My latest book, Mysteries of Planet Earth (Carlton: London, 1999) discusses many cryptids never previously documented or illustrated in book form. The following excerpt, reproduced exclusively in Strange Magazine, unfurls one of the most extraordinary -- and macabre -- of these hitherto-overlooked mystery beasts.
In 1994, Stephen McHattie starred as a cryptozoological biker (sounds familiar?!) in the movie The Dark, seeking a mysterious creature that inhabited graveyards and devoured corpses, which ultimately proved to be a hitherto-unknown species of archaic rat. However, they do say that fact is stranger than fiction, and if The Dark is the fiction, then the following item may prove to be the fact.
I was fascinated to read recently about a truly weird mystery beast called the earth hound or yard pig, which reputedly inhabits graveyards in Banffshire, northeast Scotland, burrowing among corpses and devouring them. My source of information regarding this eerie, sinister creature, referred to locally at least as long ago as the 1880s, is an article by Alexander Fenton and cryptozoological chronicler David Heppell that appeared in the volume of Scottish Studies for 1992-1993, and contains the following data.
According to one account in a letter from 1917 by a Mr. A. Smith (now in the archives of the Department of Natural History of the National Museums of Scotland), about 50 years earlier a gardener had turned up an earth hound "...in its nest when ploughing in the haughs [alluvial flats]." After killing it when it bit and cut his boot, he took its carcass home:
It was brown in color somewhat like a rat, but had a long head like a dog's -- (hound's), and a tail bushier than a rat's, but he could not say how bushy. Their nests were from time to time turned up by the plough, but the animals themselves were very rarely seen, reputed to frequent churchyards. This was in the immediate neighborhood of a churchyard which was eventually disused owing to the firm belief that it was infested with earth-hunds [sic]. They invariably lived in the immediate neighborhood of water, and their nests were in haughs.
A second eyewitness of this same specimen of earth hound described it to A. Smith as: "...being something between a rat and a weasel, and about the size of a ferret, head very like that of a dog, and I think he said the tail was not very long. At a casual glance it would be mistaken for a rat, but was quite unlike on close examination."
Another earth hound, reputedly killed around 1915 near Mastrick, close to a churchyard, after being turned up by a plough, was said to resemble a dark rat in size and color, but had mole-like feet, a tail only about half as long as a rat's, a long head somewhat similar to a guinea-pig's, noticeable white "tusks" (incisors?), and very prominent pig-like nostrils. As recently as April 1990, while in Keith, Banffshire, Alexander Fenton was told about earth hounds by a friend there, who stated that they were between a rat and a rabbit, lived in graveyards, and forced their way inside buried coffins.
It seems scarcely credible that a distinctive species of ferret-sized mammal could elude scientific detection in modern-day Scotland, and this country's folklore is renowned for its fanciful fauna. Yet reports of the earth hound and its unsavory behavior are remarkably consistent, and far more mundane than one might expect if dealing with a fabled beast of legend. So how can we explain the earth hound -- a macabre myth, or a troubling truth?