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Late July 2007 saw a news story about 'The Beast of Dartmoor' hit the headlines, within days it had spread worldwide appearing in various newspapers, blogs and magazines. It seems every expert had an opinion as to what the creature was. I recieved several requests from local papers and radio stations for an opinion but what could I say? I never saw the creature and have seen exactly the same as everyone else - some grainy photographs. So as this beast has entered or re-entered (depending on one's opinion) the realms of legendary Dartmoor it now warrants a page to itself.
On June 7th 2007 the mystery sighting was reported to the Big Cat's in Britain who contacted members of Crufts for their opinion on the pictures. One of the leading lights of the Big Cats in Britain network suggested that in the various photographs the appearance of the beast varied from a Wolverine to a bear to a big wild dog. The first report I saw of the story came from the daily, "Dartmoor" news alert supplied by Google, the link lead to a story on the Fortean Times website which if it's still active can be found - HERE.
I am not sure if this was where the story first broke but there was a report which explained how in early June 2007 a local Dartmoor falconer was out on the moor near Houndtor flying his bird with a party of American customers. Someone then spotted a mystery beast which was ambling along a track about 180m away. One or more of the party had a camera and managed to take some shots of the strange sighting. Above it on Houndtor was a party of school children who judging from the photos were oblivious to the beast. The Fortean Times quoted the falconer as saying:
"It was black and grey and comparable in size to a miniature pony. It had very thick shoulders, a long, thick tail with a blunt end, and small round ears. Its movement appeared feline; then ‘bear-like’ sprang to mind", (Fortean Times).
At the end of July the story hit the media and the falconer added the following description of the beast to the Herald Express newspaper:
"I thought it was a large cat. Its movement was definitely feline. It was definitely not a dog... the animal was about 26inches tall to the shoulder and that it probably weighed more than 100lbs, with a black or grey coarse coat...I have seen most types of animals in most types of lights and conditions that is why I am certain about what it wasn't."
Over recent years there have been several sightings of a big black cat in the area, in 2004 one was supposedly spotted on the green at Manaton which is about 1˝ miles away. Also in this year several hens were killed in a mysterious way. In July 2007 several sheep were found dead over Tavistock way and it did not take long to link their killings with the appearance of the beast. Veterinary post-mortems subsequently suggested that the sheep had died from a dog attack not a savage beast of the moor. To date nobody to my knowledge has refuted the authenticity of the photographs which in cases like this unusual to say the least.
Over the next few days the story went global and was featured in most of the national newspapers later to be followed by many other papers and blogs around the world. Ok, so why all the fuss? Obviously some reporter had researched into the various legends of Dartmoor related to mystery beasts and found the 'Hell or Wisht Hounds' story. Also there was the tradition that one of the stacks of the tor was a dog that a local witch had turned to stone. Add to this the fact that Houndtor was supposed to be where Conan Doyle got the inspiration for his 'Hound of the Baskervilles' book from then you have some extra meat on the tale. Now the mystery beast was headlining as a, "Hound of Hell", "Devil Dog of Dartmoor" and the "Demon of Dartmoor" to name but a few descriptives. During the excitement this website traffic rose from a daily average of about a 1,000 hits a day to around 1,800 and e mails were coming in from everywhere. At the time it seemed that every aficionado was giving their opinion as to what the beast was, some of which were more plausible than others. Incidentally, this story emerged at the same time as the reports were coming in of a great white shark prowling the seas off the Cornish coast, both potentially were tourism boosters.
On the 4th of August the story took another twist when a local dog owner claimed that the beast was in fact her dog Troy who is a 12 stone black Newfoundland. Both dog and owner apparently take regular walks in the Houndtor area and Troy often wanders off on his own. It is supposed that during one of these jaunts that the dog was spotted by the falconer and mistaken for the mystery beast. Having seen a picture of Troy the falconer refutes the idea that it was his mystery beast as, "its whole figure was wrong and the coat was a different texture".
So the 'logical' suggestions as to the identity of the beast have been a; bear, wolverine, wild boar, shaggy pony, wild hybrid dog, big cat and a Newfoundland dog. The less logical ideas have been; one of Squire Cabell's hell hounds, the Devil's dog, a Wisht Hound and the Demon of Dartmoor. For me the wild boar theory sounds the most plausible as there is now a wild herd of boar living near Horrabridge which is (as the crow flies) about 15 miles away. It is considered that these animals are easily capable of travelling 12 miles a week. therefore as the boar have been on the moor since January 2007 one would have had plenty of time to amble across to Houndtor. Either way have a look at the pictures below and decide for yourselves:
This is probably not the end of the story and it will be interesting to see what further developments take place over the coming months. One thing is for sure, I bet the owner of the snack van in Houndtor car park hopes this will be an ongoing saga.