I have known Neil for fifteen years now, since he was a mod schoolboy with ambitions for adventure and I was an earnest young hippie who merely wanted to start a club for people interested in unknown animals. Nothing much has changed over the years. We are just both a tad older....
I omitted a couple of excellent cases for my Mystery Animals Of The British Isles: Kent book and the case of the Greatstone ‘serpent’ was one of those tragically neglected stories. It didn’t come to my attention until reading Karl Shuker’s The Beasts That hide From Men and after that he sent me the original cuttings from the Kentish Express newspaper as he’d covered the tale in his Alien Zoo column for Fortean Times.
Greatstone-on-sea in Kent is a village on the east coast of the county, which sits close to the cinque port of New Romney. On the 14th April 1998 two boys, Neil Savage and Peter Jennings, stumbled across the remains of a strange animal. The skull, a series of large vertebrae and a mass of tissue remained of the creature. The carcass seemed to measure around eight-feet in length and resembled a small sea serpent. The Kentish Express of 19th April reported that the boys reported the find to their neighbour, a Mr Fender, who told the paper that the creature was, “…dark yellow, and has stripes running the length of it.”
He didn’t believe the beast was a conger eel as its spine appeared too thick but it seemed as though the carcass had been there a while as it gave off a rank odour. The newspaper, along with the Folkestone Herald (23rd April), pictured the boys with their discovery. Fortean researcher Paul Harris sent the cuttings to Karl Shuker who concluded that the creature was most certainly a basking shark, a fish, which when found decomposed on beaches, has often been confused with possible sea serpent forms. Shuker wrote in his column, ‘I realised that the carcass was strikingly similar to the famous Hendaye sea serpent corpse of 1951 – conclusively identified by Dr Bernard Heuvelmans as that of a basking shark. All of the tell-tale features were present – the cotton-reel-shaped vertebrae, the long triangular snout and most distinctive of all, a pair of slender curling ‘antennae’ projecting from the snout’s base. These are, in fact, the rostral cartilages, which in life, raise up the shark’s snout.’
Still, a fascinating find and a discovery that would not have been out of place in my book in the section ‘From The Depths’ where I document several eye-witness reports of huge sea creatures. Whilst many corpses found on beaches can be identified as known species, eye-witness testimony seems to suggest that there are still unknown beasts which roam the coastal areas of the UK.