. And we have no real knowledge of what they are.

Nick Redfern

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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