The eighth Weird Weekend was a real stonker. Our good friend Helen 'Helen of Troy' Lester offered to write it up for us. Yes please, we said, not realising that she would deliver us with a manuscript the size of a small novel!

But here it is, in all its glory.....

And so, we move on to Saturday….

Saturday - from mid-day onwards

If there is one thing that can be said for the good people of Woolsery/Woolfardisworthy, it is that they make an excellent cup of tea. It may be a small point, but I feel it is worthy of mention. Too often you attend a conference or convention and the tea is either Love-in-a-Canoe tea, or paint stripper. Not so here.

It bears mentioning. Anyway. To the talks….

Jon Downes and Richard Freeman - An Introduction to Cryptozoology

Given the peculiarity of the subject, it was felt that an explanation should be provided for those uncertain of what they were letting themselves in for. And who better to provide it than the Boys of the CFZ.

What cryptozoology certainly isn’t is all about monsters. Take, for example, the Mountain Gorilla. This was originally described as a legendary hairy ape that carried off women. In reality, it is a very gentle creature, whose existence was not recognised by mainstream zoology until 1904. The Giant Squid was known for 160 years; no one has filmed or seen a healthy, living, squid. All examples are either dead or dying. The creature was known in Scandinavian folklore for centuries as the Kraken or Island Beast - so called because, in legend, the creature was so huge that sailors would land on its back and light fires, whereupon the creature would dive to the deeps. The Colossal Squid is even larger and more formidable.

The Thylacine, or Tasmanian Tiger, was the largest carnivorous marsupial. It was an example of convergent evolution, i.e. where two species develop that have the same characteristics, but different species - such as marsupial moles, and even marsupial rhinos. The Thylacine was thought to have died out 2,000 years ago, but actually hung on in Tasmania longer, and in Australia until the 1930s. They were heavily persecuted, with even a bounty being put on their heads. The last recorded Thylacine was a female, mis-named Benjamin, which died in Hobart’s Zoo in 1936. The Thylacine is often described as “the healthiest extinct animal”. There are frequent sightings, even video footage. The aborigines call the Thylacine “Dobsenga”.

Supposedly ‘extinct’ animals are not just found on the other side of the world. There are so-called ‘extinct’ animals found in Devon, such as the red squirrel and pine marten.

There are reports in South America that match descriptions of a Giant Ground Sloth, which varied in size from the size of a dog to the size of an elephant. They had huge claws, which they used to hack down vegetation and to defend themselves from predators. They belonged to the Pleistocene period. However, in the Amazon, there are tales of ‘Mapinguari’, which is immune to spears and arrows, which bounce off its hide. The only area of vulnerability is on the stomach. The interesting thing being that the Giant Ground Sloth had a hide studded with nodules of bone that acted like chain mail. There was only a small area around the belly where the creature was vulnerable. The CFZ plan an expedition to the Amazon in November to search for signs of Mapinguari.

Cryptozoology can be roughly divided into three areas - Out of Place Animals (such as Alien Big Cats); Out of Time Animals (those believed extinct, such as Mapinguari), and ‘Zooforms’ - that is, creatures which are not flesh and blood, or of this earth (such as Mothman).

There are more reports in the last 30 years of ABCs (Alien Big Cats) and “Black Panthers” than ever before. Big cats in Britain are filling the gaps left by those large predators that were hunted into extinction, such as wolves and bears. We have no semi-aquatic large rodent, such as the beaver. Beavers have successfully been re-introduced to the River Axe, and there are reports of Coypu and Muskrats.

Wild Boar were once native, but were hunted out. However, wild boar were bred in this country during a fad for more ‘natural’ meat. During the hurricanes of 1987, enclosures holding the boar were destroyed and they escaped into the wild. In more recent years, animal activists released Wild Boar from captivity, and there is a colony on Dartmoor. Most of those released were pregnant sows.

Big cats and Wild Boar have been reported within a mile of Woolsery.

Cryptids are those creatures that are not known and not recognised by mainstream scientists. When one considers how poorly the seas and oceans of the world are investigated, it would seem impossible to discount the possibility of large aquatic animals, as reported throughout world mythology. The earliest accounts of dragons have them as aquatic creatures, not all fire and air.

The Loch Ness Monster is arguably the best-known monster in the world. It is typically pictured as a plesiosaur.

Other things to be considered are mistranslations and misconceptions. Popular belief holds that the Yeti is white. This was due to a mistranslation. The Yeti is the ‘Man of the Rocks’. It was mistranslated to ‘Man of the Snow’. Actually, reports show that the Yeti is a chocolate brown/black in colour, and does not live above the snow line.

Chupacabra is an example of zooform creatures. These are creatures that are not natural animals, but are ‘things’ that look like animals. 15 years ago, Jon Downes was in Puerto Rico, and plans a book of his expedition at the end of this year. He believes the tales of the Chupacabra’s paranormal powers are nonsense, but believes that the vampiric attacks are done by one creature, and the weird spiky creatures seen in the witness statements is a different creature entirely.

Cryptozoology sees itself as stretching the boundaries of science. It is not ‘mumbo-jumbo’. The best place to start would be with the works of Bernard Heuvelmans - the Father of Cryptozoology.

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Oll Lewis - Lake Monsters of Wales

Welsh Lake Monsters range from the fantastic, to real creatures that have attacked people. Reports are hardly ever heard outside of Wales.

There are tales of the ‘Water Leaper’ - Llamhigyn y Dwr - at Bedd Gelert.

The tale of Gelert - the faithful hound slain by his master who mistook the blood on the dog for the blood of his young boy, whereas it was actually the blood of the creature Gelert had slain in protecting the child - was popularised by the Pritchard family in the 1870s, and even a gravestone exists to the dog.

The Water Leaper had a body like a toad, but with a tail instead of hind legs, and an enormous mouth. It had wings instead of forelegs and dragged whole sheep under the water of the River Glasyn. Shepherds would not take their sheep near the water in case the sheep dogs herded the sheep too close to the water, and they would be lost to the creature.

