Imagine a dog the size of a small pony with raven black fur, fangs twice as long as a wolf’s, claws strong enough to splinter wood, and with eyes that glow red in the firelight. Now add in a seriously bad attitude and ghostly links to the underworld. Meet the Black Shuck, the demon dog of Britain. According to eyewitnesses, Black Shuck have been seen from the northern Highland mountains of Scotland to the desolate moors of Devon and Cornwall in the south. They are believed to be at the root of many legends, including the Beast of Bodmin Moor and the Witch Hounds of Sussex. It would be nice to think that they were just ancient legends, but people still keep reporting encounters with these Black Dogs that defy rational explanation.
A 1000-year History of Sightings
Records show that this phenomenon has been happening in Britain for at least a thousand years and has had a significant impact on the culture of the country. There are Black Dog roads, Black Dog pubs, Black Dog hills and even Black Dog woods. The have different names in different parts of the country but are generally the same creature. In the north they are known as a Shriker or Barguest, while in the south they are Yeth Beasts, Witch Dogs and Hellhounds. In the east they are Skeffs, Grimms, or Haidens. So, while ordinary dogs may be man’s best friend, Black Shucks are definitely not.
Black Shuck: Both Ghost and Flesh
There seem to be two types of demon dog, the ghostly kind, and the very real kind.
The spectral version can appear and disappear at will, is able to pass through solid objects and has either one or two red eyes that sometimes glow in the dark. They are believed to be portents of death or disaster but rarely seem to attack people directly. Often seen near graveyards or in old forests, they are said to have a smell of decay about them and cause those who see them to literally shake with fear.
These black dogs are the ones described in the popular Harry Potter wizarding books as Grims where they are also portrayed as death omens. JK Rowling cleverly intertwined real legends into her wizarding world and by doing so reached out to our primal memories.
Paranormal investigators believe that these are real phenomena that are able to pass between the worlds of life and death. This connection with mortality might explain why they are seen in areas associated with decay or places of violent death such as old battlefields or hangman hills. Sometimes the Black Shuck even appears as if it has been dead for some time and has already started decomposing. Occasionally, these demon dogs are associated with hunting or war.
The Peterborough Saxon Chronicle written (1134-54) describes many witnesses seeing a ghostly group of ‘loathsome’ hunters who rode on black horses and were accompanied by a pack of jet-black hounds with eyes like saucers and horrible in appearance. This spectral apparition was allegedly seen on many occasions and last recorded at the end of Lent in 1127AD. It worth noting that archaeologists have discovered that at nearby Flag Fen Neolithic site, dogs were often sacrificed as offerings to the gods.
Sightings of this spectral beast have occurred regularly throughout history and even into modern times.
The author Alasdair MacGregor reports that around 1944, An American airman and his wife had rented a small flat-topped house on the edge of Walberswick Marsh. They were both at home when a terrible storm rolled in with both lightning and thunder – a fairly rare event in Britain. They heard something thumping against the door and, looking through the window, saw a gigantic black hound with shaggy fur trying to break in. Frightened, they piled furniture against the door and waited for hours until the sounds stopped as the storm dissipated and dawn broke. They went outside to see what damage the beast had caused but couldn’t find any nor did they find any pawprints in the wet mud.
In 1999 a boy living near the village of Foulden, on the outskirts of Thetford Forrest, reported that he was chased by a gigantic black dog along the street to his house. As he arrived at the gate to his home the dog simply disappeared. The victim has described the feelings of absolute terror that overwhelmed him and continue to trouble him many years later. (Source Hidden East Anglia)
As recently as March 2021, Dean and Veronica Buckley were researching the ghosts of Conisbrough when their cameras picked up and photographed the image of a ghostly dog. Research revealed that during the 1500’s a great dog had once rushed out of the nearby castle and killed a man close to where they took the photo. (source; Doncaster Free Press)
It seems that the ghostly version of Black Shuck is more a sign of danger or bad luck than actually being dangerous itself. This isn’t the case when the flesh and bone version seeks you out.
