CM.com - Dr Bob Sharp, 64, is the retired head of the department of sports studies at Strathclyde University. He was part of the team that put together Scotland’s first degree in outdoor education. He has also been involved in mountain rescue for 33 years, 12 of them as leader of the Lomond mountain rescue team.
Recently appointed to the role of statistician for the Mountain Rescue Committee of Scotland, he is a former chairman of the Scottish Mountain Safety Forum, has served as director of what is is now Mountain Leader Training Scotland, and was a vice-president of the Mountaineering Council of Scotland.
He completed a round of the Munros in 1991, and has spent a lot of time on the hill over the years. And he describes himself as “an evidence-based person”, someone who is “not prone to delusions or quick, uninformed decisions”.
All of which is relevant, in a “reliable witness” way, to what happened on the morning of Thursday, 22 April, in the Campsies, north of Glasgow.
Sharp was out for a walk up Meikle Bin: the second-highest hill in the area, an excellent viewpoint, and a popular half-day leg-stretch.
He started, as most people do, at Todholes at the west end of the Carron Valley Reservoir. Much of the hill is afforested, and the route is an easy stroll along tracks. High up, a path heads up through the last of the trees and follows the north-west ridge to the 570-metre summit.
Conditions were good – dry, with a cloudbase well above the summit – and there was no one else around. The only other walkers met were near the parking area. A perfectly ordinary outing – until, on the final slope, “between 480 and 500 metres”, it became memorable and puzzling.
“At a point where the slope relents,” Sharp wrote in an email to friends and colleagues the next day, “I saw a large animal running from left to right about 20 metres away. My brain tried to fit its shape to that of a fox but failed miserably. The animal I saw was, for all intents and purposes, a female lion. It was not a sheep, cow, deer, badger, fox, hare, wildcat, otter, etc.
“It was beige/brown in colour, had chunky, fur-covered legs, a long tail and rounded-off ears. It was large, at least four to five feet long, and it moved just like a female African lion. I followed it as it ran towards the treeline, then it was gone in about ten seconds.”
Anticipating the scepticism that such sightings tend to provoke, and true to his scientific background, Sharp added: “I was not drinking at the time, or high on drugs. Nor was I hypothermic, ill or fatigued. Just strolling along minding my own business when all of a sudden this big cat appeared.”
Asked a few days later if he had seen the creature again when he came to descend the hill, Sharp said: “I returned the same way and dropped down to the treeline where it was heading, but saw nothing. I should have looked for possible pawprints, but it never entered my head.” (He didn’t have a camera with him.)
Was he scared of it? And did the creature appear scared of him? “Neither. I just recall being puzzled and surprised that it was an animal so unusual and out of place.” The creature made no noise, and headed westward into the trees.
Afterwards, Sharp contacted Simon Jones, a manager with the Scottish Wildlife Trust. Jones was of the opinion that “such a sighting would be unusual but still possible”.
Asked whether he had ever seen anything like this before, in three-and-a-half decades of Scottish hillgoing, Sharp says “Never.”
The incident occurred at grid reference NS664824, less then ten miles from the northern edge of Scotland’s largest city. Needless to say, Bob Sharp would be interested to hear any theories people might have about this – and also whether there have been similar sightings and reports in the area.
Scottish Hiker Observes Female African Lion in the Campsie Fells