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WEIRD NORFOLK: Black Shuck's terrifying appearance in Rocklands is enough to give you nightmares

PUBLISHED: 18:00 07 December 2019

A lane in Rocklands near Attleborough. Picture: DENISE BRADLEY

A lane in Rocklands near Attleborough. Picture: DENISE BRADLEY

Copyright: Archant 2019

It's a shaggy dog story for dark nights that ends in tragedy: when a driver hit a large, ghostly black dog on the edge of the Brecks, it burst into flames and within days, the man was dead…

The legendary spectral hound Black Shuck. Picture: ARCHANT LIBRARYThe legendary spectral hound Black Shuck. Picture: ARCHANT LIBRARY

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.

In the summer of 1977, Lantern - the astonishing journal of the Lowestoft-based Borderline Science Investigation Group - carried an article written by Ivan Bunn about Norfolk's legendary hell hound, Black Shuck. In it, he told the tale of a sighting at Rocklands that ended in tragedy, a chance meeting in 1893 with the legendary Black Shuck on a lane and the stupidity of ignoring a warning to steer away from what could be the Devil's messenger. Ivan wrote: "The story is told of how at Rockland, Norfolk, one night, a man and his companion were driving along a lane '…when suddenly right in their path stood a huge uncanny dog. The driver pushed on in spite of his companions warning…but as the cart touched the Thing the air was alive with flames and a hideous, sulphurous stench loaded the atmosphere. Within a short time the overbold driver died and Shuck has not been seen since in these parts…'"

He added: "One of the legendary aspects of Shuck's character is his apparent ability in the foretelling death. The impression generally given by the legends is that everyone who encounters him will meet with some misfortune usually death, within a short time, or else somebody close to them will (although some versions of the same legend do insert what could be termed an 'escape clause' whereby misfortune only befalls them if they mention their encounter within 12 months). As with other aspects of the Shuck legends, for out of a total of 74 stories so far collected, only 17 instances of death followed when the witness actually attributed the death to the encounter with the appearance of Shuck."

With due deference to Ivan, Weird Norfolk is still somewhat concerned with these odds.

Sulphur is often recorded by those who witness paranormal activities and the smell has been recorded since Biblical times and by Greek philosophers - it is also often remarked on by those who claim to have been visited by flying saucers or aliens (Weird Norfolk has mentioned this before, see 'A Mystery Mist at Fulmodeston'. American technology, science and culture website Inverse carried the following explanation as to why the folk belief that the devil and sulphur are connected has some roots in truth. "The foul-smelling gas, which is responsible for the stench of rotten eggs…naturally collects below ground, making up some 0.05% of the Earth's crust. That's pretty abundant, which explains why people in Biblical times were familiar with it, referring to it as brimstone — as in 'fire and brimstone', the central epithet of many a Christian sermon condemning the Earth's sinners to hell."Of course, for sulphuric gas to make its presence felt above ground, it needs a vent. It just so happens that these tend to be volcanic in nature, further consolidating the association between its foul smell and the fires of hell."

Perhaps there is a portal to hell in Norfolk: a Weird subject for another day and another Weird Norfolk.

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