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Cornwall's Spectral Black Dogs
(December 2012)

Back in October 2007 (on my old web site) I wrote an article entitled Glowing Red Eyes, and in which, amongst other entities, I talked about Black Dogs. So here I'm going to return to the idea of those monstrous Black Dogs, but in relation to some that are said to be found in Cornwall. If you'd like to read my original article it can be found here:

The local name that the Cornish have for these creatures is Dando's Dogs, or Dandy Dogs. As in many other places, it is believed that to hear them baying is a sign of imminent disaster. And, should you actually see them then you will meet a sudden death. The name itself arises from the tale of a dissolute priest called Dando, and many believe that they only appear on a Sunday.

The story of Dando is one where he sells his soul to the Devil. As generally told Dando was a priest at the old priory church in St Germans, and he was a great sinner who enjoyed all the pleasures of life that priests weren't supposed to indulge in. This included hunting, even on a Sunday, and while doing so he continued his love of drink to the point of disregarding crops and fences as his hounds and henchmen followed him wherever the prey went. Yet he was loved by his parishioners as, being such a sinner himself, he always forgave then their own sins.

Whilst out hunting one day the group were joined by an elegant stranger, dressed in black and riding a most beautiful black horse. Dando was drinking even more than usual and soon ran out of all the alcohol that had been taken on the hunt. When he was told there was no more he told his followers to go to hell and bring him something to quench his thirst, or he would go and acquire it himself. At this point the stranger gave Dando his own flagon which contained a drink that Dando had never before tasted. He asked if the gods drank such a liquid to which the stranger replied that the gods did not but the devils did. Dando then expressed the wish that he was a devil so that he could taste it again. Upon which the stranger, for he was in fact the devil, grabbed Dando and threw him across his horse, then galloped back to hell with him. During this ride back to hell they were chased by the rest of the hunt until they came to the river Lynher. With a huge leap the devil's horse flew high above the river and then dived into it, which left the river water steaming and bubbling behind them.

Dando's faithful hounds chased after him but, as would be expected, could not catch the devil. And to this day, on some nights, they are still said to be heard barking and howling on either Bodmin Moor, or in St Germans. Occasionally they are even seen while, from time to time, haunting the sky above the home of some ill-fated person as a portent of malevolent events about to overcome the household.

The belief in the Dandy Dogs was still prevalent in Cornwall well into the 19th Century. They are described as a pack of fire-breathing black hounds with livid fiery eyes, and they follow the devil all over isolated moors during stormy nights. Should they capture a human being they tear them apart limb by limb.

And, although it can't be dated, one story tells of a poor herdsman crossing the moors one stormy night. During the journey he encountered a hunter and the Dandy Dogs. He described the hunter, who was carrying a long hunting-pole, as having large fiery eyes, horns and a tail, and he thought it was definitely the devil. The pack of dogs was apparently breathing fire and making a terrifying din. The herdsman fell to his knees and started to pray. Immediately the hounds stood at bay, and the hunter called out "Bo shrove!" in Cornish. This translates as "The boy prays;" upon which they all pulled back and vanished.

Another very well-known story from Cornwall concerns the ghost of a man by the name of Jan Tregeagle who, in life, was a famous 17th Century villain. Legend has it that he murdered his wife and children. He then used his rank as a magistrate to not only avoid discovery but also accumulate a fortune by dishonestly appropriating other people's property. Although towards the end of his life he feared he would go to hell, so he gave away large amounts of money to the Church in the hope he would reach Heaven and be allowed to rest in peace.

But, the Cornish will tell you that it was all to no avail and, very soon after his death, the defendant in a court case managed to call up his ghost as a witness. Tregeagle's ghost admitted the crime and the defendant was found not guilty. Unfortunately it then appeared impossible to get rid of him, so the local wise men decided to give him a task that would occupy his time to such an extent that he would have none left to cause trouble, and also delay his return to hell.

There are 2 versions of the task he was given. The first relates that he had to empty Dozmary Pool, on Bodmin Moor, using a shell that was full of holes. The other account says that he was made to move sand from one bay to another while fast moving currents soon undid his work by moving it all back again.

Should he wish to escape a spectral pack of dogs will drive him back to his chore. It seems that he did once attempt to escape and was driven back by the hell-hounds. And, even now, on almost any night in isolated parts of Bodmin Moor the dogs can still be heard baying. They are described as a ghostly pack of massive hounds endlessly chasing their victim.

Although spectral black dogs are not that common here in Cornwall, here are a few other cases where they are said to have been seen:

In documents from the 19th Century, not far from the Church at Treslothan, Camborne, is a field named either The Hound, or Hound, Close. According to tradition it got its name because a spectral black dog was believed to often appear there.

The Coronation Park boating lake in Helston, which I know myself, was the scene of a black dog sighting in early 2006. A couple reported to the local newspaper that they had seen the creature, which they described as "the size of a donkey and with a large tail," looking down on the lake from the top of the nearby hill. Another person who was interviewed added that "It's been seen several times by a few people and we're calling it the Helston Hellhound ….... It just stands there looking down at the lake and then goes off. A few people have seen it but it always disappears just when you look up at it. It could just be a very big dog. At one point we thought it was a donkey because it was so big." Of course the story has now gone down in local modern folklore, but whether it was a genuine sighting, or a hoax, isn't certain.

