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Sunday, 30 December 2018

BEASTS COME OUT AT NIGHT

Camberwell Old Cemetery
Photo by Andrew McGrath, 2019
Camberwell Old Cemetery is located on Forest Hill Road, Honor Oak, London. It has been in use since 1856 and covers approximately 30 acres of land, much of whose plants and trees have merged with the older tombstones, to create an eerie ‘forest of the dead’ like feeling. The site was in frequent use from its inception and by 1984, 300,000 bodies had been buried there.

Cemeteries are creepy enough places to be, during the day, but at night, that inexplicable fear of the unknown that we all possess becomes a living force. I was originally drawn to investigate this location due to two extraordinary witness accounts. The first related by a man who had decided to cut through the old cemetery one night on route to visit a friend, in 1996 and the second, which occurred many years later in 2004/5, related by a woman who was travelling past the graveyard with a friend, when she experienced something she still cannot explain to this day.

The images I captured whilst there do not quite convey the unhealthy atmosphere, which was palpable, all around me. Although, admittedly, visiting the site of such extraordinary sightings does imbue one with a sense of expectation, which in itself can become a causative of feeling ‘ghostly vibes’!


The Werewolf of Camberwell
On October 9th, 1996, a man on route to see a friend, had decided to take a shortcut through Camberwell Old Cemetery to save time, when something prodigiously strong grabbed him by the arm and smashed him into the ground. He saw a large creature, with dark fur and a head like a German shepherd, looking at directly at him intently, slobbering and growling and sniffing his body up and down, just as a dog would. Just as quickly as the attack started, it was over and the beast sprinted off on its hind legs. The witness believed that he was spared because he suffers from a disease that dogs can smell and that probably because of this, the creature left him alone.

The Camberwell Tree Shaker
“It was in 2004 or 2005 on a summer's night around 11.30pm and a friend and I were walking up Underhill road on the cemetery side of the road. I lived on Barry Road on the corner of Underhill road for many years and I was in my mid-20s at this point.

On the corner of the cemetery side of the road, we heard a really loud weird noise and both turned to look. A large tree in the corner of the cemetery was shaking incredibly hard as if something really powerful was shaking it with all its might. I don't think I have ever seen such a strange sight. It was definitely not made by a person or an animal or pet. The tree looked as if the roots were ready to be ripped out. There was another noise too like a low growl.

Needless to say, my friend and I took to our heels and fled as fast as we possibly could although in different directions. I sprinted up Harcourt road as hard as I could. When my friend caught up with me, we were both terrified and could not rationalise what had happened or account for the sheer terror we both felt. Instinctively, we knew we had to get as far away from the flimsy fence of the cemetery as fast as we possibly could.

There is something very sinister there. I don't think I ever walked past the road in the dark ever again or ever ventured inside the cemetery. I have moved away from the area now, but still not far enough away from that place!!!”




Camberwell Old Cemetery
Photo by Andrew McGrath, 2019
Werewolves? Dogmen? Bipedal Canines roaming throughout London and attacking people in graveyards? Frankly, It sounds like something for the High Moon fans and I wholly reconcile my own feeling of disbelief at such encounters, with those other practically minded souls who find it hard to accept that such a being exists at all! 

However, our folklore and history are replete with tales of such creatures stalking the darkness, not only in these resplendent isles, which we inhabit but also amongst the legends of our soon to be estranged, continental cousins. 

I also feel the need to further compound this problem with my staunch belief, that such creatures are not immaterial and belong firmly in the flesh and blood world. Perhaps, patiently awaiting the taxonomic net of the brave, intrepid (and perhaps foolhardy) explorer to fall upon and fit them neatly, into the section marked 'New', in one of our delightfully leather-bound books, of the known animalia that inhabit this wild and wondrous creation!


Written by Andrew McGrath



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Saturday, 29 December 2018

IS ALL THIS CONTROVERSY REALLY NESSIE...SARY?

The Loch Ness Monster, Nessie (Niseag, in Scots Gaelic), LNM and the delightful, but not scientifically accepted, Latin classification of Nessiteras Rhombopteryx, are all names that have been attributed to what is arguably the most infamous water monster in the world and, until the recent Bigfoot boom, undeniably the most famous cryptid on the planet

Some proponents argue that sightings of this creature can be traced all the way back to St Columba, who according to his chronicler, St Adamnan 625 - 704 AD, had a somewhat successful confrontation with the animal in the River Ness, in 565 AD, in which he came upon the funeral of a man who had been injured, but not eaten it seems, by the monster and thereafter decided to send one of his followers into the river as bait. Whereupon, the beast made its appearance, was spiritually 'told off'' by the Great Saint, and fled from the poor baited disciple, as if dragged away, 'by an invisible rope!' Apart from a lesser-known priestly encounter with a monster in Lake Connaught or Lough Ree, in which Saint Mochua is actually the cause of a disciple being eaten by a monster and also his salvation from the beast; most other sightings of the water monsters of Loch Ness and other bodies of water, are less endowed in their ecclesiastical and historical credibility, but nevertheless, persist as legend and are, from time to time, still recorded in the annals of newspapers and local history books, up until the early part of the 20th Century.

We then, of course, come to the international breakthrough of Nessie knowledge and popularity, which begins shortly after a road is blasted into the hillside surrounding the loch; giving access to all and sundry, that was hitherto only available to those who travelled over the mountains on foot or who sailed the loch, by boat. The somewhat groupie-like hysteria that followed can easily be attributed to a growing international press and communications network accelerated almost certainly by wartime correspondence during the first world war and the alliances that remained so strong after its end and the race in Britain at that time, by several press barons, to enlarge their circulation along more humanistic lines, to sell to a larger, newly literate, working class. Within the following histrionic reception and inevitably profitable environment for the perpetrators of hoax, there are however some indefatigable sightings that, although disputed, are still pawed over meticulously today by some of the most evangelical sceptics and believers of our time!