The story is related in the 18th Century, of Owen, who went fishing one day. He attracted nothing but slight nibbles, and finding this annoying, he swore most fluently and vehemently. He went on to cast his line out from another spot, and felt a strong pull on the bait. He pulled back with all his might, and pulled a creature out of the water which he said came out with such force it struck the other side. The Water Leaper is said to scream as it is pulled out of the water.

It is said that Pritchard invented the story of Gelert to attract tourists, but it was known that the Pritchards held a ‘Tall Tales’ night, which may have brought about the tale of Owen and the Water Leaper as well as that of Gelert. It is not known whether either story is a complete invention, or an elaboration on an existing tale.

There are stories of Water Horses all over Celtic Wales. Some are friendly. At Flemmingston, a horse of average size guided a man through the marsh, showing him the fastest path through. When he reached safety, a sudden flash flood flooded the marsh, and the man said he would have died had the water horse not took him the quickest route.

At Glyn Neath, a white stallion tormented travellers who dared to try to ride it. It took one such foolhardy traveller miles out of his way before disappearing in a mist, and leaving him to walk all the way to his destination, arriving many hours later than anticipated.

Carmarthen Bay has the story of a grey horse, which appeared at the waters edge without an owner. It is said that the Carter decided he would use the horse, which behaved docily enough until Carter took it too close to the waters edge, whereupon the horse rushed madly into the sea, taking the cart and the Carter with it.

The River Taff, at Llandaff, Cardiff, is the home of the Taff Serpent. It was said to cause whirlpools in the river, which would draw in fish and any unfortunate swimmer. Belief persisted in the Taff Serpent right up to the Industrial Revolution, when the men re-routing the Taff were warned to expect the wrath of the serpent. Nothing was reported, however. The whirlpools were more than likely caused by changing tides, and they have now ceased since the area was turned into a non-tidal lagoon.

Gwibers were winged snakes of various sizes, which preyed on farm livestock and so were hunted and wiped out. Large Gwibers would be a danger to man, like dragons. They are common in stories of heroes keen to prove themselves. Owen ap Gruffydd was one such hero. Eager to get a hint on how to kill the creature, Owen consulted the soothsayer, Rhys Ddewin. Rhys predicted the creature would bite and kill Owen. Not happy with this prediction, Owen decided to test Rhys, and disguised himself as a stranger and gave a false name. He asked again what the outcome would be of a battle with the Gwiber. This time, Rhys said he would break his neck and die. Still not satisfied, Owen disguised himself again as a miller. Rhys predicted he would drown and die. Angered by the three different fates, Owen threw off his disguise and asked how it was possible he should die three different ways. Rhys simply shrugged to say that these things would become clear. Owen went to kill the beast, confident that Rhys’ predictions were false. The Gwiber bit him, whereupon Owen slipped, broke his neck, fell into the water, and drowned. The locals were angry at the death of Owen, who had been popular, so they formed a lynch mob to kill the Gwiber, which was washed downstream and never seen again.

There are still tales of the Afanc, which is still seen. The Afanc (there are various spellings) is described as part crocodile, part beaver. The legends of the Afanc are not all based on legends themselves, but on garbled translations. Iolo Morganwg (Edward Williams) was fiercely proud of his country - with the exception of West Wales. He gave Wales a far more romantic history, and was known to make up stories to add more colour. He may have faked legends of a 17th century letter. The story was that the Afanc had been lured by a beautiful woman, but in the attack by the hero, the woman lost her breast, and the hero’s oxen lost an eye.

Edward Lloyd believed the Afanc was a beaver. The words in Welsh are very similar, and there are at least seven different spellings of Afanc. However, beavers attack with their tails.

Llangorse Lake/Llyn Syfaddon has reported an Afanc since the Dark Ages. This is a lake covering 327 acres, known for its huge fish. In 1846, O. Owen landed a 68lb pike. The upper size limit on pike in the UK is given as 47lb. In 1987, caravan park owner Mark Tunnicliffe reported seeing the Afanc. He had two dogs, which both started barking at the water. One dog, Iggy, was more adventurous, and jumped in, whereupon he landed on a massive pike. Waterfowl are seen being taken beneath the water.

In 1999, Darren Blake was attacked by a 5-6 foot long pike, which resulted in hospital treatment. Angling Times has the largest pike on record as being 60lb, but Mike Tunnicliffe found a pike mask (skull) of 18 inches, which would be estimated to belong to a pike of over 90lb.

Oll plans an expedition later this year.

Answers to questions from the floor

* A 47lb pike would be around 4-5 foot long.
* A 90lb pike would be more girth than length. It is hard to estimate the length of a pike from the size of the skull, as great variations exist.
* Hugh Garan (sp?) was not a total invention of Iolo Morganwg; he was a character taken from French Charlemagne stories.
* Afanc originally meant any creepy thing in water, before it was taken to mean lake monsters.
* There are tales of sheep killings in the Welsh valleys, where the remains have puncture marks in the neck. There are legends of the Water Wolf.

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Dr. Charles Paxton - Predicting Sea Monsters

Dr. Paxton walks a fine line; his colleagues all think he is a wacko, and attendees of Weird Weekend scorn him as a horrible sceptic. The purpose of his talk was to discuss the use of science and statistics to predict the possibility of sea monsters.

The parameters are that the creatures must be interesting, must instil a sense of wonder, and that monsters are anomalies. Science tends to ignore these precepts, along with anything else that Charles Fort labelled ‘damned data’.

Anomalies can be described as :
- the exceptions that prove the rule;
- the exceptions that contradict the rule;
- genuine paradoxes;
- providing new and important areas of investigation.

A good example would be meteorites. Accepted science once stated that such falls from the sky were impossible. It is now accepted science. Sprites are objects seen above storm clouds. Spontaneous bushfires are reported as starting away from the main site of the fire.

