Title: Roaring Dorset! Encounters with Big Cats
Author: Merrily Harpur
RRP: £4.99
Publication date: 1 Sep 2008
Format: 234 x 156 mm
Number of pages: 128
Illustrations: 37
Maps: 1

ISBN: 9781906651-015

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Are big cats roaming Dorset?     What's the evidence?     Have you seen one?

Reports of big cats roaming Britain now amount to hundreds each year, and Dorset is a hot-spot for sightings of these magnificent, elusive felines. This gripping study looks at the evidence and questions surrounding the big cat phenomenon. How do they defy capture and why are no bodies found? Merrily Harpur discusses the practical aspects in depth and offers more other-worldly explanations for the strange creatures. Whether you are a firm believer, open-minded or sceptical, this book brings together all the county's known sightings of these mysterious panther-, lynx- and puma-like animals, to help you make up your own mind. Merrily is a writer, cartoonist and illustrator. Her best-selling book Mystery Big Cats investigated the big cat phenomenon nationwide and received huge critical acclaim. Now she focuses on her home county of Dorset, location of some of the best, closest and most vivid encounters. 

The presence of anomalous big cats (ABCs for short) in our countryside is perhaps Britain's most intriguing mystery – and Dorset currently has the highest number of sightings per square mile than any other English county. These creatures first came to the notice of the media in the 1960s with sightings of big cats collectively known as the 'Surrey Puma', and in the 40 years since then, the annual number of sightings has increased hugely. It is now estimated to be running at somewhere between 1000 and 3000 a year countrywide. It is an astonishing thing to see what is unmistakably a big cat in the British landscape – more so in the tranquil Dorset countryside.

What Reviewers and Interviewers have said

‘It's more than 150 years since the first recorded sighting of a big cat in Dorset. Still, the possibility of large feline beasts continues to intrigue us and every few months a sighting prompts another cat flap as enthusiasts take to the trailways in search of a puma-like creature, or a panther hybrid. Then again, maybe it's an outsize lynx, a very big badger, or a supernatural sighting? The theories are almost as numerous as the sightings and a compelling new book manages to round up some enticing explanations, as well as providing a gazetteer of sightings and encounters with Anomalous Big Cats (ABCs) over the past decade or so … The book chronicles some 223 sightings across the county and includes several photographs of unexplained black creatures in fields. With accounts drawn from local newspapers and many first-hand interviews, Merrily goes to great lengths to stay objective and actually sets out the arguments both for and against the various theories that would explain the ABCs.’
Nick Churchill, Daily Echo

This book was a really interesting read, with a good introduction to what these big cats are and a map of where they have been seen across the county. The book is laid out with clear alphabetical listings, which make it very simple to check out the places you’re most interested in first. There are also some great personal accounts from witnesses, with extracts from local newspapers. What adds weight to the stories is that some of the tales are from police officers, teachers and wildlife experts.
Dorset Wildlife Trust Magazine

This book is in the form of a gazetteer so people can have fun looking up where they live and seeing what big cat sightings there have been … There have been big cat sightings in Dorset for a long time. And the ones that get reported are only the tip of the iceberg.
Dorset Echo

Harpur runs the Dorset Big Cats organisation and has collected hundreds of reports over the past few years. Here they all are, presented in a gazetteer of locations … The density of accounts is almost overwhelming and begs the question – if Dorset has this many big cats on the loose, how many exist in wilder parts of the UK? Harpur tackles questions of this sort in a useful end chapter on ‘Current Theories’. An essential purchase for big cat lovers.
Paranormal Magazine

‘More people are likely to see big cats in Dorset than any other county in England, an expert said today. Harpur has spent 10 years studying and recording sightings: ‘ … hundreds of normal people have seen these big cats much closer up. In Dorset, witnesses include police officers, game keepers, shepherds – people with a good understanding of what wildlife should and shouldn’t be there. They’re an unproved certainty … There’s been thousands of sightings throughout the United Kingdom. But Dorset is a hotspot for big cat sightings, even in broad daylight.’ Roaring Dorset! explores how the real mystery is where the felines come from. ‘We’ve had big clusters of sightings around Bridport, Weymouth and Dorchester.’ Mrs Harpur is keen to hear from anyone who has witnessed a big cat, especially with photographic evidence.’
Dorset Echo

‘One of the most fascinating books to come my way for years … It begins with a proposition that may startle you – that Dorset ‘is the county in which you are the most likely to encounter … a big cat’. It is third in the county ‘league table’ of sightings, just behind the more populous counties of Yorkshire and Lincolnshire .. The sightings described give an idea of the huge range of ordinary country people who have come into contact with ‘ABCs’ – anomalous big cats. These are people who are far from being of a rather nervous disposition and who might be prone to such things. They include sturdy country folk who are not at all disposed to have hallucinations.
And in case you think the author has stretched her material, the opposite is the case: she writes: ‘Please contact me if you feel I have unfairly excluded, for reasons of space, many reports of suspicious animal kills, footprints, roars and growls, eyes shining at night and so forth’. This fascinating book is published … at the very reasonable price of £4.99. Please get a copy before they all disappear like a cat in the night.’
George Willey, Swanage and Wareham Advertiser


Map of Sightings

Areas Covered in the Gazetteer
     Anomalous big cats - ABCs
     Reactions from other animals
     Where do ABCs come from?
     Where do ABCs go?
     Roars, growls and screams
     Classifying ABCs
     What are ABCs?
     Paw print comparisons

Gazetteer of Big Cat Sightings and Encounters
Current Theories
Select Bibliography


Dorset is the county in which you are, arguably, most likely to encounter an anomalous big cat – ABC for short. It is third in the county league table of sightings, just behind the bigger and more populous counties of Yorkshire and Lincolnshire – which means there are more sightings per head in the county than anywhere else in Britain. 

