The tale of the mysterious Girt Dog of Ennerdale

A photographs of a captured thylacine from the 1930s

A photographs of a captured thylacine from the 1930s - Credit: Alamy

Emily Rothery goes on the trail of a dog-like creature that brought terror to the Lakes

An artists impression by Helen Thorburn

An artists impression by Helen Thorburn - Credit: Archant

There are many dog-like creatures found in the folklores of northern Britain and they have some weird and wonderful names - Barquist, Gytrash, Padfoot, The Grim, Striker or Skriker.

They are names that once struck fear into the hearts of all who believed in their existence. The mythical black creature was considered to be an apparition that appeared at night and was said to portend death. It was reputed to be much larger than a normal dog with huge glowing eyes and was often associated with electrical storms and the devil.

They are said to be myths dating back to Celtic times but in the Lake District in the early 19th century a mysterious creature known as The Girt Dog of Ennerdale was eventually found to be an altogether different kind of hound.

In 1810 a savage predator began mercilessly killing sheep in the Cumberland valley of Ennerdale. The attacks went on for months with up to eight sheep a day being slaughtered. Alarm spread, children were kept inside for safety’s sake and a £10 reward was offered for its capture.

A thylacine bagged by an Australian hunter

A thylacine bagged by an Australian hunter - Credit: Archant

Eventually it was spotted but it was not what the locals expected. It was described as having the qualities of both a large cat and a large dog, tawny in colour with dark stripes running down its back.

Local farmers and their neighbours abandoned normal duties to track down the blood-thirsty carnivore, which seemed to have an uncanny ability to evade capture. It ignored poisoned meat that was put down and led the hunters a merry dance as they followed it on forays into Wasdale and then south into Lancashire.

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It was said that normally brave hunting dogs that had been set on its trail would cower and whimper when a scent was picked up. Thus a belief began to take hold that the creature was indeed supernatural.

One experienced hunter by the name of Will Rothery was one of the first to get a clear shot but was so alarmed as the beast approached that he dropped his musket, lost his reputation and made a run for it.

As news of the wily predator spread across the county the locals were joined by professional huntsmen but still the beast evaded capture until eventually, after a long chase, the Girt Dog was run to ground and mortally wounded by a man named John Steel. By this time it was said to have killed 300 sheep and terrified a whole community.

The Girt Dog’s bloody reign had come to an end and the carcass, which weighed 112lbs was paraded around the area before being stuffed and displayed in The Hutton Museum in nearby Keswick. Unfortunately, in the 1950s a curator decided it was becoming moth-eaten and threw it out.

It is now commonly believed that the Girt Dog of Ennerdale was, in fact, a thylacine, a wolf-like marsupial, also known as a Tasmanian tiger or Tasmanian wolf. The exotic predator had possibly escaped from a travelling menagerie or circus, but the true origins will never be known for certain.

Hounded out

The thylacine, commonly known as the Tassie tiger, has been considered extinct for nearly 80 years but recently a team of intrepid British naturalists believe that compelling evidence of its presence has been found in Tasmania’s north west.

It is thought this was a relatively shy, nocturnal creature with a stiff tail and abdominal pouch like a kangaroo.

Its reputation as a sheep thief led to a bounty being placed on its head and this resulted in its likely extinction.