British Dragon Gazetteer
No other country on earth has such rich dragon lore as the British Isles. Our tiny little homeland is crawling with legends of these beasts. If you have ever wondered if there is a dragon legend close to where you live, then take a look at the following list.
There are areas of the UK where dragon lore is thin on the ground, or totally absent. These include greater London, parts of the highly industrialized Midlands, and Lancashire. This does not necessarily mean that no such creatures ever roamed these areas, just that the stories handed down about them have been forgotten.
Other areas, such as Somerset and Yorkshire, are very rich in dragon legend. This could be due to cultural influences, such as the Vikings in Yorkshire, or to other factors including the availability of prey or the lack of disturbances that made such areas attractive to dragons.
Several species of dragon were said to dwell in Britain.
THE TRUE DRAGON
Also known as the heraldic dragon, or firedrake, this is the dragon par-excellence; the most well known of all dragon types, the most widespread, and the most powerful. The true dragon is a gigantic reptilian beast with four legs. It sports two leather, bat-like wings and is covered with armored scales. Its head is usually depicted with horns or a crest. It has a spined tail and savage teeth and claws. The true dragons main weapon, however, is its breath; its most famous attribute being the jets of flame that it spat from its jaws.
This was the ultimate challenge for a folk hero or knight. The true dragon was almost impossible to kill. It had only one vulnerable spot on its whole body, and this was usually well hidden. In many, although not all, legends these creatures protected a horde of treasure. They are also attributed magickal powers such as invisibility and self healing. Dragons such as these often laid waste to vast areas and put whole communities under siege.
The true dragon occurs more often than any other type in British legend.
Sometimes rendered wyrm (from the Norse orm and the Germanic vurm) the worm runs a close second in its number of appearances in British legends. It is, in essence, a titanic snake. These limbless giants often grew from tiny innocuous looking serpents, a motif also found in the folklore of China and Scandinavia.
Worms did not breathe fire but spat venom or blew blasts of poisonous gas. A worm would often poison whole areas, withering crops. As well as its deadly bite and breath, the worm crushed its prey in monstrous coils like an outsized python or anaconda.
Worms also had some odd attributes. They seemed fond of milk (an odd diet for a reptile) and would often suckle from cows. Some were placated by being given troughs of milk. They were also known for being able to rejoin severed sections of their bodies, making them exceedingly hard to kill.
The wyvern resembles the true-dragon in many ways. It is a reptilian, winged monster that brings death and destruction. It fulfils the same roll in legends as its relative – a guardian of treasure, and an obstacle to be defeated by a hero. The main difference between the two creatures is that the wyvern has only two legs, as opposed to the dragons four. Many wyverns sport scorpion-like stings in their tails. They have a bats wings, and a snake-like head and neck. The legs are eagle-like, with curved-talons. Like the true dragon, the wyvern’s head is often furnished with horns or a crest. Wyverns were generally smaller than true dragons. Most wyverns flew, but some were earthbound and crawled despite having wings.
Wyverns were believed to be disease carriers, spreading pestilence wherever they appeared. Plague outbreaks and illnesses of both humans and livestock were blamed upon them. Some wyverns breathed fire in the fashion of true-dragons, while others spewed forth a noxious poison gas.
THE BASILISK OR COCKATRICE
Of all the British dragons the basilisk was the smallest, most being only a few feet long at their maximum. It was believed that occasionally – in old age – a rooster could lay an egg. If such an uncommon egg were to be incubated by a snake or toad, and successfully hatch, then a basilisk would emerge.
What the basilisk lacked in size it made up for in deadliness. Its death-dealing powers came not from fiery-breath or tooth and claw but from its withering glare. Any creature that caught the eyes of the basilisk would fall dead. The one exception to this was the weasel. It was believed that God never created a bane without creating some cure for it, like the stinging nettle and the dock-leaf. The dragons own gaze was as lethal to itself as to any other creature. Hence, its own reflection would kill it stone-dead! Equally, for some cryptic reason, the sound of a cock crowing at dawn would also kill the basilisk.
The basilisk usually took the form of a small snake with a crest resembling a rooster’s comb, or a crown. In later stories, they looked like a horned rooster with the tail of a snake. In this form it was referred to as a cockatrice.
