It must be over twenty years ago now. I was looking round a piece of ground of the Devon-Somerset Border. It was a scruffy patch of grassland and woodland, not more than 200 acres or so. Very little maintenance went on, the pastures were poor drained and poorly fenced, the woodland was worse, nothing had been done in there for goodness knows how long. In other words, it was wonderful! It was the perfect environment for snipe and woodcock, song birds abounded, it was a little wildlife paradise.
Up in the top corner, I recall, was a big old oak. At about ten feet off the ground the first bough emerged from the trunk at right angles. It was a thick lump of timber, maybe fifteen inches across. I love trees and as I was looking at this one I noticed something odd. On the main trunk, just below the bough chunks of bark were missing, it looked like they’d been roughly chiselled out. As the tree was on a slope I was able to go higher and be on a level with the bough. It was plain to see that the moss on the bough was scuffed and flattened. It was then that I noticed something under the tree. On closer inspection, it turned out to be a lamb leg. A quick kick around in the leaf litter revealed a fair collection of bones of varying sizes.
So, what am I saying? Well, at the time there was much hoo haa about out of place big cats, especially in the South West of England, the Best of Bodmin et al. No, I’m not saying that this was evidence of a big cat but I am saying that what I saw was entirely consistent with a leopard/jaguar type cat being at large. I have heard tales from many folks over the years who have nothing to gain but ridicule by retelling their experiences so I am not entirely cynical about the existence of out of place big cats in Britain, especially given the possible effects of the dangerous wild animals act in the sixties. As always though, a healthy dose of scepticism is a useful tool.