The Devil’s Footprints

In February 1855, a trail of hoofprints stretching up to 100 miles appeared overnight in deep snow. Obstacles in the way seemed to have been passed over, with the prints appearing on the roofs of buildings and atop walls. No confirmed explanation for the prints has even been put forward. However, some at the time believed that they were the cloven footprints of the devil himself.

In the early hours of 9th February 1855, local people living around the Exe Estuary, Devon, reported finding strange, cloven footprints in the snow that seemed to have appeared overnight. Each print was around 10cm (four inches) in length, between 20 and 40cm apart and generally in single file. In all, the prints were reported in over thirty locations across Devon, with a small number of reports in neighbouring Dorset.

The Exe Estuary, around which most of the footprints were found. Image: Wikicommons

The tracks appeared to have crossed rivers and buildings with little difficulty. In some places, the tracks lead up to and away from drain pipes as small as 10cm in diameter, suggesting that whatever made them had passed straight through. Others were found in enclosed courtyards and gardens.

A number of explanations for the phenomenon have been put forward in the years since. Many researchers doubt the claims that the footprints ran unbroken for up to 100 miles. Descriptions of the footprints also differed from person to person. Historian Mike Dash concluded that the majority of the footprints reported were simply those of donkeys or ponies or were hoaxes, or in the case of those found on roofs may have been the imprints of mice hopping across the snow. However, he concluded that some of the prints could not be explained.

Author Geoffrey Household theorised that the prints were caused by a balloon accidentally released from Devonport Dockyard, trailing its shackles behind it. One local man had told him that his grandfather worked at the Dockyard at the time and confirmed the loss of a balloon. However, doubts remain given the erratic path of the tracks and the fact that the balloon seemingly managed to avoid becoming snagged on a tree or other object over such a long distance.

A similar incident was reported in 1840, where cloven footprints appeared across two Scottish glens close to what is now Loch Lomond National Park. The prints were described as resembling those of a foal, but the depth in the snow suggested a heavier creature. The prints were found across a range of at least twelve miles. Similar marks were reported to be found annually on hills along the border between Poland and Galicia, said by locals to be caused by a supernatural being.

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