Tales of evil winged beasts, cursed families and newt drownings... All in a day’s walk for our intrepid columnist.
ERE BE DRAGONS”. This was the stern and forbidding instruction across the wild lands of the North on old maps; a sentiment probably still harboured by the Gileses and Hugos of the broadsheet columns. But it’s only partly true. Although the UK has more dragon lore than any other country, there are bits of Britain where dragon legends are scarce, like London, the West Midlands and Lancashire, it seems you couldn’t move in Yorkshire, Somerset or the Welsh Marches for the fire-breathing foe of St George.
I walked in the footsteps of a dragon this New Year. The Tale of The Mordiford Dragon is famous in the Ross-on-Wye corner of rural Herefordshire and you can investigate this on one of several circular walks promoted by Herefordshire council in leaflets and excellent signposted paths. Once upon a time, a young girl called Maud was walking through the woods when she found a tiny green creature. She took it home to her parents who instantly recognised it as a Wyvern, a kind of dragon, and demanded she kill it. However she hid and nurtured it, feeding it on milk, but the creature soon graduated to chickens, then lambs, then villagers.
Eventually the folk of Mordiford offered a condemned murderer called Garston his freedom if he’d kill it. Having nothing to lose, he hid in a cider barrel down by the the confluence of the rivers Wye and Lugg where the beast came to drink and shot it (through the cork hole) with an arrow. In rage and pain, with his dying breath, the wyvern incinerated him. The tale still very much has currency here. In 1811, the vicar took down a paganistic painting of the creature in the church, but the locals painted one on the church wall instead. In 1875 the rector found two of his elderly parishioners trying to drown some newts believing them to be baby wyverns.
Leaving aside the difficulties inherent in drowning a newt, let me also tell or perhaps remind you of the Lambton Worm. Once upon a time a lad called John, youngest of the Lambton family, was fishing in the River Wear on the Sabbath (when he should have been at church). Cursing his luck and the river, he immediately caught a strange black worm which he later dropped in the village well. Not a smart move!
You won’t be surprised to hear that the worm grew to become a dragon and the price Lambton Hear Stuart on BBC 6 Music, 1pm to 4pm Monday to Friday.