A number of accounts of Warwickshire folklore include tales of a strange booming sound heard in the vicinity of the village of Mickleton. The source of this noise was reputed to be a ghostly creature, dubbed by locals the “Mickleton Hooter”, which was reputed to roam nearby Meon Hill. Some folklorists have associated it with the Dun Cow, a monstrous red-eyed beast which wreaked havoc around Dunsmore Heath until it was killed by Guy, Earl of Warwick. The name “Hooter” is ambiguous. It could refer to the noise the creature made, however, “hooter” is also an old Warwickshire word for a ghostly hound. To add weight to the idea that the Hooter is of the canine variety, a cluster of stories about phantom dogs are associated with Meon Hill and the surrounding areas.
Folklore and legends
One early 20th century folklorist was told by villagers in the Mickleton and Ilmington areas of a mysterious coach pulled by six horses and accompanied by a pack of hounds which headed towards the Gloucestershire border late at night. Despite travelling at breakneck speed, the coach, horses and dogs made no sound.1 Another legend concerns a ghostly huntsman and his hounds forced to haunt the hill as a punishment for hunting on the Sabbath day. If anyone sees him, they must ignore any commands he gives however innocuous the orders may seem. If the command is obeyed, the person will be carried off by the huntsman.
Lone supernatural black dogs are also reputed to haunt Meon Hill. In the late 1920s a young farm worker saw one such animal nine nights in a row; on the final occasion a headless woman appeared as well. This dog may or may not be the diabolic hound reputed to guard an entrance to Hell located somewhere on the hill.2
Whether the Mickleton Hooter is a solitary dog or a pack of hounds, it is part of a long tradition of ghostly dog sightings in the British Isles. In Warwickshire alone, examples have been recorded from Edgehill, Little Compton, Radway Grange, Snitterfield and Warwick. The locations such dogs are believed to haunt include boundaries, roads, wells, and places where people have died a violent death. They have also been spotted at prehistoric sites. Interestingly, Meon Hill had an Iron Age camp built on its summit and archaeological evidence of settlement has been found there dating from the Neolithic.3
Some phantom dogs are reported to help lost travellers, but others have a more sinister reputation as portents of doom, the Devil in disguise, or as part of his pack hunting down the souls of sinners. Stories of hounds on a “wild hunt” appear in British and European folklore. In early tales the hunt was led by a deity or mythical figure. With the spread of Christianity, these figures were replaced by Satan, national heroes such as Francis Drake, and those who had hunted on a Sunday or in some way displeased the Devil.
A classic location
Whether the strange noises of the Mickleton Hooter emanate from a single ghostly black dog or a pack of spectral hounds, the area around Meon Hill, with its prehistoric past and later associations with the Devil, fits the bill as a classic location for phantom canines to roam.
Atkins, Meg Elizabeth. Haunted Warwickshire (London: Robert Hale, 1981)
Matthews, Rupert. Haunted Places of Warwickshire (Newbury: Countryside Books, 2005)
Morley, George. Shakespeare’s Greenwood: The Customs and the County (London: David Nutt, 1900)
1 Morley, p. 74.
2 Matthews, p. 88
3 Atkins, p. 119