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The Bamburgh Laidly

The Laidly (Northumbrian for loathsome) worm was once a beautiful princess named Margaret, who lived in Bamburgh Castle. Her stepmother was a witch who, due to jealousy, cast a spell changing the princess into a huge worm. The worm’s breath caused vegetation to shrivel, and it demanded the milk of seven cows every day.

Depending on which of the two versions you hear, the hero is either Margaret’s brother Child Wynd or a man named Kemp Owen. Not knowing that the worm was, in fact, the princess he sets out to slay it. When he confronts the worm it tells him to put down his sword and kiss it three times upon its ugly head.

“O quit your sword, unbend your bow,
And give me kisses three
For though I am a poisonous worm
No harm I’ll do to thee.”

Amazingly the hero co-operates and the worm transforms back into Margaret.

The curse rebounds and the witch is turned into a toad that hops off down a well. Some say the toad reappears every seven years and can be changed back into human shape by a hero kissing her after unsheathing Child Wynd’s sword and blowing three times on his horn.

Richard Freeman

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