Some strange creatures can be seen as fairly weird. Others, however, are downright bizarre - as you'll see right now. We'll begin with the Dryad. Of the many and varied kinds of fairies that were said to possess the awesome powers of shapeshifting, certainly one of the most mysterious, and strangest of all, was the Dryad. It was a definitive elemental of magical proportions that took shapeshifting to a truly unique level – as we shall now see. The Dryad was a supernatural entity that features heavily in ancient Greek mythology, and which was exclusively associated with forests and woods, and trees. There was a very good reason for that: the Dryad had the uncanny and eerie ability to transform itself into a tree! I told you there would be some weirdness in this article. In essence, the Dryads were what, today, we would consider to be nature spirits – nymphs, one might be justified in saying. While within the teachings of ancient Greece the Dryads were seen as the guardians and protectors of trees and of the woods, there was a related belief that they were the trees; that each and every tree had its own spirit, one which could appear in the form of the tree itself, or as a sprite-like fairy being.
Different trees were possessed by – or could shapeshift into – different elementals and vice-versa. For example, according to the Greeks, ash trees were the domain of the Meliai – most well-known within Greek mythology as the protectors and guardians of the mighty Greek god, Zeus, during his very earliest years. Mulberry bushes were cared for by a sub-group of Dryads known as the Morea. The Syke did likewise for fig trees. As did the Balanos for the oak, and Ptelea for the elm tree. There was a very good reason why so much care and dedication went into protecting the trees: should a tree die, then the elemental within it – or, depending on one’s belief system, the entity that could shapeshift into the tree – would die, too. Just like the Selkie of Scotland and Iceland, the Dryads possessed the magical ability to transform themselves into beautiful women and handsome men – with the female entity being the most often reported. Despite the ancient origins of the Dryads, and just like the trees and forests around us, they have never really gone away. For example, they appear prominently in C.S. Lewis’ hugely successful Chronicles of Narnia books and movies, demonstrating that despite the passage of time, the old traditions and beliefs still continue to prevail. Now, onto recent times.
In April 2016, a very strange story surfaced out of the north of England. And to the extent that not just the local media, but the national media, too, were busy chasing down the strange and sinister story of what has become known as the “Werewolf of Hull,” reportedly an eight-foot-tall, hair-covered monster. The case was, however, notable for the fact that several of the witnesses claimed the beast shape-shifted from a terrible, foul monster into the form of a black-cloaked old witch. Most of the reports surfaced in and around the vicinity of what is called the Beverley and Barmston Drain, a land drainage operation, the origins of which date back to the latter part of the 1800s. A tunnel that carries the drain can be found below an old bridge on Beverley Beck, a canal in East Riding, Yorkshire, England – a location where a number of the encounters with the hair-covered thing have taken place. The bridge connection is an important one that should not be overlooked. In her 2006 book, Mystery Big Cats, author Merrily Harpur provides the following words on what she terms “liminal Zones:” “These are the transitional zones between one area and another – the kind of no-man’s-land traditionally regarded as magical.” Harpur’s research has shown that such zones include streams, gates, churchyards and bridges. With that in mind, there’s a good chance something of a definitively supernatural nature is afoot at the Beverley and Barmston Drain.
Throughout history, folklore and mythology, one can find accounts of shape-shifting creatures, with the most famous example surely being the werewolf. The deadly monster of the full moon is far from being alone, however. In Africa, there are legends of werehyenas. Wererats have been reported in Oregon. Cynanthropy is a condition in which a person believes they can shape-shift into the form of a dog. And then there are werecats. Tales of werecats exist in numerous locations: South America, Asia, Africa, and Europe. Sometimes the werecats are nothing less than transformed humans. Leopards, lions, tigers and jaguars are typically the werecat forms into which a human shape-shifter mutates. Others are regular cats, altered by dark magic into something hostile and terrible. All of which brings us back to the werecats of the U.K.The earliest case I have on file dates from 1953, specifically the month of August. The location: Abbots Bromley, a village in the English county of Staffordshire; the origins of which date back to at least AD 942. The witness was a now-deceased man, Brian Kennerly.
