Once dominated by cotton and wool mills, the village of Uppermill in Oldham is now dominated by something completely different altogether: drama surrounding a goose.
Two geese, named Harry and Hilary, have become so deeply associated with the Saddleworth village for the last 20 years that there are even signs for the pair.
So, when rumours began circulating online that Harry the goose had disappeared, it was enough to send locals into a spiral.
One resident took to the village’s local Facebook page at the weekend to report there could be something sinister – akin to a plot likely once featured on The Bill at some point – at play behind Harry’s shock departure: a bird-napping.
The resident said: “Two women were seen bundling one of the Willow Bank geese into the back of a car.
“They were heard to say they were ‘taking him to live on the canal’ before they drove off.”
People could not believe it. Who would steal Harry? And where had he been taken?
One resident who lives in the area, and who asked not to be named, said both Harry and Hilary have gained a fair bit of notoriety locally and were regularly seen at the Willow Bank brook.
“They are a couple of characters,” they outlined.
“They’ll sit in the middle of the road and stare at the cars and honk at them. They’re quite well known around here really.
“It’s Harry – the youngest of the two – who has gone missing.”
Thankfully, the rumours of Harry being stolen by mysterious goose-thieves were soon squashed.
Sadly, however, they were replaced with concerning reports that he had instead been taken ill.
Providing an update, a resident said a woman at a local rescue centre was now looking after Harry the goose.
The resident posted: “She thinks he’s had a stroke. Struggling to see now. He’s eaten loads, honking. Much better.
“He won’t be able to go back to the pond as his feathers can’t cope. So she is going to keep him.
“She has her own. She’s going to source another goose today from the guy who originally put the other two on the pond.”
But as soon as the update landed, there was another sad rumour circulating: Harry had possibly caught pneumonia instead.
“There’s two of them and they’ve been in the area for about 20 years now,” a resident told the M.E.N.
“I imagine 20 years is pretty good innings for a goose but as I understand it, Harry was getting a bit poorly over the weekend and wasn’t acting his usual self.
“There’s a wildlife centre in Diggle and it sounds like he’s got pneumonia which means he can’t go back to the pond.
“They’re looking at keeping him there. But apparently they live in pairs forever, so the other goose seems to be fairly distraught.
“The other goose was getting stones thrown at it by school children this morning, which I gave them a bit of a telling off about.
“It’s not really what you should be doing – especially when it’s clearly showing signs of upset.”
Other residents also reported seeing Hilary wailing beside the pond and walking around the village in the search for Harry.
Thankfully, there’s a happy ending to the saga.
Gemma Dumbill, who runs a Helping Hands dog care in the nearby area of Diggle and also looks after injured animals in her spare time, has since taken in Harry.
“One of the local residents gave me a ring to say he wasn’t looking too good,” Gemma told the M.E.N.
“I went to see him and his head was going under the water, so I think he’s been out in the really bad weather for a long time and taken a turn for the worse.
“I jumped into the water and pulled him out. My husband was absolutely terrified of him biting him, but I kept saying how he was in no condition to bite anyone!
“We put him on a hot water bottle and he’s slowly been able to turn around.
His feathers are not oil-tight anymore so he absorbs water instead of floating on the top of it, but he’s getting much better day-by-day.
“I don’t think he would have lasted much longer if we hadn’t got there.”
Gemma, who lives on a private farm, says Harry has been enjoying spending time with her other animals including ducks, turkeys and chickens.
“He loves the ducks,” she explains.
“He’s not so sure of the turkeys yet.”
Gemma has now even been able to ensure that both Harry and Hilary can be reunited with one another.
“I went back to the pond the next day and Hilary just ran up to me,” she added.
“She must have known. They’ve both back at the farm now settling into their new surroundings. They’ve got a heated room where they’re being looked after.”
Gemma also confirmed she was one of the mysterious women seen ‘bundling’ Harry into the car – although she says her husband has not yet been able to see the funny side of being reported as the other ‘woman’.
“When I first saw that post, it made me laugh the most when they said it was two women,” she said.
“People just judge but they don’t know, but apparently he looks like a woman now!”
Despite Harry’s illness, it’s a happier ending to a saga which started with dark, sinister rumours of a kidnap.
In fact, if anything, it’s now only cemented Harry and Hilary’s status as complete celebrity icons in the village of Uppermill.
They even now have their own Facebook page.
“I started the page as I wanted to keep people updated with how they were getting on,” Gemma adds.
“I’ll be sharing everything they get up to on the farm!”
You can keep up to date with Harry and Hilary’s journey on Facebook.
There is also a fundraiser to help Gemma buy food and supplies for the geese and the other animals on the farm here.