Feb 14, 2023 I Nick Redfern

The Mysterious Apes of the United Kingdom: A Cryptozoological Mystery

Yes, I really did say  there are apes in the U.K. Escaped animals from zoos? Probably not. Something paranormal? Almost certainly: "Yes." Let's have a look at some of these very strange animals. In no specific order, here they are. Certainly one of the most bizarre of all the cases that falls into the domain of this particular category dates from 1789 and is referenced in an old document that came from the private collection of a noted family of landowners in Cornwall. The details are unfortunately very scant indeed, but, nevertheless, of deep significance, given what we have read thus far, and what is still yet to come. It concerned an immense monkey-like creature seen on several occasions at Crowlas, near Penzance. The creature was seen by local folk late at night, on at least three occasions, and was described as being around eight feet in height and made a strange whistling noise that was interpreted as a call - to who or what, mercifully, remains unknown. Most notable of all: when the creature was last seen, at the height of a violent thunderstorm, it literally disappeared in an almighty flash of light. And, here's our next case:

Several years ago, I received an email from a man who had an intriguing, but unfortunately, very brief story to relate. The details, from Keith Fletcher of Derby, concerned a story told to him back in the mid-1980s - by a work colleague who hailed from Cornwall - of a huge ape seen roaming Bodmin Moor, England, Moor six or seven years prior to when Keith heard the story, which would have placed the events somewhere in the latter part of the 1970s. In this case, said Keith, the animal vanished into what was described as "a small black cloud and just sort of disintegrated, like a ghost." Moving on, but still very much on definitive Bodmin Moor turf - and, very possibly, even directly linked to the words and memories of Keith Fletcher - big cat researcher Marcus Matthews has gone on record with a story that is well worth citing right here. In Marcus’ very own words: "I have learned from a relation that in the 1970s and 1980s there were always rumours of an escaped orang-utan ape in the area. Farmers coming home from the public houses were used to seeing a strange pair of eyes looking at them, and a hairy human-like figure disappearing quickly."

(Nick Redfern) Bigfoot in the U.K.

Now, to the Green-Faced Monkey: The location, cryptozoologist Jon Downes reveals, was Churston Woods, which is situated close to the English holiday resort of Torbay. Jon says: "Over a six week period, in the summer of 1996, fifteen separate witnesses reported seeing what they could only describe as a green faced monkey, running through the woods. Granted, some of the descriptions were quite vague, but most of the witnesses told of seeing a tailless animal, around four to five feet tall, with a flat, olive-green face that would run through the woods and occasionally would be seen swinging through the trees. Now, to me at least, this sounds like some form of primitive human, but again, of course, such things simply cannot exist in this country – and yet they seem to. And this area – Devon, Somerset and Cornwall - is rich with such tales, you know."

We'll take a trip now to the north of England and a monster lurking near Bolam Lake. Beyond any shadow of a doubt, one of the most sensational of all the many and varied British Bigfoot controversies of recent years is that which concerns a hairy, man-like thing that has become known as the Beast of Bolam. In the latter part of 2002 and early 2003, Jon Downes recalls that, with respect to both him and the staff of his Centre for Fortean Zoology, "…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."

On a cold, wintry morning shortly afterwards, Jon and his team from the CFZ hit the road, headed north, and the adventure duly and truly began…When the creature craze was at its absolute height, and while he was personally on-site, Jon Downes prepared careful and copious reports, written in an in-depth style that expertly detailed the significant role played by the Center for Fortean Zoology in the bizarre affair of the Beast of Bolam. Those invaluable reports, made available for inclusion in this book, begin as follows, in Jon’s very own words: "We liaised very closely with Geoff Lincoln, an absolutely invaluable researcher based in the area. We gave him our planned arrival time, and asked if any of the eye-witnesses would be prepared to speak to us. Much to our ever-lasting delight, five out of the six were. We think it should be noted here that the sixth is a soldier; and with the burgeoning situation in the Middle East spiraling rapidly out of control, it would be completely unreasonable to expect a serving military man to be at the beck-and-call of the CFZ. Serendipitously, we were able to stay at a house owned by our County Durham representative, David Curtis. He and his wife, Joanne, were absolutely fantastic all the way through our sojourn in the North. The only sad thing about our stay with them was that Davy had to work most of the time; and so, therefore, was not able to join us during most of our activities."

