The Mystery Of The Devil’s Footprint

British snowfall on February 8th 1855 was particularly heavy But in the county of Devon, it was not the snow, but what lay within it that was the most chilling surprise of all

Residents awoke to discover a trail of footprints stretching for 160 kilometres The imprint matched no known living creature But, it was not simply the shape of its foot that was a mystery The creature was alarmingly agile too Its trail traversed roofs and haystacks

Some reported that it continued over walls 14 feet tall Then, it became clear – this was no earthly creature The footstep was a cloven hoof, the mark of the devil Soon, word got round that Satan was roaming the region hunting for sinners, and a legend was born But it didn’t end there

Some anonymous sources insisted that further inexplicable footprints appeared on the following two mornings Soon, the story became a national sensation Trewman’s Exeter Flying Post described the story as “an excitement worthy of the dark ages”, noting that the footprints were “most strange and [a] mysterious description” Local tradesmen became so alarmed that they amassed an impressive arsenal of bludgeons and guns They then followed the trail to trace and exterminate the purported demon

When they reached its end, there was nothing to be found Villagers brought in an expert naturalist to scientifically examine the prints His enquiries concluded that they were evenly spaced and exactly the same length of between 2 and 3 inches This eliminated one popular suggestion; that they were a hoax, an artificial creation to produce mass hysteria One letter to the Illustrated London News wrote that the “mysterious visitor generally only passed once down or across each garden or courtyard, and did so in nearly all the houses in many parts of several towns, as also in the farms scattered about

The gardens with high fences or walls, and gates locked, were equally visited as those open and unprotected” The incident was mystifying because no known animal either then, or to this day, was capable of such extravagant manoeuvres Even the Times newspaper noted that the footprints were ""more like that of a biped than a quadruped, and the steps were generally eight inches in advance of each other The impressions of the feet closely resembled that of a donkey's shoe, and measured from an inch and a half to two and a half inches across"" The London Illustrated News suspected that the footprints belonged to a kangaroo that had recently escaped from the private Sidmouth zoo

However, the footprints bore no resemblance to those of the marsupial And given that some reports claimed that the trail even went through and over drainpipes, this suggestion was impossible Certainly, an earthly visit from Satan preceded by footprints was not a new phenomenon In one account from the 13th century, nobleman Ralph of Coggeshall described the night of the 19th of July, 1205 Following a violent electrical storm, a disturbing hoof print appeared in the mud

No reasonable explanation was ever found In 2009, further evidence emerged that suggested this could be a recurring phenomenon, when unknown footprints returned to Devon Retiree Jill Wade discovered the cloven footprints, 13 centimetre by 14 centimetres, in her backyard Amateur sleuths throughout the United Kingdom tried to solve the mystery, sending their theories to newspaper letters pages One of these said the footprints probably came from a “poor, despised and insignificant rat”

Yet another gave a more fantastical response, saying that they must derive from a Unipede This creature is now generally considered a mythical beast, which was allegedly spotted by the explorer Biom Herjolffson in Labrador in the year 1001 Indeed, no alternative solution has ever been good enough to substantiate an alternative explanation to devilish activity Yet, there is no evidence that the devil exists Since his existence is unproven, it is misleading to use this as the mainstay of the argument

The idea of the Devil comes from Christian doctrine, which was followed almost universally in the 19th century This fact, more than the theory’s authenticity, may explain why it was hardly challenged at the time Many people have argued that an off-course hot air balloon might be a possible explanation The local dockyard had released a balloon accidentally around the same time It has been put forward that the trail might have been caused by loose mooring shackles dragging through the snow

However, this explanation is not foolproof The likelihood of this happening without the attached chains getting caught in obstacles like trees, is extremely low As for Jill Wade, her claims of a Devilish patrol on her property were soon disproved by precise scientific analysis Jonathan Downes from the Centre for Fortean Zoology inspected the footprints and said that they were more likely made by a hare or rabbit Downes was able to measure and inspect the footprints thanks to modern photo messaging services, and compared them to animal database records

If this technology had been available in 1855, the original devil’s footprints might also have been traced to an animal species too The mystery of the devil’s footprints is an enduring one There is no real proof that this trail was Lucifer’s work, but neither is there any explanation that stands up to more scientific scrutiny Until there is, supernature and paranormal activity might be the strongest explanation we have

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