Guest writer PIERS WARREN goes on the trail of Black Shuck to reveals where to find the beast’s haunts in East Anglia
For centuries Black Shuck has patrolled the coastal paths and villages of East Anglia – a spectral portent of death. The massive dog with a shaggy black coat and huge burning red eyes has been the source of many tales and legends. If you want to explore some of the places where Black Shuck has been encountered, here’s a guide to some top spots.
Bungay, North Suffolk
Your first port of call may be the small town of Bungay in the north west of Suffolk. On the 4th of August 1577, while worshippers had gathered in St Mary’s Church (NR35 1EH), a huge black dog burst into the church during a storm and ran down the aisle, killing and disfiguring several parishioners as it passed. As you explore the town you will find various reminders of Black Shuck in the form of weather vanes and other decorative metal-work. Some local companies name themselves after the beast such as Black Dog Signs, and further afield you will find Black Dog Books in Norwich and East Anglian products such as Black Shuck gin, Black Shuck stout and various liqueurs.
Holy Trinty Church, Blythburgh
From there, travel to Holy Trinity Church in Blythburgh (IP19 9LP) where Black Shuck paid a visit on the same day as he struck St Mary’s in Bungay. In similar style he killed and burnt people as he swept through the church, leaving black scorch marks on the inside of the north door which can be seen to this day.
Then head north into Norfolk and proceed to the coastal town of Cromer, known as the heartland of Shuck’s territory. The dog’s tracks are said to lead into the grounds of Cromer Hall (NR27 9JN), a large country house known for its outdoor concerts. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle visited the house in 1901, while holidaying in Cromer and recuperating from Typhoid fever. Here he heard of the legend of Black Shuck and following this wrote the most well known of his works: The Hound of the Baskervilles.
From Cromer head west along the coast road and park at the beach car park in Cley (NR25 7RZ). From here you can walk west along the shingle spit towards the old lifeboat house – an area known for many sightings of mysterious large black dogs. But be warned – take supplies and be prepared for a long hike – it’s four miles to end of the spit and tough going trudging through shingle. About one and half miles along you will come across The Watch House – a most unusual and isolated former coastguards lookout – which was the setting for much of my contemporary novel Black Shuck: The Devil’s Dog. Indeed, since writing the book, I have had numerous stories of sightings of massive black dogs sent to me from readers, and reports from those who actually read the book whilst staying in The Watch House and experienced long spooky nights. You too can stay the building if you dare (www.blakeneywatchhousetrust.co.uk) but, due to high demand, stays are limited to three days per booking. In a most curious method, bookings are only received by post, and opened on New Years Day to be awarded by first out of the box!
If you come across Black Shuck he won’t hurt you (probably), but legend has it that some time afterwards either you or someone in your family will die. So do explore his haunts but, for your sake, I hope you don’t come across him.
PIERS WARREN is an author and conservationist living in Norfolk. He is the founder of Wildeye – the International School of Wildlife Film-making, and writes books and for magazines on a wide range of subjects. He is the author of the supernatural thriller Black Shuck: The Devil’s Dog (Shortlisted for the East Anglia Book Awards and Norfolk Magazine’s Book of the Month – www.black-shuck.co.uk). His favourite place is the North Norfolk coast, where he spends his time capturing the flora and fauna on film … and looking for pawprints in the sand.