Regional studies of the unexplained are always welcome, and this particular one is based both upon personal investigations carried out by the author, and citations from published sources going back decades and even, in many cases, centuries.
Half of the book deals with hauntings, the remainder with other Fortean phenomena, including devils, Whisht Hounds (a sort of demonic hunt), witches, giants, pixies, cannibals with tusks, Wild Men, mermaids, leaping demons, vampires, werewolves, Alien Big Cats (notably the Beast of Exmoor), inexplicable fires (caused by poltergeists?), ‘invisible attackers’ (such as animal mutilators), strange rain (a fall of black worms, and so on), a lamb seen in the sky in the eighteenth century, presumed to be a religious manifestation, and UFOs, including ‘little suns’ (right back in 1902), silver discs, “a huge, dome-shaped object”, a star-spangled cross, and “a ‘flying tadpole’ that left a trail of purple smoke”.
It is interesting to note that the material is very much the same as what is found everywhere else. Amongst the purely legendary stories are the sun dancing on Easter Day, megalithic stones that move at midnight, and buried treasure guarded by ghostly monks. Most of us will have heard of all of these before. In the late eighteenth century, it was said that the ghost of a certain woman would appear in Berry Pomeroy Castle whenever a resident was about to die. From 1958 comes a classic ‘phantom hitchhiker’ tale, from a lorry driver on the Devon Expressway. Another common story is the ghost who smokes a pipe, which can be smelt, and there is said to be one such in Brixham Heritage Museum, who, as Codd points out, is indifferent to the ban on smoking in public places. There are no stories about boggarts, but this is a word largely confined to Lancashire and Yorkshire, and there are reports of similar entities.
When, in 1950, a Paignton resident saw “two large circular objects travelling south”, he was so alarmed that he called South Devon Police. I have often wondered about this kind of story. Supposing that they were alien spacecraft, or from another dimension, what could he have expected the police to do about them?
I feel that UFOs should have had more than six pages devoted to them. In 1997 there was a Devonshire UFO wave that was the subject of a whole book by Jonathan Downes, but it does not even get a mention. Codd does briefly describe the Arthur Bryant encounter of 1965 (giving the date wrongly), but fails to explain that the entity ‘Yamski’ was thought by some to be George Adamski, who had died the day before, and had somehow at once become reincarnated as a fifteen-year-old Venusian.
Though references are given, they are not wholly complete: several times he cites Sabine Baring-Gould, a nineteenth century vicar who collected folklore (and wrote Onward Christian Soldiers), but does not specify which books, although Baring-Gould was a prolific author. And an index would have been useful.
That said, I would highly recommend this book as a view of the unexplained in general. -- Gareth J. Medway.