The snow fell thick and the wind chilled in the winter of 1855. But as the people of Devon shivered around their meagre fires and livestock froze to death, something truly diabolical was afoot. For over the night of 8th February, mysterious hoof-prints appeared. âAh!’, you cry. âSurely just a horse or a sheep shuffling around to keep warm’. Such an explanation would be all well and good, were it not for the fact that these hoof prints appeared over roofs, haystacks, and barns, travelling in a single direction. Oh, and they stretched for between 40 and 60 miles.
After scratching their heads for a while, the frostbitten Devonians realised what the hoof-prints were: the footsteps of Satan himself! What other ungulate could climb over anything in its path on such a cold night? Still, it was unclear what the devil was doing in Devon, or where he was going with such determination. Suddenly, a solution presented itself: the church had just replaced its common prayer book with a new version. The new modes of devotion were clearly erroneous and had angered God, and The Devil had come to prey on the souls of the unwittingly-sinful congregations.
No completely satisfactory explanation for that cold February night has ever been made. A weather balloon, an escaped kangaroo, mice and, farcically, badgers, have all been blamed for the prints at one point or another. The simplest explanation, if we use Ockham’s Razor (usually a good idea), is mass-hysteria: animal tracks were inevitably found in the snow, and a few unusual ones probably set off a mild panic in which any and all prints were attributed to the same source, to say nothing of mankind’s love of mythologising. However, this was not The Devil’s first visit to Devon… read on.