A WALKER has recounted her terror at coming face-to-face with what she believes was a panther in the Lake District.

Claire Harvey said she saw the creature twice in the space of a number of minutes - the second time no more than six metres away.

Miss Harvey said it was ‘the most terrifying experience’ of her life.

“It was just stood there looking at me, and its tail was up, swishing,” she said.

The stay-at-home mum was on her way down Pike of Blisco, which sits above Wrynose Pass, during a solo walk on Sunday.

It was at around 6pm that she says she sighted the big cat for the first time - around 100 yards away.

“When I first saw it, I thought ‘oh my god, this can’t be real’,” said Miss Harvey, 37.

“I quickly ran behind this rock.

“I was panicking, thinking ‘I hope it doesn’t see me’.

“I actually thought it was going to maul me to death.”

Miss Harvey said she waited a couple of minutes. With no sign of the big cat, and with nearby sheep still grazing, apparently undisturbed, she began to doubt what she had seen.

She says she continued with her walk down the mountain but, just a minute later, she encountered the cat for a second time, at much closer quarters. She estimates it was around four feet in height.

“It came down one embankment and then it stood underneath the other one [embankment],” said Miss Harvey, of Old Hutton, near Kendal.

She described slowly making her way back up the hill before ‘legging it’ when she had put some distance between herself and the animal.

She said the only way down was the path along which she had seen the big cat so, in desperation, she made an ‘SOS’ call using her phone.

She described being told over the phone to calm down and that there was nothing up there with her.

“I was in a meltdown, I was bawling my eyes out, I was hysterical,” she said.

She eventually resolved to ‘pull myself together’ and started down the mountain again, staying as close to the crag as she could.

The potential existence of big cats in Cumbria is not something she had seriously considered before.

“I have never really put any thought into it,” she said.

And she had a firm message for any sceptics who doubted her experience.

“You can say this, that or whatever you want but I know what I definitely saw,” she said.

“I know what I was face to face with.”