Thursday, 10 February 2011

Another big cat sighting in the Campsies

February 10, 2011 by Dave Hewitt

In May last year, The Caledonian Mercury reported on a big cat sighting in the Campsie Fells north of Glasgow.

Numerous incidents of this sort have occurred across the whole of the UK in recent years – there was, for example, “the best ever sighting of a big cat in Pembrokeshire” – just a few weeks ago.

The 2010 sighting in the Campsies was particularly interesting, given the trustworthiness of the person who reported it. He was Dr Bob Sharp, a retired departmental head at Strathclyde University and former leader of the Lomond mountain rescue team – not a man prone to fabrication or fantasy, and one well trained in on-hill observation.

Sharp is convinced he met a brown puma-type mountain lion on the northern slopes of Meikle Bin on 22 April, 2010 – and his claim has now received corroboration, as there has been a sighting of a similar-looking creature less than three miles away.

Valerie Currie, 45, is a social care worker. On the afternoon of Saturday, 19 January, she and her husband David – a joiner aged 49 – drove to the Campsies from their home in Balfron to take their dogs for a walk.

They parked in a layby a mile or so south of the summit of the B822 Crow Road, from where they walked up Holehead, the hill on the west side of the road that now has a weather-radar “golfball” on its summit.

Visibility was good and “it was just starting to go a bit dusky” as the Curries returned to their car – parked on the east side of the road – at 4:45pm. They got the dogs back in the car, then followed suit, and it was at this point that Valerie reports her husband having said something like: “Oh my God, what’s that?”

David at first thought it was “the double of a lioness”, whereas to Valerie it looked more like a puma or mountain lion – a likeness which she was later able to confirm from looking at pictures online. A fawn/beige colour, the creature was about 100 yards from their car, “just walking at the edge of the wood”.

The Curries could only see the upper part of its body – not its feet, just its head, back and tail, which was about two feet long, sticking out behind it and upturned at the end. Valerie is absolutely sure it wasn’t a fox, dog, domestic cat or deer.

“We were mesmerised,” she said. They weren’t scared – and the dogs didn’t show any signs of being bothered – as the creature walked away for about ten seconds before turning round to look at them. It then disappeared into the trees.

They drove back up the next day to look for tracks, “but the ground was too mossy”. A couple more return visits have been made, again with no further sightings or discoveries. “I wondered if it might have been something released after the Dangerous Animals Act came in,” Valerie said, “but that was back in 1976. It’s ideal country for it – it’s not an overpopulated area, you can get right through to Kilsyth without seeing anyone.”

The Curries have lived in Balfron for 20 years, and before that in Strathblane, so are familiar with this part of the country. But in all that time they had never previously seen anything like this, nor have any of their friends.

In trying to identify what it was they saw, Valerie Currie came across The Caledonian Mercury’s report of Bob Sharp’s sighting, and got in touch with him to compare notes. Although the recent sighting was a couple of hundred metres lower in altitude than Dr Sharp’s encounter, the linear distance involved is only between two and three miles across a mixture of commercial forestry plantation and open country.

It appears quite possible that the same creature was spotted both times, something which Dr Sharp believes could well be the case. “Her description matched my own to the letter,” he said, when asked about the recent incident.

Valerie Currie, like Bob Sharp before her, would be interested to hear of other sightings in the area or beyond. “I feel quite privileged to have seen it,” she said.

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