Report from Chris Smith
NB the prints seen by Mr Clark were probably made by a domestic cat
AN ABERDEEN man yesterday added to accounts of a mystery Beast of Bennachie.
School-bus driver Doug Riley said he had recently seen a big cat near Aberdeenshire's landmark hill.
The sighting was near Blairdaff, not far from where Kemnay joinery-business owner Steven Clark said he saw a big cat on Thursday.
Mr Clark - who admitted he had been sceptical about previous rumours of a massive Beast of Bennachie - came close to the animal and was able to measure its tracks in freshly fallen snow.
He is now convinced a big cat - or several - are living on the densely wooded hill.
"He is quite right," said Mr Riley yesterday. "There is something up there on Bennachie."
He said he was driving Kemnay youngsters home just before Christmas when he saw the big cat crossing the country route.
"It was broad daylight and the animal was just in front of me," Mr Riley, 59, said. "I was so amazed, I just stopped the bus and stared at it.
"It was a beautiful beast, about the size of my old labrador dog, and jet black. It just walked across with its long tail looped down on the road."
Making sure the children still aboard were secure on the bus, Mr Riley went out and watched as the black animal made off into dense woodland about 40 yards away.
"It just loped along, not walking at all like an ordinary cat. It was so lithe and its coat shiny.
"I am a real outdoor lover - that is why I love my job on the rural routes - and do a lot of fishing and hillwalking," said Mr Riley.
"It was broad daylight and this animal was close and clear as anything.
"I have seen wildcats before and this was nothing like that. It was far bigger and more like a puma. I can substantiate just what the Kemnay man saw. It disappeared into the woods without a trace or a sound and it does tally exactly with the big cat that he spotted this week just further along the road."
He added: "It was a superb sight, and not the sort of thing you forget. There has been a lot of talk about the big cats locally, and there is no doubt about it - there is something out there."
Mr Clark, 37, was driving a firm's van near the Bennachie Centre when he saw the animal.
He was approaching Woodend of Braco crossroads on the side road and spotted the massive cat less than 50 yards ahead.
He got out of his van to look at the animal's 3in pawprints.
Using his tape measure, he measured 14in between each print, and 42in from the front to rear paw marks in the snow.
Experts who are collating sightings of mystery big cats throughout the country were interested in the latest incident.
Similar animals were spotted last month in Torphins, Banchory, Stonehaven and Insch.
But the pawprints were said to be inconclusive in proving on their own whether the Bennachie animal was a puma or panther, or a cross between a wildcat and a domestic animal.
23 rd February 2002
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