The Devil’s Footprints was the name given to a peculiar phenomenon that occurred in Devon, England on 8 February 1855.
Albert Brailsford, the principal of the village school in Topsham walked out his front door to find that it had snowed in the night. He was intrigued to find a line of hoofprints that ran down the village street. At first he thought they were the prints of shod horse but then noticed the prints looked more like they belonged to a two legged creature of some sort. The villagers followed the prints that seemed to stop at a brick wall but then continued on the other side. It was soon clear that the situation was unexplainable.
These footprints, measuring 1.5 to 2.5 inches wide and eight inches apart, continued throughout the countryside for a total of over 100 miles, and, although veering at various points, for the greater part of their course followed straight lines. Houses, rivers, haystacks and other obstacles were travelled straight over, and footprints appeared on the tops of snow-covered roofs and high walls which lay in the footprints’ path, as well as leading up to and exiting various drain pipes of as small as a four inch diameter. Reports of similar anomalous, obstacle-unheeded footprints exist from other parts of the world, although none is of such a scale as that of the case of the Devil’s Footprints.
The area in which the prints appeared extended from Exmouth, up to Topsham, and across the river Exe to Dawlish and Teignmouth. R.H. Busk, in an article published in Notes and Queries decades later, stated that footprints also appeared further afield, as far south as Totnes and Torquay, and that there were other reports of the prints further afield in Weymouth (Dorset) and even Lincolnshire. In each case, the prints would go on for miles and miles before abruptly stopping.
There were also attendant rumours about sightings of a “devil-like figure” in the Devon area during the scare. Many townspeople armed themselves and attempted to track down the beast responsible, without success. Many theories were also proposed including that they were made by a kangaroo, badger, rats and even an experimental balloon.
The prints were seen again in 2009. More strange marks, corresponding to those left in 1855, were found again in Devon. Comparative analysis shows similar markings. Reports of similar anomalous, obstacle-unheeded footprints exist from other parts of the world, although none is of such a scale as that of the case of the Devil’s Footprints.
Among the high mountains of that elevated district where Glenorchy, Glenlyon and Glenochay are contiguous, there have been met with several times, during this and also the former winter, upon the snow, the tracks of an animal seemingly unknown at present in Scotland. The print, in every respect, is an exact resemblance to that of a foal of considerable size, with this small difference, perhaps, that the sole seems a little longer, or not so round; but as no one has had the good fortune as yet to have obtained a glimpse of this creature, nothing more can be said of its shape or dimensions; only it has been remarked, from the depth to which the feet sank in the snow, that it must be a beast of considerable size. It has been observed also that its walk is not like that of the generality of quadrupeds, but that it is more like the bounding or leaping of a horse when scared or pursued. It is not in one locality that its tracks have been met with, but through a range of at least twelve miles.
The Mammoth Encyclopedia of the Unsolved, pgs. 107-110