Tag Archives: Castle Donington

A Werewolf in Yorkshire: Eeh bah gum (again) !

I told you in previous articles that there were more werewolves about than you might think. News came in recently, on Sunday May 15th, of werewolf sightings near Hull in East Yorkshire. The national newspaper, the Daily Express, took up the story. Here is a highly abridged version:

“Seven separate eye witnesses claim to have spotted the 8ft tall creature lurking in an abandoned industrial area outside the centre of Hull.

Residents and folklore experts believe the beast is Old Stinker who, according to legend, is a foul-breathed creature in the Yorkshire Wolds.
The lonely banks of Barmston Drain are where the creature was first reported before Christmas.
One woman claims to have seen it turn from man to beast as she stood on the bridge”:

barmaston drasin

She said: “It was stood upright one moment. The next it was down running like a dog. I was terrified.
It bounded along, then stopped and reared up on its back legs, before running down the embankment towards the water.
It vaulted thirty feet over to the other side and vanished into some allotments. It both ran on all two legs and on all fours, as if with the qualities of both human and wolf.”

A couple saw “something tall and hairy” eating a German Shepherd dog next to the Drain.
They saw it jump an 8ft high fence before vanishing into the night, its prey still in its jaws.

I have a link to that. Something tall and hairy, eating a German Shepherd dog?

A woman walking her dog spotted something “half-man, half-dog” in the distance.
She was terrified, and her pet began shaking and refused to go any further:

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Well, this monster could well have become a minor source of tourist revenue, particularly with the right people in the right costumes. Unfortunately, though, the locals chose to shoot themselves in the foot.

Leave well alone?? Rake in the cash??  No. No. NO!

Let’s take the high risk strategy of going to look for “Old Stinker”, the moment the next full moon raises her beautiful head. Notice how the local councillor just can’t keep away, and his almost childlike faith in Hull Council:

“Now locals plan a werewolf hunt with cameras and recording equipment. Councillor Steve Wilson has offered to keep an incident log: “I am happy to keep a diary of sightings by people around here and report them to Hull Council.”

Just one step from the Stasi.

Local author Charles Christian said: “Old Stinker was actually said to be operating on the other side of the Yorkshire Wolds but it would be no distance at all for a large animal to get to Hull.”

What faith in the public transport system. Why, it’s probably run by Hull Council:

werewolf attack

Mike Covell, an expert in the supernatural, said: “No one really knows what to do. You can hardly pop down the local council office or police station and say you’d like to report a werewolf.”

Well, Mike, have I got news for you. That is exactly what everybody has been doing. On a discussion forum, watertight evidence was provided of previous werewolves in Yorkshire by “wmysteries90″:

“I had one witness claim they saw a huge dog which stood up, jumped over a fence and then run off with a cattle animal.(sic) Then his friend came forward to his fried stating he had seen a huge dog in the same area. (sic) A woman claimed she heard a strange howl. While a former military guy with an undisclosed area on the moors stated that few years back with a routine team in the middle of the night they had the sense of being watched by something.

Also there have been claims made by people around the moors stating that they have either seen or heard strange howls, growls.”

Indeed, the Daily Mail were to concentrate more fully on placing the “Barmston Drain Dog Destroyer” in its proper context, once they had established that the Werewolf Councillor was from the Labour Party.

Old Stinker, therefore, was supposed to haunt the “Wold Newton Triangle” (the what??), an area known for mysterious activity (really?):

wold newton triangle

“For centuries, tales have circulated of zombies, ghosts, and Old Stinker – a great hairy beast with red eyes, who was so called because he had bad breath…people would glimpse the rear lights of a car in front, but it would reveal itself to be the red eyes of a wolf.”

red eyes

How often that has happened to me. Although driving a 1994 Volvo I don’t catch up too many cars, or werewolves, for it to be a real problem. Well, it’s not as bad as ice or sudden banks of fog.

