How many of these 26 mythical Beasts from the East have you heard of?
- Credit: Scott Nicholson Design
In the familiar landscape of Norfolk and Suffolk there are secrets hidden in the countryside: this is where the wild things are, the beasts, the creatures, the unknown.
The east has a rich folkloric history of strange beasts which have been talked about in hushed whispers for centuries: ghostly black dogs, spectral horses, hybrid creatures, bogeymen, mermaids, Bigfoot, dragons, serpents and Things With No Name.
Weird Norfolk and Weird Suffolk go on the trail of some of the strangest creatures to have been spotted across our region – an alternative tour guide for the daring, curious traveller.
THE HATEFUL THING: GELDESTON, NORFOLK
In Bogie Tales of East Anglia, written by Margaret Helen James in 1891, we learn of The Hateful Thing. She wrote: “There is an uncomfortable sort of ghostly terror, in beast form, that haunts the villages on the borders of the two counties, which is commonly called the ‘Hateful Thing’. I allude to the churchyard or hell-beast…Whenever it is met in any locality, it is a sign that some great and unusually horrible wickedness is about to be committed or has just taken place there.”
WEEPING WHITE GHOST HORSE: TROWSE, NORFOLK
A local tale links the tragic story of young woman who fell under the ice on the River Yare during a bitter winter and who drowned as her young son watched helplessly from the river bank and a ghost. Since the woman’s untimely death, several villagers had reported seeing a phantom white horse in the village – a ghost horse that sheds tears.
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MAN-DOG HYBRID: CLOPTON GREEN, SUFFOLK
A terrifying man-dog hybrid is said to stalk the site where St Felix of Burgundy buried his treasure in Suffolk – but is it a dog-headed monk, or a monk-headed dog? According to legend, St Felix buried treasure at Clopton in Suffolk in the late 9th century and left a huge, Shuck-like dog and a monk in place to guard the bounty. Through the centuries, there were reports that the area was haunted by a terrifying beast – some say a dog-headed monk, others a monk-headed dog.
BISHOP BEAVER: BABINGLEY, NORFOLK
It is said that when St Felix landed in East Anglia from Burgundy in 631 he arrived at the Wash and began to sail up the River Babingley. Caught in a violent storm, St Felix's ship floundered in the water and he was saved from drowning, so the tale has it, by a colony of beavers which guided him to safety. In gratitude, St Felix sought out the chief of the beavers and consecrated him as a bishop to thank him for saving his life and allowing him to deliver 'all the province of East Anglia from long-standing unrighteousness and unhappiness'.
FAIRY COW: SOUTH LOPHAM, NORFOLK
South Lopham in Norfolk boasts a fairy cow, which magically appeared during times of great hardship in the village and disappeared when things improved.
SHUG MONKEY: RENDLESHAM, SUFFOLK
In the dark, dark wood, there’s a dark, dark secret: a fantastical beast that’s part giant dog, part muscular bear and part enormous ape. The Shug Monkey was first mentioned in print by James Wentworth Day in his 1954 book, Here Are Ghosts and Witches. A local police constable A. Taylor, described it to Wentworth Day as: “a cross between a big rough-coated dog and a monkey with big shining eyes. Sometimes it would shuffle along on its hind legs and at other times it would whiz past on all fours.” The creature was seen by Sam Holland in 1956 and described as a vast creature walking on four muscular legs covered in black fur and 10ft long. Seven years later, a woman called Peggy Cushing saw an almost-identical sounding beast with one (fairly large) difference: as she stared at the beast in horror, it shimmered and then shifted its shape to become a winged gargoyle, taking flight into the darkness.
MERMAID: SHERINGHAM, NORFOLK
The 15th century pews in the 900-year-old church of All Saints in Upper Sheringham tell the fishy tale of an unusual visitor to the village who has left her mark. On the bench end of the pew closest to the north door is a mermaid, carved in wood. Legend says the mermaid was drawn to the church from more than a mile away by the sound of heavenly singing and, despite the encumbrance of a tail, dragged herself from the beach to churchyard. With the service still in full swing, the church Beadle unceremoniously slammed the door in the face of the sea princess, leaving her floundering outside. But mermaids are made of stern stuff and as soon as she was able, she crept into the back of the church and can still be found there today.
