I am presently doing a long awaited and much needed spring clean on my computers, and hidden away in the intersteces I have come across some interesting things - like this article I wrote for the Sunday Independent back in 2000...
by Jonathan Downes
As regular readers of my inky fingered scribblings, both here and elsewhere, will be aware, I have spent my life studying the reality of creatures that most people believe exist solely within horror movies or comic books. My interest in such things was sparked by my mother who, when I was a mere seven years old, procured me a library book called Myth or Monster which set me firmly on the path that I was to follow for the rest of my life. As I write this my mother is ill in hospital, and so I dedicate this article to her, with my love. In these pages, over recent weeks, I have been uncovering the truth behind some of the world`s most chilling mysteries. The response to my articles has been amazing, but what most people don`t seem to know is just as many strange beasties have been reported from the westcountry s from anywhere else in the world. Here, therefore, is a compendium of some of the westcountry`s most exciting and spine chilling monsters.
1 Owlman of Mawnan
Ever since 1976 the woods surrounding Mawnan Old Church in southern Cornwall have been haunted by a grotesque feathered bird-man. This apparition has been seen by over twenty people since then – mostly young girls – and seems in many ways to be very similar to the notorious Mothman of West Virginia, subject of the blockbuster movie starring Richard Gere.
2 Beast of Bodmin
For decades people have been reporting mysterious big cat like creatures on the wilder moorlands of the westcountry. Some people believe that these animals (like the one I saw in May 1997) are escaped exotic pets – pumas or panthers which were liberated after the introduction of the Dangerous Wild Animals Act I 1977. Other people believe that they have a more sinister nature.
3 Black Dog
The archetypal westcountry monster is the giant Black Dog. These creatures are often believed to be the hunting pack of Satan himself. They even have a village named after them! Each October an effigy of a giant black dog, accompanied by a parade lit by burning torches is carried through the Devon lanes from Morchard Bishop to Black Dog village itself. There has even been a novel based on these legends – The Hound of the Baskervilles.
4. Old Boneless
Perhaps the weirdest monster of them all – one which has no shape or form whatsoever. This hideous entity is often encountered in the westcountry most notably on the road between Minehead and Bridgewater. One witness about eighty years ago described “it were alive – kind of woolly, like a cloud or a wet sheep – and it slid up and all over him on his bike….it was terrible cold and smelled stale”.
5 Beast of Brassknocker Hill
In 1979 there was a series of sightings of an ape like creature in the vicinity of Brassknocker Hill just outside Bath. It sounded as if a young chimpanzee had escaped from captivity and was lurking unsuspected in the area. In 1999, there was another spate of sightings. We went to investigate, and although we found no solid evidence we found that many local people were convinced that something was lurking in the woods.
6 The Cavemen of Lustleigh Cleave
A Devonshire Bigfoot? According to the late folklorist Theo Brown ghostly cave men, naked and covered with hair, have been reported shambling around in the vicinity of some ancient standing stones in Lustleigh Cleave. Similar creatures have also been reported from western Dartmoor and a quarry in Somerset. A weird monkey like creature has been reported from Churston woods near Paignton.
7 Werewolf of Lynton
There are many accounts of a wolfman living near Lynton on Exmoor. One account is of a woman who “was walking home alone, late one evening, when she saw on the path directly in front of her the tall grey figure of a man with a wolf's head. Advancing stealthily forward, this creature was preparing to spring on a large rabbit that was crouching on the ground, apparently too terror stricken to move.”
8 The Dragon of Aller
Dragons are the most universal of all monsters and even today giant winged reptiles are reported occasionally from the more far flung parts of the world. One of the best westcountry stories is that of the dragon of Aller who terrorised the neighbourhood and was killed by Sir John Aller with a long spear. The valiant knight was burned to death by the dragon`s fiery breath.
9 Devil`s Footprints
In February 1855 a trail of cloven hoofprints was found in the snow. According to some reports the line of prints was found to zig-zag its way from the town of Topsham southward to the town of Totnes, a distance of approximately ninety-seven miles along the south Devon coast. Some people have claimed that these footprints were made by the Devil himself, others have claimed that they were a mixture of natural phenomena and hoaxes.
10 The bird-woman of Minehead
An old witch called Mother Leakey once lived in Minehead. She was supposed to have the power to transform herself into a strange cormorant-like bird which would fly to the top of ship`s masts and screech abuse at sailors. This strange bird-woman was seen well into the 20th Century and even more recently was blamed. By the more superstitious, for inclement weather in the region.