One of the things that particularly fascinates me about cryptozoology, is the way in which certain places seem to attract more than one type of unknown beast - the Cannock Chase woods of central England being a classic example.
Another example - and a very little-known one - was brought to my attention a few years ago by a woman named Eileen Gallagher.
She telephoned me early one week-day morning to relate how a friend of hers – named Janice - had undergone some sort of very traumatic encounter late at night with a man-beast in the village of Childs Ercall – which can be found in the northern part of the English county of Shropshire.
Gallagher had lost touch with Janice in the late 1970s; however, she still well-recalled the salient facts.
So the story went, it was back in 1971 and Janice was fifteen at the time and living in a nearby village.
After an evening spent with her then-boyfriend at the home of his parents in Childs Ercall, Janice was happily riding her pedal-bike back home when she was shocked to see a large, hairy animal dash across the road directly in front of her, while simultaneously glaring at her in a menacing fashion as it did so.
Eileen Gallagher recalled that Janice had told her that the animal was human-like in shape, was covered in long flowing dark hair, possessed a pair of bright yellow eyes that "twinkled," and had a black-skinned and "shiny" face.
I have to say that this particular story completely fascinated me, for one specific reason: the Bigfoot-style entity seen by Janice in the Shropshire village of Childs Ercall was not the only weird creature said to inhabit this otherwise utterly normal and pleasant little English village.
Indeed, legend has it that centuries ago a deadly mermaid was said to inhabit a pool there. In 1893, the writer Robert Charles Hope described the story as follows:
"…there was a mermaid seen there once. It was a good while ago, before my time. I dare say it might be a hundred years ago. There were two men going to work early one morning, and they had got as far as the side of the pond in [a] field, and they saw something on the top of the water which scared them not a little. They thought it was going to take them straight off to the Old Lad himself!
"I can’t say exactly what it was like, I wasn’t there, you know; but it was a mermaid, the same as you read of in the papers. The fellows had almost run away at first, they were so frightened, but as soon as the mermaid had spoken to them, they thought no more of that. Her voice was so sweet and pleasant, that they fell in love with her there and then, both of them. Well, she told them there was a treasure hidden at the bottom of the pond - lumps of gold, and no one knows what. And she would give them as much as ever they liked if they would come to her in the water and take it out of her hands.
"So they went in, though it was almost up to their chins, and she dived into the water and brought up a lump of gold almost as big as a man s head. And the men were just going to take it, when one of them said: 'Eh!' he said (and swore, you know), 'if this isn't a bit of luck!' And, my word, if the mermaid didn’t take it away from them again, and gave a scream, and dived down into the pond, and they saw no more of her, and got none of her gold. And nobody has ever seen her since then.
"No doubt the story once ran that the oath which scared the uncanny creature involved the mention of the Holy Name."
Is it only a chance coincidence that the Shropshire village of Childs Ercall was said to be equally haunted by a hairy man-beast and a bizarre water-based entity? Probably not: in my view, it only reinforces the notion that many crypto-critters are far more (or, perhaps, less) than mere flesh-and-blood in origin...