WEIRD NORFOLK: Black Shuck prowling in Blakeney – have you seen the devil dog?
- Credit: IAN BURT
Black Shuck in Blakeney: “She heard the ‘light dragging and tinkling of a chain’ but could see nothing – whatever made the noise, however, followed her as she walked…”
It comes as no surprise to Weird Norfolk that Black Shuck has been regularly seen in Blakeney whose name means ‘Black Island’. That the much-feared devil dog has been spotted quite so often, however, is quite another matter – and then there’s the not inconsiderable consideration that in some tales, Shuck has not one, but two heads. A plethora of Blakeney sightings are included on the superb Hidden East Anglia website which recounts a host of unsettling encounters in, or close, to the beautiful North Norfolk village.
Black Shuck haunts Norfolk folklore, a dark figure “as big as a calf and as noiseless as death” stalking through the county since the 16th century. Seen across the county, and in Suffolk, Cambridgeshire and Essex, Black Shuck takes many forms and has many purposes, a true manifestation of everyone’s fear, a creature you definitely do not want to see on a dark and stormy night. Whether he has eyes like saucers or hot breath like a lick of fire, whether he foretells your impending death or is some kind of guardian spirit, whether he roams the coast or woodland, heath or roadside, one thing is for certain: he is not of this realm.
Back to Blakeney, where there is the recurring tale of ‘Old Shuck’ who haunts Long Lane which runs south over Ruberry Hill – which is mentioned in WA Dutt’s The Norfolk and Suffolk Coast, published in 1909. The otherworldly creature has also been spotted in Little Lane in Blakeney as he runs between Wells and Sheringham: Iris Portal, writing to the Eastern Daily Press in 1953 suggested that Shuck regularly ran past her garden wall in Long Lane. A few days after Mrs Portal’s letter, another appeared from Geoffrey Booty, of West Runton. It read: “I read with interest your article on ‘Old Shuck’ and would like the following on record.
“He travels between Blakeney, Sheringham and Overstrand and is supposed to be searching for his master who was shipwrecked on the coast. ‘Shuck’ is a large black retriever with a chain attached to his neck.
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“The above is a correct description because one night very late to cycling from Sheringham when, to my surprise, ‘Shuck’ was running beside me with his chain clinking ground.
“He followed me to my gate at West Runton and passed on down the lane to the beach. This is a true incident and I would like to know the description of ‘Shuck’ given by other people who have seen him.”
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Shuck has been seen on the B1388 at Blakeney where, in a letter to Hidden East Anglia’s Mike Burgess from J Wallace in 1983, he was described as having two heads – when he catches a rat, it escapes through his other mouth. And in another letter to Ivan Bunn, editor of the Borderline Science Investigation Group’s Lantern, a Mrs AP Marcucci recalled hearing something strange on the A149 between Cley and Blakeney at around midnight in the summer of 1968. She heard the “light dragging and tinkling of a chain” but could see nothing – whatever made the noise, however, followed her as she walked. At the crossroads, where there was a street light, she paused to see if whatever was behind her would pass by, but saw nothing. Then, suddenly, she was aware that her invisible walking partner had passed and made its way down Back Lane. Knowing the legend of Black Shuck and realising he would be making his way to the marsh banks, she fled home down the High Street and away from the beast that was so frequently believed to foretell disaster.
These tales have been told in Blakeney for well over a century: in a feature about the village in the EDP in September 1896, “Old Shuck” was mentioned.
“It is perhaps not generally known that ‘Old Shuck’ has one of his walks in Blakeney Little Lane, where also an even more wonderful spectral appearance has been seen, according to local legend, nothing less that a ghostly wagon with two ghostly horses wandering through the air,” the piece reads.
“There are men now in Blakeney who could not be induced to walk down that haunted lane after dark.”
Some believe the tales of Black Shuck were spread joyfully by smugglers who realised that the fear of a devil dog who could condemn you to death with a stare would keep people off coastal lanes at night while they got up to no good. On the website which accompanies Richard Platt’s book Smuggling in the British Isles: A History, there is the following passage: “If convoys of wagons and horses rolling along these roads attracted too much attention, old superstitions provided plenty of ways of discouraging further interest: Old Shuck the ghost dog is a persistent Norfolk legend that, like the cannibals of Clovelly, the smugglers exploited.
“Shuck is an enormous black dog with one glowing eye, and fiery breath. Anyone who sees Old Shuck is sure to die within a twelve month.
“Norfolk smugglers took advantage of the gullibility of the villagers and tied a lantern round the neck of a black ram, sending it running off to frighten nosey locals when a run was due…”
Weird Norfiolk suggests that if anyone is gullible in this matter, it would be the smugglers to believe that county folk would be fooled by a sheep in a necklace.
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