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The Haunt of the Black Dog

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The Haunt of the Black Dog

The following story is reproduced from the book Supernatural England.

Most areas have their own particular ghost but there is one supernatural creature that knows no boundaries - the Black Dog.

The terror of the Black Dog spreads like a stain over much of the country, although each area has its own name for the huge beast with glowing eyes, which pads silently along lonely lanes, ancient tracks and coastal paths.

Alarming as his appearance may be to a lone traveller, tradition has it that a sighting is also an omen of death and disaster to the terrified onlooker. But the number of witnesses who have encountered the devil dog and lived to tell the tale give the lie to this superstition.

In the North of England he is the Padfoot, Shriker or Trash, in Norfolk Black Shuck or the Snarleyow, and in Suffolk he is Shuck or the Galleytrot, whereas in Wales there is a whole pack of devil dogs, the Cwm Annum, the creatures of Annwn, King of the Underworld, said to be the souls of those doomed to wander for ever in purgatory. Seen alone there, he is the Gwyllgi, known as the dog of darkness.

Dartmoor, too, has its legendary pack of hellhounds which range that bleak wilderness, but it is believed to be during a holiday in Cromer that Conan Doyle got the inspiration for his Hound of the Baskervilles, when he first heard about Black Shuck.

East Anglia has many tales of the Black Dog and on stormy nights tough old fishermen would say that this is the kind of weather when he is likely to be abroad, his blood-chilling howl rising above the sound of the wind.

The Galleytrot is reputed to have been seen near Leiston church, in the large churchyard fringed by lime trees and filled with ancient gravestones green with lichen. But when I was there no black hound made an appearance, not even a friendly Labrador. 

In the early 1900s, two aristocratic ladies, Lady Walsingham and Lady Rendlesham, once sat up one night in the churchyard hoping for a glimpse of the legendary hound. Sure enough, at midnight, they saw slinking between the gravestones a dark shadowy form which leapt over the churchyard wall and disappeared down the lane.

Ancient tracks are haunts of the Black Dog, and he is said to range along the Devil's Ditch, a defensive earthwork which peters out close to the village of Reach, just over the border in Cambridgeshire. It runs as far as Newmarket Heath, crossing the A11 and A14 north of the roundabout where the roads join.

In his Ghost Book, Alasdair Alpin MacGregor reports that one evening in the early autumn of 1938 an Aldeburgh man was on his way home from Bungay, walking towards Ditchingham station. He noticed a black object approaching, and as it got nearer he could see that it was a large black dog with a long shaggy coat. It was on the same side of the road and he moved into the centre of the road to let it pass, but as it drew level with him, it vanished! Naturally he recounted this extraordinary experience to his friends in the 'local', and was told that Black Shuck was known to frequent the neighbourhood and quite a number of people had seen him.

There have been other sightings too: near Reydon Hall, on the road between Middleton in Essex and Boxford in Suffolk, at Wicken Fen near Newmarket and on the Cromer to Aldeburgh coast road. MacGregor relates that one evening at the beginning of the 20th century a Southwold couple were driving home near Reydon Hall when Black Shuck appeared almost under the horses' hooves. But when the driver hit out at it with his whip to frighten it off, concerned that they might run over it, 'it just wasn't there any longer.'

But one of the most frigthening encounters happened during the last war. An American airman and his wife had rented a flat-topped hut on the edge of Walberswick Marsh while the husband was serving at the nearby airbase. One evening during a bad storm they suddenly heard loud pounding on the door, and when the airman looked through the window, he was amazed to see a huge black dog repeatedly hurling its body at their hut.

It must have seemed an incredible nightmare, but as it went on the couple piled whatever furniture they had against the door, becoming terrified as the creature still continued to batter the hut walls, and even jumped up onto the flat room.

Their ordeal continued for some hours, but as dawn arrived at last and the noise ceased, they cautiously emerged to inspect the damage. To their amazement there was no evidence of the ferocious battering of the night before, and no paw marks in the soft mud round the hut.

Alasdair Alpin MacGregor also described another Walberswick inhabitant's sighting of the terrible monster of the Common'. She and her sister-in-law saw 'a phantom dog the size of a calf and said that on stormy nights it had often been both seen and heard on its travels between Aldeburgh and Cromer.

But the most unforgettable Black Dog case dates back many centuries to 4th August 1577 when 'a Straunge and terrible Wunder' befell the churches of Bungay and Blythburgh. During morning service at St Mary's church, Bungay, an unusually violent storm was raging outside when the service was disrupted as a huge black dog burst in surrounded by lightning flashes. It swept through the building 'with greate swiftnesse and incredible haste among the people and when it passed between two of the worshippers according to the old 16th century tract, it 'wrung the necks of them bothe at one instant clene backward insomuch that, even at a moment where they kneeled, they straungely died'. Another unfortunate man survived, but was shrivelled up like a piece of leather scorched in a hot fire'.

This creature, believed by the people to have been the Devil in the form of Black Shuck, also burst upon the congregation at Blythburgh church on the same day, killing two men and a young lad and leaving his trademark in the form of deep black marks, said to be claw marks, on the north door, which can still be seen. Bungay's memento is in the form of a Black Dog weathervane in the town centre.

As well as the Black Dog's fearsome appearance, people say there is a sulphurous smell and when places where it has appeared are examined, a smell of brimstone is noticed and the ground appears to be scorched. Small wonder then, that Black Dogs are believed to be creatures of the Devil, if not the Devil himself in the form of a dog.

Another supernatural creature with some resemblance to Black Shuck is known as the Shug Monkey, sometimes seen nearby in Cambridgeshire in a lane called Slough Hill on the road between West Wratting and Balsham. A witness described it as a cross between a big rough coated dog and a monkey with big shining eyes. Sometimes it would shuffle along on its hind legs and at other times it would whizz past on all fours.

These days we hear more about sightings of large black cats than black dogs. There is something almost supernatural about those reported glimpses of an unusual beast spotted in the distance or appearing in the car headlights and vanishing just as suddenly. Could some of them have been our old friend Black Shuck? It's said he has his roots in the Hound of Odin whose Norse legend arrived on our shores with the Viking invasion. And certainly he is one of the oldest and most terrifying reported phantoms known in this country.

This story is reproduced from the book, Supernatural England, by Countryside Books, which contains dozens of spooky tales featuring ghosts, poltergeists and hauntings from across the country. To find out more, click here

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  • Alex Batho
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