If you want to investigate further the question of “How gullible can people get?”, then this is a similar story, set in the same area, but harking back in the “Golden Age of Satanic Panic”.

werewol
My previous story about the “Barmston Drain Dog Destroyer” and the “Golden Age of Satanic Panic” was soon followed in the national press by the story of two people who saw what they thought was a puma type creature as they returned home along country lanes around Pershore in Worcestershire in the early hours of the morning:

puma

They suddenly saw a “muscular black animal” in the middle of the road. It was around one metre long and they were forced into an emergency stop. The creature circled the car and appeared to be about as tall as the car window. Its eye reflection was green. Frightened, the couple drove off, but not before they had noticed what they took to be the eyes of the creature’s mate hiding in the darkness of the hedgerow:

big cat

There have apparently been other sightings of puma type animals elsewhere in the county, at Evesham, Malvern and in the Malvern Hills.

Indeed, there are continuing reports of pumas or ABCs as they are called (Alien Big Cats) all over the country. In Leicestershire, for example, experts have said that there are two territories which overlap around the East Midlands Airport at Castle Donington. Rutland Water is included in one of them:

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Even I have seen one, while I was trying out my new “see in the dark” binoculars. I thought it was a fox at the time, but I now realise that foxes don’t have long curved tails, wide faces or big round ears. There are even videos of these killer cats. This one comes from AnimalInfoTV, who produce a great number of really interesting looking videos on a number of different subjects. I would commend them to you:

Going back to the “Puma of Pershore” though, what makes this news story quite extraordinary, however, is the fact that when the couple did a drawing of what they had seen, because a werewolf had been spotted near Hull around the same time, the consensus of opinion suddenly became that they had actually seen the “Worcestershire Werewolf” rather than the “Puma of Pershore”.

werewolf

Well, here is their drawing. Make your own mind up. “Worcestershire Werewolf”?? or the  “Puma of Pershore”??

sketch

I went to Pershore twitching once. It’s a really lovely place. It was to see a Black-throated Thrush, which was at the time, a mega-rarity:

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Eagles in Nottinghamshire

One of the more interesting issues in the area of local Natural History concerns the occurrence of eagles in Nottinghamshire in centuries gone by. In the era of the Anglo-Saxons, for example, the white-tailed sea eagle was called the Erne. This, supposedly, gave the town of Arnold its name.

More problematic is the Golden Eagle, which certainly occurred in England much more frequently in the past than it does now. Between 1800-1900, there were at least twenty records nationwide with seven different birds in Yorkshire:

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In books about local ornithology, there are some really old records of Golden Eagle. In “The Birds of Derbyshire” which was published in 1893, F.B Whitlock quoted an earlier, eighteenth century ornithologist, Mr Pilkington, who wrote about a Golden Eagle which was seen in Hardwick Park, a large estate right on the border of Derbyshire and Nottinghamshire. Hardwick Hall itself is within less than half a mile of the county boundary and in the absence of an exact location for this particular bird, it seems hardly unreasonable to suggest that it must have ventured into Nottinghamshire at some point during its stay. Both Hardwick Park and Hardwick Hall are easy to spot on this map. I have marked the county boundary between Derbyshire (top left) and Nottinghamshire (bottom right). Look for the orange arrow:

hardwick

That particular Golden Eagle occurred as far back as 1759. A second Golden Eagle was shot in the same area around 1770. Twelve years later, in 1782, two Golden Eagles were seen “in the out-lying portions of Sherwood Forest, near Hardwick”. It was obviously a suitable habitat with a good supply of food.
In his “Ornithology of Nottinghamshire” published in 1866, William Felkin stated that “The eagle has twice been seen near Beeston: once by myself.” As a man, who, unfortunately, had no digital camera or mobile phone to record evidence of what he had seen, Felkin could have been no more definite than that.

I have recently become addicted to acquiring those reprints of Victorian Ordnance Survey maps and they do reveal that the outskirts of Nottingham were unbelievably countrified as recently as 1901 and even more so in 1866. Perhaps a stray eagle is not quite an outrageous bird to have seen, if only just passing over.

