IT‘S about this time of year many of us start dreaming of distant shores and summer holidays.
In recent years the ‘staycation’ has become popular with many opting to forgo jetting off abroad in favour of a destination closer to home.
They say travel broadens the mind. True – but you don’t necessarily need to travel thousands of miles to find that special somewhere. All of us have been to a place which has struck a chord for one reason or another, the memory of which stays with us for a variety of reasons – as our reporting team discovered when they pondered on a place which meant something to them.
THE FIELDS and woodlands which join Studley and Redditch are home to a mysterious creature.
As a child, my friends and I made it our mission to find the infamous Astwood Bank black panther rumoured to stalk the Warwickshire and Worcestershire border.
The lair of the creature, which we dubbed ‘The Panther Place’ is one of my favourite places – reminding me of some of my best times and bringing back memories of the utterly ridiculous and cringe-worthy situations we found ourselves in when attempting to hunt this local legend.
Our story began on a summer’s afternoon with my best friend and I walking her grandmother’s elderly dog in the little village where I grew up.
Well, I say little, but it is actually supposed to be the biggest ‘village’ in the UK – a fact I always like to remind people.
Out the corner of my eye, I spotted a huge, black slinky creature – moving faster than any dog or domestic cat could – race across the neighbouring field.
My heart pounding, I called to my friend and she turned just in time to catch a glimpse of it disappearing into bushes.
We raced back to her grandmother’s house to tell her about our encounter and later discovered we were not the only ones who had spotted the legendary big cat.
According to local tales, other dog walkers had also spotted the creature as had people whose homes backed onto the fields – some even boasting they had captured pictures of the beast on CCTV.
The next day, we told our classmates what had happened. Needless to say they did not believe a word.
In a bid to prove ourselves right, we organised to meet six others after school to go ‘panther hunting’.
Soon it became a weekly tradition to spend hours nervously traipsing through the fields.
On one occasion we found a sheep which had been ripped from limb to limb.
While with hindsight the predator responsible for this poor sheep could have been something else, but at the time we chose to believe this was evidence of the panther’s existence.
Our suspicions were further confirmed by a tree covered with ‘claw marks’ – obviously the creature’s scratching post – and the mysterious large hole in a tree covered slope which was, of course, his lair.
Looking back, I realise our conclusion was utterly ridiculous and I think even then I should have known better.
We were so impressed with ourselves for finding this ‘Panther Hole’ that we boasted to our classmates at school the next day.
Our tale caught the attention of one pupil, a scout, who was quick to inform us that panthers did not live in holes.
Determined to prove him wrong, he joined us on our next hunt, only to take one look at our ‘big cat hole’ before bursting into tears of laughter.
Our ‘Panther Hole’ was, in fact, a badger set.
Red-faced, we soon realised how silly we had all been and laughed it off.
Our panther hunt was sadly cut short by a friend who, in a bid to have a closer look at the hole, cut her leg open on a piece of glass.
That was until a few years later when we had all left school and were in college.
Sat atop a hill looking over the fields two of our non-believer friends from the group spotted a large black figure moving nearby.
When the creature looked at them they saw two yellow, green eyes stare at them through the darkness before disappearing again.
I’ll admit this is also not concrete evidence, but we believe the Astwood Bank black panther is real.
We are also thankful that we were not very good panther hunters, otherwise we could have ended up like that sheep.