The lanes near the Old Black Dogespecially Haye Lane overshadowed
by it, which used to be called Black Dog Laneare haunted by
a spectral Black Dog. The dog appears at dusk; is small when first
seen, grows larger as it grows nearer. If it is in Black Dog Lane
that you see it, your time is up. A coastguard from Lyme related,
toward the end of the nineteenth century, that as he came along
the lane at dusk he saw and at first ignored an ordinary little
black dog running by the laneside; as it got nearer it got bigger,
till it turned into an enormous black cloud that rushed above him
and all around him and past him as if he were not there. He evidently
lived long enough to tell the tale.
Others say that it is quite common to encounter large black dogs, of non-spectral kinds, round about the district. Peter and Pat Dench of the present Black Dog have a black dog, but (though a trifle loud) he's neither vast nor fearsome. They consider the story rather a positive than a negative point for their hostelry; but their predecessors had not told them of it, only mentioning that there was a room in the house that their own dog would not go into.
According to a piece by Rodney Legg and Mary Collier in Ghosts of Dorset,
Devon and Somerset (1974), reprinted in Legg's Mysterious
Dorset (1987), black dog stories are commonest in coastal counties,
perhaps brought by Vikings, perhaps memories of the War Hound of
their god Odin; perhaps (I take it this is what Legg and Collier
mean) the Vikings brought in their galleys war hounds that leaped
ashore with them, and this may explain an East Anglian name for
the ghostly dog, the "Galleytrot". According to "A Field Guide to
the Mystery of the Beasts of the British Isles" (in The Independent,
2005 March 20), by Paul Sieveking, founding co-editor of Fortean
Times, the Journal of Strange Phenomena, "Black dogs have figured
in folklore since Saxon times. Typically they are encountered at
night in lonely places, with burning red eyes. Often seen as omens
of death, they tended to vanish in a flash. In Yorkshire the creature
was Barguest; in Lancashire, Skriker; on the Isle of Man, Moddey
Dhoo; in Somerset, Gurt Dog; in Scotland, Choin dubh. Perhaps the
most celebrated black dog story is one set in Suffolk, where the
beast was called Black Shuck from the Old English scucca,
a demon. During a storm on Sunday, 4 August 1577, Black Shuck is
said to have appeared in St Mary's church in Bungay, Suffolk, and
run between two worshippers, apparently wringing their necks and
killing them. On the same day, a similar scene unfolded in Blythburgh
church seven miles away. And still the stories come in."
Perhaps there is conflation with the numerous rumours of big black cats seen around the British countryside, sometimes mauling people or killing livestock. Conceivably there could be animals escaped from menageries, or crosses between feral and domestic cats. Not one is confirmed by photos or spoor or paw-prints, or is thought likely by those with real experience of wild animals.
If your eyes disappoint by failing to play tricks, you may treat your imagination to as scary a thrill by inditing, in breathless tones, these lines of Coleridge:
Like one who on a lonesome road
Doth walk in fear and dread
And having once turned round walks on
And turns no more his head
Because he knows a frightful fiend
Doth close behind him tread . . .
Creep on along Haye Lane.