The Beast of West Dorset is back

A big cat has been spotted in Broadwindsor at dusk but the jury is out on whether the witnesses were clear on what they saw.

According to the village’s Facebook page, a father and son were driving near the cricket pitch on a warm evening about three weeks ago when they saw a badger.

Nothing unusual about that. Badgers are everywhere. But this badger was closely followed by a creature the size of a large spaniel with a long, cat-like tail.

It’s got the village and the surrounding area talking. Does the animal really exist? In these days when everyone’s mobile phone can be used as a camera, why didn’t the witness take a photo?

Commented Nicki Jones on the Facebook page: “Well I’m very near the cricket pitch and never seen anything.”

She added than no livestock in the fields around the pitch had gone missing. And ‘in this day and age’ everyone has a phone so the witness could have taken a photo.

Said Brenda Smith: “No excuse now … many years ago people who saw it often didn’t carry cameras. Now, nearly everybody carries a mobile phone and can take a photo. Watch this space!”

But others concurred.

Said Avis Miller: “My husband saw what we thought was a huge black cat at a distance It was just lying down in the field.”

Lizzie Hughes said: “I was driving to Broadwindsor down the B1264, when I spotted a huge black catlike animal in the field in front of me, it was going away from so I got out of the car, climbed the field gate to get a better view. It was amazing and the tail was as long as the body. I knew what I was seeing was a panther, unfortunately I had left my phone on the table at home, but when I told a neighbour she said her and her husband had seen it too but in a different location.

Jason Rodway said it was a normal domestic cat that sits in the gardens of Broadwindsor House hunting rabbits and voles.

It’s very easy to dismiss the sighting as balderdash. But having seen a big cat myself when I was driving near Melplash some years ago, I’m quite clear about what I saw. Especially as I discovered a few years later when I read Merrily Harpur’s book Roaring Dorset! Encounters with Big Cats that someone else driving behind me saw exactly the same thing.

Back then, even if I’d had a camera, I couldn’t have pulled over to take a photo. And if the same thing happened again today, I know it would take me several moments to get my phone out safely, unlock it and go to the camera setting, by which time the animal would have been long gone.

I saw ‘my’ black cat as I was driving home from Bridport to Beaminster at Crooked Oak on a January afternoon in 2004. It was about 4.45pm but still daylight.

I was rounding the bend near the first Netherbury turning when I looked out across to the sloping fields to my left. I saw the distinct shape of a big cat sauntering down the hill towards the hedge. It was about the size of a large dog but leaner, longer and closer to the ground. What struck me was that it was very black, like a silhouette, and had a very long tail.

Turning back to the latest sighting in Broadwindsor, farmer Paul Bailey commented: “About 10 years ago we had several sheep mauled and a big heavy ram killed.

“I telephoned police who said it may be a big cat. I immediately said that was hogwash but he firmly believes it and there were too many saint [sic] people claimed to have seen it for it not to be true.

Some days later I was looking up in the trees to see if I could spot it anywhere and found a lot of sheep’s wool in an oak tree along with claw marks up the trunk, so don’t dismiss it!

Big cat writer Merrily Harpur was interviewed by The Marshwood Vale Magazine a few years ago.

Last week, police in Bournemouth received reports of a large panther-like creature in an affluent suburb of the town.