CROCODILE HUNTING IN THE MIDLANDS – Mark Martin’s initial investigations – AccountSaturday 16th January 2021
The twilight of Wednesday 19th June, found me returning to my flat on the outskirts of Sheffield. It was the first of three days off work. I’d been relaxing in my local pub, discussing wide and varied subjects with Joe, an Irishman of advanced years. The fine conversation, bonhomie and several pints of dry cider had left me within a bubble of warm and gentle contentment. I would complete my evening of unwinding with cans of Scrumpy Jack and a Monty Python video, but first I would have a quick click into MSN, just to see who was around. I found Jonathan Downes, who had been under the weather off late; I typed “How’s the health dude?” But had no chance of tapping the enter key. Jon clicked his own message through cyber space “How you fixed for an investigation?” Now, there was only ever going to be one answer to that question. I had joined the CFZ a few months previously and had met the boys at Fortean Times Unconvention. Ever since, I’d been itching to get involved in fieldwork. The words “Yup” and “tomorrow” zipped from my keyboard down the phone lines to CFZ headquarters.
For the next hour or so I cyber-chatted with Jonathan, Nick Redfern, and maybe one or two other fine people. I can’t recall precise details of the computerised chin-wag. A thick veil of delicious golden liquid, known as Scrumpy Jack cider obscures my memory.
The crux of the matter; JD wanted me to look into sightings of a Cryptid in Staffordshire. A local newspaper had splashed the story of a lake at Roman View, Churchbridge. According to witnesses this local beauty spot had somehow acquired a Fortean new resident: a seven-foot Crocodile.
I had just cracked open a fresh tube of cider, but it would have to stay un- supped. I had to be sober and hang over free by early next morning. The plan was to reach the mysterious lake in the early a.m. Thanks to various www. maps and a WH Smith road atlas the location and route were no problem. I assembled a Monster Hunter’s kit. Digital camera, trusty 10×50 binoculars, digital sound recorder and an EMF meter (more of this snazzy gadget later). The open can of cider was ceremoniously placed in the fridge; it would await my return (even though it would be utterly flat). However, the Monty Python video was switched on. Just for a while, it was abandoned for the land of nod, as the Knights who say “nee” were demanding a shrubbery. They too, would keep.
I expected it to be smaller. It was a rough oblong shape, at least 250, perhaps 300 yards long and about 80 to 100 yards wide. Much of its perimeter was bordered by reeds. Traffic hurtling along the busy A5, which followed the ancient Roman Road, Wattling Street was visible behind trees on the far bank. It was easy to get my self and car fairly close to the water via the quiet and attractive residential street, Roman View. A ramshackle wooden fence edged part of the lake. As I parked, a German shepherd and it’s owner casually breached it.
It was 7 am, I was at a cryptid haunted waterway, the only thing to do was to get on with it. I spent a good hour sitting on the bank scanning and scrutinising with the binos; much of the waterline was inaccessible due to the reeds. It would be difficult to circumnavigate the circumference, but I had to strike out and get my boots muddy. Being an open-minded bloke, the notion that the mystery beast may be Zooform Phenomena was not unacceptable. The lake was located just to the South of Cannock Chase Forrest. This Paranormal “window area” is known as the home of Yeti like Manbeasts and the site of an alleged UFO crash. If Zooform phenomena were present at the lake, there may be variations within the local Electromagnetic field. Such fluctuations are often recorded during incidences of Paranormal/ Supernatural activity. Including by my self at a haunted location on the edge of the Pennines, but that’s another story. To this end I was armed with a gadget to detect such weird deviations, the aforementioned EMF (Electro Motive Force) meter. The consensus opinion from the Ghost Hunting community is Spooks produce an Electromagnetic field of around 3 to 6 milli-gauss (quite a strong field). However, a figure has not yet been established for Zooform Phenomena, perhaps because the Zooform concept is so new. It was first described by Janet and Colin Bord in Alien Animals and defined by Jonathan Downes in The Owlman and Others. An EMF meter and a Zooform entity have not been in the same place at the same time. Not yet anyway. Maybe the CFZ will score a first with this? So, to this end, I kept the meter on a low scale, if a reading registered, I would move up through the range to get an accurate reading. However, the last few sentences may be a bit irrelevant; the meters scale hardly fluttered.
