Written by Sarah-May Smith-Reed
It was a cold February evening, 1855. The ground was covered after a heavy snowfall and the population of Devon, England, kept warm during the night, unaware of the mystery about to develop on their doorstep. Whilst the Exe Estuary slept, did the Devil descend (or ascend?) upon Southern England? Did the villagers find The Devil’s Footprints?
A trail, spanning 100 miles, of cloven hoof-like prints was to be discovered the following morning, that to this day, remain unexplained. These footprints measured at four inches long and three inches wide, walked in single file and were recorded in more than thirty locations across Devon. If at any point the footprints came to an obstacle, they simply travelled straight over it! Houses, walls, rivers, they were even seen to stop at drainpipes and continue on to rooftops; nothing seemed to challenge the perpetrator!
People were most unnerved by the footprints that seemed to come right to their doorsteps before backtracking again, and of course a religious undertone was beginning to surface. The footprints seemed to clear the snow completely to the ground, giving the impression that they had been burned into the snow. Villagers blamed a local church for changing the prayer book and thus, inviting sin back in to the Village, The Prince of Darkness Himself, treading his Hell-fire hooves in the snow as punishment.
Within days the story had made national news, and in an article in The Times, the footprints were described as “more like that of a biped than a quadruped, and the steps were generally eight inches in advance of each other. The impressions of the feet closely resembled that of a donkey’s shoe, and measured from an inch and a half to two and a half inches across.”
This excerpt from ‘The Illustrated London News’ still yet offers no explanation to the footprints;
“The gardens with high fences or walls, and gates locked, were equally visited as those open and unprotected. Now, when we consider the distance that must have been gone over to have left these marks – I must say in almost every garden, on door-steps, through to the extensive woods of Luscombe, upon commons, in enclosures and farms – the actual progress must have exceeded a hundred miles.”
It’s safe to say, people refused to leave their homes for fear that they’d come in to contact with Lucifer himself, and the theories that began to surface didn’t do much to sate their anxieties.
My favourite of these theories is that a Kangaroo escaped from a nearby private Zoo and made its one hundred mile long journey, never to be seen again, but the most believed theory is that of a rogue weather-balloon (isn’t almost everything unexplainable accredited to weather balloons?) that travelled the distance with its anchor trailing the floor. If this was the case, surely it would have been found when it no doubt eventually tangled itself in a tree or pole?
We’ll likely never receive an explanation for this now over a century and a half old legend, as luck would have it, the footprints returned March 5th, 2009 in Woolsery, Devon!
Jill Wade of Woolsery, Devon, awoke on the morning of March 5th to discover the above cloven-hoof-prints in her garden, without a single other mark in the snow surrounding them. Experts were called immediately at the Centre for Fortean Zoology who inspected the prints that matched those from 1855, and eight years on, we still await an explanation. Jonathan Downes, who runs the centre investigated a theory as to whether or not the prints could have been left by rabbits or hares hopping on their hind legs. Downes said “Human knowledge is expanding all the time. I believe that things that are currently put down to the paranormal will one day be explained by science.”
We seem to cover this subject at a spiritual level, throwing down the paranormal assumption of a demonic entity, but what I haven’t found covered is that of another bipedal creature. Could this phenomena have actually been created by an undocumented British animal? Or even a local Cryptid such as Owlman or the Beast Of Bodmin?
Whichever is the case, 162 years after the first occurrence, we are no closer to understanding or explaining these mysterious footprints.
Did the Devil really go down to Devon?