By Nick Redfern
There can be few people fascinated by the mysteries of this world and beyond who have not heard of the North American Bigfoot, the Yeti—or Abominable Snowman—of the snow-capped Himalayas, and Australia’s very own man-beast, known as the Yowie.
What is perhaps less well known, however, is the rich body of data that exists on sightings of similar creatures in the British Isles. At first glance, the idea that jolly old England could be home to a hidden race of large, ape-like animals seems manifestly absurd; the country is less than 1,000 miles in length, it has a bustling population of 60 million, and, although the British scenery is certainly beautiful, its forests and mountains are hardly of a size that would allow for a species of Sasquatch-sized beasts to flourish in stealth. And yet people have seen such animals with surprising regularity—and for centuries, too.
Ralph of Coggershall, whose 800-year-old account concerning a wild man captured on the east coast of England at a town called Orford, is a classic example. In Chronicon Anglicanum, he wrote: “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 wild man. 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. He would not talk, even when tortured and hung up by his feet. Brought into church, he showed no signs 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.”
On the cold and moonlit night of January 21, 1879, a man was riding home with his horse-and-cart from Woodcote in the county of Shropshire to Ranton, Staffordshire, England. Enveloped in darkness, he pulled his jacket tightly around him to keep out the biting wind. Approximately a mile from the village of Woodseaves and while crossing a bridge over the Birmingham and Liverpool Canal, the man got the shock of his life. Out of the trees leapt a horrific-looking creature. Jet-black in color and with a pair of huge, glowing eyes, it was described by the petrified witness as being half-man and half-monkey.
The creature jumped onto the back of the man’s horse (which bolted out of sheer fright) and a fierce battle for life and limb began atop the cart. Incredibly, according to the man, when he attempted to hit the beast with his whip, it simply passed straight through its body. Suddenly and without warning the spectral man-beast vanished into thin air, leaving an exhausted horse and its shell-shocked owner in a state of near collapse. As with the events 600 years previously at Orford, the mystery of the “Man-Monkey of Ranton” (as the creature came to be known) was never resolved.
The Big Gray Man
As the researcher Andy Roberts notes, Ben Macdhui, at 1,309 meters, is the second highest mountain in the British Isles and lies in the heart of the Scottish mountain range known as the Cairngorms. Atop the mountain is a high plateau with a sub-arctic climate, often covered in snow for months at a time. Weather conditions can be extreme and unpredictable. Sadly, the Cairngorms have been defaced by ski lifts and restaurants but until recently remained remote, and still require considerable physical effort and mountain craft to navigate successfully.
The wild nature and relative inaccessibility of the area has contributed to its popularity, and the Cairngorms have been a playground for climbers, walkers, skiers, naturalists, and those who love the high and lonely places for hundreds of years.
While on Ben Macdhui, various witnesses to a phenomenon known as the Big Gray Man have described encountering footsteps; a sensation of a “presence”; sightings of a large, hairy, man-like animal; and an overpowering sense of panic. Sightings span more than a century and the experience has been terrifying enough to compel witnesses to flee in blind terror, often for several miles. Whatever the nature of the beast, it seems content to remain hidden deep within the safety of the Cairngorms and far away from civilization.
Ape-Man or Cave-Man?
While working as a nurse at the Royal Western Counties Hospital, Devonshire, in 1982, Britain’s leading cryptozoologist Jonathan Downes (of the Center for Fortean Zoology) was told a strange tale by one of the staff doctors who, at the time, was then approaching retirement.
According to the doctor, he had been on duty one morning in the winter of 1948 when he received several unusual telephone calls—all from local officials, and all informing him in a distinctly cryptic manner that a highly dangerous patient, who had been captured on the wilds of Dartmoor, would be brought to the hospital within the hour, requiring specialist care and an isolated room.
Within 45 minutes a police van arrived at the hospital and backed up to a side door. Seven policemen jumped out of the vehicle while simultaneously trying to hang on to what the doctor said resembled a hair-covered caveman. The policemen dragged the creature along the hospital’s corridors and into the already-prepared isolation room. The door was quickly slammed shut behind it.
The beast stood slightly over six feet in height and was completely naked, with a heavy brow, a wide nose, and very muscular arms and legs. In addition it was covered with an excessive amount of body hair that enveloped its whole body apart from the palms of its hands, the soles of its feet, and its face, and had a head of long, matted hair.
Over the course of the next three days, telephone calls bombarded the hospital from the police, the Lord Lieutenant of the County, and the Home Office in London. Then came the news that the man-beast was being transferred to a secure location in London for examination.
