Talking Tree - Folklore

Spectral Dogs

Whether its a Barguest or Padfoot if you come from Yorkshire, Cu Sith to the Scots, Cwn Annwfn to the Welsh, or Black Shuck to those of East Anglia, Stories of spectral hounds with large glowing eyes that pursue, punish or sometimes aid, travellers on lonely stretches of road can be found in the folklore and myth of most places in Britain, and in many other cultures of the world. In fact, it is most probable, particularly in areas like East Anglia and Yorkshire, that these legends are descended from stories of Odin's black hounds from Norse mythology, a legacy from those regions' viking past.

Northamptonshire and surrounding areas have several locations where supernatural dogs are said to roam.

Ailsworth, near Peterborough, is reported to be haunted by a large black dog with glowing red eyes. A similar looking dog, described as being about the size of a small horse, is reputed to roam the woods near Thorney (also near Peterborough). Although Barnack, near Stamford, also claims to be home to a Shuck, the creature spotted there was said to look more like a large, black, longhaired bear.

The ability to appear in different shapes is a common feature in many legendary spectral hounds. The Barguest of Yorkshire, Northumberland and Durham does appear mostly as a huge black mastiff with glowing eyes, horns and fangs, but can also appear as a big, black shaggy bear with fiery eyes. It is sometimes seen with chains wrapped around it, which it drags along behind, often around burial mounds, graveyards or gallows. The name "Barguest" is believed to be of German origin, possibly originally "Bargeist" (geist is the German word for ghost or spirit) and may mean something like "spirit of the graveyard".

The word "shuck" is thought to originate from the Saxon word "succa" which means "demon".

But not all Shucks are fierce and unfriendly "demons". At Cottingham, near Rockingham, the old Corby Road area is said to be haunted by a large black dog that befriends lonely travelers. The dog will walk alongside anyone travelling this road alone, but if you try to touch it, it is said it will immediately vanish. Similarly, the Essex Shuck is a traveller's guardian, guiding them and protecting them against attack on the road.

The Cu Sith of Scottish legend is definitely no friend to the traveller, however. Said to be about the size of a young cow, and covered in dark green, shaggy hair, no traveller is said to survive an encounter with it (although it first gives a warning bark so that travellers may go into hiding). Any traveller who has not found shelter by the third bark is doomed.

The Cwn Annwfn (hounds of the underworld) in Welsh legend are more discerning in their quarry. Part of th e"Wild Hunt" they help punish wrongdoers by pursuing them and running them into the ground. These dogs, unlike many of their spectral counterparts, are said to be white, with bright red ears.

Helping or harming the unwary traveller, or guarding a lonely stretch of road or ancient burial site, it would seem that supernatuural dogs are deeply ingrained in our superstitions and folklore. So much so that they inspired one of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's most famous creations - the Hound of the Baskervilles.

by Lauren


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