A BIG cat enthusiast has had his say after a woman claimed she had come face to face with what she believed to be a panther in the Lake District.

Danny Bamping was speaking after 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 her sighting on Pike of Blisco, which sits above Wrynose Pass, was ‘the most terrifying experience’ of her life.

Danny Bamping, founder of the British Big Cats Society, the aim of which is to catalogue and protect ‘the big cats that freely roam the British countryside’, said he did not think the public needed to be frightened, despite Miss Harvey's experience.

“The cat’s going to steer clear of humans,” said Mr Bamping, 47.

“We are their only threat, since they are top of the food chain.”

He said a camera with a trigger to automatically activate it without human intervention would probably be the best way of capturing any big cats in Britain.

And he had advice for anyone who found themselves in Miss Harvey’s situation.

“Stand still,” he said.

“Get your phone out and take a video and take lots of pictures.

“In America, they tell people not to run away from cougars.”

Miss Harvey, a stay-at-home mum, had the frightening experience 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 big, black 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.

Miss Harvey said taking a picture of the animal was ‘the last thing on my mind’.

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.”