HAVE you ever, on an isolated country walk, had the sense that you are in the presence of spirits past? If you have a dog at your side, they might stop and stare at something only they can see, hackles raised, a low growl or confused whine escaping them. Easily explained away on a balmy summer’s eve, such encounters take on a new significance in the gloaming of these ever-shortening days—could it be that canine instinct is picking up on the former presence of mysterious hounds, which have followed travellers of the past through these uninhabited places, perhaps aiding safe passage, perhaps foretelling impending doom?
From which dark corners do such fancies originate? Fiction and folktale are a good place to start: Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s great black Hound of the Baskervilles still looms large over Dartmoor and, according to local legend, hounds hunted by Dewer, the ‘Black Huntsman’, roam the vast moor in search of lost souls, earning a place in A Handbook for Travellers in Devon and Cornwall (1851): ‘On stormy winter nights, the peasant has heard the whist [eerie] hounds sweeping through the rocky valley, with cry of dogs, winding of horns and hoofs thick-bleating on the hollow hill.’
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