Phil was pottering around in the garden yesterday and found this strange creature on the path outside our shed door. He immediately called me over to take a look and we proceeded to be a little freaked out by what it was. It was clearly some kind of caterpillar but the head looked a bit snake like and it had a spike at the rear end. We don't ever remember seeing anything quite as alien looking before. We took a photo and carefully placed it into the undergrowth at the back of the garden.
An Internet search today revealed that this is far from an alien species and indeed a very common garden visitor. It is the caterpillar of an Elephant Hawk Moth; one of the UK's largest caterpillars which can grow up to 8cms. This one was pretty much that size.
This weird character will hopefully find somewhere to bury itself under the soil and wait out the winter before eventually turning into a beautiful pink and green moth from May onwards. The Hawk Moth species are apparently the only type of moth that hover in front of flowers to feed like hummingbirds. We shall certainly be looking out for this moth next summer now (although presumably they feed at night so that might be tricky!).
For further reading, I found the Natural History Museum one of the most informative.