I live in Bolton, Lancashire, and a big, black cat has been spotted in the town.

Obviously, it's been dubbed "The Beast of Bolton."

From today's Bolton Evening News -

Have you seen the Beast of Bolton?
By Saiqa Chaudhari

From the Bolton Evening News on Good Friday, 2006

A BIG black cat has been spotted prowling through woods in Bolton.

The panther-like animal was spotted by keen horse rider Julie Foster, who said she could not believe her eyes.

Police and the RSPCA have been informed about the sighting at the bottom of Old Hall Lane, part of Darcy Lever Woods, and have officially logged the incident.

Mrs Foster, aged 39, a district nurse at Farnworth Health Centre, spotted the creature during a her regular ride with her horse, Bracken, at 4pm on Tuesday.

She said: "I was out riding next to an enclosed field, when my horse became startled and stopped.

"I looked at what it was staring at and 20 metres away was a big cat. I love animals and was elated.

"I couldn't believe what I was seeing.

"But I watched it for a minute and it was definitely a panther-like cat.

"It was as big as a German Shepherd dog, black and sleek with a snake-like tail, and quite beautiful. It was gliding like cats do.

"Some people sniggered when I told them, but quite a few have read reports of sightings of such animals in the country."

Kathy Kay, the administrator of the Bolton branch of the RSPCA, said: "Reports like this should not be ignored or laughed at. I have friends in that area I will be warning them.

"There are black cat reports across the country. If the sighting is genuine, I would urge young riders and walkers to be careful.

"The area will be well used over the Easter holidays, and although I do not want to alarm anyone, I would ask children with small ponies to be aware.

"Although I cannot explain the sighting, it could be a cat has wandered in to the area for a better environment."

The latest report from the British Big Cats Society revealed that there were 2,123 sighting of such creatures between April, 2004, and July, 2005.

Almost 60 per cent of all sightings reported were of black cats, and 32 per cent of brown or sandy coloured animals, which the society believes to be pumas. Six per cent were lynx-type cats.

The top locations for sightings were Devon, Cornwall and Somerset.

Danny Bamping, spokesman for the society, said: "The description this woman gives perfectly fits the profile of a black panther, or a melanistic leopard as they are sometimes known, which is basically a leopard with a black gene.

"We have had one other sighting in the Darcy Lever area in the past few years, along with reports of big cats being seen at the Wayoh reservoir in Turton, and in the Farnworth area.

"There is also a plaster cast footprint, believed to have been taken from a big cat in Belmont a few years ago, which is on display at Bolton Museum.

"I think people now accept that there is something out there because of the number of reports we are getting and that can only be a good thing."