The mystery of the Wild Man of the woods

AS AUTUMN thins the leaves of the oak trees and hazel coppices of Yellowham Woods, the ancient woodland adjacent to Puddletown Forest, just outside of Dorchester, this could very well be the best time of year to spot what purports to be Dorset’s answer to Bigfoot!

The simian-like creature of American folklore, otherwise known as Sasquatch, has long been a staple of the ‘Wild Men’ stories found among the indigenous peoples of the Pacific Northwest Coast. Said to inhabit the forests of that region, with sightings spread throughout North America however, Bigfoot is now something of a phenomenon in popular culture, yet he may have a British cousin…

Legends of large, hairy, bipedal creatures are prevalent amongst many different cultures around the world, hence Bigfoot having so many different names; the Yeti stalks the regions around the Himalayas, sometimes called the Abominable Snowman, while the Yeren lives in the forests of China.

Closer to home, however, tales of the ‘Woodwose’, or Wild Man, said to inhabit the forests of Europe, have been doing the rounds since pre-Christian times.

A mythical figure akin to the enduring leafy ‘Green Man’ of English folklore, the Woodwose appears in the artwork and literature of medieval Europe. Often likened to Silvanus, the Roman god of the woodlands, from the 12th century, these wild men, and indeed wild women were consistently depicted as being covered with hair, a defining characteristic of their ‘wildness’, as one would expect!

The scientific community typically attributes such sightings to either hoaxes or misidentification of known animals, with the tracks of black bears often posited as an explanation, yet while the American black bear is the world’s most common bear species, the bears inhabiting the wild woods of our Isles became extinct around 1,000 years ago. So what monstrous creature is it that still lurks the environs of Yellowham Wood today, less than four miles from Dorchester town?

It was said that the Woodwoses who frequented the woodlands around Yellowham Hill, savage, hairy, humanoid creatures, were more than partial to carrying off maidens from the nearby villages, and their convenient existence, not to mention their penchant for virgins was, in the past, often cited as probable cause for many young ladies who might have found themselves in a compromising position.

Folklorist Aubrey L Parke, who preserved a rich and varied collection of stories passed down from previous generations of Dorset villagers, recounted the case of one expectant, but unmarried mother, who, on being brought before the Dorchester Magistrates, laid the blame for her condition squarely with the Woodwose, exclaiming “Please your worshipfuls, ‘twere the Wild Man of Yal’ham.”

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