Does a monstrous red-eyed hybrid creature haunt a Cornish village? Reverend Lionel Fanthorpe explains the British countryside’s strangest tales The Spectred Isle
Mawnan Smith is an old village that lies to the west of Rosemullion Head, just a few miles south of Falmouth in Cornwall. Mawnan Wood is one of the most notable features of the area, and has become famous around the world following reports of a mysterious Owlman – a weird, half-bird half-human creature, reportedly spotted there on several occasions.
One of the earliest reports goes back to 1926, when the Cornish Echo reported that two boys were chased by what was described as a very large, ferocious bird. The lads took cover behind a steel grating, but the bird-like beast furiously continued to try to reach them through the grid.
Fifty years later, in 1976, two witnesses described an abnormally large bird resembling a giant owl flying over the tower of the 13th-century parish church of St Mawnan. Teenagers camping in the wood nearby reportedly heard strange hissing sounds and saw what they described as an owl as big as a man. It had burning red eyes and strange claws, shaped like two blacksmith’s pincers.
There were further sightings two years later, when the witnesses added that the huge bird-like thing was a silvery-grey colour. In 1989, a sighting by two more people described the Owlman as being at least 1.5m (5ft) tall, and the next report, from an American visitor in 1995, described sharp claws emanating from the Owlman’s vast wings.
Taking all the reports together, it would seem that something unusual, vaguely resembling a huge bird, was appearing spasmodically in the vicinity of St Mawnan’s Church, but surely monsters aren’t really on the hunt in our green and pleasant land? The church stands in the centre of a prehistoric earthwork, and some researchers have detected a ley line passing through the site. Sensitive and perceptive visitors have also described Mawnan Wood as being alive with energy. Could that natural earth energy be connected with the reports of the Owlman?
A natural explanation could point in the direction of the giant eagle owl, with a wingspan of close on 2m (6½ft). In the darkness of Mawnan Wood, even the most honest and careful witnesses could estimate such a bird as being bigger than it was. The references to the Owlman’s feet may also indicate a normal giant owl. The witnesses referred to its pincer-like toes, and owls’ feet are zygodactylic – two toes pointing backwards and two pointing forwards – which would give the impression of two pairs of pincers.
The mystery is similar to the Mothman of West Virginia in the USA, which was sighted in 1966. Like the strange Cornish entity, the Mothman was described as a humanoid figure with large wings. But whatever the origins of the Owlman, if you go down to Mawnan Wood today, you may be in for a surprise.