On the night of 7–8 February 1855 and one or two later nights, after a heavy snowfall, a series of hoof-like marks appeared in the snow. These footprints, most of which measured around four inches long, three inches across, between eight and sixteen inches apart and mostly in a single file, were reported from over thirty locations across Devon and a couple in Dorset. It was estimated that the total distance of the tracks amounted to between 40 and 100 miles. 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.
The area in which the prints appeared extended from Exmouth, up to Topsham, and across the Exe Estuary to Dawlish and Teignmouth. R.H. Busk, in an article published in Notes and Queries in 1890, stated that footprints also appeared further afield, as far south as Totnes and Torquay, and that there were other reports of the prints as far away as Weymouth (Dorset) and even Lincolnshire.
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.
And that appeared to be the end of any further sightings until March 2009 when the Daily Mail newspaper in Britain published a very unusual photograph which (as you can see) depicts a single line in the snow of a cloven hoof.
The Daily Mail reports: `The new tracks appeared in fresh snow in Jill Wade's back garden on March 5th. Grandmother Jill, 76, of Woolsery, Devon, said: 'I looked in the garden and it really intrigued me. 'I couldn't believe it - the footprints were in the shape of a cloven hoof. There were no other marks at all in the snow. 'I was quite surprised by it and I hadn't got a clue what it was, but I thought I would love to know.'
Scientists from the Centre for Fortean Zoology inspected the prints which measure 5ins (13cm) long with a stride of between 11 and 17ins (28 and 43cm).
Jonathan Downes, who runs the centre, is investigating whether the footprints could have been left by a hare or rabbits hopping on their hind legs.
Villagers blamed the church for letting the devil into their communities
He said: 'Thousands of people across the world believe in the paranormal, but so far every single thing we have looked into has turned out to have a natural explanation. I'm sure these will as well.
'Do I believe that the Devil comes from the pits of Hell to wander around the gardens of North Devon? Of course not.'But if you're asking if there are things that can't be explained by modern science, then yes. But human knowledge is expanding all the time.'I believe that things that are currently put down to the paranormal will one day be explained by science.'