On this day in 1855, the people of Devon county, England, awoke to a startling sight: a trail of U-shaped hoofmarks extending for nearly 160 kilometres upon freshly fallen snow. Locals couldn’t discern the source of the mysterious tracks, which seemed to have been left by a two- rather than four-legged creature, and so attributed them to the devil, naming them the “Devil’s Footprints.”
As residents of Devon slept the night of 7 February, a light snow blanketed the country. The next morning they discovered the mysterious U-shaped tracks, resembling hoof marks, stamped across the snow. The marks were between 3.8 centimetres and 6.3 centimetres wide and were spaced some 20 centimetres apart. The tracks ran in a straight line for some 160 kilometres and crossed everything in their path: rivers, thickets, homes, haystacks. They appeared to go straight over roofs and high walls and were even seen leading up and exiting drain pipes as small as 10 centimetres in diameter. The tracks stopped abruptly in the middle of the countryside, leading some to believe that whatever made them flew away or just disappeared.
Abundant theories floated about the origin of the prints. Some believed the tracks were left by a quadruped like a horse or donkey, while others said the bi-pedal prints were made by a kangaroo. Others thought it was wood mice or some other rodent, which would explain how it entered drain pipes and climbed over roofs. And still others said the tracks were left by a hot-air balloon dragging an anchor, explaining the tracks’ abrupt beginning and end.
Though most people initially thought some creature left the marks, it seemed less and less likely upon study. No creature it seemed could cover such a distance–nearly 160 kilometres–overnight. The fact that the tracks entered small drain pipes and went straight over roofs also puzzled locals. Whatever beast or thing left the tracks was able to jump high walls, enter small drain pipes, climb roofs, and crawl through very tangled thickets.
Eventually, townspeople began to believe it was Satan himself who left the tracks. The tracks appeared to have been left by a branding iron rather than a creature. This theory would explain how the tracks covered a lot of ground in a short time, and how they began and ended so abruptly. Oddly, the tracks appeared to veer slightly toward the front doors of some homes, terrifying locals back into Church. After the discovery of the so-called Devil’s Footprints, church attendance in Devon rose dramatically.
Photo Credit: © Une Dal / Alamy
Photo Caption: The mysterious “Devil’s Footprints” were believed to have been made by a two-legged hoofed creature.