the Hell out of the Beast
Part Four: Where the Dog Walks
As other researchers have done in their own areas, I thought I'd take a look at the kinds of places where Shuck and his ilk are said to walk, and where the encounters place him - because they're not by any means always the same.
Legends, by their very nature, are often not very precise as to where an event is supposed to happen - and surprisingly, some of the first-hand accounts aren't either. Nevertheless, I've done my best with what I have, and have listed the results below:
Breaking these down a little to see if there are any 'significant' sites amongst them gives the following meagre list:
In only 18 places could I find instances where encounters actually took place at the same (or approximately same) locations where there was an alleged haunting of a dog. (And, as with other legends, there's always the possibility that the event came first, and the legend afterwards.) Also, the notion that many paracanines are tied to a specific location, appearing time after time on the same spot or stretch of road, doesn't really stand up to scrutiny. I can only find 8 cases where a dog has appeared at the same place on more than one occasion - and in one of those cases it involved the same person each time, suggesting a more subjective rationale for the experiences.
Researchers make much of the places that paracanines are seen, trying to tie them in into various theories of the dog as an archetypal 'guardian of the threshold', or 'psychopomp', escorting souls into the afterlife. For example, in Jennifer Westwood's 'Albion' (Granada Publishing, 1985), p. 146: "...Black Dogs commonly haunted lanes, footpaths, bridges, crossroads and graves - all points of transition, from ancient times held to be weak spots in the fabric dividing the mortal world from the supernatural."
And here: "If a count be made of the kind of places favoured by these apparitions one thing becomes plain. Quite half the localities are places associated with movement from one locality to another: roads, lanes, footpaths, ancient trackways, bridges, crossroads, gateways, doorways, corridors and staircases. These examples tempt us to include hollow trees, graves and prehistoric burials whose attendant hounds proliferate densely in Wiltshire and West Somerset on the grounds that they can be seen as passages downwards to the World of the Dead, and so also suicide graves and scenes of execution..."
-Theo Brown: 'The Black Dog', in Porter and Russell (ed.) 'Animals in Folklore' (Brewer, 1978), p. 47.
Quite frankly, you don't have to add many places to the list above to come up with all the locations that a ghostly dog could possibly be encountered. (And I really wouldn't include doorways, staircases and corridors as Brown does. The true paracanine doesn't belong in a house. Any that you find there are either the ghosts of pet pooches, or occasional creatures that have a connection with the fortunes of particular families. Neither are the subject of this site.)
As Theo Brown said in her first work on the subject: "Roads. These seem to be the natural home of Black Dogs. I have at least fifty-five examples of these...River or Stream...Bridge. Path crossing stream. In addition to the above, there are nine haunting bridges. Numerically it looks as though the emphasis is on the man-made road being guarded, rather than the natural stream." ('The Black Dog', in 'Folklore' Vol. 69 (1958), p. 182.)
The list above certainly bears out the case that roads, lanes, tracks and paths are by far the favoured haunt of Shuck and his brother bogies. But should we really be surprised by this? After all, outside of a building, where else can the vast majority of potential witnesses expect to be at any given moment?
Some writers have speculated on a connection between paracanines and water (for reasons which are unclear to me), and for a while I also was impressed every time an unexpected association came up. But statistically, it's of little account. In the legends - ignoring 'along the coast' and 'on cliffs' as insufficiently precise, we have only 5 in marshland, 1 on a beach, and 2 on bridges. In the encounters we have 16 occurring at or very near water of any significance, including in marshland or beside a river, on a beach, on a bridge, beside a pond or over a culvert.
Personally, I feel that, especially - but not only - in the legendary tales, people may tend to 'latch on' to a particular bridge or pond as a familiar feature in the landscape on which to hang their story. An example might be the 'Water Bars' at Barnby in Suffolk, where a phantom black dog was well known in the 1930's. This was just a particular short stretch of the A146 where water used to drain off the fields and flood the road, in the days before pipes were laid to take care of it. But it was enough on which to hang the dog's tale (no pun intended....well, maybe...)
And just to be pragmatic about the 'water theory', I doubt that there is any spot in inhabited Britain more than a few metres away from some body or source of water. Many years ago, I did a study of 82 local legends and encounters with ghostly dogs in relation to water, where I had sufficient geographical detail to pin them down to a location. At that time I had a huge collection of 1:25000 Ordnance Survey maps, and together with my local knowledge, used these to analyse their proximity to any water. The result was that 41 of them occurred within 50 yards of water - and the other 41, obviously, were over 50 yards away. A fairly non-significant result, I think.
An association with boundaries has also been proposed, but in the tales here, we only have 2 hauntings and 6 encounters occurring at parish boundaries, and 1 of each on a county boundary (plus another encounter on a boundary to both parish and county.) Again, not really very much evidence for a theory. Plus, boundaries tend to follow roads and strike known landmarks that are already, as suggested above, likely to provide locations for paracanine haunts.
Although ley lines are now a largely discredited area of research, they still interest many people (including me), so I could hardly ignore them when it came to plotting places that Shuck is said to frequent. Although as I said above, precise locations are hard to come by, I've managed to pin down 28 legends and encounters to an eight-figure grid reference. Unfortunately, I can't find a single valid ley through any of them.
In addition to all the above, I've also studied East Anglian paracanines in relation to place-names, ancient sites, contours, ancient tribal areas, parish church dedications, witchcraft and UFO sightings - and have found no significant correlations with anything at all!