Gabriel ratchets, Gabriel hounds, the ratchet pack, the wild hunt. They have many names, and seemingly many guises. An odd Mix of Norse Tradition and Christian Mythology. They fly across the sky at night, uttering strange unearthly cries, a portent of death and ill fortune to all who hear them. The idea is that the angel Gabriel is hunting the souls of wicked men, who cry out as he lashes them with his whip.
No solid description of the ratchet Hounds can be found, they seem to differ with each account. One tale has them as great dogs which leap across the sky, another could tell of spectral birds with glowing eyes, or of the ghosts of un-baptised babies floating about their parent's house. One thing always remains the same though, the ratchet's howl, ear splitting and unearthly.
David Naitby, a school master in Bedale, recorded an encounter with the hounds in his diary.*
11 October 1773. "There is now a certainty of death come among us. For the third time the ratchet pack hath hunted for souls over Bedale."
But no misfortune followed his sighting of the wild hunt, on the 18th of October he writes:
"But seven nights now gone since Gabriels raced overhead, and now there has come to us a blood red moon. a sure sign we are to be judged for our sins."
The modern view is that ratchet packs are actually low flying flocks of geese. The goose's call is loud and harsh and their wing beats very loud indeed. At night these sounds could very well run away with the imagination, even with that of a respected school master.
*The diary excerpts come from "Ghosts and legends of Yorkshire," by Andy Roberts.