Black dog is often used as a synonym for ghost dog, though some phantom dogs are white instead of black. Black dogs have been reported from almost all the counties of England, the exceptions being Middlesex and Rutland. Phantom dogs, included the ones with big eyes that glow like fire in the dark are also seen on the European mainland and in many other places of the world. Often they play a role in local legends and folklore.
On Dartmoor in southern Devon, the notorious squire Richard Cabell was said to have been a huntsman who sold his soul to the Devil. When he died in 1677, black hounds are said to have appeared around his burial chamber. The ghostly huntsman is said to ride with black dogs; this tale inspired Arthur Conan Doyle to write his well-known story The Hound of the Baskervilles.
In Lancashire, the black hound is called Barguist, Grim, Gytrash, Padfoot, Shag, Skriker or Striker, and Trash.
Stories are told of a black dog in Twyford, near Winchester.
Galley Hill in Luton, Bedfordshire, is said to have been haunted by a black dog ever since a storm set the gibbet alight sometime in the 18th century.
Betchworth Castle in Surrey is said to be haunted by a black dog that prowls the ruins at night.
Black Dog Hill and Black Dog Halt railway station in Wiltshire are named after a dog which is said to be found in the area.
A black dog is said to haunt Ivelet Bridge near Ivelet in Swaledale, Yorkshire. The dog is allegedly headless, and leaps over the side of the bridge and into the water, although it can be heard barking at night. It is considered a death omen, and reports claim that anybody who has seen it died within a year. The last sighting was around a hundred years ago.
A black dog in Hertfordshire haunts the town of Stevenage near the Six Hills (a collection of Roman barrows) and Whomerley Wood.
Cannock Chase in Staffordshire has long since had rumours of a Black Dog. The Hednesford Hellhound and the Slitting Mill Bastard to name but two. Paranormal societies have investigated the phenomenon, particularly in the 1970s.
In Northern English folklore, the Barghest or Barguest is a mythical monstrous black dog with large teeth and claws, though in other cases the name can refer to a ghost or household elf, especially in Northumberland and Durham, such as the Cauld Lad of Hylton.
The origin of the name Barghest is interesting as it could have a relation with German agricultural daemons in dog or wolf shape, like Gerstenwolf (Barley-wolf), Roggenhund (Rye-hound) or Roggenwolf (Rye-wolf). “Ghost” in Northern England was pronounced “guest,” and the origin is thought to be of the combination burh-ghest, “town-ghost.” Others explain it as cognate to German Berg-geist, “mountain ghost” or Bär-geist, “bear-ghost”. Another mooted derivation is Bahr-Geist, German for the “spirit of the funeral bier”.
One notable case is said to frequent a remote gorge named Troller’s Gill in the Yorkshire Dales, Yorkshire, England. A ballad entitled “The Legend of the Troller’s Gill” can be found in William Hone’s Everyday Book (1830). It recounts the tale of a man who ventures forth “to the horrid gill of the limestone hill” in order to summon and confront the Barghest in an act of ritual magic. The man’s lifeless body is discovered soon after with inhuman marks upon his breast. There is also a story of a Barghest entering the city of York occasionally where, according to legend, it preys on lone travellers in the city’s narrow Snickelways. Whitby is also associated with the spectre.
In the 1870s a shapeshifting Barghest was said to live near Darlington and was said to take the form of a headless man (who would vanish in flames), a headless lady, a white cat, a rabbit, a dog, or a black dog. Another was said to live in an “uncannie-looking” dale between Darlington and Houghton near Throstlenest, and yet another haunted an area of wasteland between Wreghorn and Headingley Hill near Leeds.
The Barghest often serves as an omen of death. At the passing of a notable person the Barghest may appear, followed by all the other dogs of the local area in a kind of funeral procession, heralding the person’s death with howling and barking. If anyone were to get in the Barghest’s way it would strike out with its paw and leave a wound that never heals.
Besides taking the form of a large black dog with fiery eyes, it may also become invisible and walk about with the sound of rattling chains. It may also foretell the death of an individual by laying across the threshold of his or her house, and like the vampire the Barghest is unable to cross rivers.
Black Dog of Aylesbury
A man who lived in a village near Aylesbury in Buckinghamshire would go each morning and night to milk his cows in a distant field. One night on his way there he encountered a sinister black dog, and every night thereafter until he brought a friend along with him. When the dog appeared again he attacked it using the yoke of his milk pails as a weapon, but when he did so the dog vanished and the man fell senseless to the ground. He was carried home alive but remained speechless and paralytic for the rest of his life.