The gwiber is a legless winged serpent. In appearance it is half way between the wyvern and the worm. The word gwiber is a corruption of viper. Most of the British winged serpent stories come from Wales. In Wales, gwibers actually outnumber the more familiar type of dragon that we see even today on the Welsh flag. Gwibers did not usually breathe fire, but they had a highly venomous bite.
The Welsh had some strange folklore pertaining to the genesis of the gwiber. It was believed that serpents loved milk, and would – given the chance – suckle from cows. Women’s milk was favoured even more, but if an ordinary snake drank the milk of a woman it would grow into a gwiber. Nursing-women had to be careful not to let any of their milk fall to the floor where a snake might lap it up, or to fall asleep on the ground where a snake might reach their breasts.
Another strange quirk of Welsh gwiber tales is that they are never killed by a knight or any sort of nobleman. It is always a shepherd, farm hand, or some other peasant-lad who puts paid to the gwiber with his wits.
ODDS AND END
Some British dragons do not fall into any particular category. One is the serpent of Handale in Yorkshire. This beast had a crested head and spat fire like a true dragon. It bore a sting like a wyvern, but had no limbs and was, in effect, a giant snake.
The dragon/ dragons of Wormingford / Bures on the Essex / Suffolk border resembled a true dragon, but lacked the fire breathing powers and huge wings of those monsters.
The cockatrice of Castle Gwys in Dyfed had a body covered with hundreds of eyes but, unlike its kin, this monsters gaze did not seem to kill. Conversely, the dragon of Castle Carlton had only one huge eye.
Padstow is famous for its ‘hobby ‘oss’ that some think was originally a dragon. Padstow was also once inhabited by a far more aggressive dragon. Saint Petroc was said to have tamed it by placing a girdle about its neck. The dragon was then led down to the seashore and let loose. It swam away and never bothered anyone again.
Here a huge fire-breathing dragon was seen flying over the town, clutching a ball of flames in its claws. The dragon dropped the flaming mass just outside the town where it cooled down, forming a huge rock that is still there to this day.
An enormous winged dragon was said to fly nightly over the Exe Valley, lighting up the sky with its flaming breath. It flew back and forth between Dolbury Hill and Cadbury Castle guarding two hordes of treasure. A local saying goes…
“If Cadbury Castle and Dolbury Hill delven were
All England might plough with a golden share”
In this case no hero was forthcoming to do battle with the dragon.
A winged dragon made its lair in an old tin mine here. The dragon’s hissing was said to be audible for miles around. It was finally slain in the mine but history does not record by whom. The story was recorded by the late 18th century writer Polwhele. Devonshire dragon stories all seem to be frustratingly vague.
Fire breathing, winged dragons were seen at night. They flew around snorting fire and would perch upon Bronze Age burial mounds. Perhaps they were supposed to be guarding the contents.
Two 17th century writers recorded a brace of dragons here but there are no more details. A scant story even by Devon standards!
In Shervage wood near Crowcombe there dwelt a worm thicker about the middle than an oak tree. It fed on local livestock and then expanded its diet to humans, eating two gypsies and a shepherd. The locals became too afraid to enter the wood to pick the bilberries with which they made pies.
One old woman asked a woodcutter from the village of Stogumber, a few miles from Crowcombe, to pick some berries for her. The kind hearted man agreed. After picking an abundance of the fruit he sat down to eat bread and cheese, and to drink cider. The man thought he was sitting on a dead tree but when it began to writhe about he realised, to his horror, that the “log” was in fact the worm. He hoisted his axe and cleaved the monster in two.
Lucky for the woodcutter that the worm was disorientated. One half slithered off toward Minehead, the other half toward Taunton. So, rather than recombining, the segments both perished.
Kingston St Mary
A savage fire-breathing dragon terrorized this area until a champion came forth to tackle it. The hero rolled a boulder up a hill opposite to the dragon’s lair and shouted out to the monster. As the dragon emerged, jaws agape, the champion rolled the boulder down into its open maw, choking it before it could roast him with a jet of flame. Kingston St Mary is now part of Dorset, due to the changes in county boundaries, but it was in Somerset until quite recently.
