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The strange case of the Devil’s Footprints

On the morning of February 8, 1855, residents of Devon, England woke up to a strange sight. Footprints that didn’t seem to come from any known creature covered the snowy ground, leading some to believe they had been visited by an otherworldly creature. Let’s talk about the phenomenon best known as the Devil’s Footprints.

the footprints

In addition to coming from an unrecognizable creature, the prints covered between 40 and 100 miles, depending on the source, and went in places no living creature could go. They seemed to go through walls, across roofs and drainpipes and even across a nearby river. The prints measured about 4 inches by 2 3/4 inches, and there were roughly 8 inches between each one.

General consensus said the prints were made by something that walked on two legs. But workers at the British Museum, the Zoological Society and even keepers in Regent’s Park were unable to determine just what they were.

Because they resembled a cloven hoof, and Satan is often portrayed this way, the theory emerged that these prints were made by the devil himself. He was said to be in the area looking for sinners.

And the prints in Devon weren’t the first instance of this kind of phenomenon. A similar set was found regularly in Poland, at least according to a newspaper article of the time. According to a letter to the editor of the Illustrated London News, there was “no mark of a beginning or end being distinguished” in the Polish prints, and they were “universally attributed by the inhabitants to supernatural influence.” Other prints were found in Somersetshire and Gloucestershire around same time. And even more had been reported by a ship captain on the very isolated Kergulen Islands (in the southern Indian Ocean) in 1840.

But these sightings weren’t just relegated to the 1800’s. Witnesses described similar prints in 2009, also in Devon. This time, unlike the original footprints, they were able to be photographed.


So what’s going on here? What are these mysterious prints? Were they really made by Satan himself, or is there a more worldly explanation? Let’s go over some theories.

The first theory is that the prints were made by an animal. Badgers, donkeys, kangaroos and even birds have been thrown out as possible culprits (though many people believe the prints were made specifically by a creature that walked on two legs). On the surface, this would make the most sense — most sources I’ve looked into referred to the markings as ‘prints’ or ‘footprints’ — something commonly thought of as being made by living things.

However, there are some problems with this, namely the strange nature of the prints. As I mentioned earlier, they went in places no living being could have easily gotten — over rooftops, though fences and even over a river. An animal trekking through all of these paths, especially for dozens of miles, seems unlikely.

The next theory is that the prints were caused by a hot air balloon. As stated by

“The British novelist Geoffrey Household…believed that “an experimental balloon” was mistakenly released on the Devonport Dockyard. According to Geoffrey, the balloon had made the traces in the snow by dragging two shackles attached on the end of its mooring ropes.”

This is a strange theory, at least to me. I don’t know much about hot air balloons and, therefore, have no way of saying how likely this is. But I did find it interesting enough to share.

The last theory is that the prints weren’t real, that they were either created by humans as a hoax or a result of mass hysteria. It’s possible that they were created by one party of a dispute to make their opponents look bad. Or maybe multiple people saw unusual but different prints in the show and the stories grew over time. Admittedly, this is probably the least exciting theory — though in these cases, those theories are often the correct ones.


In truth, we’ll probably never know exactly what the so-called ‘Devil’s Footprints’ really were. As I mentioned earlier, the famous Devon prints of 1855 were never photographed. A lot of what we know about them comes from information from old archived newspapers or sketches — leaving a lot up to the human imagination.

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