Having written an article a couple of days ago on the subject of the mysterious "Man-Monkey" of the Shropshire Union Canal, England, I thought today I would share with you more than a few stories of "unknown animals" in the very same areas, and which were close to where I used to live when I was a kid. One of the things that excited me was to go looking for wallabies. That's right: as bizarre as it might sound, for decades wallabies have been seen in the U.K. (having escaped from zoos and private enclosures), hiding in the forests and woods, and only around fifteen to twenty miles from where I lived. People often see them, photograph and film them. On top of that, I have several unverified reports of people seeing wallabies at Loch Ness. As strange as that might seem to many people, there is actually quite a plausible explanation for this. Indeed, wallabies are known to have escaped from England-based private enclosures over the years (and decades) and which live very nicely in the wilds of the countryside. Such accounts surfaced quite often where I lived in Staffordshire, England As for Scotland, well…definitely none fully confirmed for sure at Loch Ness, but there is this from The Scotsman: "There are, in fact, other places where the marsupials can be found, including right here in Scotland. Inchconnachan, an island in Loch Lomond, is host to the red-necked species of wallaby and was brought there by Lady Arran Colquhoun in the 1940s. Their presence on the island has been the source of some debate. There are those who claim that wallabies on the island threaten the capercaillie – also known as wood grouse – population, while others are skeptical of this given that the two species have co-habited on the island for over 60 years now."
Now, let's see just how weird the U.K. counties of Shropshire and Staffordshire really are when it comes to strange and out-of-place animals. Back in 1998, I interviewed a woman who had an unusual encounter near the Staffordshire, England village of Alrewas, located not far from where I was living at the time. It was the summer of 1992 when the encounter went down, and the woman - a resident of Brighton, England - was visiting friends in the area. On one particular morning, and while taking a stroll around the village, the woman was stopped in her tracks by the sight of what she recalled describing to her friends as "two fat guinea-pigs running up the road." Indeed, she told me, they were "giant" in size. In fact, such was their incredible size, she was unable to believe that such immense guinea-pigs could even exist. It turns out that the animals were not guinea-pigs, after all. They were, in reality, coypus; which are hardly native to the U.K., to say the least! Nevertheless, they do have a long and convoluted tie to the U.K. The coypu (Myocastor coypus) is a significantly-sized rodent, and has its origins in South America. It has, however, been introduced into Asia, Africa, and the United States. But, what of the U.K.? Coypus were brought to the U.K. - specifically East Anglia - from Argentina in 1929. It was their fur that counted. A decade or so later, numerous coypus escaped from the Carill-Worsley Farm, East Anglia, on what was the proverbial dark and stormy night. It practically ensured the near-inevitable establishment of a wild population of the creatures all across the region. Moving on...
Sometimes, it’s important to note that not all monster investigations result in the finding of an actual monster. On occasion, such accounts and tales are whipped up by the local media, eager for sensational tales of mysterious things in their very midst. That does not take away the fact something may have happened, however. Or that a strange creature may really have put in an appearance. The story I will now share with you amounts to a perfect example of all the above. April 3, 2003 was the date on which something very strange happened in a body of water in central England, near the bustling town of Cannock, Stafordshire. Known locally and unofficially as Roman View Pond, it was very soon to become famous. Or, rather, infamous. In no time at all, not only were the local media on the scene of all the crazy antics, but just about all of the U.K.’s nationwide media were, too. I should stress that I know the area well, having grown up only about fifteen minutes’ drive from the pond, which is actually much bigger than its name suggests. By the time of the saga took off, however, I was already living in the United States, having moved to the United States from the U.K. a few years earlier. Monster-hunter Jonathan Downes said: "The affair started with an e-mail message from Nick Redfern. It was a story from the Wolverhampton Express and Star newspaper dated June 16, 2003, written by Faye Casey, and titled Mystery as 'croc' spotted at pool."
For decades, reports have surfaced all across the British Isles of sightings of what have become known as "Alien Big Cats," or ABCs. Many have been seen in Staffordshire woods. Ascertaining where, exactly, the creatures come from is an issue that has, in many ways, polarized the ABC research community into various camps. And, it scarcely needs saying, the debate has sometimes reached near-inflammatory proportions! There are those researchers who believe the cats to be escapees from private menageries. Others suggests such animals were secretly let loose into the wild in the 1970s, when the British Government altered the legislation concerning the keeping of large, and potentially dangerous, cats. So the theory goes, the ABCs roaming Britain today are the descendants of the descendants (and so on) of the original 1970s-era cats. Then there is the theory that the mysterious beasts have paranormal origins. But, there is something else, too.
