Normally when Londonist goes stalking, it’s to track down connected works of art, or famous buildings by the same architect. But we decided to take the word ‘stalk’ back to its hunting routes this week. Prompted by the news that the Beast of Bexley has at last been photographed, we thought we should go and bag ourselves a wild cat.
Big cat sightings are not unusual in the UK. Although their existence in the wild has never been reliably confirmed, many experts agree that a handful of pumas, lynx and other exotic felines are fugitive in the British countryside. A more in-depth essay on the subject can be found here.
Over the past year or two, an astonishing number of sightings have occurred in South-East London, centred, at least for alliterative purposes, on Bexley. Big cats are stealthy, secretive beasts that tend to move nocturnally and stick to the woods and undergrowth. It’s appropriate, then, that London’s wildcat should choose to dwell in Bexley – old English for a glade where box trees grow.
Our quarry has been sighted in Oxleas Woods, one of the last remnants of a vast, 8000-year-old forest; yet also over in Danson Park and Hillview Cemetery, whose elegant landscaping are a far cry from the Blakian forest of the night.
But the beast also has a taste for more urban locales. On occasion, it has been spied along main roads, slinking through neighbourhood gardens. Repeated visits to a care home have spooked residents, and the occasional trip to a golf course, perhaps hunting for birdies, has also been noted.
Evidence has always been slight. The occasional footprint here or savaged fox there. Little other tangible evidence supports the numerous eye-witness statements. On Tuesday, however, pictorial evidence came to light when a photograph purportedly showing the mystery cat was published. The eyewitness, a Mrs Marshall of Crombie Road, Sidcup, was in no doubts about what she saw:
I have read about the Beast of Bexley before and sort of believed them but now I have seen it myself I am convinced it is real…It wasn't running or galloping like a normal cat, it was more tiger-like in its movements.
The image is very grainy and could, frankly, be more crouching burglar than crouching tiger. Still, given the overwhelming number of sightings, we have to remain open-minded.
In an effort to get more of a feel for the subject, we tracked down all the reports for this area we could find on the Internet. Plotting the locations on a map (using Google Earth), we were delighted to find that they rather neatly form a constellation-like representation of a prowling puma. It’s more testament to the pattern-recognition powers of the human brain than any genuine supernatural coincidence, but, you’ve got to admit, it works out quite neatly.
For further adventures in the nascent field of cryptozoolopsychogeography, see here.
No animals were harmed in the creation of this post.