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Old English Folklore - Black Shuck
Black Shuck

The UK has all kinds of bizarre folklore and mysterious stories, with endless eerie and inexplicable events having taken place throughout the ages.

Whether you think they’re evidence of strange supernatural entities that nobody can explain, or simply misunderstandings, fairy stories, or outright lies, there’s no denying that they send something of a chill up the spine to read about.

And when the surroundings for these spooky stories are so familiar, being the open countryside and quaint villages of counties in the UK with which you may be well acquainted, it only adds an extra touch of terror and strangeness to these unusual tales.

Black Shuck, East Anglia

Not a tale for anyone who’s afraid of dogs, Black Shuck is a dark-furred phantom hound which is said to roam East Anglia, having been sighted multiple times over centuries. Though exact descriptions of the beast vary – as well as whether it forebodes doom or (more rarely) is a companionable creature – it’s been a consistent part of the folklore of Norfolk, Suffolk, Essex, and the Cambridgeshire Fens.

The most famous pair of sightings occurred on the 4th of August 1577, where Black Shuck is said to have appeared at both Holy Trinity Church in Blythburg and St Mary’s Church in Bungay, supposedly killing two people at both and collapsing the church steeple in Blythburg as well as leaving scorch marks on the north door as he left, which you can still see today.

And the ghostly black canine doesn’t seem to have been restricted to the distant past, with some sightings as recent as the 1950s, and people taking the legend seriously even to this day.

The Green Children of Woolpit, Suffolk

This 12th-century legend relates the story of two strange children with green skin, purportedly brother and sister, who were discovered at harvest time just outside of the village of Woolpit in Suffolk. Taken in by the villagers, they spoke an unknown language and at first refused to eat any food but raw broad beans, but eventually came to adjust to more conventional meals, with their skin attaining a more normal hue.

Though the boy is said to have died shortly after being baptised, his sister eventually learned English and said that they had originally lived in a place of perpetual twilight where everything was green and the sun never shone. One day they became lost and eventually emerged from a cave close to Woolpit. The girl was reported to have eventually married and lived a long life in the nearby town of King’s Lynn.

It’s not known whether there is any truth to the story, be it a confused account of real events or a true encounter with otherworldly creatures (or even aliens as some have suggested). It could also be a metaphorical fairy tale-type legend, or merely invented out of whole cloth.

The Devil’s Footprints, Devon

Over the course of a few nights in February 1855, strange footprints in heavy snow appeared covering a distance of up to 100 miles, according to some reports, in areas near the Exe Estuary in East and South Devon. They were nicknamed the Devil’s Footprints, as the prints resembled cloven hooves and, more alarmingly, travelled straight across or through houses, rivers, and other obstacles, with prints even appearing on top of roofs and walls which the perpetrator seemed to have effortlessly ascended.

Extending from Exmouth to Topsham, then seemingly crossing the Exe Estuary and extending to Dawlish and Teignmouth, and with some sightings reported further afield, the Devil’s Footprints truly proved to be a mystery for the ages.

A number of theories have been put forward for this phenomenon over the years, including such varied explanations as a stray balloon dragging its mooring ropes through the snow, the prints of hopping rodents, badgers, or a pair of escaped kangaroos, or simply a hysterical overreaction with multiple mundane causes. Still, the image of the Devil or another supernatural entity roaming quiet 19th-century English landscapes in the dead of night has proved to be an unsettling and enduring one.

The Devil's Footprints - Old English folklore stories
Old English folklore stories

The UK certainly has its share of spooky and unexplained stories, but if they are just the result of overactive imaginations throughout the centuries, it’s perhaps no surprise, given the evocative, romantic and sometimes even otherworldly landscapes that make up our spectacular countryside and coasts.