The most important question we need to ask is this - how do we know what to know.

For the purposes of this talk, monsters were set as unknown animals greater than two metres long, excluding tentacles.

No biologist thinks that nothing is left to be discovered. Creatures are discovered all the time. The year given as the discovery is the year the creature is first described.

The whale Mesoplodon peruvianus 1991
Regalecus kinoi 1991
The ray Bathyraja hesperafricana 1995 The whale Mesoplodon perrini 2002 Balaenopler omurai 2003 Orcaella heinsohni 2005

- are all large marine animals recently discovered.

The traditional approach involves finding bits of an animal, seeing if they belong to a known species, and if not, considering the possibility of belonging to a new species.

The cryptozoological approach is to analyse eyewitness accounts of unknown animals, see if they match a known species, and if not, consider whether it is a new species.

However, the accuracy of eyewitnesses is questionable. Experiments placing a model on a lake in Windermere showed that size and distance is always out. Children make bad witnesses as they have no idea of distance and are prone to exaggeration. Women are generally found to underestimate the height on tall pointed objects, while men have a tendency to overestimate. Women draw better images of what they have seen.

The alternate view would be to analyse data statistically. Charles has plotted the cumulative rate of species discovered to see what this tells us about what is to be found. Discovery dates are difficult to establish. Given the parameters of the test - that is, marine animals over two metres long excluding tentacles - Charles plotted a graph that started in 1758 with around 35 creatures, to the year 2000, by which just over 300 creatures had been discovered. Extrapolating the data resulted in a figure of -1; that is, fewer creatures existed to be discovered than had already been discovered. Clearly, the model was wrong.

Charles had used scientific journals as a crude indicator, and had made four incorrect assumptions -

a) that the search efforts were constant over the period. There are far more expeditions today than in the past. While there were more ships in the past, there are more whale surveys today, which probably equal each other out.

b) that all monsters were equally easy to detect. This error means that all estimates will be underestimates.

c) assumes equal population size.

d) that the cumulative number of species described year to year was independent.

Is the extrapolation valid? It assumes that the present and past is a guide to the future. It is sensitive to model selection.

Allowing for the previous errors, Charles returned to the calculation and estimated 321 unknown creatures in total. Less the 306 already discovered leaves 15 awaiting discovery, with a margin for error of + or - 5. Broken down, this results in 3 (+/-2) sharks and rays; 3 (+/-3) cetaceans; 2(+/-1) bony fishes, and 1 invertebrates. From these, we can infer that some will be beaked whales, other types of whale, sharks and rays. The North Atlantic would be 6(+/-2).

There are lots of candidates for what could be out there, but there are an awful lot of known creatures that need to be eliminated from any enquiries. Contrary to popular belief, there are no experts in seeing sea monsters. It is impossible to identify all the known animals in order to ascertain what is unknown. There are still problems with the analysis, however.

In conclusion, the description curves can potentially tell us something interesting. There are still great discoveries to be made, and the discoveries will happen pretty regularly. At present, discoveries are made every 2-3 years. The future holds comparative analysis, discoveries into the maximum size of giant squids, a re-writing of the history of the Kraken, mystery analysis, and a revised history of Mermaids.

Answers to questions from the floor

* There are reports of the Second World War ship Britannia that sank and was attacked by a squid.

* Marine observations differ to terrestrial. Distances are very difficult to judge over water, especially when only part of the creature is visible. People are specially trained to judge distances over water by placing buoys at certain distances to give them experience in what the distances look like on water.

* The Great White Shark recently seen off Cornwall was actually a con to pay for a recent trip abroad, which is where the shark was actually filmed.

* Not all mermaid reports can be explained away with the Manatee. The mermaid was probably a chimera of two creatures, and a pseudo-rationalisation of the Renaissance.

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The Annual CFZ Quiz

An equally matched competition between a team comprising of journalists and computer experts, against a Swedish Death Metaller, the 10 year old nephew of the Director of the CFZ, and Judith Jaa’far, UFOlogist, and one time Chairperson of BUFORA.

Hosted by the effervescent Richard Freeman. The credits were only slightly disturbing. Certainly, Richard would make an excellent host for, say, Countdown.

Despite overwhelming odds, and in spite of Richard’s failure to be swayed by the audience’s demands for half points, Judith’s team won.

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Whereupon, Richard introduced the next speaker with a rendition of the traditional Geordie song about the Lambton Worm

Wisht lads haad yer gobs, aa'll tell yis aall an arful story,
Wisht lads haad yer gobs, aa'll tell yis aboot the worm.

One Sundays morn yung Lambton went a fishin' in the Wear,
He catched a fish upon his hyuk he thowt lucked varry queor,
Noo whatna kind o' fish it wes yung Lambton could na tell,
He wes na fash to carry it yem, so he hoyed it doon the well.

Wisht lads haad yer gobs, aa'll tell yis aall an arful story,
Wisht lads haad yer gobs, aa'll tell yis aboot the worm.

Well Lambton felt inclined te gan an' fight in foreign wars,
He joined a troop o' lads that cared for neither woonds nor scars,
An' off he went te Palestine where queor things him befell,
An' varry soon forgot aboot the queor worm doon the well.

Wisht lads haad yer gobs, aa'll tell yis aall an arful story,
Wisht lads haad yer gobs, aa'll tell yis aboot the worm.

This aaful worm it growed an growed it growed an aaful size,
It had a greet big heed and greet big teeth and greet big goggly eyes.
An' when at neet he craalled aboot te pick up bits o' news,
If it fell dry upon the road it milked a dozen coos.

Wisht lads haad yer gobs, aa'll tell yis aall an arful story,
Wisht lads haad yer gobs, aa'll tell yis aboot the worm.

