Tuesday, 28 April 2015

North Suffolk big cat expedition

Woodwose on the porch at Yaxley church

I've just returned from a brief expedition to North Suffolk, staying with one multiple big cat witness near Eye and getting a lift back to Dunwich from another one. I was shown round the location of a sighting of an "Alsatian-sized" black big cat of "muscular build" with a "long, thin tail" (on condition of no photographs) and had a quick look at Lowgate Street, Eye, the location of a "big black cat" sighting in 2008.

I was also able to photograph three "woodwoses churches". The first was Yaxley, where there's a magnificent woodwose on the porch with particularly fine detail on the body hair. He's being attacked by two small lions, one broken. (Photo above.)

The second was Mendlesham, where two large and terrifying woodwoses with clubs are on the roof of the porch (it makes them hard to photograph). By the sound of it. Mendelsham had a service on when we arrived, it being a Sunday, as did Wickham Skeith.

One of the fierce woodwoses on the roof of the porch at Mendlesham

The Wickham Skeith woodwoses - heavily damaged - are on the font, so I knew I'd have to interrupt the service to photograph them. Fortunately, I also knew that the font is usually the first thing you see when you come through the door into the church, so I very carefully opened the door and tiptoed in. There was the font, right in front of me, with the nearest woodwose hacked off with a chisel (the iconoclasts had paid Wickham Skeith a visit), and the tiny congregation - half a dozen of them and the vicar, without any music - were down the other end of the church, so I was able to get a couple of quick photos in without them noticing me. My apologies to the congregation of St Andrew's Wickham Skeith for crashing their service.

Badly vandalised woodwoses on the font at Wickham Skeith. I had to crash their church service to photograph it.

Forester Paul Berry kindly drove me back to my base in Dunwich, and told me more detail about the Debenham lion of the early 1980s, he thinks it was 1982 when he and his wife saw it.

Paul had also brought along some of his collection of objects that he'd found across Suffolk over the years - some very rare Roman broaches, and some "fairly loaves" - fossilised sea urchins, that were in some cases attached to horses' tackle to ward of the terrifying Good Folk - the fairies, who had a particularly fearsome reputation for causing sickness in horses.

Some "fairy loaves" (fossil sea urchins) among his collection of fossils found across Suffolk

And there were some skulls - a intact skull with antlers of a male fallow deer left behind after a cull on the Shotley Peninsula, a coypu skull found in a hedge near Little Glemham about 10 years ago - impossible to tell whether it was alive after the December 1989 last known report of a living coypu in England. (Natural England in a FIOA request revealed they keep getting reports of coypu, but when they follow up they find they're misidentified - often otters and sometimes even water voles.)

There was also a skull Paul thought was from a badger - with a part of the snout missing - but Paul wasn't sure, as he thought it was too big for a badger.

Is this from a badger?

And finally, there was the skull shown below - badly damaged and missing a lot. Paul found it in the river near Framlingham ten years ago, but it was after Framlingham Mere - the lake next to the castle - had been dredged, so it's possible they'd been lying in peaty silt that preserved them for a few hundred years before ending up in the river. Paul thinks it's a pig, because of its flat head. Any ideas?

What is it? A pig?

This socket where the skull joins the vertebra is one of the few recognisable bits

What's left of the underside of the skull

A first draft of the big cats section of Mystery Animals of the British Isles: Suffolk will be ready soon. It'll be published sometime this summer by CFZ Publications. Meanwhile, you can follow it on Twitter here.

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