Besides packs of demon dogs, Devon traditions also mention individual Black Dogs – or perhaps a Black Dog appearing in many places. One of the most circumstantial reports of this spectral beast, written by Sarah Hewitt in 1900, concerns a man who met him while crossing Roborough Down, Dartmoor, on a frosty, moonlit December night.
[H]e fancied he heard the pit-pat of feet gaining upon him. Thinking it was a pedestrian bound for Plymouth, he turned to accost his fellow traveller, but there was no one visible, nor were any footfalls then audible. Immediately on resuming his walk, pit-pat, pit-pat, fell the echoes of the feet once more. And suddenly there appeared close to his right side an enormous dog, neither mastiff nor bloodhound, but what seemed to him to be a Newfoundland of enormous size. Dogs were always fond of him, and he of them, so he took no heed of this (to him) lovely canine specimen. Presently he spoke to him: ‘Well, doggie, what a beauty you are; how far are you going?’, at the same time lifting his hand to pat him.
Great was the man’s astonishment … for his hand passed right through the seeming body of the animal. ‘Hulloh! What’s this?’ said the bewildered traveller. As he spoke the great glassy eyes gazed at him; then the beast yawned, and from its throat issued a stream of sulphurous breath. Well, thought the man, I am in for it now! … With heart beating madly … he hurried down the hill, the dog never for a moment leaving him, or slackening his speed. They soon reached a crossway, not far from the fortifications. When suddenly the man was startled by a loud report, followed by a blinding flash as of lightning, which struck him senseless to the ground. At daybreak, he was found by the driver of the mail-cart, lying in a ditch at the roadside … unconscious.
Sarah Hewitt adds that tradition says a man was murdered long ago at this spot, and that the ghost of his dog will roam this road and kill every man it meets, until it kills the murderer himself. Similar folk explanations of Black Dogs as ghosts of real dogs are given in other counties (see also SHERINGHAM, Norfolk).