Weird Norfolk: The Norfolk Puma spotted at Congham

Former landlord of the Anvil Inn, Rob Boulter, who with three other witnesses at the Congham pub, n

Former landlord of the Anvil Inn, Rob Boulter, who with three other witnesses at the Congham pub, near King's Lynn, says he saw a "panther" in the field near the pub in 2001. PICTURE: JOHN HOCKNELL - Credit: Eastern Counties Newspapers

We've heard of the Beast of Cumbria and the Creature of Cornwall, but what about the Cat of Congham?

Norfolk boasts the UK record for big cat sightings with more people than anywhere else in the country reporting seeing cats as large as leopards, panthers and jaguars loping through the county's countryside, villages, towns and even the city centre of Norwich.

It would be easy, though, to take the sighting of a big cat by customers and staff at a Congham watering hole The Anvil with a pinch of salt and a slice of lemon.

But those who saw the long, dark-coloured creature slinking through a field next to the pub's car park as they enjoyed a lunchtime pint in May 2001 were adamant that what they had seen was no domestic moggy – all four witnesses believed they'd seen the infamous Norfolk Puma.

'I was in the restaurant talking to a couple of customers when I saw it,' said former landlord Rob Boulter, 'I just drifted off mid-conversation. I couldn't believe it and we went outside to have a look'

Mr Boulter, barmaid Hannah Gries and two customers agreed that what they had seen was larger than a domestic cat or dog.

'We have had a lot of stick from some people because it was sighted at a pub, but there was no mistaking it. There was no way it could have been a dog or a cat – you could tell by its tail.'

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Mr Boulter raced to get his binoculars and caught a five-second glimpse of the big cat in detail: 'looking at it close up, it wasn't jet black but a very, very dark brown,' he told the Eastern Daily Press, 'when I reported it to police, they told me that other big cat sightings have been around dawn and dusk, so it's unusual to see it in broad daylight.

'The fact that there were three other witnesses make it a good sighting. I wasn't scared of it but I just couldn't believe it.'

After putting in a brief appearance, the cat turned on its (long) tail and headed off across a field – Mr Boulter added that there had been talk in the village of rabbits being killed and the EDP noted a rumour that gamekeepers in the area were said to be on a mission to trap the animal.

Just days later, families with young children and pet owners were warned to be on their guard after another spate of big cat sightings in West Norfolk.

A pair of big cats on the prowl were spotted in woods at Wormegay and Shouldham and at neighbouring Blackborough End – locals said that the cats had been spotted in the area since the Christmas of 2000 and the animals were described as being larger than Alsatian dogs and of panther-like appearance with large tails and claws: they are said to move at speed and to have killed a dog in the early hours of a recent morning.

Bob Engledow, joint co-ordinator of the Norwich-based Operation Big Cat – an organisation that had been tracking sightings for decades – said he thought the pair were likely to be a mother and her cub, because a male and female would only spend a week together before parting.

He added: 'They are like your domestic cat. They sleep about 16 hours during the day, they hunt during the night and they are seen at dusk and dawn. People need to keep their animals indoors because they are going to attack cats and dogs as well.'

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