Friday, 20 March 2009

Back-dating the Somerset Cat.

On Monday, I went on a field trip. Field trips in Geology are a common occurrence; what better way to learn about rocks than to get out there and look? We were off to a place called Vallis Vale in East Somerset, the site of an unconformity. An unconformity occurs when sediments are laid down, folded so the beds lie at an angle, and then eroded.
Younger sediments form on top of the old sediment in typical straight beds, and an unconformity is created. They are only visible when falling sea levels and colliding continents cause the unconformity to rise above “normal” ground level.
Cutting by a river or quarrying also helps. You can see in the photo the different dips of the beds. The beds themselves can be dated by looking at the fossils within them; the rock below is from the Carboniferous period, and the rock above is from the Jurassic. This site is geologically important as it was described in the world's first Geological Survey memoir in 1846 and helped establish the science. Anyway...


In the minibus on the way up, through the sounds of Rush’s “2112”, I overheard my teacher talking to the lad sat in the front seat that he had seen a “black panther” crossing this road at night. I realised where we were, and found that we were about 800m from the field in which the big cat has been killing dozens of sheep! Hooray!

The next day I stayed behind to ask him about it. He said he had been driving along the road at about 2145 to take his son’s babysitter home, when out of a wood on the left this Labrador walked out onto the road. He stopped to see if it was ok (clearly a dog walking around on its own is a cause for concern), but it suddenly dawned on him that it was a big cat. He stopped the car and watched the cat watch him. It carried on it’s way to the right, and he can remember clearly pressing the button to wind the window up; just in case.

He also said that his first encounter of big cats (or rather, something) happened at around the same time when climbing in Cheddar Gorge. He was getting up to the top of the ridge in an area where no people go because it is very heavily wooded. He got to the top of the ridge, and found an area of scraped ground with a large mound of foul smelling dung deposited inside. He didn’t recognise it as being something he was familiar, but he left it due to the difficulties in getting it back down again.

My teacher is not unknowledgable when it comes to animals; parts of teaching geology necessitate a good knowledge of the natural world, and I would take his account as highly credible. The diagnostic features he remembers are; very long thin tail, jet black colour (“such that if it was hidden in bracken or a ditch, you could come within 3ft of it and not notice it was there” he said), slightly pointed ears and a very calm demeanour. It’s total length was about 2m long.

This is all very interesting, but there was one more thing. The sighting happened 14 years ago.

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