The Devil in Devon



Devil in Devon: looking for his hotel in the stinking weather

In February 1855 around the Exe Estuary in Devon, England, a trail of cloven hoof prints stretching for between 40 and 100 miles appeared overnight in a fresh fall of heavy snow. The footprints were about 4 inches long and 3 across in single file with a stride length of between 8 to 16 inches. They continued for miles travelling over the snow-covered roofs of houses, high walls, haystacks, rivers and other obstacles in their path. More puzzling, some led up to and exited from drainpipes as small as four inches in diameter.

The local people assumed they were made by Satan himself, abroad in the night working mischief. This assumption seemed to be confirmed when rumours circulated about sightings of a “devil-like figure” in the area. Many townspeople armed themselves and without success attempted to track down the beast responsible.

The story was reported in a local paper ‘The Western Times’ a few weeks later in an article entitled ‘Topsham – The two-legged Wonder’. Topsham was the village in which the incident was first reported. Despite such sensational claims there was very little contemporary evidence to support the story until a 1950 article asking for documentation brought to light a number of letters written in 1855 to a local vicar along with several tracings of the footprints.

Devil's hoof prints showing scale in feet - no pun intended

Devil’s hoof prints showing scale in feet – no pun intended

Over the years many theories have been put forward to explain the event. These range from mis-identification of some of the prints with those of donkeys, to hopping mice and even badgers.

Sceptics point to inconsistencies with the date reported; making the footprints appear over 2 or 3 consecutive nights rather than 1. They point out that different accounts describe the footprints differently. And say it would be physically impossible for one person to follow the whole 40 to 100 mile course of footprints in single day. Despite such doubts, the mystery remains.

There is a postscript to the story. In the Daily Mail in 13th March 2009 the Devon devil seemed to have resurfaced when a woman woke to find ‘Satan’s hoof prints’ dotted across freshly fallen snow in her back garden. The single track of cloven-like prints, which appeared to have been made by a two-legged creature, precisely resembled the footprints recorded in the area in 1855.

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