Black Dog of Lyme Regis
Near the town of Lyme Regis in Dorset stood a farmhouse that was haunted by a black dog. This dog never caused any harm, but one night the master of the house in a drunken rage tried to attack it with an iron poker. The dog fled to the attic where it leaped out through the ceiling, and when the master struck the spot where the dog vanished he discovered a hidden cache of gold and silver. The dog was never again seen indoors, but to this day it continues to haunt at midnight a lane which leads to the house called Haye Lane (or Dog Lane). Dogs who are allowed to stray in this area late at night have often mysteriously disappeared. A bed and breakfast in Lyme Regis is named The Old Black Dog, and part of the legend states that the man who discovered the treasure used it to build an inn that originally stood on the site.
Black Dog of Newgate
The Black Dog of Newgate has been said to haunt the Newgate Prison for over 400 years, appearing before executions. According to legend, in 1596 a scholar was sent to the prison for witchcraft, but was killed and eaten by starving prisoners before he was given a trial. The dog was said to appear soon after, and although the terrified men killed their guards and escaped, the beast is said to have hunted them down and killed them wherever they fled. Grim (or Fairy Grim) is the name of a shapeshifting fairy that sometimes took the form of a black dog in the 17th-century pamphlet The Mad Pranks and Merry Jests of Robin Goodfellow. He was also referred to as the Black Dog of Newgate, but though he enjoyed frightening people he never did any serious harm.
Black Dog of Northorpe
In the village of Northorpe in the West Lindsey district of Lincolnshire (not to be confused with Northorpe in the South Kesteven district) the churchyard was said to be haunted by a “Bargest”. Some black dogs are said to be human beings with the power of shapeshifting. In another nearby village there lived an old man who was reputed to be a wizard. It was claimed that he would transform into a black dog and attack his neighbours’ cattle. It is uncertain if there was any connection between the barghest and the wizard.
Black Dog of Tring
n the parish of Tring, Hertfordshire, a chimney sweep named Thomas Colley was executed by hanging in 1751 for the drowning murder of Ruth Osborne whom he accused of being a witch. Colley’s spirit now haunts the site of the gibbet in the form of a black dog, and the clanking of his chains can also be heard. In one tale a pair of men who encountered the dog saw a burst of flame before it appeared in front of them, big as a Newfoundland with the usual burning eyes and long sharp teeth. After a few minutes it disappeared, either vanishing like a shadow or sinking into the earth.
Black Shuck, Old Shuck, Old Shock or simply Shuck is the name given to a ghostly black dog which is said to roam the coastline and countryside of East Anglia, one of many ghostly black dogs recorded in folklore across the British Isles. Accounts of Black Shuck form part of the folklore of Norfolk, Suffolk, the Cambridgeshire fens and Essex, and descriptions of the creature’s appearance and nature vary considerably; it is sometimes recorded as an omen of death, but, in other instances, is described as companionable.
According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the name Shuck derives from the Old English word scucca – “devil, fiend”, from the root word skuh- to terrify. The first mention in print of “Black Shuck” is by Reverend E.S. Taylor in an 1850 edition of the journal Notes and Queries which describes “Shuck the Dog-fiend”;
“This phantom I have heard many persons in East Norfolk, and even Cambridgeshire, describe as having seen as a black shaggy dog, with fiery eyes and of immense size, and who visits churchyards at midnight.”
Abraham Fleming’s account of the appearance of A strange, and terrible wunder in 1577 at Bungay, Suffolk is a famous account of the beast. Images of black sinister dogs have become part of the iconography of the area and have appeared in popular culture. Writing in 1877, Walter Rye stated that Shuck was “the most curious of our local apparitions, as they are no doubt varieties of the same animal.”
Descriptions of Black Shuck vary in both shape and size, from that of a large dog to being the size of a calf or horse. W. A. Dutt, in his 1901 Highways & Byways in East Anglia describes the creature thus:
“He takes the form of a huge black dog, and prowls along dark lanes and lonesome field footpaths, where, although his howling makes the hearer’s blood run cold, his footfalls make no sound. You may know him at once, should you see him, by his fiery eye; he has but one, and that, like the Cyclops’, is in the middle of his head. But such an encounter might bring you the worst of luck: it is even said that to meet him is to be warned that your death will occur before the end of the year. So you will do well to shut your eyes if you hear him howling; shut them even if you are uncertain whether it is the dog fiend or the voice of the wind you hear. Should you never set eyes on our Norfolk Snarleyow you may perhaps doubt his existence, and, like other learned folks, tell us that his story is nothing but the old Scandinavian myth of the black hound of Odin, brought to us by the Vikings who long ago settled down on the Norfolk coast.”
