Oct 12, 2022 I Nick Redfern

Taking a Deep Look at the U.K.'s Equivalent of Mothman: The Creepy Owlman

A few days ago, I made a mention here at Mysterious Universe of the creature known as the Owlman - something that is close to Mothman of Point Pleasant, West Virginia, USA. But, I only made a brief review of it. Today, though, I'm going to take a bigger and deeper study of the winged phenomenon. In early 1976 the dense trees surrounding Mawnan Old Church, Cornwall, England became a veritable magnet for a diabolical beast that was christened the Owlman. The majority of those that crossed paths with the creature asserted that it was human-like in both size and design, and possessed a pair of large wings, fiery red eyes, claws, and exuded an atmosphere of menace. No wonder people make parallels with Mothman. It all began during the weekend of Easter 1976, when two young girls, June and Vicky Melling, had an encounter of a truly nightmarish kind in Mawnan Woods. The girls were on holiday with their parents when they saw a gigantic, feathery “bird man” hovering over the 13th Century church. It was a story that their father, Don Melling, angrily shared with a man named Tony “Doc” Shiels. I say “angrily” because Shiels was a noted, local magician who Melling came to believe had somehow instigated the whole affair. Or as Shiels, himself, worded it: “…some trick that had badly frightened his daughters.” Shiels denied any involvement in the matter whatsoever. But that was only the start of things.

 Another one to see the Owlman was Jane Greenwood, also a young girl. She wrote a letter to the local newspaper, the Falmouth Packet, during the summer of 1976 that detailed her own startling encounter: “I am on holiday in Cornwall with my sister and our mother. I, too, have seen a big bird-thing. It was Sunday morning, and the place was in the trees near Mawnan Church, above the rocky beach. It was in the trees standing like a full-grown man, but the legs bent backwards like a bird’s. It saw us, and quickly jumped up and rose straight up through the trees. How could it rise up like that?” Two fourteen year old girls, Sally Chapman and Barbara Perry, also had the misfortune to have a run-in with the Owlman in 1976. At around 10.00 p.m., while camping in the woods of Mawnan, and as they sat outside of their tent making a pot of tea, the pair heard a strange hissing noise. On looking around, they saw the infernal Owlman staring in their direction from a distance of about sixty feet. Sally said: “It was like a big owl with pointed ears, as big as a man. The eyes were red and glowing. At first I thought that it was someone dressed-up, playing a joke, trying to scare us. I laughed at it. We both did. Then it went up in the air and we both screamed. When it went up you could see its feet!”  Barbara added: “It’s true. It was horrible, a nasty owl-face with big ears and big red eyes. It was covered in grey feathers. The claws on its feet were black. It just flew up and disappeared in the trees.”

(Jonathan Downes) Many thanks to my good friend Jonathan Downes for the use of the cover of Jon's book, The Owlman and Others

While there were rumors of additional sightings of the creature in the immediate years that followed, it wasn’t until the summer of either 1988 or 1989 that the Owlman put in an appearance that can be documented to a significant degree. In this case, the witness was a young boy, dubbed “Gavin” by a good friend of mine, Jon Downes (who wrote an entire book on the winged monster, titled The Owlman and Others), and his then girlfriend, Sally. The beast, Gavin told Jon, was around five feet in height, had large feet, glowing eyes, and significantly sized wings. It was a shocking, awe-inspiring encounter that Gavin and Sally never forgot. As was the case in the immediate post-1976 era, a few reports from the 1990s and 2000s have surfaced. Chiefly, however, they are from individuals who prefer not to go on the record - something which has led to understandable suspicions of fakery and hoaxing. But, one could also make a very good argument that going public about having seen a monstrous “birdman” in English woodland would not be the wisest move to make. Today, and getting ever-closer to 40 years since the original encounters occurred, the matter remains the undeniable controversy that it was back then. For some researchers, Doc Shiels is the man to blame. Jon Downes, however, suggests something else – something with which I concur.