Felkin also noted that a Golden Eagle had been killed in an unrecorded year long ago at Castle Donington. This village, of course, is nowadays on the border between Derbyshire and Leicestershire, although it is reasonably close to Nottinghamshire. Felkin considered that this bird had occurred on Nottinghamshire’s “south-western border” and as such, was therefore worthy of inclusion in his important book about the county’s avifauna:

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Modern birdwatchers would say that all these observers were simply mistaken, but that has always seemed a rather strange attitude to me. Just because they lived in the eighteenth or nineteenth century does not make people less trustworthy or more stupid than us. Certainly, in the case of the Golden Eagle which was shot around 1770 near Hardwick Hall, it would have been seen by a great many people once it was stuffed and out on display. They would certainly not have been slow to speak up about any identification errors committed by his Lordship or, indeed, his bird stuffer:

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Joseph Whitaker mentions a number of eagles in his “Birds of Nottinghamshire” published in 1907, but these were all considered to be White tailed Sea Eagles, spending their winters further south than their summer breeding areas. His first account was:

“It was in the winter of 1838 that the bird appeared in Welbeck Park. Mr Tillery says :–
“The lake was frozen over at the time, except in one place, where a flush of warm water entered from a culvert which drained the abbey. The place was covered with ducks, teal and widgeon, and I saw his majesty swoop down once or twice to get one for his breakfast, but unsuccessfully, as the ducks saved themselves by diving or flying off. The park-keeper got two shots at him with a ball on a tree but missed him each time, and he gradually got wilder, so that he could never be approached again near enough for a shot. After levying blackmail on the young lambs, hares and game in the neighbourhood, he took himself off after three weeks’ sojourn”

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In 1857, a single White tailed Sea Eagle was shot at Osberton near Ollerton on a date several days before January 13th. According to F.O.Morris, the nationally regarded author of “A History of British Birds”, he was informed of the occurrence by Sir Charles Anderson, Baronet, a gentleman who was presumably known to George Saville Foljambe Esquire on whose estate near Osberton the event took place. Sir Charles wrote thus…

“It was first seen sitting on a tree near a place where a cow had been buried a few days before and it continued flying about this locality for some days, always returning to the same tree, as if attracted towards it. There was partial snow on the ground at the time.”

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William Sterland included in his two main books, “The Birds of Sherwood Forest” (1869) and “A Descriptive List of the Birds of Nottinghamshire” (1879) an account of the occurrence of a second White tailed Sea Eagle in Lima Wood at Laughton-en-le-Morthen. Strictly speaking, this bizarrely named village is in Yorkshire but it is really quite close to the Nottinghamshire border. On this map, Laughton-en-le-Morthen is towards the top left corner and I have indicated the dark blue county boundary with the orange arrow:

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This occurrence was only a few days after the demise of  another eagle, shot on the Foljambe estate near Osberton, and related immediately above. Whether the two birds were connected, male and female, or perhaps siblings, we will never know. It is certainly a very striking story:

“The bird was seen in the neighbourhood of Morthen for more than a fortnight before it was shot. On several occasions it was observed perched in a tree about a hundred yards from Pinch Mill, the person resident there taking it at that distance for a stray heron. Thomas Whitfield, the gamekeeper to J.C.Althorpe Esquire of Dinnington made many attempts to get within range of the bird, but was often baffled by its wariness. It was observed to be much molested by crows and small birds, and frequently, as if to escape from persecutions which were beneath its notice to resent, it would mount into the air with graceful spiral curbs until it became nearly lost to sight, leaving its puny assailants far below, and then would sweep as gracefully down again, with all the ease and lightness of wing of the swallow.”

