On the Hunt for the British Bigfoot
Bigfoot is as American as hot dog eating contests, Elvis and the tragic reluctance to sit down and have a constructive conversation about gun control. But type "British Bigfoot sightings" into Google and you'll be shown a map of the British Isles that is barely visible beneath the dots and dashes of where the legendary cryptid has allegedly been sighted. Something is out there… maybe.
Photographer Harry Rose spent two years of his life researching and walking the terrain allegedly shared with Bigfoot, compiling a photo project he intends to exhibit soon. Here's what he learned.
VICE: Hello, Harry. Why devote two years of your life to finding British Bigfoot?
Harry Rose: There's a few reasons. Initially it was because I hadn't seen a Bigfoot photo project out there. There's loads on ghosts and paranormal stuff, but nothing about Bigfoot where it's just a guy with a camera in the woods taking photos – but also because I love all that scary stuff. I'm very much a kid of the 80s rather than the 90s. I grew up with Stephen King and science fiction and all the rest of it. Also, for my final project at university I'd done a really heavy project on where my dad's ashes were, and after that, Bigfoot just felt open and fun.
So you've decided to do the project, what's next?
Well, through social media and Reddit I basically met these people who think Bigfoot exists in the British Isles. I spent about a year just observing and watching what was going on in their forum, very conscious that I was a photographer and I didn't want them to think I was invading their space. Then, after a while, I reached out. Initially they were very guarded. There are rules of engagement they brief you on, and you kind of have to go with it or it messes up your chances of anyone speaking to you. The first thing I was told was that they don't like outsiders. One rule was that you can't talk about American Bigfoot with them. The two communities don't get on. The Americans' view is that Britain isn't big enough to sustain a Bigfoot population and it's ridiculous that British people might think it exists here. The counter argument is that "our Bigfoot is slightly smaller, so you can have more of them here".
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What unites these people, do you think?
They all claim to have seen Bigfoot, normally as a child. Their belief is that Bigfoot only makes itself known to children because they're not intimidated by them. In all cases, it's an experience that's really shaped who they grew up to be. It's sort of like a book club or something. Originally I wanted my project to be portrait-led, and I was really interested in taking photos of these people, but none of them wanted their faces to be part of that. Which was hard, because it ended up being a photo project where nobody would have their photo taken, and it was about a creature that there's no photos of! I think they didn't want their photo taken because they were scared of ridicule. Some of them had jobs like lawyers and doctors, and I'm not sure they felt like they wanted to identify themselves. It's a secretive group. Often in discussions on the forum they'd delete comments after posting them. All of this only made me want to know more, to be honest.
This group is based in North Wales. The majority of British Bigfoot sightings have been in Scotland, no?
Yeah, but I knew Wales really well from going on holidays as kid, and this group of Bigfoot enthusiasts that I'd been talking to had pulled together an impressive amount of research there. Also, there'd been some campers who'd gone missing in that area in 1988. They never found the bodies, and the eeriness of that appealed to me. There's loads of folklore in that area about children who'd gone missing in the woods and livestock that had been killed. It's the area where the legend of The Grey King persists – this entity that comes down from the mountain Cader Idris. Why not pitch a tent and go live there for a while on your own?
What was that like?
It drives you insane. After day four I was talking to myself. I spooked myself something unreal. I was seeing stuff that wasn't there. The area I was camping in had 40 Bigfoot sightings in five years, which is a lot for such a small area. I'd read and watched so much about Bigfoot prior to going there, and so my mind was full of the worst possible scenarios for everything. I saw loads of dead sheep. I saw a field full of dead sheep. Fortunately, I know that happens in lambing season because there's so much that can go wrong with a sheep's pregnancy, and a few years back they had a terrible season. It was still completely eerie seeing it, given where I was and where my head was at then, though.
Was there any point where you thought, 'Hang on, there might be something in this'?
The last visit I made to the area. I went with my mum and my sister and my ex. We were walking a track where people said they'd heard weird noises, where dogs wouldn't go, and as I was setting up my camera to take a photo this log was thrown from above me. It was an unbelievable noise, like lightning. It was terrifying. At that moment, I thought, 'This is Bigfoot.' I 100 percent expected to turn around and see something stood behind me. Then I heard movement from where the log had come from. I grabbed my camera and ran faster than I ever had before. I still haven't made sense of what that could have been.
Not as weird as when I started getting sent stuff – well, my mum was anyway, because I gave out her address. I was getting sent rocks and twigs, from people who'd collected this stuff as evidence, and then one day I got this big parcel and inside was a Bigfoot foot cast. No idea where it came from, no return to sender. The community of people I was speaking to were desperate to get it tested. Apparently there's never been a British Bigfoot cast before, which I thought was a bit convenient; I turn up, start asking for people to send me things, and then one suddenly appears. But there are some people who specialise in animal tracks who have looked at it.
How have the British Bigfoot community responded to your photo project now that it's done?
They've distanced themselves from it. I think they were genuinely upset that I didn't manage to get a photo of Bigfoot! I also think they didn't and don't like that I made the project public. They were fine with me until I made it live on my website. I think they think I'm trying to make money out of Bigfoot, like I'm going to get famous out of this. I just wanted to document this interesting community of people. They were genuinely nice people – I just think they had a level of ownership on Bigfoot that I think was too much for them to share. It was a shame it ended like that.
See more of Harry's work here.