Dr Simon Sherwood suggests that the earliest surviving description of devilish black hounds is an account of an incident in the Peterborough Abbey recorded in the Peterborough Chronicle (one version of the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle) around 1127:
“Let no-one be surprised at the truth of what we are about to relate, for it was common knowledge throughout the whole country that immediately after [Abbot Henry of Poitou’s arrival at Peterborough Abbey] – it was the Sunday when they sing Exurge Quare – many men both saw and heard a great number of huntsmen hunting. The huntsmen were black, huge and hideous, and rode on black horses and on black he-goats and the hounds were jet black with eyes like saucers and horrible. This was seen in the very deer park of the town of Peterborough and in all the woods that stretch from that same town to Stamford, and in the night the monks heard them sounding and winding their horns. Reliable witnesses who kept watch in the night declared that there might well have been as many as twenty or thirty of them winding their horns as near they could tell. This was seen and heard from the time of his arrival all through Lent and right up to Easter.”
This account also appears to describe the Europe-wide phenomenon of a Wild Hunt.
In Westmorland and adjacent parts of Yorkshire there was a belief in Capelthwaite, who could take the form of any quadruped but usually appeared as a large black dog. He took his name from the barn in which he lived called Capelthwaite Barn, near Milnthorpe. He performed helpful services for the people on the farm such as rounding up the sheep, but toward outsiders he was very spiteful and mischievous until one day he was banished by a vicar. As both a helper and a trickster the Capelthwaite behaved more like a domestic hobgoblin than a typical black dog.
The church grim is a guardian spirit in English and Scandinavian folklore that oversees the welfare of a particular Christian church and protects the churchyard from those who would profane and commit sacrilege against it. It often appears as a black dog but is known to take the form of other animals.
The English church grim usually takes the form of a large black dog and guards churchyards from those who would profane them including thieves, vandals, witches, warlocks, and the Devil himself. In the 19th century, folklorists believed that it had once been the custom to bury a dog alive under the cornerstone of a church as a foundation sacrifice so that its ghost might serve as a guardian.
Like many spectral black dogs, the grim, according to Yorkshire tradition, is also an ominous portent and is known to toll the church bell at midnight before a death takes place. During funerals the presiding clergyman may see the grim looking out from the churchtower and determine from its aspect whether the soul of the deceased is destined for Heaven or Hell. The grim inhabits the churchyard day and night and is associated with dark stormy weather.
When a new churchyard was opened it was believed that the first person buried there had to guard it against the Devil. In order to prevent a human soul from having to perform such a duty a black dog was buried in the north part of the churchyard as a substitute. According to a related belief in Scotland the spirit of the person most recently buried in a churchyard had to protect it until the next funeral provided a new guardian to replace him or her. This churchyard vigil was known as the faire chlaidh or “graveyard watch”.
A folktale of the Devil’s Bridge type is also an example of the motif of a dog (in this case a dog also named Grim) being sacrificed in place of a human being. In the North Riding of Yorkshire attempts were made to build a bridge that could withstand the fury of the floods but none were successful. The Devil promised to build one on condition that the first living creature that crossed it should serve as a sacrifice. When the bridge was complete the people gave long consideration as to who should be the victim. A shepherd who owned a dog named Grim swam across the river then whistled for Grim to follow, who went over the bridge and became the Devil’s sacrifice. The bridge then became known as Kilgrim Bridge and was later renamed Kilgram Bridge which today crosses the River Ure in North Yorkshire.
The Scandinavian church grim is also known as the Kyrkogrim (Swedish) and Kirkegrim (Danish) and likewise defined as the protective revenant of an animal buried alive in the church foundation. It dwells in the churchtower or some other place of concealment, or wanders the grounds at night, and is tasked with protecting the sacred building. It keeps order in the church and punishes those who perpetrate scandals. It is said that the first founders of Christian churches would bury a lamb (“church-lamb”) under the altar. When a person enters the church when services are not being held, he may see the lamb, and if it appears in the graveyard (especially to the gravedigger) then it portends the death of a child. The lamb is meant to represent Christ (the Lamb of God) as the sacred cornerstone of the church, imparting security and longevity to the physical edifice and congregation.