In 2002, Kennerly’s family told me of how he often spoke of the occasion when, as he walked through Abbots Bromley on what was a warm, summer’s night, he was confronted by a large black cat – one that he described as the typical “black panther.” Not surprisingly, Kennerly was frozen in his tracks. His amazement turned to outright fear when the beast suddenly rose up onto its back limbs, giving it a height of around five and a half feet. The creature reportedly issued a low growl and flicked its dangling front paws in Kennerly’s direction. Notably, Kennerly’s daughter told me her father said that as the ABC rose up, “its back legs changed shape, probably to support it when it was standing upright.” A few seconds later, the creature dropped back to the ground and bounded out of sight. Now, let's look at a tale of nothing less than a dragon.
A fascinating story of nothing less than a real-life dragon can be found in the pages of Charles Igglesden’s 1906 book, A Saunter Through Kent With Pen & Pencil. Kent being a county in southern England. Of a dragon reportedly seen in Cranbrook, Kent, centuries earlier, Igglesden wrote: “The magnificently wooded park of a hundred and fifty acres is richly watered by a huge lake made in 1812 and a smaller one within the grounds, while further west is an old mill pond that rejoices in a curious legend. It is an old one and the subject of it is very ancient indeed and as rare as it is horrible.” He continued that nothing less than a flying dragon was said to haunt the pond but that “on certain – or uncertain – nights of the year it wings its flight over the park and pays a visit to the big lake yonder. But he always returns to the Mill Pond and it is said to pay special attention of a vicious kind to young men and women who have jilted their lovers. A legend with a moral is this. But a winged dragon! A dragon of the ordinary kind is bad enough. But a flying dragon! Augh!”
Igglesden had more to add to the story: “It is a Mr. Tomlin’s opinion that there is stronger evidence of the existence of this dragon than of most of his kind and of his fires gone out in the closing years of the last century. Nothing short of this monster’s malign influence could account for the curious fact that, till the coming of Mr. Tomlin’s eldest daughter, no child had been born at Angley Park for upwards of a hundred years.” Over the years, numerous monster-seekers have flocked to the specific area in question – in hopes of encountering the dragon. Its presence is far less today, however, than it was in centuries past. Nevertheless, it’s worth noting that in December 1997, a local policeman, on duty during the early hours of a chilly, windy, Saturday morning, caught a brief sight of a “bloody great bird, about twenty feet across,” in the skies of Cranbrook. The ancient dragon crossing the night sky? Maybe.
And, finally, what about an encounter with a Bigfoot...but in the U.K.?! Yes, you did read that right. In the early 2000s, much of England found itself in the grip of a wave of bizarre stories of Sasquatch-type creatures. Jon Downes, the director of the Center for Fortean Zoology, was someone who was at the forefront of these investigations. More than a decade later, he still recalls the affair, just as if it occurred yesterday: “There occurred a huge ‘flap’ of Big Hairy Men (BHM) sightings throughout the British Isles that we could not afford to ignore and that required our immediate attention. Indeed, such was the scale of this extraordinary wave of encounters that, even as we made firm plans for an expedition in March, a handful of new sightings of large, man-beasts from the Bolam Lake area of Northumberland, England, arrived in our e-mail In-Box in January that prompted us to undertake an immediate study of the evidence.” It was a bitterly cold, winter’s morning when Jon Downes’ Center for Fortean Zoology hit the road. The trip turned out to be a fortuitous one, however. There was distinct high-strangeness afoot.
As the investigation came to its close, and as the dark skies of winter closed in, something extraordinary and menacing occurred at Bolam Lake, as Downes reveals: “At about half-past-four, one of the members of Twilight Worlds [a research group that accompanied Downes to the area] reported seeing something large, human-shaped and amorphous in the woods directly in front of the car-park. As the dusk gathered at about 5 o’clock, we again heard the raucous noise of the crows that he had reported just before dawn. Suddenly, once again, they fell silent and one of the Twilight Worlds members shouted that she could hear something large moving around among the undergrowth. All of the car-drivers present were ordered to switch on their headlights and to put them on full-beam. We did not hear any noise in the undergrowth; although other people present did. Eight people were watching the woods and five of us saw an enormous man-shaped object run from right to left, disappear, and then a few moments later run back again.” The most amazing aspect of the encounter, however, was that the hulking, racing thing was like a shadow. An apt way to end this article!