The cryptid that became known as the ‘Beast of Green Drive’ is a relatively new addition to the collection of strange creatures said to originate in Lancashire. Also referred to as the Beast of Lytham, the animal was sighted by a number of residents over a period of nearly a month in May 2005, before apparently disappearing again. An additional sighting in 2007 lead to one possible explanation for the identity of the beast, but questions still remain.
Lytham is a small coastal town on the edge of the Irish Sea, part of the wider Fylde Coast conurbation that also includes Blackpool. Best known outside of Lancashire as a host of golf’s Open Championship, Lytham is a particularly affluent and desirable area to live, certainly compared to its larger neighbour. Green Drive is a private road that runs close to the edge of the town, crossing farms and woodland before finishing at Green Drive Golf Club (not to be confused with its more illustrious neighbour, Royal Lytham). This dense woodland was reported in 2005 to be the home of a strange creature, described by witnesses as being around the size of a border collie but with large ears, pale fur, a strangely enlarged mouth and unusual loping gait.
One of the first eyewitness accounts was from local woman Sandra Sturrock, who spoke to local paper the Lytham St Annes Express to describe her encounter. Walking her dog along Green Drive, she had come face to face with a strange creature, describing it as possessing ‘large, sticking-up ears’. The creature reportedly stood and calmly watched her for several minutes, prompting her to call over her dog and put it on its lead. On attempting to inch closer to the animal for a closer look, it turned and disappeared into the dense scrub. On approaching the spot where it had stood, she described her dog as ‘going mad, sniffing around the area’.
Local decorator Willie Davidson was another of the early witnesses to speak with the Express. Playing bowls close to Green Drive, he claimed to have heard a ‘snarl’ behind him, turning around to see the animal. His somewhat fantastical account described it as looking ‘like a monster out of Doctor Who, and it needs to be tracked down’.
The story quickly gathered attention from national papers, and more witnesses came forward to describe their own sightings of the beast. One woman, who claimed to have seen the animal in fields off Green Drive, stated that it appeared similar to both a dog and a hare, but definitely not belonging to either species. Liverpool-based illustrator Sam Shearon produced an illustration of the creature based on witness descriptions, which was widely circulated in media. Staff from Chester Zoo examined the illustration but were unable to shed any light on any known species that it might have depicted. No photographic evidence of the beast has ever emerged.
Two popular theories were put forward to explain the beast. The first was that the animal was a misidentified muntjac deer. Originating in South Asia, muntjacs are now a common invasive species across the UK, and the owner of nearby Lytham Hall was known to have imported a small herd for the grounds a century earlier. Notably, muntjac possess a pair of pronounced upper canine tusks that protrude from their mouth, possibly accounting for descriptions that likened it to a monster. It could be that a small population had survived from that original herd. A wild muntjac from the wider invasive population is also a possibility, however they are only slowly spreading north from a stronghold in southern England, and while increasingly common today it is unlikely one would have reached Lancashire by 2005.
The second theory was that the creature was a fox, with the unusual descriptions being the result of a serious case of mange. A skin disease caused by parasitic mites, mange causes hair loss and serious skin infections. After new sightings of the beast were reported in 2007, a fox with mange was indeed captured by RSPCA inspectors after being found by a local woman in her home. The elderly animal was put to sleep on the advice of vets due to the severity of its condition, and local papers reported the case as being the sad demise of the beast.
While the animal was described by the RSPCA collection officer as the oldest fox he had ever encountered, meaning it was easily old enough to have been around two years prior, such a severe case of mange means it is unlikely to have survived that period of time. Even if the mange had become more severe, one would assume it must have been fairly advanced at the time of the early sightings for so many witnesses to fail to identify it as a fox.
Feature Image: An artist’s impression of the Beast. Image: Sam Shearon