The sun was slipping into shadow as a chill wind whispered through the leafless, moss covered trees. There seemed to be a touch of wizardry at work in the fading light and falling air. The road to Molland Moor Gate across Anstey Common is long and undulating. It runs some miles east to west, cutting the moor in two with a roller coaster ride that cannot help but tempt the young to take a risk. Often little Exmoor ponies trot across the tarmac on unshod hooves, their leggy foals at foot inquisitive and playful. Sometimes a solitary raven rattles darkly overhead as she makes her lonely way home, and at this time of year, drifts of starlings stream across the sky in constantly mutating long black lines, that seem to play games with tired eyes. Sharper vision sees the outline of deer against the horizon; and so heralds dusk on Exmoor, and a life in the shadows begins to stir amongst the gorse and heather.
Last evening was as no other. 25 years walking the moors and I have never seen the like of it.
A black figure was spotted running fast and low against the golden, faded grasses. What was that?
A shiver of recognition, and an old forgotten fear becomes renewed. Awe of this ancient sight rooted my feet to the earth. I could not move.
A large herd of deer was up and running, crashing through the undergrowth, scything this way and that. The black figure easily outstripped them, cut through the panic, and sliced the herd in half. Some deer continued westwards and the others turned back on themselves in confusion. The inky black figure moved with great speed and agility. It was no dog that moved across the heather with such grace and purpose - it turned and twisted with all the precision and ease of what it truly was... a large, black cat.
She who carries her camera everywhere was frozen by the scene unfolding - unable to take her eyes from the gift of seeing this natural drama unfold in real time and space. By the time she reached for a photo... the creature had gone... lost into shadow, like the sun.
Three of us saw this creature last night, and all three are convinced it was indeed... the Beast of Exmoor.