THEIR existence has been the centre of much debate over the decades, but some people claim to have witnessed big cats on the loose in south Cumbria.

Locally people have searched for the 'Beast of Cumbria' since the 2000s - a large, black, panther-like cat with piercing yellow eyes around 12 metres long. 

Most recently, in 2021, Claire Harvey fled a big cat on the Pike of Blisco which sits above Wrynose Pass and made an SOS call.

Roy Jackson, in 2018, set up an infra-red motion-activated camera at his home in Gatebeck, Kendal, after he believed he spotted it with a torch whilst walking his dog. Two days later, he managed to capture it with infa-red. 

In 2015, Nich Boden said he was hit by something and knocked out in woodland near to Tarn Hows Wood, between Coniston and Hawkshead. 

He claims he woke up half an hour later with no recollection but had bruises and a deep five-inch gouge on his left shoulder and what appears to be four claw marks on his forearm.

The Westmorland Gazette: Nich Boden, 26 of Hawkshead who received mysterious injuries while walking in Tarn Hows Wood. (32020403)

Sightings in south Cumbria in recent years include a video, captured in fields at Dalton in 2019, appearing to show a large black cat in the distance.

In 2018, a couple visiting South Walney Nature Reserve were left in shock after spotting what they believed was a big wild cat near the coastline. However, staff at a nearby reserve insisted it was just a "fat and fluffy feral cat".

Big cat enthusiast Sharon Larkin-Snowden also said in 2019 there were several sightings of two big cats hunting together in Kendal.

Ms Larkin-Snowden from Cockermouth, also sent off a deer jawbone found in the Lake District which had sharp teeth markings to a lab and also found a hair sample in Kendal confirmed as being from a leopard.

The Westmorland Gazette: SIGHTING: A photo reportedly showing a caracal spotted in the Lake District in 2020. Picture: 'Big Cats in Cumbria' Facebook page

Following a Freedom of Information request by this newspaper, South Cumbrian Residents described to police what they believed to 'a big cat hurting their sheep and roaming around' in March 2017.

Then in May of 2017, another resident reported they had "seen a black panther sat on a wall'.

A terror-stricken teacher also saw one the same year at Windermere Campsite on Ashes Lane, between Kendal and Staveley.

She spotted the large creature in the woodlands near Ratherheath Tarn which had just spooked two deer.

The same year, a dog walker was out on Whitbarrow National Nature Reserve when she saw a non-native black cat near the Lyth Valley country inn.

In 2006, walking enthusiast Graham Boyes was driving to his office in Barrow when he noticed a panther walking in a field at the end of Popplemire Lane, Old Hutton. 

In 2000, two landscape gardeners also spotted an athletic panther at Orrest Head, Troutbeck. Earlier in the day they had read a report in the Westmorland Gazette about two fresh sightings of large, black cats at Winster and Farleton.

The Westmorland Gazette: SIGHTING: Crook Road in Winster where Jeni saw a big, black cat