A Sheep in Wolf's Clothing? The Beast of Bodmin

A Sheep in Wolf's Clothing? The Beast of Bodmin

Sarah and I love Bodmin Moor. The sense of boyish adventure never fails to appear when I’m hiking over the granite tors, heather moorland, and ancient ruins. For me, it’s eighty square miles of untouched, peaceful serenity.

British moors often evoke a powerful sense of imagination. Due to their remoteness, vast ruggedness, associations with folklore, and proclivity to become shrouded in mist, Moorlands often inspire legends, giving rise to tales of mythical creatures, legendary figures, and supernatural events.

Some are (we hope!) completely fictional and are cemented in British pop-culture. The wolf-man in terrorising the local community across the Moors in Yorkshire in An American Werewolf in London springs to mind: "Stick to the road. Keep clear of the moors!". Others like The Hound, in Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Hound of the Baskervilles, is still talked about in the Dartmoor area and even has a gift shop dedicated to the legend in Moreton Hampstead.

However, these films and classic novels are inspired by the generations of legends within local communities in and around moorlands like The Ghosts of Saddleworth Moors, The Saracens of Biddulph Moor and the Black Dog of the [Yorkshire] Moors. Bodmin Moor has plenty of its own tales of supernatural events, but none have evoked the imagination quite like The Beast of Bodmin.

The Beast of Bodmin

Rumours of sightings on the Moor began in 1978, and since then countless reports have baffled local police over many years of sightings of a large cat-like creature with long, sharp teeth and white-yellow eyes. Between 1983 and 1996 the Beast was reported around 60 times, but between 2000 to 2011, this figure soared to almost 200. That’s one report every two weeks!

Could it be? A video taken by a former local in 2023. 
Video © Cornwall Live


Descriptions of the Beast vary, but it is generally described as a large, black cat resembling a panther or puma. Witnesses claim it is much larger than a typical domestic cat, with a very long tail and distinctive feline features.  The one in this video was at least twice the size of a domestic cat. Whatever its description, the spate of reported livestock killings over the years has done nothing to dispel the local feeling that there is a wild cat of some description roaming the moors.

But where did it come from?

Nobody knows! Some believe that the Beast is an extinct species of wild cat that lived in Britain from a bygone age whilst others believe it is the ghostly apparition of a creature that once roamed the land.

A more likely story is that the original Beast had been part of a private collection that was released by its owner following the introduction of the ‘Dangerous and Wild Animals Act 1976’, which became law in the 1970s, creating strict welfare rules for exotic animals as pets, making it near impossible to keep them, and leading many owners of such animals to release them into the wild.

The Ministry Does Not Investigate Fairies

But due to the quantity of reports of cats the size of German Shepherd dogs killing livestock, in January 1995 the Ministry of Agriculture (MAFF), Fisheries and Food commissioned an investigation into the possibility that large exotic cats were killing livestock on Bodmin Moor. Most witnesses stated the cats were black or brown in colour and closely resembled a puma or the leopard. It was hypothesised that if exotic cats were present on Bodmin Moor they were probably descendants of cats released after the Dangerous Wild Animals Act.

Mary Chipperfield keeps a watchful eye on her snarling tigers during her act in 1977

Circus owner, Mary Chipperfield, owned numerous exotic cats in the 1970s and was rumoured to have released three pumas onto the Moors.

After months of setting up camera traps, studying paw prints, and interviewing witnesses, the Ministry concluded that there was no verifiable evidence for the presence of a 'big cat', nor was there any significant threat to livestock from a 'big cat' in Bodmin Moor. When criticised by the disappointing lack of evidence, Angela Browning, the Parliamentary Secretary for MAFF said that refused to waste any more public money: ‘the Ministry does not investigate fairies’.

Could It Be Just a Very Large Sheep?

Whether it is an escaped puma, or a supernatural being, or just a very large (feline-looking) sheep, the Beast of Bodmin has been capturing our imaginations for almost fifty years, inspiring ghost walks, the names of local gritting lorries, even (frankly c-grade) B-movies.

Friends and others who live deeper on the moor and value their privacy have told me there have been more sightings again recently. There are several stories (which we have been sworn not to repeat) which are pretty hair-raising.

As Sherlock Holmes said: "The longer one stays here the more does the spirit of the moor sink into one’s soul, its vastness, and also its grim charm."

For me, the prospect of coming across the Beast on one of my hikes simply adds an extra sense of excitement - it certainly won't be scaring us off anytime soon -  but we always keep our eyes peeled as we never stick to the road.


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