Namely, that Shiels – dubbed the “Wizard of the Western World” – has profound knowledge of “magic.” And by that, I don’t mean people pulling rabbits out of hats. We are talking, here, about something far stranger, something ancient, and something filled with swirling mystery. In a review of Doc’s excellent book, Monstrum, I noted: “[Doc’s] is a world filled with a deep understanding of the real nature of magic (chaos and ritualistic), the secrets of invocation and manifestation, of strange realms just beyond – and that occasionally interact with – our own, and Trickster-like phenomenon. Doc’s is also a domain where, when we dare to imagine the fantastic, when we decide to seek it out, and when we finally accept its reality, we perhaps provide it with some form of quasi-existence.” Perhaps Doc, in a decidedly strange way, really did play a role in the formation of the Owlman legend. But, such was the allure of the beast it quickly stepped out of the world of imagination and story-telling, and right into the heart of the real world. And on that last point, be careful what you wish for, lest you unleash into our reality a monster that has no intention of returning to that domain from which it was originally created, imagined, or invoked.Now, we come to another aspect of what I call anomalous owls.

In 2013, I received an email from a woman now living in the English town of Lowestoft, but who previously lived very close to Mawnan – where the Owlman was seen in 1976 - and specifically in the small Cornwall village of Gweek, the distance between which, by car, is approximately six and a half miles. It transpires that in 1998 she had a profound UFO encounter while taking the road from Mawnan to Gweek. It was after 11:00 p.m. and the woman was driving home after visiting a friend in Mawnan. She had barely left the little village when she saw what she could only describe as a UFO, one that appeared at the side of the road – around the size of a large beach-ball and glowing bright orange. The next thing she knew, she was parked at the side of the road, with what she was able to determine was no less than two hours of time unaccounted for. But there was something else: as she came out of her groggy state, she caught sight of a huge owl-like creature, but which had somewhat humanoid characteristics attached to it, too. It was hovering in the air, at a height of around fifteen feet, but was not employing the use of its wings to keep it aloft. Given the fact that this was practically on the doorstep of where the Owlman was seen back in 1976 (and since, too), the idea that the two issues are unconnected is highly unlikely.

(Nick Redfern) Jon Downes, Owlman expert

The witness admitted she knew of the Owlman legend. Living so close to Mawnan, it would be more astonishing had she not heard of it. There was little more she could tell me, beyond the facts surrounding the sighting of the curious ball of light, the period of missing time, and the appearance of a “humanoid owl,” as I term it. This particular encounter – which has not been publicized before – set me thinking. What if the Owlman of Cornwall is not a beast of cryptozoological proportions, after all? What if, instead, it is some strange manifestation of the UFO phenomenon, one that is designed to trick the witnesses into thinking they have encountered a large owl, when, in reality, the event was of an otherworldly nature? A screen-memory, in other words. Maybe we need to reevaluate the true nature of the enigmatic Owlman. My reasoning for suggesting this is simple: there are numerous cases on record that link sightings of what are perceived as owls (and sometimes as impossibly large owls) and UFOs together, both in terms of the time-frame and the geographical location. Indeed, Mike Clelland has written an entire, excellent couple of books on this very issue of how and why owls and alien incidents go together, hand in glove.

All of this brings me to two matters that, given the location – Mawnan – cannot be a coincidence. Number One: Liz Randall is a friend of mine who has compiled an excellent, two-volume collection of her writings on all things paranormal, titled From Lyonesse to Alien Big Cats and Back Again. Liz referred me to an article she wrote in 2004 that deals with something that her daughter experienced in 2003 at the church, itself . Liz said, in 2004: “Very early one morning a year ago, in the late summer of 2003, my adult daughter, who lives in Mawnan Smith, Cornwall, had a strange experience. Being a thoughtful neighbor, and not wanting to disturb anyone, at 02:00 a.m. she and a friend had wanted to listen to some music. So she took her car up to the car park of the old local church because it’s such an isolated spot.” Liz continued: “After about ten minutes my daughter and her friend suddenly became aware of a block of blue/white light above their heads. It was pulsating in that it stopped and then started again, for seconds at a time, although it remained stationary overhead. Neither were aware of any missing time, but they also had no idea how long they remained near the churchyard before they went home. And, when they reached home, both were so tired that they simply went to sleep without checking the clock.”

