Phantom Hounds of the Woods

In his definitive book Explore Phantom Black Dogs, English author and researcher Bob Trubshaw wrote: “The folklore of phantom black dogs is known throughout the British Isles. From the Black Shuck of East Anglia to the Mauthe Dhoog of the Isle of Man there are tales of huge spectral hounds ‘darker than the night sky’ with eyes ‘glowing red as burning coals.’ The phantom black dog of British and Irish folklore, which often forewarns of death, is part of a worldwide belief that dogs are sensitive to spirits and the approach of death, and keep watch over the dead and dying. North European and Scandinavian myths dating back to the Iron Age depict dogs as corpse eaters and the guardians of the roads to hell. Medieval folklore includes a variety of ‘Devil dogs’ and spectral hounds.”

And while the image that the devil dog or phantom hound conjures up is that of a sinister beast prowling the villages and towns of centuries-old England, it is a little known fact outside of students of the phenomenon that sightings of such creatures continue to surface to this very day.

Interestingly, one area that seems to attract more than its fair share of such encounters is a sprawling mass of dense forest in central England known as the Cannock Chase—a strange and eerie location that has also been the site of numerous encounters with UFOs, Bigfoot-like entities, and strangely-elusive “Big Cats.” Indeed, among the folk of the many small villages that sit on the fringes of the Chase—or that, in some cases, can be found deep within its wooded depths—tales of the diabolical hounds of hell are disturbingly common.

Late one evening in early 1972, a man named Nigel Lea was driving across the Chase when his attention was suddenly drawn to a strange ball of glowing blue light that slammed into the ground some distance ahead of his vehicle, amid a veritable torrent of bright, fiery sparks. Needless to say, Lea quickly slowed his car down. As he approached the approximate area where the light had fallen, he was shocked and horrified to see looming before him, “the biggest bloody dog I have ever seen in my life.”

Muscular and black, with large, pointed ears and huge paws, the creature seemed to ooze menace and negativity, and had a wild, staring look in its yellow-tinged eyes. For 20 or 30 seconds, man and beast faced each other, after which time the “animal” slowly and cautiously headed for the tall trees, never once taking its penetrating eyes off the petrified driver. Somewhat ominously, around two or three weeks later, a close friend of Lea’s was killed in an industrial accident under horrific circumstances; something which Lea believes—after having deeply studied the history of Black Dog lore—was directly connected with his strange encounter on that tree-shrouded road back in 1972.

Phantom Hound
In the early to mid-1980s, reports began to surface from the Cannock Chase of something that became known as the “Ghost Dog of Brereton”—a reference to the specific locale from which most of the sightings originated. Yet again, the dog was described as being large and menacing, and on at least two occasions it reportedly vanished into thin air after having been seen by terrified members of the public on lonely stretches of road late at night.

In direct response to an article that appeared in the Cannock Advertiser during the winter of 1984–85 on the sightings of Brereton’s infamous ghost dog, a resident of a local village wrote:

“On reading the article my husband and I were astonished. We recalled an incident which happened in July some four or five years ago driving home from a celebration meal at the Cedar Tree restaurant at about 11:30 p.m. We had driven up Coal Pit Lane and were just on the bends before the approach to the Holly Bush when, from the high hedge of trees on the right hand side of the road, the headlights picked out a misty shape which moved across the road and into the trees opposite.

“We both saw it. It had no definite shape, seeming to be a ribbon of mist about 18 inches to 2 feet in depth and perhaps nine or ten feet long with a definite beginning and end. It was a clear, warm night with no mist anywhere else. We were both rather stunned and my husband’s first words were: ‘My goodness! Did you see that?’ I remember remarking I thought it was a ghost. Until now we had no idea of the history of the area or any possible explanation for a haunting. Of course, this occurrence may be nothing to do with the ‘ghost dog’ or may even have a natural explanation. However, we formed the immediate impression that what we saw was something paranormal.”

Possibly relative to the tale of the ghost dog of Brereton was the story of a man named Ivan Vinnel. In 1934, as a 12-year-old, he had a strange encounter in his hometown of nearby Burntwood. The sun was setting and Ivan and a friend were getting ready to head home after an afternoon of playing hide-and-seek. Suddenly, however, the pair was stopped dead in its tracks by the shocking sight of a ghostly “tall, dark man,” who was “accompanied by a black dog” that had materialized out of a “dense hedge” approximately ten yards from the boys’ position. Both man and beast passed by in complete and utter silence before disappearing—quite literally…..

by Nick Redfern
FATE :: August 2007

Read the rest of this article in the August 2007 issue of FATE