At one time it was thought that a black dog haunted the main road at Linkinhorne, between Bodmin and Launceston. Linkinhorne, or Lanngynhorn in Cornish, is a village northwest of Callington and south of Launceston. The apparition was often seen near the ancestral home of the Darley family, called Battens, which they gained by marriage in the 17th Century. The black dog has always been thought to be the ghost of the previous owner, Vincent Darley, who died in February 1764. But, occasionally the ghost is seen in human form. It is described as being "as big as a calf, with large eyes as large as saucers and a foaming mouth." One of the times it was reported was in late 1936, although this time it was believed to be the canine ghost of a miner who had been killed at the nearby Marke Vally Mine. Either that, or it was thought to be the ghost of Carlo, a black retriever dog that "ran under the axle of the old coach which used this particular stretch of road between Launceston and Bodmin." While most sightings have taken place during the night some have happened in the daytime. However, an explanation was ultimately found. It was discovered to be "a grey farm dog, with a long chain which had been straying in the parish." A local farmer caught it in the middle of February 1937, after which there were no more sightings.

Penzance also has a spectral black dog, mainly seen around the harbour area. It is believed to be a portent of death for anyone who sees it. In these 2 next cases the dog appears to be quite small, as opposed to most sighting of large phantom black dogs. One account tells of a French sailor who spoke to his crew mates of a small black dog not only pestering him but also trying to board his boat. None of the other crew had seen it, and that evening the sailor, formerly in good health, became very ill and died within a few hours of being rushed to hospital. Another tale comes from the late 1960s and concerns the crew of a boat moored in the harbour overnight. They all went out for a drink and, after some hours, one of them was sent back to the boat to make sure that everything aboard was still all right. When the rest of the crew eventually returned he told them that a small, and friendly, black dog had been with him all of that time and had also gone onto the boat, but it had disappeared a little while before they went back. The next day the boat was fishing in Mount's Bay when a violent sudden storm blew up. Just as the storm abated one of the crew called out "Man overboard!" The man who had gone overboard was the one who had been with the black dog on the previous night, and his body was never found.

At the Dog & Dragon restaurant on Mile Hill, Porthtowan, there is said to be the ghost of a dog, described as being a Shuck, that was connected with a dragon legend. However, this time the dog is said to be white in colour. The myth told about it is that a terrible dragon once lived in the area, but it was forced to leave by the dog. Thus the ghost of the dog is still said to haunt the place.

St Blazey is a village near the town of St Austell, and it is supposed to be haunted by a large black dog, that some say is a bear. Those who come across it tell of hearing a sound akin to a horse trotting along, so they are very disconcerted to see what it really is. Sometime in the 1770s, on a bright moonlight night, a few local males were out at midnight, probably poaching. In a field one of them was standing watch for anyone that might come along, when he thought he heard a horse approaching. Signalling to his colleagues they came to join him to see who it was. The watchman was suddenly overtaken by a terrible feeling of dread when a creature, not a horse, the height of a large dog appeared; later described as looking like a bear with a dark, shaggy, coat. As it went by the group could see huge fiery eyes that struck them all with fear, and it then passed through a closed gate and continued on its way leaving them still hearing its trotting sound for more than a few minutes after it had gone.

There is a field on the outskirts of Truro where the gibbet used to stand, and where ghosts have been seen that were rattling their chains. Although I can find no accounts of spectral black dogs being associated with the place, it is true that gibbets were often associated with them. They were believed to be the spirits of the hanged.

Wheal Vor Mine, one of the largest in the area, was situated in the parish of Breage in West Cornwall. Some time, probably in the middle of the 1800s, a man and a youth were sinking a shaft at the mine when, either by accident or through carelessness, they made a mistake with the explosives that necessitated the explosives being removed in order to start again. While doing this the charge detonated and they were thrown into the air in column of flame and killed. The bodies were such a terrible sight that when brought to the surface parts dropped off. These were scooped up in a shovel and thrown into the furnace of Woolf's engine close at hand. Since then the engineman maintained that groups of little black dogs constantly haunted the place, even when the doors were closed. This made it very difficult to get enginemen to work the machine.

It is also interesting to note that quite a few Cornish mines contain the name Black Dog to designate certain areas of the mine. At Chacewater Mine, just outside Truro, there is a Black Dog Footway. The name can be found in a document dating from 1788. And there are Black Dog Shafts at Wheal Jane and Great Wheal Busy.

Finally, a black dog is said to have been seen by wrestlers at Whiteborough, a tumulus on St Stephen's Down near Launceston. That particular earthwork was once thought to be the burial place of giants and their gold. At midsummer bonfires used to be lit on the site, and wrestlers competed for small prizes. On one occasion what was thought of as an evil spirit appeared in the form of a black dog, which none of the wrestlers could tackle without being hurt, so the competition had to come to an end. For those who don't know about Cornish history wrestling was a very popular sport in the county.

These days there are very few reports of spectral black dogs in Cornwall. Times have changed, the old myths are dying and I, for one, think that's a real shame. It diminishes the county as being one of the most mystical in all of England.

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