Here the Roman general Ostorius was said to have killed hundreds of ancient Britons. Over the centuries a dragon is said to have grown from the corruption of the rotting bodies (this spontaneous growth of creatures from rotting matter was a common belief in Medieval times). The dragon took up residence in an Iron Age hill fort and preyed on the populace until Fulk Fitzwarine, a 13th century knight, slew the creature. Despite his brave deed Fulk fell foul of King John and was exiled. He continued his adventures abroad when he saved the Duke of Iberia’s daughter from a dragon near Carthage.
The dragon of Aller was a terrifying beast. It spat both fire and venom and flew on vast leathery wings. It lived in a hillside cave just outside of Aller and, as western dragons are want to do, laid waste to the land.
The dragon was finally slain by John of Aller. There are two versions of the story; in one John is a knight, in the other a lowly peasant. He covered himself in pitch and wore a mask to protect himself from the dragon’s breath.
After a terrible battle, John was able to thrust a long spear down the dragon’s throat and kill the beast. In one version of the story he is burnt to death by the dragon’s breath. In another telling, John survives and finds a brood of hatchlings in the dragon’s cave. The cave is subsequently blocked up.
In 1827, when the church here was being rebuilt, the devil manifested riding a green dragon and began hurling rocks at the church. Saint Andrew then materialized and drove them off with a cross.
A dragon called Blue Ben resided here and was supposedly the steed of the devil. He fell from a causeway of rocks and drowned in the mud. His skull (actually a fossil ichthyosaur) was uncovered and is on display in the local museum.
In Arthurian legend Saint Carantoc visited this part of Somerset whilst looking for his altar. He met with King Arthur who was worried about a dragon terrorizing the county. Arthur knew the whereabouts of the Saint’s altar and said he would reveal its location if Carantoc could rid him of the dragon.
Carantoc tamed the dragon by putting his stole around its neck and leading it to Dunster Castle. An angry mob wanted to attack the now placid beast, but the Saint would not let them. He released the dragon telling it never to harm anyone ever again.
A dragon once resided in the place where Stapley Farm now stands. After causing the usual havoc it was slain by an anonymous knight. The lashing of the dragons tail is said to have carved out a hollow in a field known as Wormstall.
A dragon was supposedly slain on Castleman’s hill near Trull, but no details remain of it. The local church has a stained glass window showing Saints George, Michael and Margaret killing dragons.
Bishop Jocelyn supposedly drove out a dragon that had been terrorizing locals around seven holy springs. A cathedral was built next to the springs.
A treasure-guarding dragon once lived here, but that is all that remains of this legend.
Two versions of this story exist. The Bisterne dragon dwelt on Burley Beacon, a hill in the New Forest. In one of the stories the dragon is placated by being fed milk by the local villagers. They grow weary of paying this tribute and hire a knight, Sir Macdonie de Berkeley, to slay the monster. The knight takes a jug of milk to lure the dragon and a cabinet of mirrored glass to hide in. When the beast was busy slurping the milk, the knight stepped out from his hiding place and slew the dragon.
The second version of this story is far more dramatic. The knight is called Sir Maurice de Berkeley, and the dragon in this story was not to be fobbed off with milk. It gorged on livestock and man flesh. Sir Maurice fought it accompanied by two huge mastiffs. Prior to the battle he covered his armour in birdlime and ground glass. Both the dogs and the knight died along with the dragon.
A duck’s egg was incubated by a toad in the cellar of Wherwell Priory. It grew into a cockatrice and set about withering everything around. A reward of four acres of land was offered to anyone who could kill the beast. Several champions came forward only to be slain by the deadly glare of the cockatrice.
Finally, a Priory servant named Green lowered a polished steel mirror into the dragon’s cellar lair. Unlike most of its kin, the Wherwell cockatrice’s reflection was not instantaneously lethal to itself. It took its own reflection for another, rival, cockatrice and attacked it. Once it had exhausted itself fighting its own image, Green leapt down and killed it with a spear.
Up until the 1930s older residents of Wherwell refused to eat duck’s eggs!
La Hogue Bie
Seigneur de Hambye, Lord of the Manor, slew a fearful dragon after a long and awful combat. Whilst lying wounded and exhausted after the fight de Hambye’s squire crept up and murdered him. The squire returned to the village claiming to have killed the dragon after it had killed his master. He married his master’s widow and acquired his lands. His chicanery was found out later after he suffered nightmares and spoke in his sleep.