This aaful worm it craalled aboot an' eat up lambs an' sheep.
It swalleed little bairns alive as they lay doon te sleep,
An' when that he had had enough an' eat aboot his fill,
He'd craal away an' lap his tail, ten times roond Penshar hill.

Wisht lads haad yer gobs, aa'll tell yis aall an arful story,
Wisht lads haad yer gobs, aa'll tell yis aboot the worm.

Well news o' this most aaful beast an' his queor gannin's on,
Soon crossed the seas an' reached the ears o' brave an' bould Sor John,
So yem he came an catched the beast an' cut it in twe halves,
An' that soon stopped it eatin' sheeps an' bairns an' lambs an' calves.

Wisht lads haad yer gobs, aa'll tell yis aall an arful story,
Wisht lads haad yer gobs, aa'll tell yis aboot the worm.

So noo ye knaa how aall the folks on both sides o' the Wear,
Lost lots o' sleep an' lots o' sheep an' lived in mortal fear,
So lets have one te bould Sor John who saved the bairns from harm,
Saved lambs and calves by mekkin' halves o' the famous Lambton worm.

Noo lads aa'll haad me gob that's aall Aa knaa aboot the story,
Of Sor Johns clivvor job wi' the famous Lambton worm.

Little did we realise it was the dastardly Richard’s evil ploy to steal the thunder from the next speaker!

Mike Hallowell - The Shony

Mike was scheduled to speak about the Ghosts of Marsden Grotto, but elected to regale us with the fascinating story of the Shony, and its links with Marsden Grotto and the surrounding area. He had planned to start his talk with a rendition of the above-mentioned song, but a certain Master Freeman of the Parish beat him to it.

The Shony can be seen to be an early version of the Lambton Worm story.

The North East of England is pretty much unexplored in terms of cryptozoology and the paranormal. The 2004 CFZ Year Book has an article on legendary sea monsters in the area.

Roman galleys would travel up the Tyne, on their way to the fort of Arbeia. The fort itself was built using stone from Marsden Bay.

There was a tradition of throwing coins off the side of a boat to appease the monster. Sailors of the South Shields took this far more seriously than those in other areas. The Danelaw was firmly entrenched in the area.

The Shony is a Viking name. Tradition seems to be that the Vikings would draw straws and through the loser overboard as an offering to the Shony.

The Vikings believed the Shony had a castle of coral in the North Sea where it would keep the sacrificed sailors to eat later, as a kind of larder. The idea was that the ship would escape while the Shony was taking the sacrifice to the castle. Dire warnings were issued against sailors jumping in to save their friends. It was said the Shony would bite off the hands and feet of the would-be saviour. The friend would be released, but the price would be the life of the saviour.

The connection can be made with Holy Island in the 13th Century, were there was a rash of strange deaths, with people being washed ashore missing their hands and feet.

Descriptions of the Shony show it to be a typical sea monster - big coils, a big fat creature with a long neck, and a mud-brown colour.

Mike recounted his own possible sighting of the Shony. In 1999, he was driving along the coast with his wife and father, when he glanced into the sea and saw what appeared to be an upturned boat, looking like a walnut shell, except mottled rather than wrinkled. It was a brown colour. Both Mike and his wife saw it. They stopped the car to watch as it sunk slowly under the water. It was a large shape, and they could not see the legs or neck. Mike has no explanation for this sighting. They returned home and the Shields’ Gazette had a story of a dolphin being seen in Marsden Bay. Whatever it was Mike and his wife saw was not a dolphin.

A local councillor telephoned on an unrelated matter, and told Mike he had heard a story in the local fish and chip shop of two men who had seen something big enough to swallow a dolphin.

The Lambton Worm, as related in the song, was found by Sir John Connear. It was described as having a series of holes down the side of its head and neck, very sharp teeth, and wings behind its head. Where Sir John is described as throwing it down a well, it was probably a crevice rather than a proper well. Sir John saw a Wise Woman for her advice on how to dispose of the Worm. She told him he must cut the Worm “into three halves” by having sharp spikes attached to his armour. In this way, when the Worm wrapped itself around Sir John, it would be cut up. In payment for this, Sir John had to agree to sacrifice the first living thing that greeted him after the Worm was killed. In order to protect his family, Sir John locked them up inside a local church, out of the way. When he killed the Worm, he let out a great cry, which so scared his father, that he ran out of the church to see his son. Sir John would not kill his father, so killed his dog instead. For reneging on the deal, the family was cursed that, for ten generations, no Connear would die in his bed. It was a curse that appears to have come true.

Marsden Grotto itself is a pub built into a cave in the cliffs. The pub is called Smuggler Jack’s. The back bar is actually the cave. There are ten pillars. It was thought that these pillars were carved in situ; then it was noticed that the limestone of the pillars is different. It appears the pillars were actually brought from Lambton Castle in the 18th Century when the castle was destroyed. The pillars have images of a worm carved into it, with the head of Sir John on the same pillar. There are nine faces on the other nine pillars. The cave is supposed to be part of a network into where the Shony lives.

In 1946, the steamer Black Eagle was anchored off a wreck undertaking salvage operations. The crew saw a long neck sticking out of the water. They rowed out to get a closer look, but the head disappeared, and then re-appeared in another spot. As they moved to chase it, the head disappeared again.

The inauguration of the Bishop of Durham includes a curious ceremony where the new Bishop is required to walk across the bridge into Durham, whereupon he is presented with a sword. There is a great deal of ritual involved with the sword, saying how it would be required to slay the dragon; the actual religious aspects of the post are tagged on at the end almost as an afterthought.

