Over the last few weeks a few strange whispers have emerged from the woods of Wanstead concerning the possible sighting of a bear-like creature. The animal was first sighted during early November 2008 by 18-year-old angler Michael Kent who was fishing with his brother and father in the Hollow Ponds area of Epping Forest, on the border of Wanstead and Leytonstone.
The teenager claimed that whilst walking towards his brother’s swim, he heard a rustling in the bushes and saw the back of a dark, hairy animal around four-foot in height, that scampered off into the woods.
Local press heard about the story and for some strange reason asked whether Bigfoot was on the loose, giving the story a comical tale. However, a woman from the Love Lane area of Woodford Bridge, claimed she’d been left shaken after seeing a similar hairy beast in broad daylight which she described as having large feet, and standing around four-feet in height. The creature then leapt over a wall. Unfortunately, details of the sighting were rather vague and so such an incident will no doubt be relegated to the realms of folklore.
Despite local wildlife officials stating it was not possible for bears to be on the loose locally, we only have to look back to 1981 and Hackney Marshes for a very similar story. On December 27, as a white quilt of snow lay heavy over the fields, a 13-year-old Tommy Murray and friends were fleeing from what they described as, ‘…a giant great growling hairy thing’, which left strange tracks on the virgin snow.
More than fifty policemen with dogs, accompanied by marksmen, and a helicopter fluttering overhead, scoured the open spaces. Experts concluded that the tracks found were indeed made by a bear but no such animal was flushed out. The chief inspector at the time commented, ‘Although I didn’t see the boys myself, I’m reliably informed that they were very frightened by what they saw. They were not hoaxers, although, of course, they may have been hoaxed…I saw three sets of prints that to me were strange. One of the prints was on an island which had a perimeter fence and a locked gate. All three were on virgin snow and could not have been made by a hoaxer because no other prints were near them or led to or from them.’
The small scare echoed reports from the previous year when two bear corpses were discovered on the River Lea at hackney. The animals had been decapitated and skinned but no-one knows just where they came from.
Is it possible such elusive forms were phantom bears, ghosts from areas that once participated in bear baiting? At Chelsea’s Cheyne Walk, several bears of varying colour are said to haunt, whilst in the Tower of London a spectral bear was said to prowl and in 1817 to have frightened to death a sentry of the Jewel Room, whose bayonet passed right through the creature without effect. The guard was able to give his account before dying of shock shortly after.