SINGING MICE: NORTH COVE, BUNGAY, LOWESTOFT, SUFFOLK
Suffolk is a veritable concert hall for performing mice who have been discovered in North Cove between Lowestoft and Beccles and in Bungay. In North Cove, a lady was recovering from illness in 1892 and had been entertained by the singing of a mysterious bird she had sought in vain to discover. She then realised the singing creature was a mouse, managed to capture it and kept it in a cage to hear its song. It liked “ale and hollow biscuits”. The Lowestoft Journal of June 1892 described the mouse’s voice as: like "the liquid notes of a nightingale and at others those of the canary and other birds". A second singing mouse was owned by a Lowestoft watch-maker and a third by Captain Mead of Earsham Hall in Bungay in 1857.
HEADLESS DONKEY: CRANWORTH, NORFOLK
A farmer’s wife, out late at night, had heard footsteps behind her and on turning, saw “…a shape like a donkey standing on its hind legs, prancing and towering over her”. In terror, she hurried on, the footsteps matching her pace. Finally, she reached the safety of her cottage and rushed inside, slamming the doors – but she couldn’t resist looking out of the window to see what had followed her. She “…distinctly saw a headless donkey pass on its way through the starlit night.”
PHANTOM RABBIT: THETFORD WARREN LODGE, NORFOLK
It is said that a large – even huge – ghostly white rabbit with flaming red eyes guards the doorway to the lodge and is an omen of death to anyone who lays eyes on it.
DONKEY-HEADED SHUCK: MELTON, SUFFOLK
A somewhat half-assed Shuck was seen in Melton in the 1800s. In County Folklore: Suffolk, written in 1893, the tale was told: "It was a dark night when Goodman Kemp of Woodbridge entered the inn in a hurried frightened manner, and asked for the loan of a gun to shoot a 'Shock', which hung upon the toll-gate bars. It was a 'thing' with a donkey's head and a smooth velvet hide. Kemp, somewhat emboldened by the support of companions, sought to grab the creature and take it to the inn to examine it. As he seized it, it turned suddenly round, snapped at Kemp's hand and vanished.”
BEAST OF THE A1075: THETFORD, NORFOLK
Sometimes the spectacular is hidden in the mundane: on a stretch of road between Thetford to Wretham, a strange creature has been spotted by numerous witnesses, something resembling the descriptions of Bigfoot. Could there be a cryptid creature foraging in the forest, a yeti-like beast that generally camouflages itself in deep thickets and is only disturbed once in a blue moon?
WHITE SHUCK: BURGH NEAR WOODBRIDGE, SUFFOLK
St Botolph’s Church at Burgh sits on a hill which, legend has it, is itself the home of a demon who loves water. Witnesses have reported seeing a beast in the shape of a dog as big as a bullock and pure white. Sometimes, the shape of the creature is somewhat indefinable and it prefers to lurk in boggy areas and will give chase to anyone that it sees.
GILDENCROFT BOGEY: ST AUGUSTINE’S AREA, NORWICH, NORFOLK
In the 1880s, on the outskirts of Norwich where knights once practised their jousting, a strange creature was spotted lurking in the shadows. A witness described the beast: "…big and hairy, eyes glowing in the dark, big as tea-saucers, big sharp teeth and its breath…it was most noxious." And people in their 70s and 80s still remember the threat of the bogeyman if they didn't behave.
MERMAID: FORNHAM ALL SAINTS, SUFFOLK
At Fornham All Saints – one of a trio of Fornhams which includes Fornham St Genevieve and Fornham St Martin – on the outskirts of Bury St Edmunds, there was said to be a deep well in which a bad-tempered mermaid lived. When the mermaid heard children’s chatter and laughter, she would lurk close to the surface of the well and strike if they dared dip their fingers in the cool water, grabbing them with the intention of pulling them underwater to their death.
GLOWING OWLS: WEST BILNEY NEAR KING’S LYNN/LOWER HELLESDON/HADDISCOE/RUSHALL, NORFOLK
For more than a century, there have been reports of glowing owls streaking across county skies in the dark of night, luminous birds that appear like flying spectres. A gamekeeper saw a bright blue light fly close to his face late at night in 1897 and fired at it – only to find it was a glowing barn owl. A year later, a flowing owl was seen in Lower Hellesdon and in 1921 one was spotted over the marshes at Haddiscoe. In 1922, three witnesses saw what they thought was “a pale star”, but what was actually a luminous owl.