Other animals used to create the church grim included a boar, pig and horse. A grave-sow (or “graysow”), the ghost of a sow that was buried alive, was often seen in the streets of Kroskjoberg where it was regarded as an omen of death.
There are tales of the Danish Kirkegrim and its battles with the Strand-varsler that tried to enter the churchyard. Strand-varsler are the spirits of those who die at sea, are washed up on the shore, and remain unburied
Freybug is a monstrous Black Dog that is stated to come from medieval English folklore, specifically from Norfolk. Like most supernatural black dogs, it was roughly the size of a calf, and wandered country roads terrifying travelers.
The English martyr Laurence Saunders mentioned Fray-bugs in his letters to his wife in 1555. The word Fray-bug is defined by the Oxford English Dictionary as “an object of fear; a bogy, spectre.” The similar word “fray-boggart” was a word for a scarecrow. Popular Antiquities of Great Britain, by John Brand, referenced Saunders’ letters and suggested that the Fray-bug was a Black Dog similar to the Barghest. Carol Rose seems to have drawn on Brand’s work for her description of the Freybug.
Gabriel Hounds are dogs with human heads that fly high through the air, and are often heard but seldom seen. They sometimes hover over a house, and this is taken as a sign that death or misfortune will befall those who dwell within. They are also known as Gabriel Ratchets (ratchet being a hound that hunts by scent), Gabble Retchets, and “sky yelpers”, and like Yeth Hounds they are sometimes said to be the souls of unbaptised children. Popular conceptions of the Gabriel Hounds may have been partially based on migrating flocks of wild geese when they fly at night with loud honking. In other traditions their leader Gabriel is condemned to follow his hounds at night for the sin of having hunted on Sunday (much like the Cornish Dando), and their yelping cry is regarded as a death omen similar to the birds of folklore known as the Seven Whistlers.
Guardian Black Dogs
Guardian Black Dogs refer to those relatively rare black dogs that are neither omens of death nor causes of it. Instead they guide lost travellers and protect them from danger. Stories of this type became more widespread starting around the early 1900s. In different versions of one popular tale a man was journeying along a lonely forest road at night when a large black dog appeared at his side and remained there until the man left the forest. On his return journey through the wood the dog reappeared and did the same as before. Years later two convicted prisoners told the chaplain that they would have robbed and murdered the wayfarer in the forest that night but were intimidated by the presence of the black dog.
The Gurt Dog (“Great Dog”) of Somerset is an example of a benevolent dog. It is said that mothers would allow their children to play unsupervised on the Quantock Hills because they believed the Gurt Dog would protect them. It would also accompany lone travellers in the area, acting as a protector and guide.
The gwyllgi (compound noun of either gwyllt “wild” or gwyll “twilight” + ci “dog”) is a mythical dog from Wales that appears as a frightful apparition of a mastiff or Black Wolf (similar to a Dire wolf) with baleful breath and blazing red eyes. It is often referred to as “The Dog of Darkness” or “The Black Hound of Destiny”, the apparition’s favourite haunt being lonely roads at night. There have been many sighting of this beast in the north east of Wales. Specifically, the Nant y Garth pass located near Llandegla in Denbighshire. It has even been spotted as far away as Marchwiel in Wrexham and as to this day there are still many sightings of this fearsome creature.
In Welsh mythology and folklore, Cŵn Annwn (“hounds of Annwn“) were the spectral hounds of Annwn, the otherworld of Welsh myth. They were associated with a form of the Wild Hunt, presided over by either Arawn, king of Annwn in the First Branch of the Mabinogi and alluded to in the Fourth, or by Gwyn ap Nudd as the underworld king and king of the fair(y) folk is named in later medieval lore.
In Wales, they were associated with migrating geese, supposedly because their honking in the night is reminiscent of barking dogs.
Hunting grounds for the Cŵn Annwn are said to include the mountain of Cadair Idris, where it is believed “the howling of these huge dogs foretold death to anyone who heard them”. According to Welsh folklore, their growling is loudest when they are at a distance, and as they draw nearer, it grows softer and softer. Their coming is generally seen as a death portent.
