“Well, I saw what I saw, s’all I’m saying,” insisted Crowbar. We were having a beer at The Longe Arms pub in Spixworth, about five miles outside Norwich. It’s a regular haunt for me on account it has a pool table (rare these days) and it’s in easy reach of my local biker pals, of which Crowbar is one.
Anyway, I says to Crowbar, “Too much fucking acid, mate. No way what you saw was real.”
But Crowbar was having none of it. “Haven’t done acid in years, and I hardly even drink nowadays. I saw what I saw.”
What happened was this: The previous night, Crowbar, a stocky forty-year-old with buzzcut hair and a snub nose, had been riding his custom Triumph back towards Norwich on the Cromer Road, and he decided to take a right down a little country lane where he found a convenient spot to pull in and have a smoke (as it’s a bit of an art rolling a cigarette and smoking it while riding a motorcycle).
Crowbar shut down the bike engine, put it on the kickstand, took off his helmet, and rolled up a cigarette. Leaning over a farm gate he looked over the shadowy rolling fields in the dark light, puffing out wafts of smoke every so often. Then he saw something move in a clump of nearby trees.
“I thought it was a cow or a horse, or even a rhino,” Crowbar told me.
I said: “We don’t have fucking rhinos in this country!”
Put kindly, Crowbar isn’t the brightest intellect on the block. If he was a light bulb you’d need your Zippo to illuminate the room enough to see your feet – always assuming you though you’d lost them, of course.
But Crowbar was indignant: “A rhino could’ve escaped from the zoo…”
With that, Crowbar lit up a roll-up and continued with his story. “Anyway, then I saw these glowing red eyes and as it came closer, I realized it was a dog – a fucking great big one, an’ all. I was frozen to the spot. It was like The Hound of the Baskervilles, only a lot worse.”
I bought another beer, took a big slug, which made me feel a bit more kindly. So I said: “Well, to be fair, and to quote Hamlet, ‘There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy.'”
I’m not sure Crowbar knew what I was on about. But then he says: “It was Black Shuck, I’m sure of it…”
Now for anybody unfamiliar with Black Shuck, he, she, or “it” is a legendary “demon dog” from local folklore. The beast apparently is a huge hound, the size of a small calf with blazing red eyes and prowls the coastal path between Sheringham and Overstrand, but reports of sightings have come from other parts of the region too – there’s historical accounts of Black Shuck attacking parishioners at St. Mary’s Church, Bungay, for example.
In 1890 a young boy was rescued from the North Sea who told a tale of being forced to swim further and further from the shore by a huge black dog that had chased him into the sea.
And in the 1920s and 1930s there were reports from fishermen in Sheringham who claimed to have heard a hound howling on the cliff tops during stormy nights. Then in 1970 a huge hound was seen pounding over the beach at Great Yarmouth – and this report made the headlines. A decade later, in 1980, a woman claimed to have met hell hound while out walking her young son near Wisbech, although his hound had yellow eyes, rather than red, otherwise it matched the other descriptions of Black Shuck.
The terrifying creature has also been sighted in the grounds of Cromer Hall. And it’s said that Sir Arthur Conan Doyle heard about the Black Shuck legends there and based his Hound of the Baskervilles on them.
What probably set Crowbar off was his granddad, Alfie, used to work around the Cromer area and would tell his grandson to take care not to be around that area after dark. He’d say: “If you see that fearsome fucker you want to run, you do. If you meet his fiery gaze, you be dead within twelve month, you will. That Shuck, he appear out of a mist o’ darkness, he do, and if you sees him, you fucked, you are. ‘Ent no good offerin’ him a bonio, it ‘ent. He a demon dog an’ he want your soul, he do.”
Naturally, this put the wind up Crowbar as a kid. And seeing the apparition on the Cromer Road the previous night brought it all back.
Then Crowbar says to me: “I’m thinking of getting my will drawn up. I might not be here in a year’s time.”
I burst out laughing. “You haven’t got anything worth leaving to anybody!”
But seeing his hurt look, I became more sympathetic, and said: “Look, we’re bikers. We’re not scared of anybody or anything. We’ll hunt that demon dog down and put a stop to its antics. And it’s coming up to Midsummer’s Eve, and according to my sister, Marlene, who’s interested in all things dark and witchy, is the time when spirits are supposed to be abroad – a bit like Halloween, but warmer. So if we get all the club together and steam out to Cromer then we might be able to catch Black Shuck and stop its nonsense. If nothing else, it would be a good excuse for a ride out.”
Crowbar wasn’t reassured by this. “We’ll be cursed if we do that…”
I sighed, then said, “I’ve had enough of all this, I’m going to play pool – want to join me?”
Author and journalist