The spirit of Black Shuck lives on

Black Shuck gin
Black Shuck gin
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TRISH TAKES FIVE: By award-winning blogger Trish Burgess

On our visit to Holkham Hall last week, the modest car parking charge of £3 could be redeemed on purchases of £10 or more from the gift shop. Naturally, we investigated this and, rather than find something for around a tenner - cheese, a scented candle or maybe a book of walking trails for instance - we were lured by gin.

Not any old gin, mind, but Black Shuck gin, launched in December last year by The Norfolk Sloe Company. Combining juniper, coriander and bitter orange peel with Norfolk’s own lavender and sea buckthorn, it’s a classy spirit they recommend serving with tonic and a twist of fresh orange zest.

The family company, based in Fakenham, started their business in 2011, initially creating sloe gin and then moving onto other liqueurs using fruit such as blackcurrant and damson. Their Black Shuck logo takes its inspiration from the legend of the ghostly black dog, tales of which have been heard throughout the centuries in East Anglia, with earlier links to Norse mythology.

One story surrounds a Danish fisherman, a Saxon fisherman and a black dog who got into trouble whilst fishing off the Norfolk coast. The body of the Dane was washed up at Beeston and the body of the Saxon fisherman was found at Overstrand. The dog, Black Shuck, has roamed the coastline ever since, searching for its masters.

Some people believe the huge dog is a protector of lone women walking the Norfolk coast paths. Others say the hound with menacing red eyes (or even just one eye) is a bad omen. Smugglers used stories of Black Shuck to scare fishermen into staying home when they wished to bring their contraband ashore.

Black Shuck appeared in Peterborough Abbey in the 12th century then, in the 1500s, burst into the churches in Bungay and Blythburgh in Suffolk to a clap of thunder. Legend tells of the dog killing two people and causing the steeple to collapse in the Bungay church before exiting, leaving scorch marks on the doors which, apparently, are still visible today.

The name shuck may derive from an Old English word, ‘succa’ meaning demo or it may link to the local dialect word, ‘shucky’, meaning shaggy. In this context shaggy means hairy, not Scooby Doo’s companion, though, to be fair, this story would be perfect for the Mystery Machine team. No doubt the dog would turn out to be a local fairground owner in disguise who would have his mask removed as he blamed ‘those meddling kids’ for spoiling his evil plans.

If all these scary stories have put you off heading to the coast, never fear, as The Norfolk Sloe Company claim a glass of any Black Shuck liqueur will fill you with enough good spirit to counteract any bad ones.

I know what I’ll be keeping in my Thermos next time we take a trip to the beach.

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