Apr 30, 2023 I Nick Redfern

The Bigfoot Creatures: Are They Expert Swimmers? They Just Might Be

Between the nights of December 26 and 29, 1980, multiple, extraordinary events of the UFO kind occurred within Rendlesham Forest, Suffolk, England. They were events that involved military personnel from the nearby Royal Air Force stations of Bentwaters and Woodbridge. Since that now long gone period, countless U.S. Air Force personnel, who were stationed in the area at the time, have spoken out regarding their knowledge of a small, triangular-shaped object that was seen maneuvering in the forest. Others described seeing in the dark woods almost ghostly, extraterrestrial-type beings of short size and with eerie, feline-like eyes. Strange and unknown lights were seen dancing around the night skies, circling both the forest and the twin military facilities. There were stories that the amazing movements of the UFOs were caught on radar. And there was even hushed talk of those military personnel involved in the incident being silenced by ominous Men in Black-style characters. As for the official story, many attempts have been made to suggest that the beam from a local lighthouse – situated at nearby Orford Ness – was the cause of all the fuss of the flying saucer variety! And here’s where we come to something decidedly strange and intriguing. It has nothing to do with the lighthouse per se, but everything to do with the 12th century town of Orford itself. Wondering what I mean by that? Well, read on.

(Nick Redfern) When hairy things swam in the waters of England

First, here is a bit of important background data on Orford Castle, near which an “amphibian man” was seen and captured: “Orford Castle was a royal castle built by King Henry II of England, between 1165 and 1173, because he wanted to re-establish royal influence across the region. Before that time the area had been under control by the Bigod family who resided in nearby Framlingham Castle. Hugh Bigod had been one of a group of dissenting barons during the Anarchy in the reign of King Stephen. Henry had initially confiscated Framlingham Castle from Hugh, but had returned it in 1165. “In 1174 Henry crushed the Bigods when they revolted again and ordered the permanent confiscation of Framlingham Castle. During the revolt Orford Castle was heavily garrisoned with 20 knights. Henry died in 1189 and although the political importance of Orford Castle diminished, the port of Orford grew in importance. By the start of the 13th century, royal authority over Suffolk firmly established, it handled even more trade than the more famous port of nearby Ipswich. In 1216 Orford Castle was taken by the invading Prince Louis of France (later to become King Louis VIII of France).

“John Fitz-Robert became the governor of the royal castle under the young King Henry III of England, followed by Hubert de Burgh. Under King Edward I governorship of Orford Castle was given to the De Valoines family, and it passed by marriage to Robert de Ufford, the 1st Earl of Suffolk, who was granted it in perpetuity by Edward III in 1336. No longer a royal castle, Orford was passed on through the Willoughby, Stanhope and Devereux families.” It is truly ironic that many of those who are skeptical of the Rendlesham Forest UFO case of December 1980 are so very often keen to suggest that the airmen who were involved merely mistook the illumination from the nearby Orford Lighthouse for something more exotic. Why? Well, Orford itself is a veritable hotbed of weirdness. And that has not just been the case for the last few years, or even since the events at Rendlesham occurred. Rather, Orford has been what the late John Keel would have termed a “window area” for no less than centuries.

Consider – as just one example of what actually amounts to far more than a few – the following account of the single-named Ralph, a monk and an abbot of Coggeshall, Essex, England. Recorded way back in the year 1200 in Chronicon Anglicanum, the story describes the remarkable capture in the area of nothing less than a definitive wild man of the woods-style creature: “In the time of King Henry II, when Bartholomew de Glanville was in charge of the castle at Orford, it happened that some fishermen fishing in the sea there caught in their nets a Wildman. He was naked and was like a man in all his members, covered with hair and with a long shaggy beard. He eagerly ate whatever was brought to him, but if it was raw he pressed it between his hands until all the juice was expelled.” Ralph continued with his monster-themed account:

“He would not talk, even when tortured and hung up by his feet, Brought into church, he showed no sign of reverence or belief. He sought his bed at sunset and always remained there until sunrise. He was allowed to go into the sea, strongly guarded with three lines of nets, but he dived under the nets and came up again and again. Eventually he came back of his own free will. But later on he escaped and was never seen again.” Or, maybe the beast-man – or, far more likely, given the large passage of time, one of its offspring – was seen again, albeit hundreds of years further down the line. At some point during the summer of 1968, one Morris Allen – who grew up in the vicinity of Orford – was walking along the coast near, of all places, the town of Orford itself when in the distance he saw someone squatting on the sand and leaning over something.