Answers to questions from the floor

* Could the pillars be in Marsden Grotto to keep the Shony in? - it could work both ways - to keep the Shony out of the human world, and humans out of the Shony’s domain. There are stories of hermits around the area, wearing pointed hats and sporting pointy beards; each cave they lived in was said to be an entrance to the realm of the Shony. There are tales of buried Roman treasure in the Shony’s lair. Mike has a book coming out shortly regarding these strange hermits.
* Does the story of the curse for the next ten generations pre-date the actual deaths of the next ten generations? - it is difficult to be certain, but the curse appears to have been mentioned in early versions of the story.
* Diagnostic analysis of descriptions of the Lambton Worm - holes on the side of the neck and its habit of sucking milk - gives a hint to the zoology of the creature, and it could possibly be a lamprey. The lamprey also has royal connections, which fits in with the legend.
* Local historians tend to believe in the actual existence of the Lambton Worm; there are simply too many stories and legends. It not only causes an emotional response even to this day, but it had an impact on the actual landscape. People can point to specific areas and state that that was where the Worm performed one outrage or another.
* Mike thinks the Lambton Worm is linked to the stories of the Shony, not lampreys. Ships are attacked by sea monsters - not lampreys. When conventional explanations become too strange, they then become less conventional. In making too many stretches of ‘natural’ explanations, the actual explanation becomes more fantastic than the notion of a sea monster.
* The Shony is pretty consistent in descriptions, always described as being a mud-brown like colour.

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Book Launch: “Extraordinary Animals Revisited” by Dr. Karl Shuker

Dr. Karl Shuker had just arrived from Brazil, and made his way directly to the Weird Weekend for the launch of his new book. His original Extraordinary Animals is now out of print. It combined lesser-known animals with cryptids. The new CFZ press version is updated with more cryptids and brand new stuff, yet retaining the antiquarian feel of the original version. It is obviously a much bigger book.

There is always the problem that mainstream publishers do not know how to market a book of this nature; Jon Downes has extensive experience in this field, and it is hoped that this is the first of many such ventures. The RRP is £14.99.

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Grigoriy Panchenko - The Russian Snowman

Grigoriy had travelled from Kiev, and found himself unaccountably detained in Zurich on suspicion of terrorist activities when one of his hand exercisers caused all kinds of consternation and assorted interest at the airport. While Grigoriy’s English was good, particularly as he would actually have to translate from Russian to German to English, it was sometimes difficult to follow his meanings. I therefore apologise for any errors in my report.

Almasty is the creature’s Mongolian name; in Middle Asian, it is Albasty. The creature appears to be used to living near humans; there does not appear to be an area of no-man’s land between the two. There are 1,200 unbroken kilometres of mountains in the Caucasus, which appears to be enough room for everyone.

There are reports of Almasty being caught by Homo sapiens. Where bears can survive, so can Almasty; in fact Almasty can live where bears cannot, being far more adaptable than omnivorous bears. Almasty lives on fruit, berries, chestnuts, seeds, nuts - even horse manure. They may steal newborn horses, sheep or calves, although not enough to be considered an enemy of the shepherds. Almasty sometimes steals human food, or food is left as a gift for Almasty. They also lick the salt shepherds bring for their sheep.

Almasty can eat very little, and a loaf of bread could last three winter days. They also drink very little. The high water content of their food allows them to do this. Some appear only in August - September, disappearing over the winter months. They are usually seen in the evenings, or nights.

The best place to search for remains of Almasty is caves. Hominids go to caves or grottos to die when they know their time is near. Grigoriy has found a shinbone in the last expedition and is awaiting the results of the analysis; he suspects, however, it may be from a bear.

Almasty can hide from humans very well. They are not normally afraid of humans. They do not run away; they move slowly. It does not turn its back, which grew into the legend that their feet are turned back to front. The males throw rocks with great force - rocks of such size that it can take two men to move them. The females and youngsters are less aggressive. The males tend to response to aggressive behaviour from humans, as Almasty are not naturally aggressive creatures, and do not attack unprovoked. They are very shy, harmless creatures, and can be quite friendly. In this respect, they are similar to gorillas. There are reports of Almasty taking cheese from houses, operating the latch of a lock and managing to close the door behind them - something that demonstrates a very human ability to rationalise their actions, and think before they act. They appear to have some elements of speech, although not a language as we would understand it. They have shrieks and squeals. They cry when they are afraid, which is described as sounding, “like a woman who saw a mouse”.

They give the impression that they do not differ much from humans.

Groups of Almasty number 4-6. There would appear to have been greater contact between Humans and Almasty in the past; such contact appears less frequent today.

Answers to questions from the floor

* The Almasty appears to be a middle sized Sasquatch, but appears more progressive than a Sasquatch.
* Grigoriy is not sure that Yeti and Almasty belong to the same species.
* Grigoriy believe Almasty to be a form of Homo, but not Sapiens. Not an ape.

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I missed Adam Davies - Dinosaurs in the Congo because otherwise stomach rumblings may have drowned out the talk! I set off in search of food; which meant I missed Adam’s report about his expedition searching for Mokele-mbembe. Apparently, Adam concentrated more on witness descriptions, and did not find time to search for scats or remains of the creature.

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Next, Steve Jones requested that anyone with experience of black shapes, hooded entities, shadow forms or suchlike, to contact him. He is also interested in any experiences of ghostly animals, particularly unusual animals, although he is quite willing to hear about ghostly tabby cats as well!

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Next, we had a Panel of invited speakers to discuss What Creature will be Discovered Next? The panel consisted of Dr. Charles Paxton, Dr. Darren Naish,Dr Dan Holdsworth, and Nick Redfern.

The proceedings were chaired by Richard Freeman.

Charles believes the next creature to be discovered will probably be a whale or invertebrate. He harkened to an earlier short film seen earlier, made by the CFZ, showing a mysterious seven foot long marine creature, unknown to science.

Darren considered the most likely creature to be discovered next to be a whale, probably a beaked whale. There are unusual bottle-nosed whales, different to the Southern/Northern bottle nosed whale. They are seen around the Seychelles and Maldives, and do not match any known species. Examples have been found beached in Somalia, Seychelles and Maldives. There are reports of Longman’s Beaked Whale, which has not been known since 1870s.

