Yorkshire Legends:The Black dog!

Common image of the black dog or barghest
  • Barghest
  • Gytrash
  • Padfoot
  • Shuck
  • Devil dog
  • Gabble ratchets
  • Hellhound…

….these are just some of the names for a beast said to roam the whole country. Every county has its own version of the animal’s appearance and what to call it, though if you should ever run into one, I doubt that naming it correctly will bother you.

In York the dog is called the Barghest or Barguest (either spelling is used) and is said to roam the alleyways (known as snickleways) after dark. In some accounts, I heard he was thought to have been a dog who travelled with the Vikings and who foresaw whether it would be stormy or not – thereby letting them know if they should put out to sea or bide their time.

Viking longboats

Presumably when the dog died, his spirit remained and grew more monstrous for all accounts refer to him as a demonic creature with blood-shot eyes, a huge tongue and great teeth that would tear you apart if he met you. He is also thought to be a shape-shifter so a very bizarre tale that opens John V Mitchell’s Ghosts of an Ancient City described a beast appearing near York Castle, who could change into all manner of things including a piece of paper!

Kirkstall Abbey Autumn 2021

In Leeds however, the dog is said to be the souls of unbaptised children (known as Gabble Ratchets) returning to haunt their parents. Yet there is also a legend of Kirkstall Abbey where it is said a monstrous dog with saucer-like eyes (another characteristic) guards treasure hidden in the grounds by the monks when Henry VIII seized all monasteries and abbeys to establish his own religion.

While in a place known as Trollers’ Gill, near Appletreewick not only were there said to be trolls underground but a fiendish dog whom no person would ever live to tell of, should they meet him. A tale is told of a young man who wagered with others in the local tavern that he would spend a night there and come back for his beer money reward. Sadly, they found his body the next day with a frozen look of fear on his face.

It has to be said that tales and legends of the Black Dog are many. with even one of a feisty Yorkshire man outrunning one and – on finding it lying in wait for him in a cottage doorway – hitting it with a stick to drive it away! These stories captured public imagination so much that his “existence” has inspired writers such as Charlotte Bronte (Jane Eyre) and Arthur Conan Doyle (Hound of the Baskervilles) to refer to him in their writings.

Said to haunt the Yorkshire Dales and the Moors too, the Black Dog is one animal you won’t see rounding up sheep. In this modern age, many tales have been told of wild creatures such as panthers or other big cats lurking on the moors, dales or in the Yorkshire Wolds (thought to be illegally procured pets who have escaped). Whatever the truth, there is and always will be, a public appetite for “the other” – the monster out there, it is best to beware of, late at night when most folks are sleeping If you shouild prowl around deserted parts of Yorkshire, in the gloaming or the witching hour, you have been warned!!

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