The Essex Lion & my own big cat sighting
The news over this bank holiday weekend has been dominated by the sighting of “The Essex Lion“, a big cat apparently seen by several people in St Osyth near Clacton-on-Sea. Remarkably, it’s almost four years to the day since I also saw a big cat in Britain, on the first day of a holiday in north Staffordshire. I tried to contact a few people about it when I returned home and ended up talking to BBC Radio Stoke about it.
Two of us saw the creature, which was a massive sandy-coloured cat-like animal (maybe 7 feet long?) prowling in a meadow immediately south of Rudyard Lake. You would think the instant reaction would be to pull out a camera and start snapping, but it’s hard to convey how completely shocking it is to see what looks like a lion simply wandering around in a field. We watched it fow a couple of minutes before I finally came to my senses and pulled my (switched-off) phone from my bag. When you’re waiting for something to boot up we’ve probably all scuppered the process by pressing buttons too quickly, and that’s what I did here. So by the time I managed to capture something it was a video of the very last few seconds at the far edge of the field, and no accompanying still images. But here’s the video:
I thought this was pretty important so wrote down as accurate as possible a witness report at the time. I’m reproducing it in unedited form below:
We were walking between the carpark of the Rudyard Steam Railway, alongside the railway track (the trains are very narrow gauge and this is an official footpath) up to the Rudyard Lake dam for a picnic lunch. The railway track is elevated, but tree-lined on either side. Walking north, the actual rails are on the right-hand side so you walk alongside the left line of trees which has gaps from time to time enabling you to look out across a meadow to the left. We’d never been here before and don’t know the area particularly well (it had been recommended as a place to break our journey).
We started walking just after midday (about 12.45 pm). It was a reasonably clear day with good light and visibility. After three or four hundred metres, at an opening in the trees on our left, we simply stopped and stared.
A large cat-like creature (you couldn’t call it a cat as it was as big if not bigger than a large dog) was prowling through the meadow beneath us. From the animal’s perspective, it would have been surrounded by fairly long grass so felt secure in not being seen easily. Because the railway line is elevated we had a crystal clear view of it, perhaps between eighty and a hundred metres away.
It was sandy coloured, with a long tail that curved down and then up. I can’t remember now (sorry) but there may have been a small splash of white on the tail, or it may have been all sandy. I’d have said it was at least six or seven feet long. An adjective I’d use to describe it would be “powerful”. After watching it on the prowl for a minute or so, the animal paused and sat briefly.
It also seemed very assured/confident in its surroundings. That was odd because it was so clearly out of place in North Staffordshire, that the whole thing seemed quite unreal. As it made its steady progress through the meadow, I was wondering what on Earth was going on and looking around for a film crew as I could only assume someone was trying to fake some exotic footage for a movie. Finally, while the creature had briefly paused, I came to my senses, dropped the packed lunch to the ground and rooted around my pockets for my mobile phone to record it. As I’d been driving it was turned off and, for the first time ever, the camera seemed to go wrong when I switched it on (probably opening the lens cover too early before it had booted up). The upshot of that was I sadly didn’t take any stills and I was only able to capture about the final 15 seconds on video (which perhaps foolishly I’d set on maximum zoom) as it moved off. My phone’s a Nokia N95 so reasonably high-spec, but let me down on this occasion. Considering how clearly we could see the animal, the footage doesn’t do it justice at all and looks very distant.
The animal ended up at what looked like a small stream or brook. It stopped there for a few seconds, then jumped down and up the other side and was gone.
I think we were in a state of shock and didn’t know what to make of it. We carried on up to the dam for our lunch and on the way back kept looking through the trees (camera properly at the ready now) to see if the unexpected creature would make a reappearance. Naturally, this time we were disappointed, though we saw a couple of cattle (with horns) that I hadn’t spotted earlier.