After what he described as a series of fairly dull misadventures best left unmentioned, Jon and the CFZ team then met up with Geoff Lincoln and Dr. Gail Nina-Anderson (the latter a member of the CFZ’s Board of Consultants), and made their way, in convoy-style, to Bolam Lake itself: "It would be nice to be able to say that we were overwhelmed with a spooky feeling, or that the genus-loci of the location were in some way redolent of Fortean freakiness. But it wasn’t at all. It was just what one would expect from a heavily wooded country-park in the North of England in the middle of January – cold, wet and grey." Geoff proceeded to show Jon no less than three locations where sightings of the beast-man had occurred: "We carried out a thorough series of photographic mapping exercises, and did our best to fend off the incessant inquiries from the press. Just after lunchtime, a TV crew from a local television company arrived and filmed interviews with our investigation team. It was only after they had gone that we realized something very strange was happening."

(Nick Redfern) Jon Downes, Director of the Center for Fortean Zoology.

After arriving on-site, a veritable wave of Fortean chaos erupted in the direct vicinity of Bolam Lake, as Jon recalls graphically: "Although we had tested all of our electronic equipment the night before, had charged up batteries where necessary, and had even put new batteries in all of our equipment that needed them, practically without exception all of our new equipment failed. The laptop, for example, has a battery, which usually lasts between 20 and 35 minutes. It lasted just three minutes before failing. Admittedly, we received an enormous number of telephone calls during our stay at the lake, but not anywhere near enough to justify the fact that we had to change handsets four times in as many hours. The batteries in both Geoff’s and our tape-recorders also failed. It seems certain that there was some strange electromagnetic phenomenon at work here: "We drove to a local pub where we met our first witnesses. Like all of the other people we were to meet over the next few days, they requested anonymity, and therefore in accordance with our strict confidentiality policy, we have respected this. Naomi and her son had been visiting Bolam Lake only a few days before. Not believing any of the reports that had appeared in the local media, they were both appalled and frightened when – while walking across the car-park itself – they had seen a huge creature standing motionless in the woods. They described an intense feeling of fear and trepidation, and rapidly left the area. They were incredibly co-operative, and agreed to come back to the lake with us the next day to stage a reconstruction."

It was on that next day that undeniable high-strangeness affected the CFZ crew yet again, as Jon’s notes clearly and carefully serve to demonstrate: We had a wake-up call at 5.30 a.m. the next morning, followed by a taxi-ride to a rest area five-hundred yards along the road from the Bolam Lake car-park, where we did a two-and-a-half minute interview for the BBC Radio 4 Today programme. One thing of great importance happened during the half-hour or so spent shivering by the side of the road waiting to speak to the BBC:  "Just before dawn, the crows, which live in a huge colony in the woods, started an appalling noise. Suddenly, the noise stopped, but was then followed by a brief succession of booming noises – like a heavily-amplified heartbeat from a Pink Floyd record – before the crows started up again. It is unclear whether these noises came from the vicinity of the lake itself or were made by the set-up of satellite dishes, and recording equipment that was loaded in the back of, and on top of, the BBC man’s car. During the taxi journey back to Seaham, the driver remarked on the peculiar behaviour of the crows, and said that although he was a country-man himself and had spent his whole life living in this area, he had never heard anything quite like it."

