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The Enigma of The Devil's Footprints : Mystery Files

Updated on March 26, 2012
The Devil's Footprints
The Devil's Footprints

A Strange Appearance

The year was 1855, the date, February 9th. The morning sun dawned to reveal a crisp snow covered landscape over Devon, in England, U.K.

On closer inspection, the dazzling Christmas-card scene revealed that something strange had happened during the hours of darkness, something unexplainable and something which struck terror into the hearts of the God fearing folk of Devon.

The white blanket of crisp snow had recorded a strange phenomenon. There, embedded in the snow was what appeared to be a line of footprints, but these were no ordinary footprints...

A Sign of The Devil?

The tracks that the snow had so faithfully recorded were very unusual in nature. Their shape was distinctly horseshoe or cloven hoof shaped, however instead of the usual pattern of prints that would be normally left by a four legged beast, i.e. two lines of alternating footprints, this pattern was one single line with one print placed directly in front of the other - the walking pattern of bipeds such as ourselves.

The other unsettling fact was that the trail of footprints was said to extend over a hundred miles traversing through five different parishes. As far as the locals were concerned, only one thing had cloven hooves, walked bipedally on it's hind legs and had the power to cover 100 miles in just a few hours of darkness - and that thing was The Devil! These footprints were the Devil's own.

Footprints in the snow
Footprints in the snow

The Impossible Trail

Another unsettling aspect to the footprints was that they followed an impossible course. A more-or-less straight line undeterred by any obstacles in it's path. Where they came up to a wall, the prints just stopped on one side and continued on the other side as if whatever had made the prints had just walked through the wall.

If a house was encountered, the prints just stopped at the house wall and appeared across the roof before continuing on the ground on the other side of the building. The "jump" to the roof apparently being accomplished cleanly and without disturbing any of the surrounding snow.

All obstacles encountered - walls, fences, buildings, rivers etc. were all apparently "walked though" or over in a similar manner.

According to "The Peoples Almanac", a popular periodical of the time, in order to cover the distance of the prints in one night, whatever it was that made them would have had to be travelling at a speed of at least nine strides per second!

Spring Heeled Jack
Spring Heeled Jack

Big News and Strange Explanations

The story was quickly picked up by some of the major newspapers of the day. The Illustrated London News and The Times both discussed what could have possibly caused the phenomenon.

Despite the large numbers of people who were happy to believe that this must be the Devil's work (or possibly the famous Spring-Heeled Jack), there were others who sought a more rational explanation.

Although how rational the suggestion of the Rev. Musgrave was is a matter of opinion - He suggested that the prints were caused by a pair of kangaroos that had escaped from a local private menagerie!

Sir Richard Owen a renowned naturalist suggested that they were the marks of a certain species of badger which walks with an idiosyncratic walk which left tracks that suggested that they had been made by a biped.

There was no shortage of other suggestions, ranging from birds to mice but none were able to explain the consistent nature of the trail extending for over a hundred miles of country.

Rational Explanations?

It has been suggested by author Geoffery Household that the strange marks were caused by the accidental release of an "experimental balloon" from Devonport Dockyard. His source was said to be a Major Carter, a local man whose grandfather was a worker at Devonport at the time of the incident.

Carter's explanation was that the balloon had trailed a cable, attached to the end of which was a shackle. It was the shackle, said Carter, which had left the horseshoe shaped indentations in the snow as it bounced across the ground.

Carter had said that the incident was not widely know about because it had been "hushed up" as the escaped balloon's shackle had created a lot of damage to greenhouses, windows and conservatories in it's path before it finally came to rest near the town of Honiton.

What really happened?

Although there are many theories as to what the real cause of the inexplicable tracks - images of the Devil's footprints - that traversed the Devon countryside in 1855, they are nevertheless, just that - theories.

Despite the intervening century and a half that has elapsed since this strange phenomenon occurred, no definitive explanation has ever come to the fore. We may all have our own favourite theories, but the truth of the matter is that even now, nobody truly knows what caused "The Devils Footprints"


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  • Gaizy profile image

    Gaizy 5 years ago from Denbigh, North Wales, UK

    Thanks for your comments Radical Rog - Yes, it seems that balloons are the Devil's instrument ;)

  • Radical Rog profile image

    Peter Rogers 5 years ago from Plymouth

    Local legend has it that the Devil often visited Dartmoor, with a number of separate accounts of these, but that he lived on Bodmin Moor. Good hub, wasn't the Roswell Incident supposedly caused by a balloon as well! It seems balloons have a lot to answer for.

  • Gaizy profile image

    Gaizy 5 years ago from Denbigh, North Wales, UK

    @AJ - Yes, the balloon & shackle theory sounds most plausible (I'm guessing they didn't have to worry too much about aeroplanes flying under them in 1855 :) )

  • profile image

    AJ 5 years ago

    The balloon theory makes the most sense in my mind. In fact I was just reading the FAA pilots guide on VFR (Visual Flight Rules) and they have a section in there specifically about the dangers of balloons and wires below them that sometimes anchor to the ground... They warn to never fly under balloons and to report immediately any unmanned balloons probably for a good reason too. It really does makes sense. Ground level to rooftop, damage so no those responsible have reason not to argue too much. ;) I doubt the shackle is small for a healthy sized balloon. Neat story, I'm digging this authors articles they are engaging!

  • Gaizy profile image

    Gaizy 6 years ago from Denbigh, North Wales, UK

    @nemanjaboskov - Thanks. It's a relatively well known story here in the UK, but the balloon theory was new to me.

  • nemanjaboskov profile image

    Nemanja BoŇ°kov 6 years ago from Serbia

    Bill, this was great! I'm glad to be your follower, and I'll make sure to read more of your mystery files :)

  • Gaizy profile image

    Gaizy 6 years ago from Denbigh, North Wales, UK

    Thanks Seeker7 - I had also heard about this story a long time ago, but the balloon theory, which came up in research, was news to me as well!

  • Seeker7 profile image

    Helen Murphy Howell 6 years ago from Fife, Scotland

    Fabulous Hub! It's a long time since I last read about the Devil's footprints in Devon and I'd forgotten just how strange this incident was. A balloon? That sounds a bit iffy, but I guess it's just as plausible as escaping kangaroos or Old Horny out for a nighttime jog!!!

    A really interesting and spooky hub! Voted up + awesome!