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1855, February 8: The Devil’s Footprints

In 1855, some time between 11 pm on February 7 and dawn on February 8, a strange event of some sort left its trace across one hundred miles of British countryside.

        On the morning of February 8, a trail of tracks was found in the snow stretching from Topsham and Bicton in the North, through Exmouth, across the unfrozen bay near Powdersham Castle, and on to its end in Dawles and Totnes in the South; a distance across Devonshire of a little over a hundred miles. Since the snowfall was known to have ended at 11 pm on the previous night, the trail, despite its impossible length, must have been created within the few hours between then and dawn, when the tracks were first noticed by a baker in Topsham.

        The baker saw the tracks leading up to a point three feet in front of his shop's door, where they turned towards a five-foot brick wall. He noticed the top of the wall was disturbed with the same tracks, but didn't give it much more thought until his neighbors informed him of the length of the trail. And what a trail!

        The line of tracks seemed to ignore all obstacles in their path; they trailed over the tops of snow-covered wagons, walls, and houses. At one point the trail entered a shed and left on the other side, having apparently traveled through a hole only six inches in diameter in the shed's back wall. Elsewhere, the trail led to a drainpipe and away from the opposite end, as if the unknown beast had crawled through the pipe. The prints were said to have appeared to be burned into the snow, as with a hot poker. Near the village of Dawlish, the trail entered a thick undergrowth that, it's said, dogs refused to enter.

        Beyond the unknown nature of their creation, the tracks themselves were strange. They were tiny 'U' shaped marks, all in a line as if a single foot had been hopping along. Each mark was 4 inches long, 2-3/4 inches wide, and invariably eight inches from the next.

        Groups of villagers followed the trail armed with pitchforks and bludgeons, expecting some great beast. By nightfall, the local populace was in a panic, many believing the tracks to be hoofmarks left by a visit from the devil himself, a theory that could not be dispelled by the 'experts' who could offer no better explanation. The story of the strange trail was covered extensively by the Times of London and other papers, and many of these experts offered up their opinions on the matter. The naturalist Sir Richard Owens suggested that the prints were those of a badger in a letter to the Times. Other guesses included foxes, otters, cranes and other birds, cats, mice, rats, rabbits, squirrels, toads, a kangaroo, or a donkey or pony with a broken shoe, but nothing fit the known facts... and the event never occurred again.

Under Re-Construction

        This article is one of the first I posted in Anomalies all the way back in 1996... and it needs to have a lot more information added to it! I'm currently working on a newer version of this article (which has some actual useful information in it), and will post it when it's ready. I'll send a note out to Facebook friends when I post it; please be patient.

        Part of the re-write of the Devil's Footprints is that I'm now running across a number of accounts that claim to be similar unexplained tracks. I'm posting these as I find them, and adding links to them below.