The Devil in Dartmoor?

17 Sep

One evening in early February 1855 snow fell in Devon, and with it one of the strangest unsolved mysteries of all time. For when people awoke in towns and villages across the county, they noticed in the otherwise untrodden snow thousands of very odd footprints – footprints which were found not only on the ground but also across the rooftops of houses, over high walls, and even across a two-mile estuary! But the oddest thing about the impressions left in the snow was the fact that they were left by cloven feet and were so deep and clearly defined that they looked as though they had been burned into the snow by a hot iron. All over Devon curiosity turned to fear as the question was asked: Did the Devil walk the rooftops?

The notion that the footprints were left by Satan himself spread like wildfire in many communities and fear kept people locked in their houses at night. Whilst vicars preached sermons to the superstitious masses, serious investigators dismissed the ‘Devil’ theory and tried to come up with a more plausible explanation. This was easier said than done, however, as a whole series of theories were discarded almost as soon as they were thought up. These included the following: that birds or animals were to blame (but none had ever left prints like this before or since); that it was the wind or atmospheric conditions (this failed to explain the precise direction and shape of the markings, or why they were confined to Devon); that it was all a hoax (if so it was on an impressive scale – whoever had made the footprints had, in 1855, managed to cover 150 kilometres in a single night in total darkness and freezing cold); and the most bizarre theory – that it was an escaped kangaroo!

The mystery has never been solved but it did, indirectly, provide one of our most famous writers with the inspiration for a short story: The Devil’s Foot by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (click to read!). It seems a shame though that Sherlock Holmes never turned his formidable powers of deduction to solving the mystery of the real-life Devil’s footprints!

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One Response to “The Devil in Dartmoor?”

  1. Archard September 17, 2011 at 10:55 am #

    Nice find!

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