Arawn, king of Ännwn, is believed to set the Cŵn Annwn loose to hunt mundane creatures. When Pwyll saw the Cŵn Annwn take down a stag, he set his own pack of dogs to scare them away. Arawn then came to him and said that as repentance for driving away the Cŵn Annwn, Pwyll would have to defeat Hafgan.
Christians came to dub these mythical creatures as “The Hounds of Hell” or “Dogs of Hell” and theorised they were therefore owned by Satan. However, the Annwn of medieval Welsh tradition is an otherworldly place of plenty and eternal youth and not a place of punishment like the Christian concept of Hell.
The hounds are sometimes accompanied by a fearsome hag called Mallt-y-Nos, “Matilda of the Night”. An alternative name in Welsh folklore is Cŵn Mamau (“Hounds of the Mothers”). Da Derga is also known to have a pack of nine white hounds, perhaps Cŵn Annwn.
Culhwch rode to King Arthur’s court with two “Otherworld” dogs accompanying him, possibly Cŵn Annwn.
The Cŵn Annwn are associated with the Wild Hunt. They are supposed to hunt on specific nights (the eves of St. John, St. Martin, Saint Michael the Archangel, All Saints, Christmas, New Year, Saint Agnes, Saint David, and Good Friday), or just in the autumn and winter. Some say Arawn only hunts from Christmas to Twelfth Night. The Cŵn Annwn also came to be regarded as the escorts of souls on their journey to the Otherworld.
A Cŵn Annwn’s goal in the Wild Hunt is to hunt wrongdoers into the ground until they can run no longer, just as the criminals did to their victims. In other traditions similar spectral hounds are found, e.g. Gabriel Hounds (England), Ratchets (England), Yell Hounds (Isle of Man), related to Herne the Hunter’s hounds, which form part of the Wild Hunt. Similar hounds occur in Devon – particularly on Dartmoor and Cornwall but it is not clear whether they stem from Brythonic or Saxon origins
The Cŵn Annwn is associated with death, as it has red ears. The Celts associated the colour red with death. White is associated with the supernatural, and white animals are commonly owned by gods or other inhabitants of the Otherworld. Therefore, the Cŵn Annwn is associated with death and the supernatural.
Wales has another ghost hound. A phantom black dog is said to haunt St Donat’s Castle, with some witnesses claiming it to have been accompanied by a hag.
The Gytrash, a legendary black dog known in northern England, was said to haunt lonely roads awaiting travelers. Appearing in the shape of horses, mules, or dogs, the Gytrash haunt solitary ways and lead people astray but they can also be benevolent, guiding lost travelers to the right road. They are usually feared.
In some parts of Lincolnshire and Yorkshire, the Gytrash was known as the Shagfoal and took the form of a spectral mule or donkey with eyes that glowed like burning coals. In this form, the beast was believed to be purely malevolent.
Gytrash appears in Charlotte Brontë’s novel Jane Eyre, chapter xii:
As this horse approached, and as I watched for it to appear through the dusk, I remembered certain of Bessie’s tales, wherein figured a North-of-England spirit called a “Gytrash,” which, in the form of horse, mule, or large dog, haunted solitary ways, and sometimes came upon belated travelers, as this horse was now coming upon me. It was very near, but not yet in sight; when, in addition to the tramp, tramp, I heard a rush under the hedge, and close down by the hazel stems glided a great dog, whose black and white colour made him a distinct object against the trees. It was exactly one form of Bessie’s Gytrash — a lion-like creature with long hair and a huge head […], with strange pretercanine eyes […]. The horse followed, — a tall steed […]. Nothing ever rode the Gytrash: it was always alone […].
The Gytrash’s emergence as Rochester’s innocuous dog Pilot has been interpreted as a subtle mockery of the mysteriousness and romanticism that surrounds his character and which clouds Jane’s perception. Brontë’s reference in 1847 is probably the earliest reference to the beast and forms the basis for subsequent citations.
This spirit is also known as Guytrash and Guytresh according to The English Dialect Dictionary of Joseph Wright (1855–1930) where it is defined as a ghost that takes the form of an animal. These include a “great black dog” as well as “an evil cow whose appearance was formerly believed in as a sign of death.
There are many tales of ghostly black dogs in Lincolnshire collected by Ethel Rudkin for her 1938 publication Folklore. Such a creature, known locally as Hairy Jack, is said to haunt the fields and village lanes around Hemswell, and there have been reported sightings throughout the county from Brigg to Spalding. Rudkin, who claimed to have seen Hairy Jack herself, formed the impression that black dogs in Lincolnshire were mainly of a gentle nature, and looked upon as a spiritual protector. Hairy Jack was also said to haunt lonely plantations, byways, and waste places where it attacked anyone passing by.
