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Lair of the Beasts: Hell Hounds on the Loose
Reality vs. Hoaxing
By Nick Redfern
January 15, 2011
Beware of the Black Dog.
For centuries, the ghostly black dog, or Devil Dog, has been an integral part of British folklore, mythology, and the world of monster-hunting. Generally described as being much larger than any normal hound, its coat is utterly black, its eyes blaze like fiery, red-hot coals, and its appearance and presence is often perceived as an ominous precursor to disaster, tragedy and death. In other words, the black dog of Britain is suspected by many of being a definitive Grim-Reaper.
One particularly well-known black dog tale is that concerning a certain Richard Cabell, a notorious squire who lived at Brook Manor, north of nearby Buckfastleigh, England. Cabell was known throughout the area for his evil reputation; and when he died in the 1670s, it was said that giant black dogs with glowing red eyes and monstrous, snapping jaws were seen howling and racing across the moonlit wilds of Dartmoor. Notably, it was this tale, and very similar ones, that inspired Sir Arthur Conan Doyle to pen the classic Sherlock Holmes novel, The Hound of the Baskervilles.
There may, however, be a far more down to earth explanation for at least some of the old, ghostly black dog reports. Mark North is both an author and a skilled artist who, from his home in Dorset, England, has studied the black dog phenomenon deeply, and who has some intriguing thoughts on this weird phenomenon.
Mark says: “There are a lot of stories about the phantom black dogs. I’ve done a lot of investigations into the stories and myths around black dog tales. If you go back to the older tradition of black dogs, I think a lot of it could have been invented. On the Dorset coast, for example, there was a very big smuggling trade going on centuries ago. I think a lot of the stories of these animals were invented to frighten people and keep them away from the smuggling areas.”
He continues: “What was also happening around this time is that Dorset had a lot of connections with Newfoundland, Canada, and they used to do a lot of trading with the fishermen there. It was around this time that the Newfoundland dogs were brought over here, to this country. So, you have a new type of dog being brought over here, which was very large and that no-one had ever seen before, and then you have these tales of large black dogs roaming around, and smugglers inventing these black dog tales. So, I think it could be that part of the story, at least, is that the Black Dog legends have their origins in these large, working black dogs brought over from Newfoundland.”
Is it possible that Britain’s entire mythology of ghostly black dogs is based solely upon the invented tales of smugglers? Both Mark and I consider such an all-encompassing possibility to be highly unlikely, given the fact that sightings of such nightmarish beasts had been made all across the British Isles, and long before the smugglers of Dorset were up to their dark tricks.
In all likelihood, we conclude, those same smugglers merely modified for their own ends already-existing black dog legends – something which worked even better for them with the introduction to the British Isles of the gigantic Newfoundland hound.
And as Mark also told me: “Back in the 1600s and 1700s, when many of these stories started, people were very superstitious. Back then, it was a completely different world. And that’s what I like about it: it was very innocent in some ways. You’ve got this superstition of these black dogs there that turned everything around and it made it a completely different world. You could go into some of the old woods, and on the moors, and it would have been like being in a different world, where anything might have happened.”
So, some of Britain’s ghostly black hounds may be explainable via the created tales of long-gone smugglers. Others, however, may just about be your worst nightmare come true.
Nick Redfern is the author of many books, including Final Events; Contactees; and the forthcoming The Real Men in Black.