The K Files, Entry #2: The Devil’s Footprints of South Devon

On February 8 of 1855, the countryfolk of South Devon, England, by the River Exe, settled into their beds during the midst of a heavy snow storm.  When they awoke, they found miles of inexplicable hoof-like prints spanning theirs and neighboring villages.  This is the story of The Devil’s Footprints of South Devon.

The people of South Devon, England were hard working country people familiar with the surrounding nature and wildlife.  The area had been experiencing a particularly hard winter – one which many local papers described as the worst that any of the eldest in the town had ever seen.  Both nearby rivers, the Exe and the Teign, had frozen over throughout the majority of their expanse, giving opportunities for the townsfolk to hold great community games and even dinners.  On the night of February 8th, when the people of Devon settled in to bed, a howling snow storm bore down fiercely on the land.  It was upon waking the following morning that the first reports of the strange footprints began to roll in.

A map of the footprints found in South Devon, from The Devil’s Hoofmarks: Source Material on the Great Devon Mystery of 1855.

The markings were described as hoof-like in nature, and distinctly bipedal, although they seemed to trail in a straight line, as opposed to a standard gait of right to left.  They measured approximately 4 inches long and 3 inches wide, and were spaced anywhere between 8 to 16 inches apart from one another.  Reports of the strange prints spanned an area of about 100 miles, reaching towns like Dawlish and Oaklands.  The most disconcerting aspect of the prints, however, was the impossible path that they seemed to follow.  Some reports describe the prints as leading straight to the front door of houses and then continuing across the snow-covered roofs, as if the creature making the prints had suddenly sprung to those heights without any sign of climbing or struggle.  Other reports followed the tracks through gated gardens, and some lead straight to haybales and other objects left in fields, immediately continuing on the other side of the objects without missing a beat. 

Several search parties took off in search of the source for the footprints, including a group of Dawlish tradesmen who followed the prints for approximately 5 miles without finding anything of note.  Another search party from Clyde St. George followed the prints to the center of a field where they seemed to suddenly leave off midstride, and then continue several feet ahead, leading them to the conclusion that the source creature must have possessed wings and the ability to fly.  By the time that the local papers had begun to avidly report on the incident on February 13, the South Devon townspeople had already dubbed the strange markings as the Devil’s Footprints.

Several theories have been posed as the cause of the footprints.  Geoffrey Household, a British author of thriller novels, suggested that the markings were the result of some a runaway balloon set forth from the Devonport Dockyard and trailing shackles beneath it.  Mike Dash, the author of a paper entitled The Devil’s Hoofmarks: Source Material on the Great Devon Mystery of 1855, a comprehensive collection of reports and articles published in the Fortean Studies Journal, made the conclusion that the prints were simply made by hopping rodents.  He is not alone in his thinking.  The animals blamed for having created the prints spans from moose, to swans, to even an escaped kangaroo.  This theory has failed to gain much traction over the years, as it simply doesn’t explain the strange locations of the prints, and furthermore, the townspeople were familiar with local wildlife, and would have instantly seen the prints as something recognizable.  Still yet, other sceptics fail to see the incident as an incident at all, citing varying reports of the appearance of the prints, and a supposed exaggeration of the miles that they covered.

A sample drawing of the footprints discovered.

Interestingly, in my research for this article, I found that the South Devon claims of 1855 were not the only time in history that footprints of this nature had been reported.  In May of 1840, Captain Sir James Ross and his crew landed on the shores of Grande Terre in Guadeloupe with the aim of documenting the plant and animal life in the area.  After many excursions, he reported in his journals that the island was strikingly lacking in animal life.  However, on an expedition through some of the snow-covered areas of the island, Ross and his crew came across a path of what they described as horse-like hoofprints.  He could not explain his findings.  On January 10 of 1945, hoof-like prints were discovered spanning several miles of fields and hillsides in Everberg, Belgium.  The prints were described as perched upon the top of the snow, with no sign of animal weight forcing them into the drifts.  Finally, on March 5 of 2009, Jill Wade of Woolsery, a town very close to South Devon, discovered a trail of hoofprints beginning at her window and continuing through her yard before disappearing over the fence.  A biologist from the Centre of Fortean Zoology examined the prints, but was unable to identify them, and simply stated that they closely resembled the prints left in South Devon in 1855.

Ultimately, this mystery has not yet been solved.  What do you think happened on the night of February 8, 1855 in South Devon, England?  Were the prints caused by an animal?  Or something more dastardly?  Let me know in the comments below, and stay tuned for another entry in The K Files.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.