Dan considered Caribbean invertebrates the most likely. Considering the earlier video footage of the mysterious seven-foot long creature, he speculated perhaps a sea cucumber or unknown species of squid. He considered an invertebrate with a hydrostatic skeleton the most likely candidate for Next Discovery.

Nick would like to see the discovery of a megalania, a large monitor lizard.

Charles considered species being split into other species by means of genetic tests the most frequent kind of ‘new discovery’.

Dan considered there could be problems in definition of species, given the principle of whether or not the creatures can interbreed and produce a fertile hybrid.

The question was asked - What Cryptid is most likely to exist/have existed?

Darren considered the answer to be the Thylacine. Henry Nix’s ‘Bio-Clim’ project worked out the kind of vegetation cover, topography, rainfall etc and compared those at the time the Thylacine is known to have existed to the areas where the Thylacine is seen in recent times. It shows that the Thylacine are seen in areas where you would expect to see Thylacine.

Nick described Big Foot type creatures in Texas. Contrary to popular belief, Texas is not all desert, like in the Westerns. There are large areas of Texas and the central USA dominated by dense woodland and swamps, which are virtually impenetrable.

The question next asked was - if you won the Lottery and had pots of money to put into research, where would you go and what would you look for?

Charles replied that he would happily let other people go out and collect the data while he stayed at home and analysed their findings on his computer!

Darren replied that he would fund a proper expedition to search for Sasquatch, employing the same principles as those involved in the major gorilla expeditions; that is, living in the woods like gorillas for many months or even years. He would fund someone to spend their entire lives in the area to conduct a thorough search.

Dan considered there to be no real problem in finding creatures; the real problem lay in finding them in the remaining habitat. He would use any lottery monies to pay off loans, as per Debt Swap - where governments are paid to leave areas alone to preserve the environment.

Nick would prefer to see investigations into lake monsters in the smaller lakes and lochs of Ireland. There were many reports of these in the 40s/50s and 60s, and he would like to know whether there is still anything going on in these areas.

Richard is convinced of the existence of the Thylacine.

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Graham Inglis - CFZ Museum’s Annual Report

Graham talked us through a series of images showing the area of the proposed museum prior to building work, and artist’s impressions of the finished article. He has transformed a humble chicken shed into the CFZ museum. The large aquarium tanks require a good solid floor, so he was required to turn an earthen floor into a thick concrete one to take the weight. This involved joists estimated at £800 in cost. This cost was halved thanks to the generous donation of a local builder. Work has started on the aviary, but weather has delayed completion.

Jon reported that there is much work to be done in the area of conservation, along with promoting good practices in the keeping of exotic animals and pets via Exotic Pets magazine.

He reported that Chris Moiser has recently purchased a Zoo. It is not just a question of discovering new animals, but also of working out how to conserve them.

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Chris Moiser - Big Cats in the South West

Chris has been called out on a number of occasions to examine the carcasses of dead sheep to ascertain whether it is the work of an alien predator or some maniac with a Stanley knife.

Since last Weird Weekend, Chris has been called out to Portfell, near Liskeard, where he gave a talk. He met two people who had seen animals in the Bodmin area. Mark Fraser of Big Cats In Britain website carries several reports, but the majority go unreported.

Shaun Stevens in Scotland has been looking through the information released under the Freedom of Information Act for the details of what exotic animals are being kept.

Chris undertook a harrowing ordeal of 22 interviews in a row - the BBC sat him in a studio, and he undertook 3-4 minute interviews for each BBC area, which can get rather confusing. As the film The Wild had recently been released, the BBC producer made Chris promise not to mention the film.

Witnesses reported seeing a raccoon in Leicestershire; witnesses from Plymouth Athenaeum reported seeing a large big cat in Kelly Bray.

Exmoor Zoological Park near Barnstaple are developing a Beast of Exmoor display. They hope to bring in a black leopard and snow leopard from France. The building has, however, been delayed by the weather.

In October, a woman contacted them, convinced she had found a dead sheep with a talon nearby. It was a ram that had been killed, and the ‘talon’ was actually its horn.

A police officer in Lynton telephoned, having found a large ram injured on the outskirts of Lynton that needed putting down. The animal’s injuries were horrendous. The ram had a reputation for chasing dogs out of the field, so it was unlikely to have been a dog attack.

In the Mount area, south of Bodmin, there was an incident involving a dead Shetland Pony. The pony was illegally buried in a shallow grave. The injuries included a large vertical slice down one side, so likely to have been of human origin, and involving a Stanley knife.

At Lodiswell, near Kingsbridge, a woman reported her son seeing a big cat and she had had a sheep killed. Large paw prints were found. They arrived at the field within two hours of the report. Witnesses reported they had got within 6-7 feet of the animal, which was described as being black with a long, curved tail and small sharp teeth. They went to the field and found a bone belonging to a local dog, which may have been what the creature was interested in. Other sightings were recorded a couple of days later.

There was a report of a big cat in Bristol, described as “bigger than a domestic cat but smaller than a fox” - which caused some confusion!

There was a Big Cat Conference in Hull.

In April, a Noah’s Ark keeper contacted Chris. Noah’s Ark was an animal collection on the outskirts of Bristol. Being a Christian association, they were not open on Sundays. Chris went to see the zoo. They had had two sheep killed, and had lost 3-4 sheep the previous year at the same time of year. The keeper was therefore on alert, and had set up sand traps. He parked in the field. He noticed something spooked the animals, but he did not see anything. The property is fully enclosed with five foot high fencing, meeting all the necessary regulations. Chris inspected the perimeter and there was no break whatsoever in the fencing, apart from one small gap probably due to badgers. Chris took his dog, a Pyrenean Mountain Dog, into the field with the sheep with its lead on. The sheep were not bothered in the slightest by the dog, and even went up to touch noses. This was in a field in which sheep had been killed within the last 72 hours. That the sheep were not in the slightest unnerved by the dog shows the attacks could not have been perpetrated by a dog.

