The Devil's Footprints
On a cold Snowy February 1855 a strange event occurred through both East and South Devon that is still often mentioned to this day, that event would become known as the Devil's footprints. After a night of heavy snowfall the areas around Exe Estuary woke to a strange sight, a series of hoof like foot prints could be seen they stretched for between some 40-100 miles crossing gardens and roof tops. The explanation for this if lore is to believed is that the residents of East and South Devon were visited by the devil that wintery night as he wandered through the county plotting some nefarious deeds no doubt and all that was left as the witness were his cloven hoof marks.
The hoof prints were traced over haystacks, through walls and even roofs this was certainly not the works of the local wildlife unless deer and horses can climb and pass through solid objects. The Times described the prints as 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."
One of the only contemporary accounts taken was not discovered until nearly 100 years later and belonged to that of Reverend H. T. Ellacombe the then Vicar of Clyst St. George in the letter to the Illustrated London News marked 'not for publication' he wrote:
“The marks which appeared on the snow (which lay very thinly on the ground at the time), and which were seen on Friday morning, to all appearances, were the perfect impression of a donkey’s hoof – the length 4 inches by 2 ¾ inches; but instead of progressing as that animal would have done (or indeed as any other would have done), feet right and left, it appeared that foot had followed foot, in a single line; the distance from each tread being eight inches, or rather more – the foot-marks in every parish being exactly the same size, and the steps the same length.”
Comments like these must have played on the locals minds and they became more convinced that the hoof prints were caused by Satan himself, this belief was increased due to the foot prints travelling clear through to the ground underneath much like if a hot cattle brand or 'the devils burning hot hooves' melting the snow to the ground.
There have been many attempts to explain this occurrence through rational and natural means be it man or beast. One of the more accepted is that some kind of experimental balloon was released by accident from Devonport Dockyard and the trailing chain made the prints with the shape of the chain in the snow resembling hoof prints. Other more outlandish claims were that a kangaroo had escaped from a private zoo in Sidmouth which was owned by a Mr Fische.
Most other theories have also revolved around animals including that of them being badger prints as badgers rear paws move in to the space left by the front paws thereby giving the impression of a bipedal animal. Other scientists have tried to explain them away by suggesting they are a formation of frozen rain but as yet this has not been shown to actually happen naturally. Others have put it down to the classic mass hysteria. Sadly as the prints were never photographed all theories are based around verbal accounts and drawings and apart from those present at the time no one was ever able to see the actual prints as the appeared.
This is a mystery that may well never be solved and the truth may never be known save for the people of Devon on the fateful winters day.
Maybe the Devil did go down to Devon.
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Until next time