Here we have another dragon legend of which three different versions exist. The dragon was known as the Knucker and inhabited a supposedly bottomless pool known as the Knucker hole.
In the first version, the dragon was terrorizing the area and had eaten all the maidens in the area, leaving only the King of Sussex’s daughter. The King offered his daughter’s hand in marriage to anyone who could deliver her from the dragon’s jaws. A wandering knight took up the challenge and slew the beast.
Others say it was a local lad named Jim Puttock who fed the dragon an indigestible pudding, then killed it whilst it was indisposed with a bout of bellyache! He got some of the dragon’s blood on his hand and, after wiping his mouth after a celebratory pint of beer, Puttock died.
In the third variation, Jim baked a poisoned pie so huge it needed a horse and cart to transport it to the Knucker hole. The dragon ate the pie, the cart, and the horse, and subsequently died.
Knucker is believed to derive from nikyr, Old Norse for water monster.
St Leonard’s Forest
This wild briar is a part of the once vast forest of the Weald. St Leonard himself was supposed to have fought a dragon in its depths. Where the Saint’s blood fell patches of lily-of the valley sprung up.
In 1614 another type of dragon appeared in the forest, a limbless worm some nine feet long that killed both man and beast with poison, and which for a while became infamous in the area. It was said to raise up its head and look in an arrogant manner about itself. It sounds very much like a cobra, possibly brought back from abroad by a traveller or merchant and which subsequently got free.
A prehistoric earthwork on the South Downs is supposed to contain a huge treasure horde. A tunnel reputedly runs from the earthwork to Offington Hall, two miles away. In the 1860s the owner of the hall offered half the treasure to anyone who could clear out the tunnel and find the horde. Several people tried but were driven back by huge snakes that sprang hissing at them with open mouths.
A huge worm wrapped itself around Bignor hill and left the imprint of its coils on the hill.
As recently as 1867 a worm was supposed to reside here and rush out hissing at anyone who passed by its lair.
Robert Winstantley of Saffron Walden wrote a pamphlet titled ‘A True Relation of a Monsterous Serpent seen at Henham on the Mount in Saffron Walden,’ published in 1699. The creature in question was a winged serpent (it would have been called a gwiber in Wales) that appeared in May of that year. It was around nine feet long and as thick as a man’s leg. Its eyes were as large as sheep’s eyes and it had several rows of sharp teeth. It was also furnished with small wings.
Despite having caused no trouble, its demeanour was sufficiently alarming that a group of villagers armed with farm implements and stones chased it off.
The dragon of Horndon was said to have been imported in the Middle Ages by Barbary Merchants (presumably as a youngster) from whom it escaped. It set up home in the surrounding forest and grew to huge proportions.
It was eventually killed by Sir James Tyrell who managed to dazzle the dragon by wearing highly polished armour.
A broad sheet produced in 1704 refers to a dragon of “marvellous bigness” being discovered here during the reign on Henry II. Nothing more is known about this creature.
The pamphlet that deals with the Henham winged serpent also relates the story of a basilisk dragon that held siege to Saffron Walden centuries before. It was described as:
“…not about a foot in length, of colour between black and yellow, having very red eyes, a sharp head and a white spot hereon like a crown. It goeth not winding like other serpents but upright on its breast. If a man touch it though with a long pole it kills him: and if it sees a man far off it destroys him with its looks. Furthermore it breaketh stones, blasteth all plants with his breath, it burneth everything it goeth over; no herb can grow near the place of his abode.”
The basilisk killed so many people that the town was becoming severely depopulated. Finally a wandering knight delivered the townspeople by covering his armour in crystal glass. On seeing its own reflection, the monster died.
Close to the more famous White Horse Hill this small flat-topped hill is one of the places where St George is supposed to have slain the dragon. The dragon’s blood burned the soil at the top of the hill so that no grass will grow there.
In fact St George was a Syrian con-man who never set foot in Britain, let alone fought a dragon!
The Deerhurst dragon was covered in impenetrable scales and fed on livestock. It killed villagers with its deadly breath. It was finally slain by a local labourer, the exotically named John Smith.
John set out a trough of milk for the dragon who greedily drank the lot. After its meal, the creature stretched out to sleep. Whilst sleeping, the dragon ruffled up its scales in the manner of a bird fluffing its feathers. Seeing his chance John took up an axe and struck between the beast’s scales, hacking off the monster’s head.
