CROCODILE HUNTING IN THE MIDLANDS – Wilf’s Account of the ExpeditionSaturday 16th January 2021
I arrived at the sight of our investigations late in the afternoon of Monday 21st June. The pool, too small to be a lake and too big for a pond? seemed, on first view, to be totally incongruous to our search. It was overlooked by a very pleasant-looking row of 70’s style houses on one side and a busy trunk road, complete with the ubiquitous Sainsbury’s on the other. Do they still sell Crocodile steaks?
I couldn’t really imagine a crocodile living in such a tranquil (if you fade out the road noise) setting. The Swans and half-grown cygnets seemed totally comfortable with our presence. The other water birds only added to the serenity of the scene. Having said that, as a Fortean I keep an open mind (I can often feel the draft!) and found that the idea of a crocodile in such an alien setting really appealed to me. (I’m the guy who thinks that the best horror films are set on a lovely sunny day, rather than on a dark and stormy night)
Mark Martin brought me up to speed with the story very graciously, despite my derogatory remarks about his use of the English language, and was able to answer my, probably rather obvious, questions with great aplomb.
Following this Jon and Richard briefed the team on the background and our plan of action. At first it appeared that we were to be acting without the permission of the landowner, as an exhaustive search (including the land registry) had been fruitless.
One local, walking two lovely dogs, launched into a well-meaning but ill-informed bout of invective against “Shortfuse” Freeman, a man famed throughout the crypto world for his calm and unflappable demeanor. Jon managed to split the two up before they needed World Wrestling Federation (as was) contracts and I was licked to death by one of the angry Brummie’s dogs. I think it was perhaps an otter hound. Probably not a croc hound. Why, and I can say this as most of my family live in the Black Country, are there few things funnier than an angry Brummy?
Anyway, I digress. Jon calmed the illegal combatants down, explained that we were not of the “Richard & Judy” school, but were primarily concerned with the welfare of our toothsome friend. This made the dog walking Brummy much happier. Hands were shaken and tentative moves for hugs were only narrowly averted. The now cheery Brummy breezed off with his two dogs and a copy of Animals and Men. Never one to miss a chance, our Jon. I took a few minutes to allow the dog spittle to run out of my ear as our briefings continued.
Soon after a very friendly and accommodating lady arrived to announce that her family had rented the pool and the surrounding land for their horses for 28 years. When she heard our honourable intentions she very graciously gave permission for us to investigate freely. Buoyed by this, Jon decided we should also put guidelines across the pool, to make it easier for the inflatable boat to manoeuvre and also to offer points of reference on the water.
After listening to Mark, Richard and Jon as well as John Mizzen, the original witness who came to see what we were planning, I felt that it was conceivable that something may well have been in the pool almost a month previously, when the first sightings had been made, but I felt it probable that whatever had been there would have sensibly scooted with all the attendant publicity. We soon discovered a sluice channel. (Which, we were to learn, ostensibly linked this pool with others)
I was assigned to the “Away Team” (I know!) and we (Richard, Chris, Neil, Peter and myself) set off to map the reed beds and areas surrounding the lake. As we moved clockwise around the pool, we quickly discovered a large area in the reeds that had been flattened and seemed to have been some sort of a nest/basking area. The area was obviously accessed from the water, with a small area of reeds bent away from the water allowing something to leave the pool there. The reeds on the bank were bent in a spiral pattern, as if flattened by the type of circling motion a dog would make when settling in a basket/nest. However this area of flattened reeds was pretty big (4 feet across?). My obvious thought, especially as the area around the reeds was intact and the only break in the circle was that to the water, was that it was an area created by one of the swans on the pool. However, contrary to the other Swan “nests” we found, there were no feathers, no Swan scat and this area was a fair size bigger than the others. No proof of anything, but interesting nonetheless.
As we moved around the pool I stopped on the opposite side to the “Command Post”. The rest of the team moved on after a short stop to scan the pool from the bank. I thought that I saw something, so I stayed where I was and kept looking. Within about 10 minutes I saw a small dark bump clear the surface perhaps 40 feet away from me and then disappear again. Soon afterwards it reappeared in the same area, moving from right to left. This time perhaps a foot or so behind the first bump a second appeared. I did see this as a Crocodile snout and eye ridge, then I looked again and felt it was much more likely to be a dorsal fin and tail. (Later observation and investigation showed that the pool has a good population of fish and especially pretty sizeable Carp.
If I hadn’t been looking for a Crocodile, I would never have thought I was looking at one. I would have certainly thought it was a fish before anything else. A cautionary tale!
After charting one side of the pool we returned to base and then repeated the exercise on the other half of the pool. (A marshy area on the far bank had prevented us going all the way round in one action.) As we did, we flagged out areas for the boat to investigate from the water.
At the far end of the pool we investigated the sluice channel further. John Mizzen, who had rejoined us, told us that there was a chain of pools connected by this stream, with our pool at the end. We also learned that there was an Equine slaughterhouse, just across the road, which supplied food to zoos. It also appeared that they had been losing some of their meat from storage tanks. I suggested that Richard and I look into this later on.
We returned to base and went for some tea until it got dark enough for us to use our spotlights to try and “Lamp” the croc by shining the lights on his/her highly reflective eyes.
The sausage and chips which Jon kindly bought me were the most foul I have ever tasted and subsequently they quickly ended up in the bin.
So, as I had time to kill while the rest of the guys forced their tea down their throats, I went back to recce the Slaughterhouse. It was right next to the road and opposite the pool. It looked like a fairly low rent operation, but had at least one friendly looking Alsation on the loose, so I didn’t investigate further.
A little further (1/4 mile?) down the road on the left was a large culvert which had been recently developed and extended due to the large amount of construction going on in the area. It resembled a smaller version of one of those large open storm drains like where the Truck/Motorbike chase takes place in Terminator 2. However it was mud/clay in construction with wide open banks and would therefore offer good track identification options. There was a good deal of water in the culvert. It was a few feet deep and with a reasonable current. I could see something on the bank a long way off (200 feet) and got the impression it was about the size of a badger. I couldn’t easily get closer, so decided to return to the pub and the rest of the guys. I looked but couldn’t see any of the professed other pools.
I had to drive up the road to turn around and as I drove back I passed a Koi Carp Farm on the side of the pool, no more than ½ a mile from it. A food source?
I returned to the pub, finding a poster for “Operation Crocodile” anti car theft scheme on the wall and briefed the group. We decided not to take it any further that night but Richard would check the area out in the light.
We returned to the pool around 9pm and spent the next 3 hours or so looking fruitlessly for reflections in the water.
I left for home just after midnight. I had to be at work the next day, so my involvement in this operation ended there.
I thoroughly enjoyed my time in Cannock and although we found no Crocodile, I felt there was a credible case for it having been present and then having done a runner, or at least a waddler.
However, perhaps my abiding memory of this slightly surreal experience was during the evening when we were “Lamping” the lake. Jon decided that the inflatable boat we were using was insufficient for our needs. Without a trace of irony Jon spoke into the radio: “We’re gonna have to get a bigger boat”.