One cold winter morning in 1855, the residents of Devon, England, woke to a strange sight. Snow had blanketed the ground overnight, and crisscrossing the white countryside were sets of mysterious tracks. While they appeared to be left by hooves, they dotted the snow in a single-file line, like an animal walking on two legs, placing one hoof in front of the other. What's more, these strange tracks ran for miles, crossing places where no normal animal could reach.
This wasn't the only one of Devon's strange occurrences, but for decades, the so-called "Devil's Footprints" have perplexed both skeptics and believers alike. While Devon is perhaps the most popular instance of Devil's Footprints, similar incidents have occurred throughout history and around the world.
The bizarre footprints that appeared on Devon's snowy countryside followed no discernable path, and they appeared in more than 30 different locations all over the town's south and east ends. They meandered across dozens of miles, even leading up to people's doorsteps, frightening the residents.
Most unusual, however, was the fact that they reached places no animal could go - over house roofs and haystacks, through barns, up walls, across the frozen Exe Estuary, and even through pipes no more than four inches in diameter.
While later accounts of similar phenomena have been limited in scope, Devon's "Devil's Footprints" covered up to 100 miles of land, reaching as far as Topsham, Dawlish, and Teignmouth. According to some reports, the tracks may also have reached as far south as Totnes and Torquay and as far away as Dorset or Lincolnshire.
Overall, the strange hoofprints were found spanning an area of anywhere from 40 to 100 miles, making most rational explanations seem implausible.
Without a fresh snowfall, the distinctive marks would have been imperceptible to locals. Moreover, while accounts of the snowfall's heaviness seem to vary, most agree not only that the previous night was particularly cold, but that a thaw occurred sometime before morning, which may have allowed animal tracks to become distorted.
Skeptics often point to this theory to explain the bizarre phenomenon of the Devil's Footprints.
The unexplained tracks shortly acquired the nickname "the Devil's Footprints" or "tracks of Satan," thanks in part to their hoof-like shape. This supernatural implication was aided by the tracks' unexplainable, miles-long path. People came to believe that the "Devil walks in Devon," as newspapers would later claim, and took to staying indoors after dark.
Some observers even claimed the tracks appeared burned or branded into the snow. This claim was seemingly substantiated in 1957 when an anthropologist and psychical researcher reported hoofprints found on a Devon beach that "looked as if each mark had been cut out of the sand with a flat iron." These 1957 hoofprints were also spaced six feet apart, implying a much longer stride than those reported in 1855.
Also in 1957, Lynda Hanson wrote to the Fortean Times detailing tracks she found in her parents' garden. Her description matched the Devil's Footprints of 1855 almost exactly, and beneath these tracks, she claimed to see dry concrete, as if the tracks had not just melted the snow, but transformed it.