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The Barghest

The Barghest of Yorkshire

A hound it was, an enormous coal-black hound, but not such a hound as mortal eyes have ever seen. Fire burst from its open mouth, its eyes glowed with a smouldering glare, its muzzle and hackles and dewlap were outlined in flickering flame. Never in the delirious dream of a disordered brain could anything more savage, more appalling, more hellish be conceived than that dark form and savage face which broke upon us out of the wall of fog.

— Arthur Conan Doyle, 1902, The Hound of the Baskervilles

 

The supernatural hound thought to be haunting Dartmoor in Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s famous story, The Hound of the Baskervilles, was not a creation of the author’s imagination. Monstrous black dogs have been part of English folklore for many centuries with tales of black dogs from Scotland and the north of England to Wales, Cornwall and the Channel Isles. For example, in Staffordshire, a phantom black dog or Padfoot, was a common apparition and was said to guard churchyards. Another name for these black dogs standing watch over church graveyards is the Church Grim or Kirk Grim, which appear in both and Scandinavian folklore – seeing one was regarded as a portent of death.

Black dogs have many names: Barghest, Black Angus, Black Shuck, Devil Dog, Gwyllgi, Hellhound, Padfoot, Pooka and Striker – to name but a few. In Yorkshire, it is the Barghest (also known as the Barguest or Bargest) that would appear at night to attack or terrify those unlucky enough to come across one. Even if those encountering a Baghest were not killed, just seeing one was regarded as a portent of doom.

Needless to say, anyone out at night should be very wary of encountering a Barghest, whether in the form of a black dog with red eyes, huge teeth and claws, or any of the other forms legend says they are able to transform into such as cats, rabbits and humans. This ability to shape shift links them to werewolves. Interestingly, it is sometimes said that like vampires, the Barghest could not cross water.

The Barghest appeared across Yorkshire, but is especially associated with Troller’s Gill, a limestone gorge in the Yorkshire Dales, the streets of Whitby and York, where it would prey on travellers, and in the surrounding moors. Indeed, Bram Stoker was perhaps acknowledging Whitby’s association with the Barghest when Dracula took the form of an enormous black dog when he first came ashore in England.

References

Bane, T., 2016, Encyclopedia of Beasts and Monsters in Myth, Legend and Folklore, Jefferson, NC: McFarland & Company, Publishers.

Westwood, J. & Simpson, J., 2005, The Lore of the Land. A Guide to England’s Legends, from Spring-Heeled Jack to the Witches of Warboys, London: Penguin Books.

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