My reconnasence involved more than tinkering with electronic gizmos. I endeavoured to survey as much of the Lake as possible. I searched the bits of the shoreline that were accessible, for any Crocodilian prints or markings. I tried to spot any possible Crocodile “slides”, as described by that barking-mad Australian bloke. The one from early evening TV whose name escapes me. I studied the wall of reeds, peering into the green maze, scouring for a large reptilian shape. My fingertip hovered over the camera button. But no luck. After about four hours of questing I decided to head back to the car, and drive in search of food; Fortean investigations build an appetite.
A couple of dog walkers were encountered, both of whom were happy to chat. One believed the beast to be a big fish. This fellow was one of several local people who spoke of large fish in the lake, including Pike. The other dog owner proposed an entirely new theory to solve this cryptozoological conundrum. “Margaret Thatcher came up from London and went for a swim”.
I snacked on petrol station sandwiches, and returned to the lake to find the road partially blocked by what looked like a scale model of Jodrel Bank. I threaded my car past a large white van, a huge satellite dish bolted to its roof. It was a BBC Television outside broadcast unit. They were, of course looking into the Crocodile sightings. I chatted to the crew, “I’m a member of the Centre of Fortean Zoology, we investigate mystery animals. The CFZ is the largest and only professional organisation of its kind in the world…” The conversation progressed and resulted in an interview with their Anchorman, Ashley Blake.
He wanted to know if the mystery beast could be dangerous. I answered probably not, only if it was quite large and someone got very close. What should someone do if the saw the animal? The response to that one was easy: “Report it, straight away, at www.cfz.org.uk “. Of course the sixty four thousand dollar question, the crux of the matter, the reason I was there in the first place, “Could there really be a Crocodile loose in a small Staffordshire lake?” I answered thus: “Yes, it is, unfortunately, not unknown for people to have, large exotic pets such as Dwarf Crocodiles, Spectacled Caimans and Alligators, this is completely illegal of course. When they grow too large, or the novelty value wears off, they are dumped. It could also be the witnesses saw a large fish that looks reptilian. There is a particular fish, which is absolutely enormous, the Sturgeon, which can look like a Crocodile, especially from the top.” I based my comments on the original witnesses report to the local Police and RSPCA; they were five members of a local family.
John Mizzen, his Daughter Linda Charteris and his three young granddaughters encountered something which was large and alive. John had taken his family to the waters edge to feed a pair of Swans and their Cygnets. Following a substantial underwater commotion a head appeared on the surface. It scared the three children and unnerved Linda. John could only describe it in one way. Alligator. Both John and Linda thought it was after the Cygnets. Distracted by the frightened children Linda only saw it for a few seconds, but was insistent it was large dark coloured flat head, moving silently through the water. John had a longer look, and estimated that the body was five feet long and the tail two feet.
I do not think my statement that the Cygnet Cruncher possibly being a Sturgeon too unreasonable. We even have a precedent from Loch Ness Monster lore. Naturalist and Loch Ness ecology expert, Adrian Shine believes that misidentified Sturgeon could be Nessie herself, the Queen of all Monsters. He thinks they enter the Loch via the river Ness in search of mates. He supports his argument with a case from 1932. Miss K Macdonald saw an 8 foot long creature splashing up the river Ness. The description was remarkably similar to a Crocodile. Shine thinks that this “Crocodile” was in fact, a Sturgeon.
Our Cryptid, could of course, be exactly what John and Linda thought it was. As I’ve said it is not unknown for Crocodilians to be in this country (completely illegal, in contravention of the 1976 Dangerous Animals act, and sometimes, laws against exploiting endangered species).
Because of its relatively small size, African Dwarf Crocodiles (Osteolaemus tetraspis) have become popular the world over as novelty pets. An endangered species, from West and tropical Africa they grow to a maximum of about five feet. Ten of these were confiscated, very recently, by customs Officers at Heathrow airport. They were smuggled, on a flight from Nigeria, stuffed into sacks in the aircrafts hold. All ten animals survived.
