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?