During a heavy snowfall in 1855, a set of footprints appeared in Southern Devon that have mystified people ever since. According to reports taken at that time, the footprints covered over a hundred miles, through walls and haystacks, appearing on the other side of the solid barrier as if nothing were there.
While the sheer length of the footprints' path may have been exaggerated over time and they may have been a hallmark of a freak weather concern, the fact remains that they occurred and are, as of today, still unexplained.
Deep in the night of February 8th, 1855, Devon was experiencing extremely heavy snowfall. Between midnight, when the snow finally tapered off, and 6:00 the following morning, something or someone left between 40 and 100 miles of odd footprints.
They were found to range from Exmouth, through Topsham, across the Exe Estuary and into Teignmouth.
Hoof-shaped, they were found in many disagreeable places, such as the tops of roofs and on the other side of thick walls. A set of prints were purported to cross a two mile stretch of the river Exe and reappearing on the other side, as if the creature had simply floated across or walked across the water.
The prints were even reported to cross narrow openings, such as drain pipes and cracks in buildings, and reappear without interruption on the other side.
Once everyone realized that the footprints covered a much larger area than just Devon, the more nature-oriented scientists studied the prints.
One naturalist made detailed sketches of the prints, measuring the distance between them as about eight and a half inches consistently, no matter the location. It was noted that the tracks suggested a bipedal creature.
As a feeling of pervasive unease spread through the countryside, some members of the clergy thought that the prints belonged to the Devil, hunting sinners throughout the country side. Other, more scientifically-minded people, rejected the idea of the Devil as mere superstition.
Some papers noted that there had been a kangaroo escape from Mr. Fische's private zoo in Sidmouth.
However, no version of the tracks were described in a way consistent with kangaroos. Sir Richard Owen had concluded that the tracks were badger-made, while others blamed racoons, rats, birds, and otters. None of these hold much water, as they do not account for all of the print
Geoffrey Household thought that the marks could have been left by an experimental balloon that left Devonport Dockyard accidentally. The tracks would have been made by two trailing shackles on the end of its mooring ropes.
He found this out via Major Carter, whose grandfather told him about the incident, which had been quieted due to the fact the balloon destroyed several buildings until it landed later.
While a valid theory, it fell apart as the balloon would not have traveled such a rambling course without the ropes being tangled in a tree or other building.
A modern pet theory is that the entire area of Southern Devon was suffering from mass hysteria. The prints may have been normal, but interpreted as mystical.
There are similar incidents like the Devil's Footprints around the world. According to Ralph of Coggeshall, strange hoofprints appeared after a violent storm on July 19th, 1205.
They were visible while the earth was soft, while the electrical storm implied an unknown natural phenomenon.
In the Times, fifteen years prior to the Devil's Footprints, they reported strange footprints high in the mountains of Scotland, near Glenorchy. These were reported to go on for twelve miles. Marks were also reported in 1855 in Poland, near Galicia, and they were said to be reported every year.
In 2009, similar marks to the ones that occurred in 1855 were reported in Devon.
As well, in 2013, trails in Scotland were reported to feature the marks, though those are asummed to be an April Fool's hoax or prank.
The Devil's Footprints remain a fascinating phenomenon that has captured the mind of scientists and scholars everywhere.
They will only ever be satisfactorily solved if they occur again, at a point where they can be studied closely.
Until modern science can get a crack at them, they are still relegated to apocrypha and scary folktales, much as Bigfoot or the Sasquatch has been in recent years.
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