The Speckled Caiman (Caiman Crocodilius) originates from South America and grows up to seven feet in length. In September 2002 Police and the RSPCA retrieved two such animals from a squalid Oldham council flat. Another story, sounding like the introduction to a joke, but true, is of a fellow who bought a “Lizard” in a sack, from a man in an Essex pub. The moron paid £20 and staggered home. Once sober he discovered he was the owner of a Speckled Caiman.
A five foot long American Alligator (Alligator mississippiensis), was found a few years ago in a spare bedroom in Chesterfield. The unfortunate animal had been kept in pond liner for years. After being rescued it was sent to a Norfolk Wildlife Park. The American Alligator is by far the largest of the Crocodilians I have mentioned here, the largest males grow up to about fifteen feet, and if tales spun by everglades moon shiners are to be believed, up to twenty feet, (although I’m not suggesting for one moment anything close to that size is at large in Roman View Lake).
There is another candidate, to match our Cryptids e-fit. Some thing struck a chord, in John and Linda’s account; it was the statement that the beast was after the Cygnets. This stirred a memory. Later in the day, after several local people told of large Pike (Esox lucius) in the lake, it came back. A couple or three decade ago, my Farther a keen and vastly experienced Angler, enthralled me with tales of this mighty predator. He told me that Pike pluck Wildfowl from the surface. Could a Pike be mistaken for a Crocodilian? I searched the triple double-u for Pike images, and was quite stunned by the remarkable similarity between a Pike and Crocs head. The eyes are on top; even the jaw line matches the sinister “Crocodile Smile”. But John said the animal was seven feet long, even allowing for a little adrenaline fuelled exaggeration, this would be a truly enormous specimen of E. lucius.
The largest officially recognised example weighed in at 67lb, (I can’t find any mention of its length, but according to the Pike Anglers Club of Great Britain, it would have been about five feet long). There are many claims of even bigger fish. Ireland, with its many ancient and largely undisturbed Loughs is home to numerous mammoth Pike legends. Claims of up to 90lbs have been made. There is one story from the Connamara region, in the North West of the country. It tells of a scuba diver who was terrified by a Pike, over six feet long.
The rest of my day a Roman View was spent chatting to local people, and watching the media Circus build up. By the end of the day there were three television crews. I met an Official from Dudley Zoo. A marvellous chap named Dr Dave Beeston. I spent some time chatting to Dave; he leant towards the creature being a large fish and even commented “I wish I’d brought my fishing tackle”. Although Dave did agree that John and Linda’s description sounded Crocodilian. I was of lucky enough to meet John Mizzen and Linda Charteris. I would like to take this opportunity to offer them my absolute gratitude. Both were kind enough to speak into my recorder (these recordings are now on the CFZ website). John and Linda struck me as totally sincere and sensible witnesses. Their concerns were for the welfare of the local Wildlife, and they had no interest in publicity seeking. John told of other witnesses. Two schoolboys, who had been playing truant, had seen the creature at close range, on the shoreline. Also, a shift worker, up for work at dawn, saw it swimming through the water from Roman View.
I headed back to Yorkshire after twelve hours at the Lake. Ideas churning in my head. Croc, Alligator, Fish or Zooform? Fort only knows. I reached the M1 about 8 pm. I was completely knackered and immensely hungry. My thoughts turned from Crypids to a hot bath, the Monty Python tape and flat (but cold) Scrumpy Jack. I would be home soon. I had been on the M1 for a few moments, when the traffic ground to a halt. Stopped dead. And it started to rain. The Knights who say “nee” and my cider would have to wait a little longer.
A few days later, I had a phone call. It was Ashley Blake, the BBC presenter who had interviewed me. “Hello, Mark, what do you think of the Video…of the Crocodile, in the Lake…”
A man by the name of Mr Price had taken some video footage of something strange in Roman View Lake. Later, I spoke to Linda Charteris. She watched the footage on Central TVs lunch time bulletin, she said it showed a Crocodile and looked like what she and John had seen.
It seemed that Fortean Zoology’s days at Roman View Lake were not yet done.
BBC TV Midlands Today anchor man Ashley Blake
Linda and Her Daughters
The Media Frenzy which increasingly seems to surround mystery animal reports
There is nothing like a fortean happening to amuse the kids