A mighty dragon made its lair under the roots of an ancient yew tree and wrought havoc in the surrounding countryside. Piers Shonks, Lord of the Manor of Pelham, fought it accompanied by three huge hounds. He finally triumphed by thrusting a long spear down the dragon’s throat.
At the moment of victory the Devil appeared vowing vengeance on Shonks for destroying his beast. He swore that he would have Shonks’ soul, whether he was buried inside or outside the church.
Shonks foiled the Devil by being buried in a cavity within the church walls, therefore being neither inside nor outside the church.
This is the scene of one of Britain’s oldest dragon legends. Abbot Ealdred of St Albans, who succeeded office in 1007, rebuilt his abbey using the ruins of Verulamium, a Roman city nearby. During the course of the demolitions he was said to have flattened the lair of the dragon of Wormenhert. There is no information on the dragon itself, or on what it was doing whilst the Abbot destroyed its den.
St Paul, whilst visiting Britain, was supposed to have banished forever all snakes, dragons, and thunderstorms. He didn’t do a very good job!
Bures / Wormingford
Confusion and controversy surround this legend on the Suffolk / Essex border. Both the town of Bures and the village of Wormingford lay claim to the story as their own.
In a 19th century translation of a document from 1405, the story is told of a fearful dragon that had a hide impenetrable to arrows and which disappeared into the marsh after having caused “much hurt”.
Wormingford begs to differ, saying that the creature resided there and was finally killed by Sir George de la Haye.
The description of this dragon sounds very like a crocodile. Indeed, many think it was such a beast that got free from the Royal menagerie at the Tower of London and made its way to Suffolk. One can readily imagine the fear a 20-30 foot reptile would have struck into the hearts of the peasants.
Two dragons did battle here. A spotted red dragon from Ballingdon Hill on the Essex side of the River Stour came down to fight a black dragon from Kedington Hill on the Suffolk side. After a long battle the red dragon won. Both dragons survived the fight and returned to their respective lairs.
A contemporary document recording these events is held in Canterbury Cathedral.
A fire-breathing dragon struck fear into the hearts of the Ludham residents. Upon discovering its cave they tried blocking the entrance, but the dragon merely tore away the rubble. Finally one man found a boulder that was the exact shape of the cave entrance and blocked it up whilst the dragon was out.
On finding its cave blocked the dragon moved to the vaults under the ruins of the Abbey of St Benadict.
A document dating to 1582 refers to a place called Drakelow as being inhabited by a dragon. Nothing, however, is known of either the dragon or of the place.
The story of the Mordiford wyvern is one of the most detailed dragon legends in Britain; it is also the one with the most variations, having no less than five.
A young girl called Maud was walking through the woods when she found a baby wyvern, bright green and no bigger than a cucumber. She took it home to keep as a pet, feeding it on milk. It grew very fast and began to eat chickens, then sheep, before graduating onto cows. Finally, as an adult, it turned into a man-eater, but it remained friendly toward Maud. It made its lair on a ridge in Hauge Wood and always followed the same path, known to this day as Serpent Path, to the river.
Locals now took steps to end its reign of terror. This is where the story diverges. In one variation, the hero is a criminal under sentence of death. He is promised his life and freedom if he kills the wyvern. He is lucky enough to find it asleep in its den and kills it, bringing the tongue back for proof.
Another version says the same hero hid in a cider barrel by the wyvern’s drinking place, the confluence of the rivers Wye and Lugg. He shot it through the barrel’s bung hole.
Another, more exciting, twist is that the barrel was covered with hooks and blades. The wyvern, spotting the man inside, coiled around the barrel but mortally wounded itself on the spikes.
In all of the first three of these variations, the hero dies from the wyvern’s breath.
Yet another ending has the wyvern gorging itself on a drowned ox, and then being surrounded and killed by villagers while it slept off its meal.
The final story says that the hero was not a criminal but a member of a distinguished local family, the Garstons.
The legend had such a hold over the locals that in 1875 the rector found two of his parishioners, a pair of old women, trying to drown some newts in the belief that they would grow into wyverns!
St George is said to have killed a well-dwelling dragon in a field called Lower Stanks. A 12th century stone carving in a church shows him spearing a worm-type dragon.