Flesh & Bone
A Suffolk Legend claims that on the 4th of August 1577, a gigantic black dog smashed open the doors of St Mary’s Church in Bungay. Outside there were flashes of lightning and a terrible clap of thunder. The foul beast ran up the nave where it attacked and killed a man and a boy. It then savaged another man who collapsed into a shrivelled heap with skin that looked as if it had been drawn together like a purse. The animal kept ripping flesh with cruel teeth and sharp claws. Lightning then struck the steeple of the church which collapsed injuring many people including the Rector who fell in front of the beast but escaped otherwise unharmed. When folk opened their eyes, the beast was gone. These events were recorded by Reverend Abraham Fleming in an essay he penned about the event entitled ‘A Straunge and Terrible Wunder’.
Fleming went on to state that the demon dog then reappeared at the Holy Trinity church in Blythburgh some 12 miles away where it killed another two people before vanishing into the woodlands nearby.
Unlike the more spectral versions of Black Shuck, this creature appeared very real and savage. There are researchers who believe that the beast behind this event was very much living flesh and bone. For the past four centuries wolves had been a constant source of problems for the folk of Britain. Historians record that Athelstan demanded tribute paid in wolfskins and the Norman kings offered land and lordships to men who could clear away the terror of wolves. By the early 1500’s most of the wolves in England had be driven out. However, during 1577, the same year that Black Shuck appeared in Suffolk, King James IV had made it compulsory to hunt wolves at least three times a year as so many cattle had been killed in Sutherland.
Some historians believe that the giant black dogs that were appearing around this time were the result of interbreeding between Great Danes and isolated female wolves under pressure from regional extinction.
There has even been the suggestion that the progeny may have experienced a phenomenon known as growth dysplasia. This is where the offspring is considerably larger than either of the parents. This is well document in Ligers, the cubs of a Lion and Tiger. This effect has also been noticed occasionally by dog breeders.
Black Shuck Attacks
Of interest is that there have been many recorded animal attacks across Britain over the years that defy explanation. This has been consistent for hundreds of years and are still happening today. This is particularly bizarre as the last wolf in Britain was killed in 1680 and the UK has no large predators in the wild.
In 1988 many sheep were viciously attacked in the vicinity of by Rhayader by an unidentified animal that became known as the Beast of Bodalog. The sheep were always killed by a single large bite on the chest which was followed by massive blood loss. Once dead, the fleshy parts of the animal were eaten by the unknown predator.
Just under a year later in 1989, the incidents started again near the village of Clyro. Over the summer dozens of sheep were attacked and killed. This time though witnesses claim to have seen a huge black hellhound or wolf leaving the crime scenes.
Steve Weston from Selby Yorkshire described seeing a huge black creature like a dog but far too big to be a dog hunting in the fields between Birkin and Selby. He was so concerned he reported the incident.
During January of 2018, a ‘mystery beast’ broke into the house of a pensioner from Thurnby Lodge in Leicestershire and savagely mauled the occupant. The man was unable to identify the animal except that it was exceptionally large and black.
In 2019 Mathew Wild of Cornwall claimed he was attacked by a large and aggressive jet-black creature that got in through his window. He claims it would have easily been 6ft tall if stood on its hind legs and growled like no animal he had heard before. He believes the animal might have been a Panther.
During December 2020, some 30 sheep were killed when police believe a large dog got into the enclosure and either killed or terrified the sheep to death. The incident happened in Utkinton Cheshire and both the farmer and police have appealed for help in tracking down the culprit. What made this incident so concerning was that many of the sheep had died without any sign of visible injury.
The mystery of Britain’s demon dogs and unexplained livestock attacks continues. So … if you happen to see a giant ghostly dog with red eyes padding towards you – just run as fast as you can. Real or ghostly, the Black Shuck is not something you ever want to meet.