Exeter, Devon England 1855
One morning after a heavy snowfall in 1855 in the south westerly county of Devon, England, local villagers woke up to discover that something had been wandering around the countryside and leaving tracks in the snow. These tracks were distinctly unusual. In fact the tracks appeared to have been made by something with two legs and cloven hooves...
South West England
1855 February 8th - Topsham, Devon, England A man named Albert Brailsford left his home and stepped into the fresh blanket of snow which had been deposited during the night hours. Brailsford was then the principal of the school in Topsham. Upon reaching the street he noticed that the crisp white surface had already been disturbed. What was more, the tracks made there were quite unique and formed a single line of hoofprints. Each hoofprint was four inches in length and lay at eight inch intervals and seemingly ran off for some length into the distance. Brailsford puzzled at the sight. He knew of no animal which would make such tracks. He met with some villagers and together they followed the line until they reached a brick wall where it came to a halt. No tracks led away from the wall. It was as if whatever had walked there had simply disappeared upon reaching it. The snow on the top had not been disturbed. Suddenly someone discovered that the tracks continued on the other side. Indeed, it was as if the creature had simply stepped over or through the wall.
Impression Of Devil's FootprintsImpression Of The Hoofprints
Those mysterious tracks continued, and they continued for some distance in a most peculiar way. They passed through a haystack without any disruption of the snow on its top, and they even went underneath gooseberry bushes. More worrying, they were seen to pass over rooftops. They seemed to be 'melted' into the snow. Occasionally, the hoofprints stepped right up to a front door of a home, then turned and walked away in another direction. The villagers followed the line through the landscape. It extended through Clyst St.George, Woodbury, Bicton, East Budleigh, Exmouth, Powderham, Kenton, Starcross, Dawlish, Teignmouth, Newton Abbot, Torquay and finally Totnes. In all, the tracks covered more than forty miles of countryside. On this journey the tracks crossed the river Exe with no pause and apparently no hesitation, only to continue again on the far bank.
The horseshoe-shaped print had a split in it, which meant the hoof was cloven, like the devil.
Trees (c) Free Foto Devon In Winter
1855 February 16th The London Times published an article about the mysterious hoofprints.
1855 February 17th Another story appeared this time in the Plymouth Gazette and included in the article a Reverend Musgrove proposed that the tracks had been made by a kangaroo.
In the Exeter Flying Post the explanation was a bird.
In the following hubbub other suggestions were made among which were: badgers, polecats and a great bustard (a fast running land bird). One man from Sudbury claimed that he had discovered tracks made by rats which, on the surface, were similar to the 'devil's footprints'. He claimed that the rats had been leaping over the snow in order to travel and had made impressions which were roughly horseshoe-shaped.
Explanations Devil's FootprintsGeoffrey Household published a book on the 'Devil's Footprints' in which he suggested that they were caused by the 'trailing shackles of a balloon'. Naturally, this could explain why the prints pass over walls in straight lines and over haystacks and rooftops, but it does not explain as to how they are to pass beneath bushes, nor does it do much to illuminate why the prints march up to house only to turn and continue in another direction. Plus balloons do not travel in angular lines. They drift with the wind. If tracks were made by an animal, then the snow was to melt slightly in rain, say, and then refreeze, small impressions would appear larger and might even appear to have been 'melted' into the snow. However, no animal walks over forty miles along a wandering path.
Conclusions Devils FootprintsIt seems clear that no 'hoofed' animal made the marks. Goats do not walk on their hind legs and even if they did, they do not pass over rooftops and under bushes in the process. If rats were to blame, then these rats were tireless and incredible acrobats, and could leap a river's width in a single bound. No balloon would fly at night in winter with trailing shackles, especially on a tortuous course. A prankster could not have pulled off such a hoax on such a scale. It would be practiacally impossible.
Maybe something did happen during the early hours of February 8th 1855 in Devon, but in the week that it took for the story to be reported, it is possible that the facts became a little distorted, enlarged and transformed into something altogether larger than they originally were (much like the hoofprints). Or maybe something walking on two legs with hooves walked around the countryside searching for something or someone...
Sources: The Mammoth Encyclopedia of Unsolved Mysteries - Colin & Damon Wilson (Robinson)
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