The sightings described in this book give an idea of the huge range of ordinary country people who have come into contact with ABCs – from farmers, gamekeepers and deer stalkers to police officers, commuters, teachers, taxi drivers and ramblers; in fact anyone strolling around the countryside might intriguingly glimpse one. 

This is not as alarming as it sounds, for British ABCs are very unlike the leopards, pumas and lynxes they are commonly assumed to be. They have differently coloured coats, are different shapes and sizes – and have very different manners and habits. Moreover, unlike big cats in their native countries it seems ours cannot be caught, or even photographed clearly; and although some have been implicated in livestock or deer kills, none has ever been known to attack human beings. In fact it is a truism among ABC researchers that if you want to be sure never to meet a British big cat, carry a camera. 

What are they then? That is a mystery that four decades of research has been unable to solve. As the magazine Fortean Times put it: 'The glimpse of an ABC is now Britain's commonest brush with the unknown’. I hope this book will provoke some speculation of your own, or at the very least change your view of a landscape that can produce such beautiful and elusive creatures. 

While Roaring Dorset! is the first serious and comprehensive book on the county's ABCs, it is primarily designed as an exciting read. I have kept the freshness and drama of the eyewitnesses' verbatim accounts, while the Introduction and Current Theories chapter offer some new perspectives on what is often an amazing and always a strange experience – one that is, paradoxically, very common.

Map of Sightings - 223 sightings/reports grouped into 81 areas

Areas Covered in the Gazetteer  (Number of sightings per area is in brackets)

1 - Abbotsbury (4)
2 - Ashley Heath
3 - Askerswell (3)
4 - Beaminster (4)
5 - Belchalwell
6 - Birdsmoorgate
7 - Blandford (5)
8 - Bothenhampton (3)
9 - Bournemouth (3)
10 - Bridport (7)
11 - Broadstone (2)
12 - Broadwindsor
13 - Bulbarrow Hill (2) 
14 - Burton (Hants) (2)
15 - Burton Bradstock (6)
16 - Canford Heath (2)
17 - Canford Magna
18 - Cattistock
19 - Charlton Down
20 - Charlton Marshall (2)
21 - Chideock 
22 - Corfe Mullen
23 - Corscombe
24 - Cranborne (5) 
25 - Crossways (6)
26 - Donhead St Mary (Wilts) (3)
27 - Dorchester (9) 

28 - Durweston (2)
29 - East Stour (2)
30 - Eype (2)
31 - Ferndown (4)
32 - Frampton & Southover (3)
33 - Hartland Moor (2)
34 - Hinton (Hants)
35 - Hurn, Airport (3)
36 - Kingston (Hants) (2)
37 - Lower Bockhampton (2) 
38 - Lulworth (5) 
39 - Lyme Regis (4)
40 - Lytchett Matravers (2)
41 - Maiden Newton (4)
42 - Mannington
43 - Martinstown
44 - Melcombe Bingham (2)
45 - Melplash (3)
46 - Merley
47 - Milton Abbas
48 - Mockbeggar (Hants)
49 - Monkton Wyld
50 - Mosterton
51 - Motcombe
52 - Netherbury (8)
53 - Nether Compton
54 - Osmington (2)

55 - Owermoigne (2)
56 - Piddletrenthide (3)
57 - Portland, Isle of (8)
58 - Powerstock (3)
59 - Purbeck, Isle of
60 - Rampisham
61 - Salway Ash
62 - Shaftesbury
63 - Sherborne (2)
64 - Shipton Gorge
65 - Sixpenny Handley (3)
66 - Stoke Abbott (4)
67 - Stourhead (Wilts)
68 - Stourpaine
69 - Studland (2)
70 - Sturminster Newton (4)
71 - Swanage
72 - Symondsbury (5)
73 - Tarrant Rushton
74 - Turnworth
75 - Wareham (10)
76 - West Bay
77 - Weymouth (10)
78 - Wimborne Minster (10)
79 - Winterbourne Abbas
80 - Wool (3)
81 - Yetminster (2)                 

The Author

  Merrily is a freelance cartoonist, illustrator and writer and has contributed regular cartoons and feature articles to The Guardian, The Financial Times, The Sunday Times, The Sunday Telegraph, Fortean Times, The Daily Mail, Private Eye, The Spectator, Country Living, The Field, Country Life and other British and Irish national publications. Her work currently appears weekly in the London Evening Standard. For the past 20 years she has divided her time between Dorset and County Roscommon in Ireland, where she co-founded the Strokestown International Poetry Festival, and of which she is Director. In 2002 she created the Dorset Big Cats Register with the aim of recording and publishing sightings of anomalous big cats in the county. She has published five previous books, of which the best-selling Mystery Big Cats (2006) investigated the big cat phenomenon nationwide and received huge critical acclaim. She has given talks on the subject in the USA and England, and on BBC Radio 4. In this book she turns her attention to her home county of Dorset, location of some of the closest and most vivid encounters with these elusive felines.

You can find out more about Merrily  at or for sightings go to

Useful Links

Dorset Big Cats Research Group - CLICK HERE  

Jonathan McGowan: ‘Every week I get reports’ – CLICK HERE to watch a BBC film.

Bournemouth Natural Science Society (BNSS) - contact Jonathan McGowan, your local Dorset wildlife and big cat expert.

Big Cats in Britain - for more information about big cat sightings throughout the UK.

Please CLICK HERE for ordering options