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The Strange Case of the Vampire Dog of Ennerdale

The remote valley of Ennerdale, in the Cumberland valley of Ennerdale, in North West England, is a place of unquestionably stunning beauty, rolling hills, and scenic vistas. Here there are few roads, quaint cottages, many pristine lakes, and lots and lots of sheep, but there is little that would hint at one looking over this landscape today that would suggest its dark history. Yet, in the year of 1810 there came a sinister visitor to this secluded, peaceful valley, a hulking mysterious creature that would mercilessly kill hundreds of sheep to drain them dry of blood and leave the populace cowering in terror.

The first hint of something strange and malevolent afoot came with a sighting made by a sheep farmer who claimed to have seen a strange, very large dog-like creature skulking about up on a mountainside, and shortly after this the enigmatic deaths would begin. A sheep would turn up torn to shreds by something large and powerful, some of the organs removed and missing, yet a curious lack of blood present, as if whatever had done it had drunk the animals dry. This was rather frightening, as there were no known predators in the region that could have inflicted such grievous damage, and it was immediately apparent that this was not the doing of a normal dog. Yet even as the frightened villagers tried to figure out what had wrought this carnage and what connection it had had to the beast seen by the sheep herder, more sheep would start turning up mangled and dead.

At first there was a sheep killed here and there by the mysterious unseen culprit, but this quickly escalated in intensity, going to one dead sheep a day and picking up momentum until an estimated 8 sheep a night were being slaughtered by the vicious unseen entity, all of them similarly ravaged and drained of blood, but very rarely showing any signs of actually having been eaten. It was an absurd amount of dead sheep, and the fact that no animal would need that much meat to sustain itself and the odd detail that nothing ever seemed to have been actually eaten at all save some organs and the missing blood, it was assumed that whatever the thing was it was doing this for demented fun. Making it all even more bizarre still was that since these attacks usually happened in the very dead of night out over the pitch black remote moors, no one had really seen the creature or caught it in the act. There were only a very few reports of people seeing a fleeting, very large shadowy thing that was somewhat canine or wolf-like in shape, which started whispered rumors that an actual werewolf was on the loose.

The Ennerdale Valley

As the sheep death toll mounted the locals realized that the thing was not going to stop its rampage any time soon, efforts were made to try go out and and kill it. Rewards were posted for the body of the beast, poisoned sheep carcasses were left out for it, traps were set, and sentries were posted around the area in the hopes of spotting it, but the creature remained ever evasive even as the dead, mauled sheep continued to pile up. Armed hunters then set about trying to hunt down and kill what was by this time being called “Girt Dog of Ennerdale,” with “Girt” meaning “great,”as well as its other fearsome nickname “The Vampire Dog of Ennerdale,” and at first they did so with hunting dogs but it soon became apparent that most of the dogs were absolutely terrified of whatever it was, and refused to go out into the wilds to look for it, merely cowering and whimpering and refusing to budge. On more than one occasion it was claimed that a brave hunting dog had been loosed upon what was thought to be the beast, but that it had come limping back with a crushed or otherwise mangled crippled foreleg.

In the meantime, the nefarious creature seemed to almost be taunting the locals, killing sheep right under their noses even as they actively hunted it down, sometimes even killing in broad daylight and even on occasion leaving the animals viciously wounded but still alive, and more sightings of the ever bolder menace would come in. Perhaps the best sighting that came in was a farmer who claimed that it was a massive, muscular creature that looked like a cross between a wolf and a big cat, with sandy, tawny brown fur lined with stripes down the back, and a gaping, vicious maw filled with formidable teeth. Villagers by this time were saying it was everything from a lion or tiger, to a werewolf, to some sort of supernatural demon from Hell itself, and desperate to end its reign of terror the reward for its dead carcass increased steadily. With so much money at stake and the livestock deaths spiraling out of control there were renewed efforts to stop the thing. Huge hunting parties on horseback accompanied by dozens of the fiercest hunting dogs scoured the valley in search of the elusive beast, and there were a few wild tales of finding it and even shooting at it before it was able to escape.

There were many harrowing and very spectacular tales at this time. One hunting party claimed that the hulking brute had charged them and slaughtered all of their dogs, and that it had seemed to just shrug off all attempts to shoot or wound it. In another strange account a posse of professional hunters claimed to have surrounded it in a wood, only to have it come barreling through their ranks. At the time, a hunter named Will Rothery allegedly had the creature dead to rights in the site of his rifle, but as it approached he was so shocked by the sheer size and outlandish appearance of the beast that he lowered his weapon and just stared in awe.

