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At the end of last week I grabbed a couple of days in the Eastern fells of the Lake District. On the second day I returned towards Windermere by the ridge over Froswick, Ill Bell and Yoke, hoping to find a nice spot to camp on Sallows or Sour Howes. I was out of luck, however, the ground being either rough or boggy, so I ended up descending to the edge of farmland before finding a pitch next to a field of sheep at NY 431 019.
It was dark by the time I’d finished eating and I recall being puzzled by seeing one or two lights flashing briefly to the West – was it a car on the road to Hawkshead? As often happens when I’m tired and the weather is pleasant enough I dropped off to sleep with the doors of the tent open.
I woke up thirsty some hours later and decided to make a brew – and then I saw the lights again, realising this time that they were in fact a pair of eyes. How silly of me I thought, I’d simply caught a sheep in the beam of my head torch.
But then the eyes moved – towards me – and I have to say there was nothing sheep-like about the manner in which they moved which was quick but silent. Some sort of predator then – an inquisitive fox perhaps, interested in my food bag?
They moved closer still, shining silvery white in the light of my torch. I wasn’t scared exactly but I was certainly a little unnerved as the owner of the eyes seemed to be displaying an uncommonly strong sense of purpose in approaching me. I called out a greeting – no response, it just stood and stared. As far as I could tell in the darkness it was very close now – uncomfortably so.
My water came to the boil and I took the pan off, but as I did so the eyes seemed to want come closer still so I just kept looking at them. I’d misjudged the amount of fuel I needed in my meths burner which gave me the idea of flicking the Caldera cone over to expose the flame – again no reaction. So I sat in my tent staring out at the eyes as they stared back at me – a real face off.
Once I saw the eyes blink, slowly – and a few times they disappeared only to reappear almost immediately as if the creature had looked away for a moment. Eventually it did back off and after several minutes of intermittent and increasingly distant sightings the eyes were gone. The whole episode must have lasted 10 minutes or more.
As I travelled back the following day I pondered what sort of creature it was that I had encountered. It wasn’t a fox – the eyes just weren’t right. They were feline in shape – slightly pointed corners raised at the outer edge – but they were set noticeably far apart.
Once home I recounted the story to my partner and daughter who were intrigued enough to do some googling as I made supper. They soon came across a number of references to the Beast of Cumbria – a supposed black panther roaming the Lake District. Could that possibly have been what I’d encountered? We got some pictures up - and then my daughter suggested masking the pictures with two sheets of paper so that only the eyes were visible. It hit me in the stomach – that was precisely the configuration of eye shape and spacing which I had seen!
I appreciate this is hardly a scientific proof of the existence of a panther in the Lakes but it has certainly left me thinking. Has anyone else had or heard of similar experiences?
Wow! That's brilliant - and somewhat unnerving! Thanks for sharing.
About 10 years ago a friend and I were fishing on the River Great Ouse in Bucks. It was a freezing cold day with the odd flurry of snow. We walked along chatting and baiting a couple of spots and decided to take a stroll up to look at the source of a spring in a nearby field. As we approached a large animal bolted from the thick undergrowth and ran away from us across a large open field towards a far hedge line. We both stood open mouthed. It was mid morning, so the light was good and we had a good view of the beast for probably 30 - 40 seconds, albeit mostly from behind as it ran. It was probably only 20 yards away when it initially broke cover. There's no doubt in my mind (or my mate's) that what we saw that day was a puma! The area is pretty rural with plenty of wooded and scrubby areas off limits to the public. I'll never forget it.
I've seen some rare old beasts on the challenge - mostly in Braemar and Montrose...
Yes, there are indeed some interesting and exotic beasts to be found on the Challenge...
Your story is fascinating too. I’ve done a bit of research this week and it appears that sightings of large cats are more widespread and more common than I had imagined. The theory is that animals were released into the wild when the keeping of such exotic pets became illegal in the ‘70s and that these animals have since bred.
It’s interesting that you describe that area of your sighting as having plenty of cover – the same is true where I was – bracken, long grass and some trees. I think I might be sticking to more open ground for my next camp in the Lakes!
Hi Stephen , You may not have to worry , the weather being what it has of late . If the " Beast " can't swim it's dead in the water . And this leads a promp for Alie and Sues post ! The Challenge cannot be addictive ! . If it is too wet as i discovered on my six crossings . I may return , but by choice . Just a thought . That it is worth doing is without doubt ! . wh 2006 - 2012 one gap year . You addressed your fears before , ( mine were rats in a bothie ) you can do it again . enjoy bill h. ps the " solo " aspect is the defining point .