WEIRD NORFOLK: "I saw a monster. I thought it would bite my face off" - the woman determined to catalogue monster sightings
PUBLISHED: 18:00 02 November 2019 | UPDATED: 10:58 04 November 2019
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More evidence has been received about the Wildman of Watton, Bigfoot of the Forest, the Beast of the A1075, whatever you choose to call the creature that many have seen stalking through the trees near Thetford: Weird Norfolk talked to the woman compiling their stories.
It was supposed to be a fun afternoon bunking off school, a stolen afternoon where the end-of-dinner bell saw Deborah and her friend sneak away to a local park. But, in her own words, that impulsive choice to skip school was "the worst decision I ever made" and led to a life-long search for a terrifying creature which she saw face-to-face in 1982 in an encounter which has scarred her for life.
"We headed for a kind of country park which had a butterfly house and next to it was a sensory garden for the blind which was full of these beautifully scented flowers, it was a magical place for kids, really overgrown and out of the way," said Deborah Hatswell, who lives in Manchester. "I was an ordinary girl living in a northern town and I led an ordinary life. There I was with my friend, lying on the floor laughing our heads off like kids do, so pleased to have bunked off. Then I saw it."
Deborah is a Bigfoot researcher, head of the British Bigfoot Research Group and the compiler and creator of the British Bigfoot Map. Her 37-year research project into the wildmen of the woods began, she says, as a necessary way to process what happened to her when she was 15. "We were lying there next to this massive rhododendron bush and suddenly I caught a movement out of the corner of my eye, just a shadow, and then I saw a face. I can remember it as if I was looking at it right now," she said. "It was a monster of huge proportions with massive jaw muscles and very square teeth and a huge brow that looked like a man and an ape had been squashed together as one. He had dark hair all over, where the sun caught him it looked auburn, a reddy-brown colour. It was huge - about 10ft tall, I thought at first.
"I jumped to my feet, as did my friend, and I'm afraid to say that I pushed her to the floor in the hope that he would get her first and not me, and I ran away screaming and crying. I thought it was going to bite my face off. I got home and my Mum thought that a man had got me in the park, I was hysterical, I thought he was going to get me, I wouldn't leave the house for two days. I was utterly traumatised. It took me 32 years to go back to that park. My dad was really understanding, he said he recognised that I was incredibly frightened but my Mum tried to play it down - said that it must have been someone messing around. But I knew that it wasn't someone in a mask, or someone having a laugh. I knew what it wasn't, but what I didn't know was what it was."
And so began a lifelong search for a creature that few people believed she had seen, a search that began with a dispiriting trip to the local library where she asked for information about British Wildmen, creatures that lived in the woods or in wooded areas. The librarian immediately told Deborah she could help. "I thought 'oh thank God! I'm going to find out what it was that I saw!' and then she handed me a copy of Stig of the Dump."
Desperate to validate what she saw, Deborah began to reach out to find other people with similar stories, posting newspaper personal advertisements and asking for information on CB radio. And the stories began to pour in. "I thought to myself 'how many other people like me are out there? People who aren't believed, people who are frightened, people who need someone to talk to?' I wanted to give them somewhere they could tell their stories without judgement," she said. "There are so many people who have seen something they can't explain."
Some of those sightings have been here in Norfolk, including more than a dozen accounts of large, unexplained creatures in Thetford Forest, including some recent reports from 2017, 2018 and this year. "Norfolk does seem to be a real hotspot for sightings," said Deborah, "the last report was around six months ago and we've sent investigators there to look into what could be in the forest at Thetford. I have never met a witness yet that really wanted to see the creatures they've encountered again. It changes people's lives. And these are stories that have been with us for centuries - look at the Green Men you see carved in churches, or the woodwose. These creatures have always been here. People say that I was lucky to see what I did but I don't feel lucky. No one believed what had happened to me and I became 'the girl that sees monsters'. I tried to hide from it for a very long time, but as I've got older, I don't care what people think.
"When I finally went back to the park where I'd seen the creature that terrified me so much in 2015, I realised that I'd made it seem far taller in my mind than it actually was, but even so, what I saw would have been around seven feet tall. You don't put yourself forward for ridicule unless you're secure in knowing that what you saw was real. I have become the voice for other people who are too scared to tell their stories because people will laugh at them.
"I've spoken to soldiers, police officers, all sorts of people who have seen these wildmen. I don't know what people are seeing, I don't have any explanations, all I can do is record what they see and where.
"I know what I saw was really there, I know it wasn't human. And I know that these sightings are coming in from across the whole country and that lots are from your area in Norfolk. This is happening. It is real. They are there."
* If you have a sighting to report to Deborah, contact her via www.ukwildman.blogspot.com
Recent sightings in Thetford:
"Myself and my girlfriend have had some strange things happen to us while driving around Thetford Forest between September and October 2018," writes a witness. "We had a series of strange events and things have happened that we have a hard time explaining. We have had stones that seem to be thrown at the car from the treeline, at one time hitting the roof and on another chipping the windscreen, we even had a metal bolt thrown at the car from the trees…"
From September 1 onwards, a couple driving along the roads near Thetford Forest saw a number of shining eyes in their headlights at levels too high to be deer and their car was 'attacked' by flying objects including stones, rocks and a metal bolt.
On September 18, curious as to what was happening, the pair visited the forest at night and shone torches into the woodline: "…the torch seemed to startle something, as that moment there was a loud noise of twigs snapping and something moving away from our lights, which sounded quite loud with the twigs snapping and breaking. As we kept driving, my girlfriend said that whatever 'it' was, sounded as if it was running alongside the car and keeping up with us from within the forest. We were driving at around 10 to 15 miles an hour."
Deborah said: "I have been able to see some seasonal changes happening in the research and there does seem to be a pattern. In many of the smaller woods and forests from October to early March there seems to be a quiet time, a time when nothing changes and all inhabitants seems to have gone.
"Thetford Forest has a clustser of other accounts over a 30 year period, some call it the Thetford Baboon, others say the Thetford Upright Bear, but regardless of the name, one thing never changes, no one can quite put a name to the creature that people see out there. I'm sure there will be activity again at Thetford, in fact I'd bet my best waterproofs on it."
* Weird Norfolk has previously reported on the so-called Beast of the A1075 - find out more here
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