GHOST DONKEY: HONING, NORFOLK
St Peter and St Paul is a quiet, sacred spot: not one where you would expect to encounter a white donkey with sulphurous smoke pouring from its flared nostrils, particularly a transparent one with the ability to gallop straight through a church wall. As the witness to the strange beast’s appearance watched in amazement, the beast passed him at a pace and he realised that he could see straight through it to the hedge beyond him.
BLACK SHUCK: SUFFOLK - VARIOUS
He’s East Anglia’s paranormal claim to fame, the huge black dog which has patrolled the coastal paths and byways of the region for centuries and who is said to bring certain death to those that see him, or those they love. His most famous outing was at Bungay, where he burst into a church during a storm and killed parishioners, but he has also been seen across the county at places such as Holy Trinity Church at Blythburgh. The extraordinary Hidden East Anglia database also places him at dozens of locations from Aldeburgh to Woodbridge, Bardwell to Walberswick, Beccles to Southwold, Halesworth to Oulton and beyond.
BLACK SHUCK: NORFOLK – VARIOUS
The legendary devil dog of the East has wandered our dark lanes for centuries – some say he has one fiery eye, some say two, some claim he howls, others that he is silent. To a few, he is a friendly companion. To most, he is to be feared. Shuck has been seen across the county from Aslacton to Winterton, Blakeney to Cromer, Castle Acre to Great Yarmouth and Gorleston, Hunstanton to Thetford, Norwich to Downham Market and beyond. Find out many more locations here.
SEA DRAGON: ORFORD NESS, SUFFOLK
A sea monster landed by fishermen in 1749 was discovered in their nets as they trawled the coastline – the creature was a terrifying marine monster that looked like a winged crocodile and which promptly attacked one man and disabled another before it was despatched to its own death. The sea dragon, as it was called, measured just over a metre in length – longer when it was alive and in the sea – and had two legs with cloven feet.
SEA SERPENT: ECCLES ON SEA, NORFOLK
Three men saw what they said was “…a huge serpent about 30 or 40ft in length and skimming the surface of the water in a wormlike movement but travelling at a terrific speed, certainly not less than one mile a minute” on Eccles beach in August 1936. Other witnesses saw it and another saw a “five-humped creature” close by at Mundesley.
DRAGON: LUDHAM, NORFOLK
In 1782, a creature appeared in Ludham said to have resembled a dragon or monstrous lizard – covered with scales, it has wings and huge teeth and was said to measure up to 15ft in length. It lived in a labyrinth under Ludham until villagers closed its burrow and it escaped to St Benet’s Abbey, where it disappeared into the vaults.
DRAGONS: LITTLE CORNARD, SUFFOLK
In 1449, two cumbersome visitors chose this village as their battleground: from the direction of Kedington Hill came a huge black dragon from Suffolk and from the direction of Ballingdon Hill came a creature from Essex, another black dragon, this time mottled with crimson over its ghastly scales. The fire-breathing beasts fought for an hour at sunset, the ground shaking as they went to war in front of a small army of incredulous villagers who had gathered to watch the fight from a safe distance. The red dragon won, but neither were killed.
THE FAINES: HETHERSETT, NORFOLK
These were animals the size of calves with saucer eyes which frequented Hethersett and appeared at dusk.
SUFFOLK PUMA: VARIOUS INCLUDING SHINGLE STREET/IPSWICH/HALESWORTH/WRENTHAM/BECCLES/BURY ST EDMUNDS/WOODBRIDGE, SUFFOLK
There have been dozens of sightings of big cats in Suffolk which pretty much cover the whole county. Cryptid or escapee, though…?
NORFOLK PUMA: VARIOUS INCLUDING CONGHAM/KING’S LYNN/INGOLDISTHORPE/THETFORD/SWAFFHAM/GREAT YARMOUTH/NORWICH
Norfolk boasts the UK record for big cat sightings with more people than anywhere else in the country reporting seeing cats as large as leopards, panthers and jaguars loping through the county’s countryside, villages, towns and even the city centre of Norwich.