With the hunt still on for the 'Essex Lion' I though you might enjoy this chapter taken from 'The Ramblings of a Twenty Five Inch Man' about another 'wild cat' on the loose!
Surveying was a strange job because apart from anything else you are very affected by the weather and sometimes the surroundings you find yourself in. Rain was a regular nuisance to be put up with. Whether light drizzle or the heavy soaking type of rain you got over in the Welsh borders, it made the job miserable! Not only that, but the surveying jackets that we had in those days, made of a heavy-duty nylon unlike the light breathable fabrics of today made you sweat. They kept the rain out certainly, but also the moisture and heat in! Lugging a theodolite and its stand for miles sometimes, along with our drawing boards and various other bits of equipment meant that even in cold weather you were guaranteed to work up a good lather inside your coat. With sweat dripping down your back and the wet rain on your hands and face it made doing the actual job quite difficult and certainly unpleasant!
On this particular autumn day however the weather was on my side. It was sunny but not too hot with a slight breeze that made walking even with all my equipment very pleasant. I was about thirty miles from my base in Ludlow and I had been doing some comparative surveying, looking for differences between the old map and the new one. I had been checking water features in some fields, for ponds that had changed shape or appeared to have disappeared altogether. After a quick break for lunch I carried on to where I was surveying for the afternoon. I was to check out some woods on my map.
As I walked through the trees, I could see from looking at the old map, that they had once been deciduous. It had obviously been replanted I decided from looking at the trees which were mostly now coniferous. This meant that from my experience I could pretty much guess the tracks and roadways in the wood would also have changed. I spent most of the afternoon rechecking them and
redrawing the new routes and symbols on my board.
But all afternoon as I went about my work I had the distinct feeling I was being watched. The sun through the trees made various shadows and patterns dance on the ground around me and I hurried on not wanting to linger too long in one place.
Some places were like that. They made you feel uncomfortable for no apparent reason. Many times in the past I had had this feeling only to be proved right. I would suddenly find a farmer or workman had been watching from afar for some time before finally approaching me and speaking. And then there was always the danger you could be mistaken for a poacher. We had been warned of this in our training, so it was as well to be a little cautious.
On this occasion though, I had looked around many times and could spot no one anywhere behind or near me. Walking on a little way, I came across a hollow at the side of a track with banks covered in moss. I looked down into it and saw the bloodied remains of a sheep’s carcass, various bones and some small bits of rabbit fur. The bank was not steep enough for a sheep to have fallen into it and it seemed a little strange that it had strayed so far from the fields into the wood. I walked on a little way and stopped in an area that was bathed in sunlight. There was a break in the trees above and the sun had pierced through making the carpet of leaves on the forest floor dance with the shadows and light from the swaying branches above. I took the remains of a sandwich out from my pocket. It was squashed as usual but I took a bite anyway. Behind me I heard a twig snap. I looked round but couldn’t see anything. I felt uneasy again and stuffing the sandwich back in my pocket I hurried on deciding not to hesitate any longer but just to get out of the wood. Half an hour or so’s more walking would take me to the far edge of the wood and the short cut that I hoped would take me back to the van.
As I emerged from the wood into the full sunlight I could see a large group of people standing a little way off. There were also several land rovers and other vehicles and a police car parked in the lane. The group suddenly spotted me and a loud cheer went up.
I had had various welcomes in my times, many of them hostile, some offhand, but this was unusual to say the least! As I approached the group which was made up of twenty or so men, a policeman and a couple of young boys, they started to clap and cheer, the boys jumping up and down in the air shrieking, obviously caught up in the moment.
Then they started to speak all at once.
‘Did you see it?’
‘Have you come all the way through?’
‘Didyou kill it mister?’ one of the young boys shouted.
The group looked me up and down and then behind me. The bombardment of questions continued.
‘You’re not on your own are you?’ said one man with a look of surprise on his face.
‘Haven’t you got a gun?’
Right at the back of the group was a young man who was obviously a reporter as he had a camera slung round his neck and was quickly making notes.