The Moddey Dhoo
The Moddey Dhoo (Manx Gaelic, meaning “black dog”) is a phantom black hound in Manx folklore that reputedly haunted Peel Castle on the west coast of the Isle of Man. The Manx name Moddey Dhoo was transcribed as Mauthe Doog (/ˈmɔːðə doʊɡ/ by an influential 18th-Century English-speaking folklore source, which led to a history of misspellings of the proper name.
The English topographer and poet George Waldron seems to be the sole definitive written authority of this folklore localized in the castle. Waldron transcribes the original Manx name “Moddey Dhoo” as “Mauthe Doog“, and describes the dog thus:
They say, that an apparition called, in their language, the Mauthe Doog, in the shape of a large black spaniel with curled shaggy hair, was used to haunt Peel Castle; and has been frequently seen in every room, but particularly in the guard-chamber, where, as soon as candles were lighted, it came and lay down before the fire in presence of all the soldiers, who at length, by being so much accustomed to the sight of it, lost great part of the terror they were seized with at its first appearance. (— George Waldron, History and Description of the Isle of Man (1st ed. 1731) 1744 edition, p.23)
There used to be a passage connected to the Peel Castle, traversing the church grounds, leading to the apartment of the Captain of the Guard, and “the Mauthe Doog was always seen to come from that passage at the close of day, and return to it again as soon as the morning dawned“.
Waldron reports that one drunken guard of the castle, who in defiance of the dog, went against the usual procedure of locking up the castle gate in pairs and did this all alone. Emboldened by liquor, he “snatched up the keys” when it wasn’t even his turn to do so. The watchman after locking up was supposed to use the haunted passage to deliver the keys to the captain. Some noises were heard, the adventurer returned to the guard-room, ghastly frightened, unable to share the story of what he had seen, and died three days later. That was the last sighting of the dog. But the passage was sealed up and never used again after the haunting, and a different pathway constructed.
The dog was made known to the world at large when Sir Walter Scott introduced the “Manthe Dog — a fiend, or demon, in the shape of a large, shaggy, black mastiff” in Peveril of the Peak (1823), an installment of his Waverley novels. Here he freely adapted the folklore to suit his plot, but Scott derived knowledge of this folklore through Waldron’s work (see below), as he candidly gave credit in his “author’s notes”. Note how Scott took liberty to scale up the size of the dog in his novel.
William Walter Gill (d. 1963), has preserved some of the local lore regarding the Black Dog appearing around the Manx landscape, as well as firsthand eyewitness accounts:
A field near Ballamodda, near a field named Robin y Gate, “Robin of the Road,” was haunted by an “ordinary moddey dhoo,” as opposed to Ballagilbert Glen (aka Kinlye’s Glen), where stood a farmhouse on the east side, and in the lane leading to it “lurked a moddey dhoo, headless like that at Hango.”
Gill also reports sightings of Moddey Dhoo at a spot called “Milntown corner” close to Ramsey. In 1927, a friend saw it turning towards Glen Auldyn, and it was “black, with long shaggy hair, with eyes like coals of fire,” and a doctor while driving the road beyond the corner 1931 encountered “a big black dog-like creature nearly the size of a calf, with bright staring eyes.”
As to the version where the black dog is described “as big as a calf and with eyes like pewter plates” (Killip 1976), this seems to derive from a report of a modern sighting of the calf-sized dog (Gill 1932), combined with the description of the eyes of a troll in Asbjornsen and Moe’s Norwegian folktale collection.
In Wakefield, Leeds, Pudsey and some areas of Bradford the local version of the legend is known as Padfoot. A death omen like others of its type, it may become visible or invisible and exhibits certain characteristics that give it its name. It is known to follow people with a light padding sound of its paws, then appearing again in front of them or at their side. It can utter a roar unlike the voice of any known animal, and sometimes the trailing of a chain can be heard along with the pad of its feet. It is best to leave the creature alone, for if a person tries to speak to or attacks it then it will have power over them. One story tells of a man who tried to kick the Padfoot and found himself dragged by it through hedge and ditch all the way to his home and left under his own window. Although usually described as black, another tale concerns a man who encountered a white Padfoot. He attempted to strike it with his stick but it passed completely through, and he ran home in fear. Soon afterward he fell sick and died.
Skriker and Trash
The Skriker (or Shrieker) of Lancashire and Yorkshire is a death omen like many others of its type, but it also wanders invisibly in the woods at night uttering loud, piercing shrieks. It may also take visible form as a large black dog with enormous paws that make a splashing sound when walking, like “old shoes walking in soft mud”. For this reason the Skriker is also known as Trash, another word for trudge or slog. The name Skriker is also derived from a dialect word for screech in reference to its frightful utterances.
Yeth Hound and Wisht Hounds
The Yeth Hound (or Yell Hound) is a black dog found in Devon folklore. According to Brewer’s Dictionary of Phrase and Fable, the Yeth Hound is a headless dog, said to be the spirit of an unbaptised child, that rambles through the woods at night making wailing noises. It is also mentioned in the Denham Tracts, a 19th-century collection of folklore by Michael Denham. It may have been one inspiration for the ghost dog in The Hound of the Baskervilles by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, described as “an enormous coal-black hound, but not such a hound as mortal eyes have ever seen” – with fire in his eyes and breath.
The Wisht or Wish Hounds (wisht is a dialect word for “ghostly” or “haunted”) are a related phenomenon and some folklorists regard them as identical to the Yeth Hounds. Wistman’s Wood on Dartmoor in southern Devon is said to be the home of the Wisht Hounds as they make their hunting forays across the moor. The road known as the Abbot’s Way and the valley of the Dewerstone are favoured haunts of the hounds. Their huntsman is presumably the Devil, and it is said that any dog that hears the crying of the hounds will die. One legend states that the ghost of Sir Francis Drake sometimes drove a black hearse coach on the road between Tavistock and Plymouth at night, drawn by headless horses and accompanied by demons and a pack of headless yelping hounds. Charles Hardwick notes that black coach legends are “relatively modernised versions” of Wild Hunt and Furious Host traditions. Robert Hunt further defines whish or whisht as “a common term for that weird sorrow which is associated with mysterious causes”.
The Dando Dogs of Cornwall
A black dog is said to have appeared to wrestlers at Whiteborough, a tumulus near Launceston. Another black dog was once said to haunt the main road between Bodmin and Launceston near Linkinhorne. During the 1800s a Cornish mining accident resulted in numerous deaths and led to the local area being haunted by a pack of black dogs. The parish of St Teath is haunted by a ghostly pack of dogs known as Cheney Hounds that once belonged to an old squire named Cheney. It is uncertain how he or the dogs died, but on “Cheney Downs” the dogs are sometimes seen or heard in rough weather. The area around St Germans is haunted by a pack of hunting dogs known as Dando’s Dogs. Dando was an unrepentantly sinful priest and an avid huntsman who was carried off to Hell by the Devil for his wickedness. Since then, Dando and his hounds are sometimes heard in wild chase across the countryside, especially on Sunday mornings. The Devil’s Dandy Dogs are another Cornish version of the Wild Hunt. They are often conflated with Dando’s Dogs but are much more dangerous. The huntsman is the Devil himself and his dogs are not just ghosts but true hellhounds, black in colour with horns and fiery breath. One night a herdsman was journeying home across the moors and would have been overtaken by the Dandy Dogs, but when he knelt and began praying they went off in another direction in pursuit of other prey.
Muckle Black Tyke, the Sabbath-hound of Scotland
The “Muckle Black Tyke” is a black dog that presides at the Witches’ Sabbath and is supposed to be the Devil himself.
Scottish black dogs also serve as treasure guardians. Near the village of Murthly is a standing stone, and it is said that the person brave enough to move it will find a chest guarded by a black dog.
Tchico of Guernsey
In the Channel Island of Guernsey, there are two named dogs. One, Tchico (Tchi-coh two Norman words for dog, whence cur), is headless, and is supposed to be the phantom of a past Bailiff of Guernsey, Gaultier de la Salle, who was hanged for falsely accusing one of his vassals. The other dog is known as Bodu or tchen Bodu (tchen being dog in Dgèrnésiais). His appearance, usually in the Clos du Valle, foretells death of the viewer or someone close to him. There are also numerous other unnamed apparitions, usually associated with placenames derived from bête (beast).
Black Dog of Death
In Jersey folklore, the Black Dog of Death is also called the Tchico, but a related belief in the Tchian d’Bouôlé (Black Dog of Bouley) tells of a phantom dog whose appearance presages storms. The real reason for the superstition of the Black Dog of Bouley Bay is thought to be due to smugglers. If the superstition was fed and became ‘real’ to the locals, then the bay at night would be deserted and the smuggling could continue in security. The pier at Bouley Bay made this an exceptionally easy task. A local pub retains the name the “Black Dog”.
On mainland Normandy the Rongeur d’Os wanders the streets of Bayeux on winter nights as a phantom dog, gnawing on bones and dragging chains along with it.
Oude Rode Ogen (“Old Red Eyes”) or the “Beast of Flanders” was a spirit reported in Flanders, Belgium in the 18th century who would take the form of a large black dog with fiery red eyes. In Wallonia, the southern region of Belgium, folktales mentioned the Tchén al tchinne (“Chained Hound” in Walloon), a hellish dog bound with a long chain, that was thought to roam in the fields at night. In Germany and the Czech lands it was said that the devil would appear in the form of a large black dog. In East-Groningen in the north of Holland there was Borries, a ghostly black dog with huge glowing eyes.
The earliest known report of a black dog was in France in AD 856, when one was said to materialise in a church even though the doors were shut. The church grew dark as it padded up and down the aisle, as if looking for someone. The dog then vanished as suddenly as it had appeared.
In Lower Brittany there are stories of a ghost ship crewed by the souls of criminals with hellhounds set to guard them and inflict on them a thousand tortures.
The dip is a Catalan mythological being. A kind of evil and hairy dog, an emissary of the devil who, like so many others, is lame in one leg. It feeds by sucking people’s blood. On the coat of arms of the Catalan town of Pratdip (Tarragona), you can see an image of this animal. It is precisely in this village that it is a living legend.
In the altarpiece of Santa Marina de Pratdip, dating from 1602, images of these vampire-dogs can already be seen. They also appear in another 1730 altarpiece cut from a gold background.
According to legend, the dips sucked the blood out of cattle. They only went out at night and among their victims there were nocturnal drunks who went to the taverns of the town. There is no reliable evidence, no documented witnesses. It is believed that this legend was only intended to frighten the alcoholics of the town and prevent them from wandering at night. According to tradition, the name of the village has its origin precisely in these animals (Pratdip = Prado de dips), which seem to have disappeared during the 19th century.
At the entrance to Pratdip there is a monument devoted to this being. Because of his thirst for blood, the dip served to inspire Joan Perucho in his novel Les històries naturals (Natural Stories) (1960), which tells the story of Onofre de Dip, a vampire with the ability to transform into many animals. The central part of the work takes place in Pratdip at the beginning of the 19th century, in the midst of the First Carlist War, and the dip is actually an ambassador of James I the Conqueror, who 700 years earlier had gone to the Carpathians on a diplomatic mission where he had been attacked by a noble vampire.
In other parts of Spain, such as Tenerife (Canary Islands) there was also a belief in a being or evil spirit in the form of a woolly dog known as Guayota (the demon).
Black dogs with fiery eyes are reported throughout Latin America from Mexico to Argentina under a variety of names including the Perro Negro (Spanish for black dog), Nahual (Mexico), Huay Chivo and Huay Pek (Mexico) – alternatively spelled Uay/Way/Waay Chivo/Pek, Cadejo (Central America), the dog Familiar (Argentina) and the Lobizon (Paraguay and Argentina). They are usually said to be either incarnations of the Devil or a shape-changing sorcerer.
The legend of a small black dog has persisted in Meriden, Connecticut since the 19th century. The dog is said to haunt the Hanging Hills: a series of rock ridges and gorges that serve as a popular recreation area. The first non-local account came from W. H. C. Pychon in The Connecticut Quarterly, in which it is described as a death omen. It is said that, “If you meet the Black Dog once, it shall be for joy; if twice, it shall be for sorrow; and the third time shall bring death.”
A New England black dog story comes from southeastern Massachusetts in the area known, by some, as the Bridgewater Triangle. In the mid-1970s, the town of Abington was, reportedly, terrorized by a large, black dog that caused a panic. A local fireman saw it attacking ponies. Local police unsuccessfully searched for it, at first but, eventually, a police officer sighted the dog walking along train tracks and shot at it. Apparently, the bullets had no effect on the animal and it wandered off, never to be seen again.
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