(Nick Redfern) Swimming and Sasquatch

As he got closer, Morris said, he could see that the man was dressed in what looked like an animal skin and was savagely tearing into the flesh of a dead rabbit. The man was dirt-encrusted, with long, tangled hair and had wild, staring eyes. Morris could only watch with a mixture of fascination and horror. Suddenly the man held his head aloft and quickly looked – or, perhaps, glared would be a far better description – in Morris’ direction, as if he had picked up his scent. The wild man quickly scooped up the rabbit, bounded off into the grass and was forever lost from sight. For a highly traumatized Morris Allen, it was an event destined never to be forgotten. Perhaps, the wild man of Orford, and its surrounding areas, continues to live on, taunting and tantalizing people with the occasional sighting of its bestial form. And, it can now be said with a high degree of accuracy, in the “weird stakes” there is far more to Orford than just its infamous lighthouse. Max Westenhofer was a German pathologist who, in the early 1940s, made a comment that was as controversial as it was thought-provoking: “The postulation of an aquatic mode of life during an early stage of human evolutions is a tenable hypothesis, for which further inquiry may producer additional supporting evidence.” 

Almost two decades later, a marine biologist named Alister Hardy added that very ancient “primitive ape stock” may have been forced – by competing predators and circumstances – “to feed on the sea shores and to hunt for food, shell fish, sea urchins, etc., in the shallows of the coast. I suppose that they were forced into the water just as we have seen happen in so many other groups of terrestrial animals.” While it is obvious that lakes, oceans, and rivers are not the natural habitats of Bigfoot, there’s a large body of data available which shows that – unlike many apes and monkeys – Bigfoot is quite an adept swimmer, and a creature for whom water is far from being an alien environment. The North American Wood Ape Conservancy say: “Swimming must be examined alongside the terrestrial gait of the wood ape since it appears to be an important means of locomotion throughout the range of this species in North America, especially on the west coast. Circumstantial evidence, such as reports of the presence of wood apes on small islands off the coast of British Columbia, has suggested they swim. Observations of wood apes actually swimming have confirmed this.”

Lisa Shiel, who has had personal interactions with Bigfoot, has uncovered an example of Bigfoot in the water from the 19th century. She outlines the story: “In the 1830s, reports emerged from the area around Fish Lake, Indiana, of a four-foot-tall ‘wild child’ loitering in the vicinity – and swimming in the lake.” Shiel continues: “In another incident that took place in September 1967, a fisherman casting his net on the delta of the Nooksack River in Washington State felt something tug on his net. A moment later something began dragging his net upstream. When he shined his flashlight at the thief, he saw a hairy hominid in the river hauling in the net.” A third case comes from the people who run the website, Today in Bigfoot History! They state: “William Drexler’s campsite overlooked Phantom Ship Island. He had just finished his sausage and egg breakfast and was smoking his morning pipe, just looking out over Crater Lake. That is when he noticed something moving on Phantom Ship Island.”

(Nick Redfern) Bigfoot: some say they are expert swimmers

For those who may be wondering, Phantom Ship Island is a small, craggy island on Crater Lake that takes its name from its “ghost-ship”-like appearance, which is particularly noticeable when the mist hovers low and thick. The story continues: “Drexler got out his binoculars. It took him a minute or two before he was able to get a good bead on the moving figure. What Drexler saw was a brownish grey Bigfoot, obviously soaking wet, stretching out on some rocks near the water’s edge. The creature was luxuriated. Drexler watched the creature for awhile lounge in the sun. Then after a bit the Bigfoot climbed to the other side of the island and Drexler lost sight of it.” One of the most fascinating examples originated near Ketchikan, Alaska, at some point around the turn of the 1960s. It was a story provided to long-time Bigfoot authority and investigator, John Green. The story had a bit of a “friend of a friend” aspect to it, but that makes it no less fascinating. It revolved around a young boy named Errol, who, on one particular night, was out fishing with his father, when his flashlight illuminated something terrifying standing in the water: a large, humanoid creature, but one which was clearly not human, staring intently at him.