Again late at night, the creature was removed from the hospital by the same group of policemen. This time, however, they succeeded in holding the thing down long enough for it to be heavily sedated by the doctor, whereupon it was tied with powerful straps to a stretcher and loaded again into a police wagon with an unidentified doctor in attendance for the journey that lay ahead. Less than 20 minutes after they had arrived, the police departed into the night and the creature was gone forever.
Interestingly, the renowned folklorist Theo Brown collected a number of similar, decades-old stories of unusual encounters in Devonshire, and specifically near the village of Lustleigh. A friend of Brown’s confided that she had been walking alone at dusk one night near the Neolithic earthworks at the top of Lustleigh Cleave on the extreme eastern side of Dartmoor when she had seen a family of “cave men,” either naked and covered in hair or wrapped in the shaggy pelts of some wild animal, shambling around the stone circle at the top of the Cleave.
Bringing matters more up to date, a British family had an awe-inspiring daylight encounter with one of these beast-men in 1991 in an area known as the Peak District. The specific location—identified thanks to the research of the prime investigator of the case, Martin Jeffrey—was the Ladybower Reservoir on the Manchester-to-Sheffield road. On a nearby hillside, one of the family members spotted a large figure walking down toward the road. But this was no normal man.
The car was brought to a sudden halt as an enormous creature—approximately eight feet tall and covered in long, brown hair—came into full view. It was described by the startled family as walking in a “crouching” style and proceeded to cross the road directly in front of them. Then it jumped over a wall that had a ten-foot drop on the other side and ran off, disappearing into the safety and seclusion of nearby woods.
Hangley Cleave and Smitham Hill in Somerset have played host to a number of similar encounters. Many years ago the area around what is now an abandoned mineshaft was linked to tales of strange beasts seen watching the miners. Sometimes on returning to work in the morning, the men would find that carts and equipment had been pushed over and thrown around during the night by a creature that one witness would describe as a “large, crouching man-like form, covered in dark, matted hair and with pale, flat eyes.”
And as late as 1993, reports continued to surface from this part of Somerset that eerily paralleled the reports of yesteryear. From the files of Jonathan Downes comes the following witness testimony: “I was on a walk through the woods when I heard a twig snap. I thought nothing of it and continued on. Suddenly the dogs became very agitated and ran off home. At this point I became aware of a foul smell, like a wet dog, and a soft breathing sound. I started to run, but after only a few feet, I tripped and fell. I decided to turn and meet my pursuer only to see a large, about seven feet tall, dark brown, hairy, ape-like man. It just stood, about ten feet away, staring at me. It had intelligent looking eyes and occasionally tilted its head as if to find out what I was. After about 20 seconds it moved off into the forest.”
The Scottish Bigfoot
Mark Fraser is one of Scotland’s most respected researchers of unknown animals and mysterious beasts and has uncovered details of a fascinating encounter from Dundonald Castle, Scotland.
Set on top of a hill that overlooks north Kilmarnock, the castle is visible for miles around. The hill was occupied as far back as 2000 b.c. In the 12th century a timber fort was built by Walter, the High-Steward of King David I, and a more substantial Dundonald Castle was constructed by the Stewart Family in the 13th century. Although much of the castle was destroyed during the Wars of Independence with England early in the 14th century, it was rebuilt in the middle of that same century by King Robert II and remains standing to this day. In 1482 the castle was sold by King James III to the Cathcart family and was subsequently purchased by Sir William Cochrane in 1636. In recent years, however, the castle has been looked after by the Friends of Dundonald Castle and by Historic Scotland, the latter having a small visitor center on the site.
According to Mark Fraser: “Josephine Aldridge from England says she will never go up the hill again as long as she lives.” It was the summer of 1994; and while walking on Dundonald Hill, her two Labrador dogs suddenly “went berserk,” as a truly immense, gorilla-like creature—estimated to be around ten feet in height—appeared some distance to the side of her.
The terrified woman began to pray, at which point the beast vanished—quite literally—into thin air. As Mark Fraser astutely notes: “Josephine left Dundonald Hill in a hurry, not too far behind her whimpering dogs.”
Also from the files of Mark Fraser comes the July 1994 encounter of Pete and George, who were walking through a forestry track in woods near their home of Torphins 20 miles from the Scottish city of Aberdeen. When nearing the end of the track, Pete saw a dark figure run from the trees on the left, head across the track, and disappear into the trees on the right.
A few weeks later the two friends, along with a third, were driving along the road into Torphins when: “Suddenly from the side of the road there came this great, muscular, hairy figure bounding out, which started to run behind the car. At one point it caught up and ran alongside the vehicle, not seemingly out of breath as it approached speeds of up to 35 to 40 miles per hour.” The creature would be described as strong and muscular, with a hair-covered body and possessed of a pair of “red, glowing eyes.”