‘On arriving back at base, it was time for the entire CFZ expeditionary force to drive to the outskirts of the city of Newcastle, where we met with Geoff and a second witness in a café attached to a garden center. The witness, Neil, had been fishing at Bolam Lake one night four or five years previously. Together with two companions he had been making his way back to the car-park when they encountered a huge, dark, man-shaped object about 7-8 ft in height with what he described as sparkling eyes. The three fishermen did not stop to investigate but ran back to the car." No doubt! Over the next few days, more and more sightings of Bigfoot-type creatures in the area were made. Now, to one of the most legendary cases in the U.K. It was within the packed pages of Charlotte Sophia Burne’s book of 1883, Shropshire Folklore that the unholy antics of what some have since perceived to be the closest thing that Britain may have to the North American Bigfoot and the Yeti of the Himalayas, were first unleashed upon an unsuspecting general public. According to Burne: 

"A very weird story of an encounter with an animal ghost arose of late years within my knowledge. On the 21st of January 1879, a labouring man was employed to take a cart of luggage from Ranton in Staffordshire to Woodcock, beyond Newport in Shropshire, for the ease of a party of visitors who were going from one house to another. He was late in coming back; his horse was tired, and could only crawl along at a foot’s pace, so that it was ten o’clock at night when he arrived at the place where the highroad crosses the Birmingham and Liverpool canal." It was then, Burne faithfully recorded, that the man received what was undoubtedly the most terrifying shock of his entire life – before or since, it seems pretty safe to assume: ‘Just before he reached the canal bridge, a strange black creature with great white eyes sprang out of the plantation by the roadside and alighted on his horse’s back. He tried to push it off with his whip, but to his horror the whip went through the thing, and he dropped it on the ground in fright."

(Nick Redfern) The lair of the Man-Monkey.

Needless to say, Burne added: "The poor, tired horse broke into a canter, and rushed onwards at full speed with the ghost still clinging to its back. How the creature at length vanished, the man hardly knew.’ But the story was far from over, Burne learned: ‘He told his tale in the village of Woodseaves, a mile further on, and so effectively frightened the hearers that one man actually stayed with friends there all night, rather than cross the terrible bridge which lay between him and his home." Burne’s wild story continued that, by the time he reached the village of Woodseaves, the un-named man was in a state of ‘excessive terror’ and promptly retired to his bed for several days ‘so much was he prostrated by his fright’. Burne also recorded that, on the following day, another individual travelled back to the sinister bridge and, sure enough, there was the man’s whip, still lying at the very place where it had fallen to the ground after the nightmarish and bizarre encounter. Almost inevitably, dark tales of the crazed beast and its infernal night-time activities began to spread like absolute wildfire throughout the little villages and hamlets of the area, as Burne quickly learned and recorded thus in her book:

"The adventure, as was natural, was much talked of in the neighbourhood, and, of course, with all sorts of variations." Most regrettably, Burne failed to elaborate on the particular nature of these ‘variations’ and gossip. But, it seems that the local constabulary had heard all about the nature and exploits of the hairy demon and knew exactly what was afoot, as Burne carefully chronicled: "Some days later the man’s master was surprised by a visit from a policeman, who came to request him to give information of his having been stopped and robbed on the Big Bridge on the night of the 21st January." The "master," who, apparently, was very much amused by this development in the escalating and seemingly mutating story, carefully explained to the visiting policeman that this was completely untrue, and that, in reality, it was his employee who had reported a strange encounter at the "Big Bridge," but that there was most definitely no robbery involved at all. Interestingly, when the real details of what had occurred were related to the policeman, he was seemingly completely nonplussed, came to the realisation that no actual crime had been committed at all, and merely replied in a distinctly matter of fact fashion: ‘Oh, was that all, sir? Oh, I know what that was. That was the Man-Monkey, sir, as does come again at that bridge ever since the man was drowned in the cut.’ Notably, the creature is still seen - albeit in a spectral fashion, and usually late at night.

So, what does all of this mean? Well, the idea that there could be huge apes roaming around the U.K. is ridiculous. Yet, people see them - and often, too. I can, therefore, only state that the creatures are paranormal entities. Perhaps, that makes them even more intriguing! 

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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