The news of these failed hunting expeditions only further cemented the idea in the superstitious villagers that the creature was no ordinary flesh and blood animal, but rather something supernatural and not of this world, and it got to the point where people were afraid to leave their homes. Amid all of this escalating panic and hysteria, a hunter by the name of Jonathan Patrickson managed to come across the brute out int the wilds during an expedition that included an alleged 200 hunters and countless dogs, and this time it seems as if its luck would run out after a full 6 months of terrorizing the region. After tracking the beast for miles it was seen going into a cornfield near Stockdale Moor and the men made their move, managing to wound it and allowing the dogs to move in and do their work before the beast was finally put down by hunter John Steel. What would transpire was written of in William Dickinson’s book Cumbriana; or, Fragments of Cumbrian Life, in which he writes:

Jonathan quietly said, ” Aa’l let ta lig theer a bit, me  lad, but aa’l want to see tha just noo.” Away went the old man, and, without the usual noise, soon raised men enough to surround the field. As some in their haste came unprovided with guns, a halt was whispered round to wait until more guns were brought and the hounds collected. When a good muster of guns and men with dogs were got together, the wild dog was disturbed out of the corn ; and only the old man who had seen him go into the field was  lucky enough to get a shot at him, and to wound him  in the hind quarters.

 

This took a little off his speed, and enabled the hounds to keep well up to him, but none dared or did engage him. And, though partly disabled, he kept long on his legs and was often headed and turned by the numerous parties of pursuers, several of whom met him in his circuitous route from the upper side of Kinniside, by Eskat, Arlecdon, and Asby, by Rowrah and Stockhow Hall, to the river Ehen. Here is Arlecdon and Rowrah, indicated by the orange arrow:

 

Each of these parties he fled from, and turned in a new direction till he got wearied. He was quietly taking a cold bath in the river, with the exhausted hounds as quietly looking on, when John Steel came up with his gun laden with small bullets, but dared not shoot, lest he should injure some of the hounds. When the dog caught sight of him it made off to Eskat Woods, with the hounds and John on its track, and after a few turnings in the wood, amid the greatest excitement of dogs and men, a fair chance was offered, and the fatal discharge was made by John Steel. The destroyer fell to rise no more, and the marksman received his well-earned reward of ten pounds, with the hearty congratulations of all assembled. After many a kick at the dead brute, the carcase was carried in triumph to the inns at Ennerdale Bridge;  and the cheering and rejoicing there were so great that it was many days before the shepherd inhabitants of the vale settled to their usual pursuits.

The evasive creature, finally dead, was supposedly then paraded about the town by the triumphant hunters before being stuffed and put on display at Hutton’s Museum, at Keswick, staying there all the way up until the museum closed in 1876, after which it seems the mysterious corpse was lost or simply thrown away, forever depriving us of any physical evidence for the whole spectacular tale. Considering that the carcass of the alleged Vampire Dog of Ennerdale is gone we are left to try and figure out just what this monster could have been, and theories have flown.

Perhaps the most popular is that this was an escapee from one of the many traveling circuses that were popular in England at the time, and which were known for displaying menageries of all manner of exotic animals from around the world. Considering the appearance of the mystery beast, it has been suggested that in this case the culprit could have been an escaped Thylacine, or Tasmanian tiger, from one of these circuses, but this would be a bit odd because these creatures were never known to be such industrious killers of large livestock such as sheep, and it seems unlikely one would be slaughtering so many sheep in such a short span of time. Indeed, it is now believed that the Thylacine had relatively weak jaws and likely only took relatively small prey. An escaped hyena is a possibility, but a single hyena going on such a killing spree seems a bit odd. There is also the idea that this could have been some sort of feral large dog such as a mastiff or a mixed breed exhibiting stripes, but again how would it be so deadly, and why would it just drink the blood? Also, wouldn’t a dog be quickly identified as such? In the end, no one really knows what it was, or if it was anything other than mass hysteria, and we are left to wonder what lies at the root of the case of the Vampire Dog of Ennerdale.

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About Minh Hiếu

Le Minh Hieu is a national-level weightlifter and a Singapore Weightlifting sports performance coach. Hieu's biggest passion is helping everyone find confidence, happiness, and health through fitness.

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