Some of the most famous of these cases are of course without a doubt: The Spicer's road sighting, The Hugh Gray photo, The Arthur Grant road sighting, The Surgeon's photo, The Taylor Film, Peter McNab photo, Tim Dinsdale film, Wacked out Wizard and Hoaxer Mentor - Anthony Doc Shiels', muppet photo, Jonathan Bright's - Nessie Head, and so on and so forth.....!!!

The proponents of this discipline, 'sceptic' and 'believer' alike, have a proclivity for a golden age focus on the legendary evidence of yesterday and for trawling over the same empty waters of theory and philosophy regarding the origins of these creatures, or conversely, the international delirium, that according to some, causes the 'desiring' witness of this unusual animal, to magnify the otter, catfish, sturgeon, seal and eel, into creatures of 'dinosaurian' proportions!

What these 'experts', fail to see, whilst fighting over the ambiguity of past evidence, are the ongoing, corroborative sightings, year upon year, of large, unidentified animals that are regularly witnessed, photographed and filmed (albeit inconclusively) at Loch Ness, by persons from a diverse background of cultures, professions and gender.

What the witnesses report, regularly match several similar descriptions, which, largely exclude the regularly lauded list of monster impostors!

They are:

· A long neck, with a comparatively small head.

· A large animate hump, shaped like an upturned boat or several humps that undulate or change shape.

· 4 paddle-like flippers (that are sometimes clawed.)

· A large rounded body or conversely a long snakelike form.

· A powerful tail.

· Two horns or 'breathing tubes' on the head of some animals, (suspected to be either some type of breathing apparatus or more likely, a type of sexual dimorphism.)

· And, most conspicuously - A large animal of a 'dinosaurian' appearance, measuring anywhere between 12 to 40 feet in length!

Generally, in the Lake Monster/Sea Monster research community, the evangelical sceptic is king and this has unfortunately led to an acceptable climate of laughable alternatives, (or monster impostors) to stand in for the extraordinary creatures that are regularly reported, not only in Loch Ness but also in lakes and seas in diverse locations around the world.

Some of these comical stand-ins are:

· A giant sterile eel (measuring somewhere between 20 - 40 feet in length!)

· A giant, previously unknown, long-necked pinniped, (A rather conspicuous, air-breathing mammal!).

· A large Sturgeon (where's the neck on a sturgeon?).

· The (diminutive) Eurasian otter.

· The seal (grey, common, harbour - any species really!)

· A Wels Catfish (again, the absent long neck poses an issue.)

· My all-time favourite - A giant unknown animal, similar to a mudskipper, with a plesiosaur head and neck-like lure?????

The reader will I know, forgive the obvious vitriol and scorn which the author holds for such learned opinion, but, being unbound by popular paradigm and therefore enabled to examine the numerous descriptions of this animal, without recourse to ecumenical fervour; the massive body of anecdotal evidence seems to point clearly, in the direction of a previously thought to be extinct creature, of a suspected bygone era!

So, why do we preferentially pick and mix our tolerable prehistoric survivors? Why is it perfectly permissible to have an animal like the coelacanth or horseshoe crab living on in to our current era, relatively unchanged and yet have a different animal, like the plesiosaur, that has allegedly been witnessed thousands of times in our lakes and seas, subject to such derisory dismissal and explained away with the type of mental gymnastics that would put any flat-earther to shame?

I think this whole 'controversy' comes down to a 'size matters' philosophy, that seeks the dissolution of any convincing evidence of large (and therefore impressive) prehistoric survivors, living on in our modern era; and is essentially based upon an existential argument, that often descends into the debate on origins within cryptozoology, between the materialists and their other religious counterparts, the creationists. But, stepping away from these two warring camps, with their zealous denial of one another and looking at the cumulative and corroborative reports made for the most part by antagonistic and uninitiated witnesses from every walk of life, it would seem obvious that what we are dealing with here is a 'living dinosaur' of sorts. That is at least, an animal that belonged with the dinosaurs and one that is rendered as such, in many of its suspected haunts around the globe. One only has to look at representations of Champ, Ogopogo, Caddy, Nessie, Morag, Ishi and others like the Lepel Tsmok of Belarus, to see a uniformity, that is hard to pin down to the global permeating influence of Nessie culture, upon an unsuspecting and frail brained general public.


Over the last 84 + years, since the Loch Ness media explosion, Lake Monster research has taken many wonderful twists and turns and has had its fair share of glorious moments. The folklore & successes of its great men, now embellished, retold and re-spun for the digital age. But it is an ageing art, a dying discipline, whose language would be extinct, but for the tacky machinations of the tabloid press and the working-class masses who devour them.

All is not lost, however, and a fresh supply of oxygen is and has always been present in this genre. That life-giving breath is held within our modern sightings and the witnesses who lay claim to them. Nevertheless, it is time to close the book on the past of Loch Ness and start a new modern chapter on the steady trickle of sightings that are reported year on year; to discuss their commonality and how we can employ modern technology and theory upon the mode and habituation of these elusive beasts.


Written By Andrew McGrath

'IS ALL THIS CONTROVERSY REALLY NESSIE...SARY???' is an excerpt from my book
Beasts of Britain -  available here!