In May, the South West news agency sent photos of the supposed “Beast of Bodmin”, asking for Chris’ opinion. National newspapers picked it up three days later. The photograph was of a grey squirrel - the photographer was convinced it was not a squirrel.

In July, Exmoor Zoo, there was a report that a horse had been injured. There was damage to the legs, with a potential paw mark with a 42mm span. It was considered too small to be a puma or leopard, but too big to be a domestic cat. There were other marks and holes on the horse, which could not be blamed on barbed wire, as the fences were checked and were found to be very well maintained. The horse was known to be steady with dogs, and showed no concern about Chris’ Pyrenean Mountain Dog, which can again rule out dog attack.

The recent photos of the “Black Beast of Dartmoor” were definitely a dog.

Now Chris has bought a zoo, they are living on ‘zoo time’ - which means the animals are setting the time. They have two gibbons next to the main road. One gibbon - Odo - is hand reared, which is always hard work. Odo listens to things. Emergency vehicles frequently go down the main road with their sirens blaring. At 6.50am, Odo wakes up, making a noise that is not a proper gibbon noise, and is clearly Odo’s impersonation of the sirens. This sets the lovebirds off, who carry on the noise.

The zoo is ‘Tropiquaria’.

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Book Launch: “Big Cats Loose In Britain” by Marcus Matthews

The book was started when Marcus was 14; he started investigating reports of Big Cat sightings, and followed up with letters to Local Authorities, newspapers etc. The book is a county-by-county breakdown of reports in Britain. Jon says that this is the “definitive” big cat book.

RRP £14.99

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Next, came Dr. Charles Paxton, the well-known purveyor of dolphin porn - or as he preferred to call it “cetacean erotica”. This talk carried a “Parental Advisory”.

Charles recounted the report of Egede, who was on his way to visit his father in Newark when his ship sighted a strange sea creature around the Artic Circle as they came passed Greenland. The diagnostic features of the creature were as follows :-

* Covered in ‘shell work’
* Narrow snout
* “Eyes of red burning coals”
* Blew like a whale
* Rear of body shaped like a serpent
* One pair of flippers
* Possibly a dorsal hump

The shell work could possibly be a description of barnacles.

The snout is characteristic of a Grey Whale and Right Whale. The “eyes of burning coal” were not mentioned in Egede’s own description, and can probably be discounted as hyperbole. The “snake-like tail” may be a tail that has lost the flukes. All whales have only one pair of flippers, and there is a little lump where the body enters the water.

Diagnostic features identify an animal according to its characteristics. Going through the lengthy list of candidates as described in the previous talk, Charles made a table marking down the features of known creatures against those of Egede’s creature. From this, it can be said that Egede’s creature was definitely a whale - but what about the strange serpent-like tail?

Which is where we move on the cetacean erotica.

In order to complete the analysis, Charles sought permission from his employer to Google whale penises [how I wish I’d been a fly on the wall for *that* conversation! - HL]. He subsequently found various pictures of some very happy whales, which could clearly be seen to have what appeared to be a strange serpent-like tale. Matched with reports of another sighting, where it was said that female whales around the creature appeared to be quite excited, and we are left with a picture across which it is probably best to draw a veil.

It is not to be suggested that “very happy whales” account for all sea serpent sightings, but it may account for some.

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Next were the Annual CFZ Awards, where deserving people are given golden baboons. And why not.

The first award was to Grigoriy Pachinko - for his adventures in Zurich, his long journey from the Ukraine, and his survival of the CFZ cocktail party on Thursday night.

Next - Kaye and Roy Phillips for their invaluable help to the CFZ over the past year. Without them neither the rural CFZ or the Weird Weekend would be feasible.

Next - Pixi - for failing to live up to the preconception of being a woolly fluffy bunny woo-woo, and instead proving to be an absolute asset with her face-painting skills, tea making services, ability to mop up after the sick, and bullying the diabetic Jon into eating regularly.

Also - Katie - Pixie’s young daughter, who attended all the talks, and asked some very pertinent and intelligent questions.

Next - Matthew Osbourne - for numerous driving duties to and fro, and setting up the equipment for the Weekend, as well as some other behind-the-scenes help that it is not prudent to relate in a family forum.

Next - Heather Matthews - the mother of Marcus Matthews: who took him to interview Big Cat witnesses during weekends and school holidays, all by public transport.

Next - Corinna Downes - who gave up suburban bliss to move to Myrtle Cottage and live in a house full of CFZ personnel, bringing her formidable organisational skills into the mix after giving up the career of being secretary to the Headmaster of a private school.

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Jon Downes and Richard Freeman et al
The Monsters of the Lake District / Expedition Report

Jon and Richard have an expedition planned to search for Almasty, and another expedition to Guyana. This year, they undertook two short trips to the Lake District - where they discovered, amongst other things, some very nice sausages! Lisa, Oll, Corinna and Mark joined in the discussion, having taken part in the expedition as well.

The Friday of last year’s Weird Weekend, the CFZ received a telephone call about a photo of ‘something’ in Lake Windermere. There have never been any monsters reported at Lake Windermere before. There are smaller lakes in Ireland where monsters have been reported.

The photograph, taken by Steve Burnip, showed an eel-like creature moving very rapidly through the water, leaving a wake. The object in the photograph was too far away to be useful. They arranged to interview witnesses, and sent a press release around the area. The response was amazing. There were several sightings of a strange creature in the Lake. , including one in 1959, seen by Mark Plant.

Lisa and Richard went to Manchester to interview Mark Plant. He reported that he was half way along the lake when he saw a creature draw alongside his boat. He could not see a head or tail. The creature was grey/green in colour. It kept pace with the dinghy for a while, then overtook it. It moved smoothly with very little undulation. He thought it was a Conger Eel. He went back to the hotel and talked about his sighting, but no-one knew what he was talking about. There is a film “Eel or No Eel” with an interview with Mark at www.cfz.org.uk

There have been reports in the 1950s, then from 1980s to 1990s. There was no fanfare and neither were they reported in the papers.

