WHEN floods struck Oxfordshire three years ago, a family feared they had lost their feline friend once and for all.

Ginger-and-white tomcat Fudge went missing when torrential rain hit the county in 2007 and was presumed dead by owners Steve and Maggie Blake, of Barratts Row, in Wendlebury, near Biecster.

But that was until a call from an animal rescue centre – 160 miles away in Manchester.

Mr Blake was settling down to watch England’s first game in the World Cup against USA when he learned Fudge was alive and well.

The 11-year-old cat had not drowned in the floods, but was strolling around the streets of Sale instead.

Mr Blake, who inherited Fudge after his father Ivor died in 2003, had long since given up on the pet.

He said: “It was about three years ago in the July and the village was flooded.

“He went out the night before the floods came and we never saw him again.

“I spent a couple of days in the fields in wellies looking for him, but found no sign of him.”

But, three years later, the Society for Abandoned Animals, in Stretford, Manchester, called to say they had picked up Fudge and found a microchip which led them to Oxfordshire.

Mr Blake said: “When I told the rest of the family they were gobsmacked.

“Fudge has always been a soppy cat, so we decided to take a trip to Manchester to pick him up.”

Once home, Mr and Mrs Blake were advised to keep Fudge indoors for a week to allow him to get used to being home.

But after the first night, and persistent miaows, they let him out.

Mr Blake said: “He disappeared again, but about three or four hours later he trotted down the garden. He knew where he was.”

The family do not know much about Fudge’s life for the past three years, but think he has probably used up some of his nine lives.

Mr Blake said: “We think there was a lady in Manchester who fed him over the freezing winter. We had a horrendous winter here, so I’m sure it was much worse up there.

“They nicknamed him ‘Hardy’ at the rescue centre because he survived the harsh winter.”

Mr Blake believes the freewheeling moggy could have unwittingly hitched a lift to Manchester after taking cover from the rain in a van, or lorry parked near the M40.

He said: “He would sleep anywhere and probably just woke up and got out.

“We don’t know what he’s been doing for the last three years. It’s just one of those strange thing. We didn’t expect to see him again.

“I don’t think it bothered him too much. He is pretty content.”

Andy Thorne, of the Society for Abandoned Animals, said: “When the vet found the chip we were able to contact the microchip people and contact the family.

“It was quite rare that Fudge had come from so far away.”