But, things don’t end there. Liz also directed me to the matter of ancient earthworks. Interestingly, ancient earthworks of the type referenced in the paragraph above, are very often the focus of supernatural activity. I know this, as I grew up very near to one in Staffordshire, England. Its name is Castle Ring, which was built during the Iron Age and was home to an ancient tribe called the Cornovii. I can say with certainty that Castle Ring has a long history of encounters with UFOs, Bigfoot-type creatures, spectral figures, and much more. Why? Well, that’s the big question that, unfortunately, eludes us. But what I would say, however, is that I think investigating the Olwman itself – as a solitary, stand-alone mystery – will only allow us to see a small portion of what’s afoot in this particularly mysterious part of Cornwall. In our quest for the truth of the beast, and of the Owlman/anomalous owls/UFO connection too, it is very likely Mawnan itself that we should be focusing on. It may well be an under-appreciated equivalent of one of John Keel’s legendary “window areas,” places where just anything and everything weird can be seen and encountered…

(Nick Redfern) Is the Owlman connected to the Mothman?

Finally, on the matter of the Owlman, we’ll take a trip to Loch Ness, Scotland – a place we have already visited and which may be home to an extraterrestrial lake-monster: Nessie. Loch Ness, Scotland – a body of water around 22-miles-long – is mostly noted for its legendary, resident monster: Nessie. It’s a fact, though, that Loch Ness has been the site of additional weirdness. Not just for years or decades, but for centuries. Long before Nessie was on the scene, Loch Ness was the haunt of Water-Horses and Kelpies. They were supernatural shapeshifters that would drag people into the deep water, drowning them and stealing their souls. Aleister Crowley (the “Great Beast”) owned a home at Loch Ness. Its name was Boleskine House. Visitors to, and subsequent owners of, Boleskine House talked of strange vibes and of shadowy, supernatural things lurking in the old house. There have been more than a few UFO encounters at Loch Ness. And Nessie-seeker Ted Holiday had a chilling encounter at the loch with a Man in Black. And, there is the matter of a curious owl seen at Loch Ness in 2007.

The story involves a Scottish woman who I shall refer to as “Maxine,” and who I met in 2014. On a clear summer day in 2007, Maxine was walking her dog along the hills that overlook Loch Ness when she saw what, from her description, I can only describe as an “alien Grey.” When she first saw it, at a distance of a couple of hundred feet, she assumed it was a young child – chiefly because of its short height. As she got closer, and as her dog froze to the spot, she could see that not only was it not a young boy: it wasn’t even human. Maxine and the Grey stared at each other for just a few seconds, after which it stretched its arms out and, in an instant, transformed into what Maxine described as an impossibly large owl: it was practically man-sized. It immediately took to the skies and headed across the loch at a fast rate. Maxine continue to watch, with astonishment, as the alien-owl thing vanished into the trees on the opposite side of the loch. Maxine is one-hundred percent sure that she did not experience missing time. She does not have any vague memories of being taken aboard some kind of futuristic, alien craft. She is not plagued by graphic nightmares involving extraterrestrials. In fact, she is completely sure that what she recalls is exactly what she saw: a small, alien creature literally shapeshifting into the form of an owl.

Interestingly, since her experience took place, Maxine has come up with an intriguing theory to try and explain and rationalize the situation. She now believes that the Grey aliens have the ability to transform their physical appearances. This, she also suggests, means that the Greys can spy on us whenever, and wherever, they choose, without being noticed for what they really are. If we see an owl, a black cat, a German Shepherd dog – the list goes on – we may actually be seeing something very different: a shapeshifting E.T. using a piece of brilliant camouflage. Whatever you may think of Maxine’s theory (and her experience too), the fact is that there are numerous cases of UFOs and aliens being associated with, and linked to, owls. It's clear that the Owlman is more than just an unknown animal. It's far more than that.

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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