‘Are you with the other party then?’ asked the policeman walking forward.
When I could gather my thoughts I spoke.
‘What other party?’ ‘What are you all talking about?’
‘The ones,’ he paused ‘with the dart guns,’ he paused again ‘after the panther!’ he said with emphasis.
‘The panther?’ I said, trying not to sound too alarmed.
‘Yes the black panther!’ they all shouted.
‘Didn’t you go in to find it then?’
‘No, no!’ ‘I don’t know anything about it.’ I said shaking my head.
‘Aaaw.’ ‘And there we were thinking you wus our ‘ero!’ piped up someone at the back and then everyone shrieked with laughter as if they had been waiting for a moment like this to break the tension.
‘Well it’s in there, mark my words.’ an older man said shaking his head.
‘So you didn’t see anything then?’ asked a younger man at the front of the group.
‘No, sorry.’ I said starting to feel a little uneasy, and that perhaps there had been, not someone but something watching me after all. And even more alarmingly perhaps stalking me as I wandered about in there!
The group started to talk amongst themselves again turning away from me.
‘Err, excuse me,’ the reporter had come up to me from his safe place at the back of the group. ‘So you saw nothing at all then?’ he asked looking disappointed.
‘Well no, but there’s always talk of the Powys panther and strange animals aren’t there?’
I said trying to calm myself.
The older man swung round and looked at me angrily.
‘Talk?’ ‘Talk?’ he uttered again. ‘This is not just talk! There’s a real live panther escaped from captivity in those woods.’
‘Two days ago, from that lunatic’s house.’ said someone else.
‘Shouldn’t be allowed, keeping things like that.’ he said.
‘He’s not a lunatic, ee’s famous!’ someone else spoke up.
‘Whatever he is, he’s mad to keep a panther, that ain’t no kind o’ pet!’
‘Well sir,’spoke the officer ‘you’d better keep out of those woods until the beasts caught!’
‘Lucky you weren’t darted yourself now with that other lot in there.’
‘Yes, you could have been shot in the arse!’ someone else shouted out and the whole group burst into whoops of laughter.
‘Who’s in there then?’ I asked a little shakily.
‘Well that lot of course.’ He said nodding his head to the woods.’
‘In there they are looking fer it with those dart guns.’ said the older man as if I should have known.
‘Been in there all day they have, looking like!’
‘I’m s’prised you di’nt see nothing!’
‘Well,’ I paused ‘I did see a sheep’s carcass now I think about it and it did look well err ... mauled!’ I added for effect.
‘Told you! ’said the older man. ‘Told you! That’s my sheep.’ ‘Told you they’d bin goin' missin!’
‘Well then Sir, tell me what exactly were you doing in those woods?’ asked the policeman a little more sternly this time touching his pad and pencil.
‘Ordnance Survey!’ I said pushing forward my identity badge that was always clipped to my jacket.
‘Well I suggest you don’t do any more sur-vaaying around here at moment young man.’
‘Right, right ho’ I answered briskly. ‘I’ll be off then.’
‘Good luck’ I shouted back at them, but they were too busy chattering amongst themselves to take any more notice of me. They had lost interest now they knew I wasn’t their ‘ero!
As I made my way down the lane to the farm, I passed by the farmhouse and a dirty green pond. There were an unusually large amount of feathers around the grass and floating on the top of the water too. I nodded a silent hello to the woman who was standing on the doorstep. ‘Had all my ducks it did, that blasted black beast thing!’ she shouted over to me crossly.
‘Oh dear!’ I mumbled to her, walking on a little faster.
I made my way back to the van and got in, grateful now for the safety of it. As I turned the radio on I caught the last of the local news.
“And there’s been no luck in catching the Black Panther that’s on the loose in....”
I turned it off and drove back to the office.
Two days later though, the news was better. A black panther answering to the description of the escapee was captured and
returned to its rightful owner!
If you enjoyed this tale there are 36 more chapters of even more amazing but true stories in the memoirs of an Ordnance Surveyor to make you laugh and cry at: