While Dartmoor has to make do with it's famous Dartmoor letterboxes, its northern neighbour Exmoor has something altogether more exciting for you to look out for - the Beast of Exmoor!
The Exmoor Beast is a large cat-like creature, that is said to live in the Exmoor National Park, where it ccasionally kills sheep, and is very occasionally spotted by people.
Perhaps the size of a puma, it is black or dark grey, more than 1.5 metres long, very fast and very quiet. It stalks the moors preying on wildlife and posing risk to all who dare enter.
The greatest evidence for the presence of the animal emerged in the 1980's with a wave of sheep killing in Exmoor, which had throat injuries consistent with those a large cat might cause. More recently a puma skull has reputedly been found on Exmoor. Sightings are generally reported every few years, occasionally with a very blurred photo, that keep the story alive.
Does the Beast of Exmoor exist?
No one knows for sure whether there really is a large cat prowling Exmoor. The Exmoor National Park refuses to confirm it, and the photographic evidence is, to say the least, not compelling. The photos that exist are far from clear and could have been falsified. The Ministry of Agriculture has stated that they do not believe there is an unidentified beast roaming the moors - although the Royal Marines sent in to
hunt the animal in 1983 believed they had seen it, though not caught it...
The most popular suggestion is that a puma, cougar or black leopard or panther that was released or escaped into the wild in the decade preceding that, perhaps after it became illegal to keep such animals anywhere apart from in a zoo (under the Dangerous Animals Act of 1976).
But these animals only live about 15 years - so how could the two be related...unless a mating pair had been released!
Assuming that farmers are right that a large animal is sometimes killing their sheep, and assuming that eye-witnesses are telling the truth (fair asumptions) it seems possible that there is one or more large, probably cat related animals living wild in Exmoor.
So while you will most likely not see any sign of the beast during your visit to Exmoor, be sure to take a photograph if a large black cat, perhaps two metres long, suddenly appears in front of you. Just before screaming loudly and running very fast.