Not surprisingly, the boy screamed at the top of his lungs and fled for his life. A posse of men came running, just in time to illuminate the dark waters with their flashlights, and who saw to their astonishment the huge beast dive into the water and start swimming “like a frog,” before vanishing from view, as it plunged ever deeper into the depths. In moments, it was gone – demonstrating its skills as a powerful, fast swimmer. Rupert Matthews, the author of Sasquatch, reports: “In July 1965 a Sasquatch was seen swimming some distance away from the shore of Princess Royal Island, British Columbia. The fisherman who saw it realized with no little apprehension that it was actually swimming for his boat, so he started up his outboard motor and sped off. At this point four more Sasquatch appeared on a nearby beach and watched him.” There have been sightings of swimming Bigfoot in Texas, too. Rob Riggs, who deeply studied reports of the creatures in and around the Big Thicket are of the Lone Star State, told of one particularly notable case of a watery Sasquatch: “John’s family home is on the edge of the Trinity River swamps near Dayton. One night he heard a disturbance on the porch where he kept a pen of rabbits. He investigated just in time to see a large, dark form make off with rabbit in hand. John impulsively followed in hot pursuit, staying close enough to hear the rabbit squeal continuously.”

John was able to close in on the creature, and to a point where he witnessed something amazing occur, as Riggs reveals: “Standing on the high bank in the moonlight he watched dumb-struck as what looked like a huge ape-like animal swam to the other side of the river, easily negotiating the strong current, and never letting go of the rabbit.” In March 2007, the “Goldie E.” family told of swimming Bigfoot around Trinidad, California. Rather bizarrely, the creatures were reportedly seen swimming alongside sea-lions, as they negotiated the waters from Trinidad Head Rock to Flat Iron Rock! The biting, cold waters apparently affected the Bigfoot not a bit. Constructed in the early part of the 19th Century, England’s historic Shropshire Union Canal, or the “Shroppie” - as it has come to be affectionately and popularly known by those that regularly travel its extensive and winding waters – is some sixty-seven miles in length and extends from Ellesmere Port near the city of Liverpool right down to Autherley Junction at Wolverhampton in the Midlands. The southern end of the old canal, that was originally known as the Birmingham and Liverpool Junction Canal, was the very last of the great British narrow-boat canals to be built, and is a true testament to the masterful engineering of Thomas Telford. Deep cuttings and massive embankments are the veritable hallmarks of the canal and they paint a picture that is as eerie as it is picturesque.

The Shropshire Union Canal, U.K., is quite possibly Britain’s most haunted waterway, as the local folk that intimately know and appreciate the history and lore of the canal are only too well aware. At Chester’s old Northgate, for example, and where the canal was dug into part of the town’s old moat, a ghostly Roman centurion can be seen – when circumstances are said to be right, that is – still guarding the ancient entrance to the city. Then there is the “shrieking specter” of Belton Cutting, which is a veritable wailing, Banshee-style monstrosity that strikes cold, stark fear into the hearts of those who have the misfortune, and bad luck to cross its terrible path. At the site of the former lock-keeper’s cottage at Burgedin, on the nearby Montgomery Canal, come intriguing reports of the ghostly, ethereal figure of an early Welsh princess named Eira. And bringing matters relatively more up to date, there is the spectral American Air Force pilot whose aircraft crashed near the canal at Little Onn, at Church Eaton, Staffordshire during the Second World War.  There is also the ‘helpful resident ghost’ of Tyrley Middle Lock at Market Drayton, which has allegedly been seen opening and closing the lock-gates for those novice, holidaying boaters that, from time to time, negotiate the waters of the long canal. But by far the most famous – or, perhaps, infamous would be a much more accurate word to use – ghostly resident of the Shropshire Union Canal is a truly diabolical and devilish entity that has become known as the Man-Monkey. That’s right, the very same hairy creature that, back in January 1986, got me into this controversy in the first place!

(Nick Redfern) Death in the waters, 1879

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.”

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.” Interestingly, the theory within the locals was that the hairy thing could swim and pulled the poor man into the depths and to his death. Another example of hairy creatures swimming.

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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