Eyes as big as saucers…

 Hound of the BaskervillesII by Ms Golightly, deviantart.com

Hound of the BaskervillesII by Ms Golightly, deviantart.com

Walking through the damp woods, the paw prints in the mud looked huge. “Ah,” would say my Grandad, nodding sagely, “that will be the barguest.” He would tell me bloodcurdling tales of the great, black dog with flaming eyes… tales to make the toes of a small child curl with that delicious frisson of horror children seem to love. We never did see the paw prints coming back…

There are many such tales of a great, black beast in the folklore of England. Almost all the counties have known the phenomenon; some tell of a more benevolent creature than that of Yorkshire, my own neck of the woods, but most say the barguest is a monstrous black dog with a sharp-fanged maw and eyes as big as saucers. Some say they flame… and that his appearance is a harbinger of disaster.

There are so many stories across the land… Close to the Buckinghamshire village where I now live is the small town of Tring, where a spectral black dog would guard the spot where a murderer had hung on the gallows. Perhaps the same black dog that terrorised a farmhand every day when he went to milk the cows… a creature with ‘unkind’ eyes that burned. One day the farmhand struck out at the beast with the yoke on which he carried the pails and, though the beast disappeared, the man fell to the floor. He survived, but he was mute and paralysed till the end of his days, or so the stories tell…

I have written of the barguest before, indeed, I had to include the one that haunts Troller’s Gill in Sword of Destiny… and today I dug out an old book of legends that brought back memories.

The Barguest of Troller’s Gill claimed at least one victim, it is told, when a man grew curious and sought to see the beast with his own eyes. As he approached the gill he heard a shout, “Forbear!” but ignoring it, he walked on until he came to the ancient yew tree. Beneath it, in a place where no light fell, he drew a circle in the earth and chanted many protecting charms. None knows what happened that night, but the next day he was found dead, with strange marks upon his chest. Or so the locals will tell you around Appletreewick…

In York, the beast would come into the town, preying on those who walked the snickelways alone. In Leeds, the barguest appeared to lead the funeral procession of the great, howling and leading all the local dogs… And there we called him Padfoot, a name that, along with our local grindylows has made its mark on magical fiction in recent years within the pages of Harry Potter.

Perhaps my favourite story of the barguest comes from Grassington, a market town in the Yorkshire Dales. It is known as Billy B—-‘s Adventure and the original text is available online at Sacred Texts and well worth reading. You do, however, need a handle on Yorkshire dialect to read it there, so I will ‘translate’…

Billy was coming home from work, having stayed rather late. He may, he says, have had the odd drink, but he was, he avers, stone cold sober and knew everything that was going on. The moon was bright on the hills. It was a beautiful night. As he passed down the mill lane he heard a strange noise, brush, brush, brush with a sound of chains rattling as something came past him. “Now that’s a mortal queer thing,” he thought to himself. He stood and looked around, but nothing could he see except the two stone walls on either side of the lane. Then he heard it again, brush, brush, brush and again the chains. “This must be the barguest so much is said about,” he thought and he hurried towards the wooden bridge, for it is said no barguest can cross running water.

He crossed the bridge, but heard it yet again, brush, brush, brush and the rattling of chains. “It must have crossed after me,” he thought, “or gone round the spring head…” The source of the spring was some thirty miles away…

Then he plucked up his courage, having been afraid until now and determined to try and see the beast for himself, followed. All the way to Greet Bank he went, and all the way he heard the brush, brush, brush and the rattling of chains and yet he saw nothing. Eventually he turned for home, but he had hardly reached the door when he heard it yet again, going down towards Holin House. Again he followed it; the moon was very bright and finally the beast was visible. “There now, you old thing, I can say I’ve seen you!” thought Billy and turned for home once more. Yet when he reached the house there was a great beast, like a sheep but bigger and woolly, laid across the threshold. He told it to get up… he told it to move, but it did not stir. Gathering his courage he took a stick and raised it to strike the beast, but it turned its eyes upon him.

“And such eyes! As big as saucers and like a cruelled ball…” First there was a red ring, then a blue ring, then white until they came to a dot… But Billy wasn’t afraid though it glowered at him. He kept telling the beast to get up and to move but it would not budge.

Billy’s wife heard the commotion at the door and came to see what was happening. And as she opened it the beast fled, for, as Billy tells, “ …it was more afraid of the wife than it was of me…”

And that, he tells us, is a true tale… and says a fair bit about Yorkshire women…

Me, I just wonder why it is that I have an affinity with black dogs?


About Sue Vincent

Sue Vincent is a Yorkshire-born writer and one of the Directors of The Silent Eye, a modern Mystery School. She writes alone and with Stuart France, exploring ancient myths, the mysterious landscape of Albion and the inner journey of the soul. Find out more at France and Vincent. She is owned by a small dog who also blogs. Follow her at scvincent.com and on Twitter @SCVincent. Find her books on Goodreads and follow her on Amazon worldwide to find out about new releases and offers. Email: findme@scvincent.com.
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40 Responses to Eyes as big as saucers…

  1. joylennick says:

    Imagination knows no bounds, eh…Excellent. x

    Liked by 2 people

  2. A most interesting post, Sue. As you know I have the Black Schuck who is thought to be the spirit of Hugh Bigod as a central character in my new novel, Through the Nethergate. Fascinating to learn about the York version of this folklore.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. willowdot21 says:

    Great Tales Sue, thank you for sharing. I love the photo of Ani 💜💜

    Liked by 2 people

  4. Mary Smith says:

    As there are so many tales of such a beast, with regional variations, there must be something in it!

    Liked by 2 people

  5. jenanita01 says:

    I have had several dog friends over the years, but it is a big black one that haunts my heart…

    Liked by 1 person


    Liked by 1 person

  7. joylennick says:

    I never cease to be amazed at the variety and sheer complexity of people’s minds. That’s why I find humanity so fascinating. x

    Liked by 2 people

  8. fransiweinstein says:

    A wonderful tale Sue, but your black beast is anything but scary.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Jennie says:

    Folklore is fascinating, especially if it’s scary. Wonderful stories, Sue. Ani does well with those eyes.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Alli Templeton says:

    There’s only one black dog I’d like to come face to face with in snickleway in York, and that’s Ani! 🙂 There’s a barguest story associated with Kenilworth Castle too. Legend says it was the ghost of a witch who was wronged and turned into a black dog, who roams around the upper levels of John of Gaunt’s strong tower. I didn’t know about the Tring dog though, even though I lived there for a short while and lived in Wendover for years. Strange how these things often come out after you’ve left a place. I’ve got a black cat (called Grendel) – does that count? 😉

    Liked by 1 person

  11. Maggie’s black ad white, and very much like Ani. With eyes aglow like that, she can see into your soul Sue.!

    Liked by 1 person

  12. Widdershins says:

    Silly humans, not listening to the warnings. 😀 … and yes, about that black dog thing. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  13. Darlene says:

    I love the Yorkshire story. Told in the accent would be even better. I can just ear my father-in-law tell it, especially the last sentence. Thanks for sharing.


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