Jon Ronson accompanied the CFZ, after expressing the wish to go on an expedition at last year’s Weird Weekend. The resulting story was put out on his radio show, and although nothing about the programme was worthwhile, at least it immortalised Richard and Jon’s stupid “Find the Fish” game!

The CFZ were in the Lake District for four days, and interviewed a number of witnesses.

Lisa made the acquaintance of Kevin Boyd, a qualified diver, who offered his services completely free, and did a couple of night dives. He did not discover any eels.

Witnesses reported seeing something huge that heaved itself out of the water. The reports sounded like the classic Loch Ness sightings - a hump or coil coming to the surface. Someone saw what looked like an upturned canoe going along the Lake.

The CFZ entertain the notion that lake monsters could be large eels.

Kevin Boyd had seen eels that appeared to be larger that normal eels seen in Europe. The longest length recorded is 4’ 21/2”. Kevin reported seeing eels 5-6-8 and nearly 10’ in length in two different lakes in the Lake District.

There are two main shapes of common eel; the blunt faced eel, and the round faced eel recorded in the UK. Kevin reported seeing a carpet of thousands of eels, including both morphs, pointy faced eels and blunt. In the middle of this carpet were eels considerably larger. These were in Lake Windermere and Coniston Water. The CFZ intend returning to the channel off Peel Island in Coniston Water to search for eels.

In February, the CFZ received a telephone call from Lyndon Adams, who had been told by Charles Paxton to give them a ring. He had caught an image of something in the water that was sharper than in Burnett’s photos. Charles thought that if the object was as big as the image analyser said it was - well, there was nothing in the Lake that could be that big. It is similar to a recent film at Loch Ness, showing what appears to be a 4-5 foot eel leaving a wake.

There have been reports of a 25-foot long eel at Loch Ness.

In May, John Harker telephoned, and sent a third set of photographs that appeared to show a large eel, taken by a family from the shores of Lake Windermere. They reported that the wash created by the creature crashed against the shingle. It actually looks like a boat wake. Wakes bounce back across water and given the impression of something moving through the water.

The sightings reported so far are building up a body of evidence to support the claims of ‘something’ being in the waters of Lake Windermere.

The CFZ speculate that these creatures are eels. European eels are peculiar creatures, and it is only recently that some of these peculiarities have become known. Eels grow to maturity in fresh water, and then travel to the ocean to get to the Sargasso Sea to breed and die. The young - Leptocephali - return to start the cycle all over again.

However, sterile eels do not have the urge to move out of the fresh water, and simply get bigger and older. No-one has any idea of how big or how old these eunuch eels grow. This, of course, may not be the only reason eels grow so large.

Isaac Walton wrote The Compleat Angler in the 17th Century, which contains excellent natural history observations, and remains a peerless work. Current accepted theory holds there are two distinct morphs of the European eels - in The Compleat Angler, Walton talks about three morphs. He describes another morph as having a wide, broad, flat head; one found in East Anglia having bright red fins. None of this description are recorded in modern times. Walton did not speak of pointed or broad. It may be that eels thrown off morphs more than other creatures.

St. Columba is the first recorded incident of the Loch Ness Monster; however, the creature is described as being in the River Ness, not the Loch. The story makes the creature sound more demon or kelpie than a live creature, and may simply be an allegorical re-telling of a meeting between St. Columba and the medicine man of the indigenous tribe. It is certainly nothing to do with modern sightings in Loch Ness. Proper sightings at Loch Ness can only be traced to the last 200 years. There is no evidence that the Loch Ness Monster is older than that.

If there is a monster in Loch Ness, it should not be viewed in isolation. Consideration must be given to other Lake Monsters.

Ireland has stories of lake monsters called Horse Eels.

There are so many different reports of Lake Monsters, and the simplest solution is not to assume there is a different explanation for each of these monsters. The problem lies in that, according to accepted science, eels do not grow that big.

There followed much talk which was guaranteed to upset those lovers/residents or former residents of Blackpool. Suffice to say, it was agreed that, while Blackpool may not be the actual arse-end of the Universe, it must be considered a close contender for the title.

However, Blackpool’s salvation lies in its aquarium in the Tower. It holds an eel of over four foot in length. This is a pointy faced morph. The CFZ asked how long it had been there and whether there was any indication as to its age, but the long-term keeper had walked out three weeks before, and no-one remained who appeared to know. This was a large eel that had been living in fresh water for a very long time. There were another two massive eels in another tank that were at least five foot in length; both were round-headed morphs, and again, both were in fresh water and had been for some time.

It is thought that, when eels are ready to breed, they make for salt water and stop eating. However, there are a substantial population of eels in salt water off the British Isles.

This is the beginning of a long-term study.

Chris Moiser has collected clippings from The Times, going back several years, reporting eels being caught in the Thames. Naturalist Graham Smith, the brother of the BBC’s Natural History Unit’s Producer, has reported huge eels found in rivers in Wales, called Thunder Eels. It was reported that throwing stones on the surface of the water would bring the eels to the surface. The eels were over six foot in length.

It may be that, if an eel is in deep water, it does not get the environmental cue to stop eating and return to the Sargasso Sea to breed. In 1646, Isaac Walton reported in The Compleat Angler that he had seen eels giving birth to live young in a bucket. Could it be that some eels do not migrate? Or that some give birth in fresh water? The fact remains that we do not know as much about eels as we do about Koi or Goldfish.

There are stories of a Water Wolf, which differs to the Welsh Water Wolf. In this version, the Water Wolf is swallowed whilst swimming, and makes the victim terribly hungry. The victim eats and eats, yet gets thinner and thinner, until eventually the victim throws up the Water Wolf and it swims away.

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LINKS TO THE REST OF THE ARTICLE

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