Posted: Sat Mar 14, 2009
A mysterious set of tracks bearing an eerie resemblance to the legendary "Devil's footprints" which appeared in Devon more than 150 years ago is being investigated.
A pensioner was perplexed to find pointed, hoof-like marks in freshly fallen snow at her home in Woolsery, North Devon, so she called in the experts from the Centre for Fortean Zoology (CFZ). The organisation, based near Bideford, specialises in looking into unexplained sightings.
They quickly recognised that the clearly defined tracks bore striking similarities to those which appeared across South Devon in February 1855. According to some reports, the so-called Devil's footprints covered a trail of about 100 miles. The unexplained phenomenon became known as the Great Devon Mystery. Now it seems the puzzle has been resurrected, after the new tracks appeared on March 5, leaving investigators flummoxed.
He said it was unusual to get snow in the Westcountry at all, but tracks that appear on white ground look different to those left in mud, because of the different consistency. The tracks crossed the garden before returning in the same direction, before frustratingly disappearing in an area with no snow cover.
Jonathan Downes, who runs the centre, is investigating whether the footprints could have been left by hare or rabbits hopping on their hind legs, perhaps as a combination of both the snow and spring mating hormones. He said: "Thousands of people across the world believe in the paranormal, but so far every single thing we have looked into has turned out to have a natural explanation. I'm sure these will as well."
He said the Devil's Footprint myth emerged at a time when many South Devon parishioners were angry at the clergy for changing the standard prayer book. When the tracks appeared, they blamed vicars for letting the devil in to their communities.
"It was a piece of local politics which had nothing whatsoever to do with the paranormal," Mr Downes said. Asked if he believes in the paranormal, Mr Downes said: "Do I believe that the Devil comes from the pits of Hell to wander around the gardens of North Devon? Of course not. But if you're asking if there are things that can't be explained by modern science, then yes. But 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."
The CFZ is kept busy in North Devon alone, with sightings of beasts and large cats wandering the moors. But Mr Downes has travelled the world on his investigations, and now boasts 400 members in the organisation.
Graham Inglis, the biologist who visited the garden, said: "This is certainly a first for me."
The Devil's Footprints is a name given to a peculiar phenomenon that occurred in Devon, England, in 1855: after a light snowfall, trails of hoof-like marks appeared in the snow, following primarily straight lines for over 100 miles. The footprints were so called because some superstitious people believed that the footprints were the tracks of Satan, as they were allegedly made by a cloven hoof. Many theories have been put forward to explain the incident, and some aspects of its veracity have also been called into question.
On the night of 8-9 February 1855 and one or two later nights, after a light snowfall, a series of hoof-like marks appeared in the snow. These footprints, measuring 1.5 to 2.5 inches wide and eight inches apart, continued throughout the countryside for a total of over 100 miles, and, although veering at various points, for the greater part of their course followed straight lines. Houses, rivers, haystacks and other obstacles were travelled straight over, and footprints appeared on the tops of snow-covered roofs and high walls which lay in the footprints' path, as well as leading up to and exiting various drain pipes of as small as a four inch diameter.
The area in which the prints appeared extended from Exmouth, up to Topsham, and across the river Exe to Dawlish and Teignmouth. R.H. Busk, in an article published in Notes and Queries decades later, stated that footprints also appeared further afield, as far south as Totnes and Torquay, and that there were other reports of the prints further afield in Weymouth (Dorset) and even Lincolnshire. In each case, the prints would go on for miles and miles before abruptly stopping.
There were also attendant rumours about sightings of a "devil-like figure" in the Devon area during the scare. Many townspeople armed themselves and attempted to track down the beast responsible, without success.
Things unexplained, legends, UFO's etc
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