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“It seems uncertain what its food consisted of during its sojourn for it was not seen to make any attack. At night it roosted on a tree, but still maintained a vigilant watch. When perceived by Whitfield, it was perched on a tree on the outskirts of the wood, but the night being moonlight, it perceived his approach and he had great difficulty in getting within gunshot. At the moment of his firing it flew off and he thought he had failed in hitting it; but in the morning he found it dead in an adjoining field. Its expanse of wing from tip to tip was seven feet six inches and it weighed eight pounds and a quarter. The friend I have mentioned kindly procured the loan of the bird from Whitfield and sent it for my inspection. It is a fine specimen in the immature plumage of the third or fourth year.”

The bird was shot on January 13, 1857, although. clearly, it had been present for some time before this.

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Nearly forty years later in 1896, a single White tailed Sea Eagle was seen in the Deer Park at Park Farm, Annesley, between Nottingham and Mansfield, on November 5th, and for several days afterwards. It was thought to have been attracted to the area by the large number of rabbits present there and indeed, on a number of occasions, was seen feeding on them.
On November 8th, it was shot by Mr George Charles Musters, as it fed on the corpse of a rabbit, and when examined was found to have a total wingspan of seven feet one inch, and a weight of nine and a quarter pounds. It was an immature bird, although not a first winter individual, being considered to be probably three or four years old. It was, of course, preserved by a taxidermist and soon occupied pride of place in the collection of Mr John Patricius Chaworth Musters at Annesley Park.

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In Joseph Whitaker’s own personal copy of “The Birds of Nottinghamshire”,  housed in Mansfield Library’s local collection, he has appended a short note in pencil, written in that punctuation-free style that he always seems to use:

“I was standing on doorsteps one day in August 1907 waiting for carriage to come round it was a clear warm day a few white clouds were passing over very high I was looking up in the sky when I saw a bird pass under a white cloud it was so high if the white had not shown the job I should never have seen it but it was most distinct + I am certain it was an eagle by its size + flight whether Golden or White tailed I do not know.”

sea eagle cliff

In another handwritten account in 1916, Joseph Whitaker tells the following story which, although illegible in places, is clear enough to constitute a valid record:

“A large bird of the (illegible) kind was seen by Mr Henry Smith’s son in Nov 1916 flying over his farm at Cropwell Butler. He wrote to me saying it was a very big bird + had a white tail. I told him it would be a mature Sea Eagle, and as such a bird was shot in Lincolnshire by Mrs (illegible) keeper of the next week. There is no doubt it was the same bird.”

Attitudes about shooting birds though, were gradually changing: people were well aware that a previously healthy Victorian population of Sea Eagles had disappeared from Scotland by 1900, every single one either shot or poisoned. The very last Sea Eagle was killed on the Shetlands in 1916, an albino bird shot by a member of the clergy.
These new, more conservationist, ideas were reflected in an account included in the Ornithological Records of the now defunct Nottingham Natural Science Field Club. It was included by one of the club’s most prominent birdwatchers, Frank Hind. Even nowadays, his handwriting is still recognisably angry:

“A Sea Eagle was shot by some bounder at Grimesmoor and sent to a taxidermist at Grantham in February of 1920. Mr Turton saw it there. It measured seven feet from tip of one wing to the tip of the other.

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This rare visitor had shared the fate of so many noble birds which were frequently to be seen in the British Isles before anyone with a few pounds could buy a gun to destroy whatever his few brains had prompted him to shoot at.”

Nowadays, the positive attitude is the one which has prevailed. Even as I write, there are reintroduction schemes for this magnificent raptor in Ireland, eastern Scotland and many other areas of Great Britain. Many people would like to see it reintroduced to England and the debates rage about whether to select Norfolk or Suffolk. In the Inner Hebrides in western Scotland, of course, these charismatic birds are worth hundreds of millions of pounds to the local economy. Listen to just a few hundred quids’ worth of camera in this wonderful video by Brianpwildlife:

And no, they can’t carry off children or adults or small cars or large cars or vans or lorries or even what appears to be a young man equipped with perhaps a camera on a tripod or maybe a specially adapted hover mower for ice covered lawns:

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