One very important issue that doesn't always get the attention it most assuredly deserves, is the fact that such reports of the ABC variety do not just date from relatively recent times - such as the last forty years or so. Certainly, there are far more than a few Alien Big Cat reports on file that date back centuries. This provokes a fascinating - but undeniably controversial - theory: that there is nothing new, at all, about Britain's large and out of place cats. Is it possible that the ABC phenomenon is not a modern day one, as many believe, but actually an old one? Maybe even a very old one? Just perhaps, the British Isles has had large cats in its midst for an astonishingly long time. All of this brings me to a certain incident that occurred in central England way back in the 16th Century. Only nine miles from the fringes of the paranormal-soaked Cannock Chase woods, and specifically near the town of Brewood, stands Chillington Hall. The present hall is actually the third one: a castle was built on the site in the 12th century, while today’s hall was constructed in 1724. It is, however, the second Chillington Hall that specifically concerns us right now.
It was at Chillington Hall, in the 1500s, that one of the first private zoos was established – by a nobleman named Sir John Giffard. According to local legend, on one fateful day, Sir John’s favorite animal, a fully-grown leopard no less, escaped from the confines of its enclosure and charged headlong into the wilds of the surrounding Staffordshire countryside. Arming himself with a cross-bow, Sir John, along with his son, quickly set off in hot pursuit of the marauding animal. To their complete horror, father and son found the animal poised to attack a terror-stricken mother and her child who were cowering on the ground. In an instant, according to the old story at least, Sir John drew his bow and took careful and quick aim. At that very same moment, his son cried out: "Prenez haliene, tirez fort!" or: "Breathe deep, pull hard!" Sir John sensibly, and rapidly, took his son’s advice and fired. With but just one shot, the leopard fell to the floor, utterly stone dead. Giffard’s Cross – which still stands to this day – was raised where the creature is reputed to have taken its very last breath. Sir John, meanwhile, decided it might be a very good idea to adopt his son’s words as the family’s motto.
Late one evening in the early weeks of 1972, a man named Nigel Lea was driving across the Cannock Chase (a large forested area in central England, and a magnet for paranormal activity) when his attention was suddenly drawn to a strange ball of glowing, blue light that seemingly came out of nowhere. It slammed violently into the ground just a short distance ahead of his vehicle and amid nothing less than a veritable torrent of bright, fiery sparks. Needless to say, Lea quickly slowed his car down to what was almost the proverbial snail's pace. And, as he cautiously approached the approximate area where the light had seemingly fallen, Lea was both shocked and horrified to the absolute core to see looming before him what he described as "...the biggest bloody dog I have ever seen in my life." Very muscular and utterly black in color, with a pair of large, pointed ears and huge, thick paws, the immense dog seemed to positively ooze both extreme menace and overpowering negativity, and had a crazed, staring look in its yellow-tinged eyes. As a very brief aside, the color of the eyes is interesting, as most of the Phantom Black Dogs are described as having glowing, self-illuminated red eyes. Back to the story: For twenty or thirty seconds, or thereabouts, both man and beast squared off against each other in classic stalemate fashion. That is, until the animal slowly and carefully headed for the darkness and the camouflage of the tall, surrounding trees, not even once taking its penetrating eyes off of the petrified driver as it did so.
The small Shropshire, England village of Child’s Ercall has legends of a hairy wild man and a mermaid attached to it. One strange creature in its midst would be strange enough, but two? And then there is Aqualate Mere, Staffordshire – which is very close to Woodseaves, the home of the Man-Monkey, no less – and also reputedly the lair of a beautiful mermaid. It must be said that sightings of predatory mermaids and magical maidens, as well as hairy monstrosities, are the veritable hallmark of the presence of a shape-shifting Kelpie, as well as being amongst its most preferred forms of appearance after that of the traditional water-horse.
I have in my files a very strange story of a woman who claimed to have seen, in 1989, in the heart of England’s Cannock Chase woods (a place notorious for its links to paranormal activity), a huge black cat, as she took a stroll on a hot, summer’s day. She almost literally walked into the ABC as she headed along a well-worn track near the village of Milford. Incredibly, the woman claimed that as the two stood staring at each other (she was, unsurprisingly, frozen to the spot in terror), the ABC morphed into the form of a large black dog. It glared at her for a moment and then wandered off and vanished into the undergrowth. Notably, the U.K. has a centuries-old tradition of paranormal black dogs: they’re known as Phantom Black Dogs. One such legend prompted Sir Arthur Conan Doyle to write his classic Sherlock Holmes novel, The Hound of the Baskervilles.
And finally, there is the story of Mermaid’s Pool (also known as Blakemere Pool), which can be found at the Staffordshire, England village of Thorncliffe, on the Staffordshire Moorlands, which are dominated by forests, lakes, rolling hills, and crags. It’s a story that dates back approximately 1,000 years. Lia Dowly is someone who has spent a great deal of time and effort pursuing the story and sorting fact from legend. She says: “The story transpires that this particular mermaid was once a maiden of fair beauty, and it came to pass – for reasons that are unclear – that she was persecuted, and accused of various crimes, by a gentleman named Joshua Linnet. It is not clear whether these accusations included being a witch, or whether he may have had his amorous advances rejected. Truly an area of bizarre animals!