Dragons are said to guard treasures in two tumuli, Wormlow Trump and Old Field Barrows.
The Castle Carlton dragon was unique among British dragons in that it had only one huge eye, the size of a basin, in its forehead. It was slain by Sir Hugh Bardolfe, who fought the creature during a thunderstorm. A flash of lightning dazzled the dragon long enough for Sir Hugh to strike its one vulnerable spot, a wart on one of its legs.
Whilst ploughing a boggy field a farmer saw one of his horses sucked down into quicksand. Just as the horse vanished, a huge dragon flew out of the bog. The next day a boulder in the shape of a dragon appeared in the field.
Stories began to circulate that treasure was beneath the boulder and many tried to raise it, but none succeeded. The dragon was sometimes seen flying up from the bog, but never seemed interested in attacking anyone. The boulder is still there to this day, but has broken in two.
A dragon is mentioned in a document dating to 772 as being buried in a prehistoric tumulus.
Two linked stories are attached to this area close to Chesterfield. The first concerns a dragon, reckoned to be none other than the Devil himself. He came from the north, burning and destroying all in his path.
A priest challenged him by climbing to the top of Winlatter Rock, spreading his arms in the form of a cross. The dragon called up great winds and storms to lash the holy man but the priest stood so firm that his feet sank into the rock. The dragon turned back and Chesterfield was saved. The priest’s footprints remained etched into the rock, and pilgrims visited them for years afterwards.
The story has a sequel. Years later the dragon returned and picked up were he left off, spreading destruction. Three brothers took a massive iron bar to the blacksmith and asked him to forge a sword.
“You won’t be able to lift it,” the smithy said.
“One can’t but three can,” the brothers answered.
Then they met a farmer as they were carrying the sword to Winlatter Rock.
“You’ll never carry it to the top of the rock,” he said.
“One can’t but three can,” the brothers replied.
On the rock they saw a shepherd and told him that they were carrying the sword to the summit.
“You’ll never get it up there” said the Shepard.
“One can’t but three can,” the brothers answered.
Once they were at the summit, one brother put the sword into the priest’s footprint. One ran to Chesterfield to call the men at arms. And one went to the church and climbed up the steeple to ring the bell when the dragon came into view.
The bells rang out as the dragon flew toward town, spewing fire and surrounded by a maelstrom of winds. It threw a lightning bolt at the sword and the weapon lit up like a torch. The men at arms converged on Winlatter Rock and all held up their swords like a forest of crosses. The dragon turned and fled down the Blue John Mines and remains there to this day. As he fled his tail struck the spire of Chesterfield church and twisted it out of shape. The twisted spire is still visible.
Sir Thomas Venables slew a water dwelling dragon here to save a child. He managed to kill it by shooting an arrow through the creature’s eye. His reward was a grant of the land that the fortunes of the Venables family were founded on. The family crest shows a dragon with a child in its jaws.
A dragon sporting tiger like stripes along its scaly body once lived on the banks of the Mersey. It was coated in impenetrable scales, and had eaten every single cow for miles around. One farmer had an idea. He put the hide and horns of a cow over a wooden framework and hid inside it, holding a sword.
The dragon saw what it thought was a cow and swooped down to grab the animal in its claws. The dragon lifted the faux cow and the farmer high into the air and was flying across the Mersey when the farmer stabbed his assailant in its one vulnerable spot, beneath the wing. Losing height rapidly, the mortally wounded monster reached the far bank and expired. The cow’s hide, complete with the slash made by the dragon’s claws, was displayed for a number of years at a local pub.
A bat-winged cockatrice lived in an old church spire. In 1733 it objected to the church’s demolition and flew out to attack the workers. All fled, except John Tallantine who slew the dragon with a stake made from hawthorn. For this deed he and his descendents were exempt from paying tithes.
A flying serpent dwelt in Serpent’s Well and would fly from there to Cawthorn Park.
Sir Peter Loschy did battle with a worm on this hill in the parish of Stonegrave. He covered his armour in razor blades before the fight. The monster could rejoin severed sections of its body so the knight brought with him his trusty hound that snatched up the pieces of the monster’s coils and ran off with them, thereby preventing the creature from rejoining. The dog ran to the village of Nunnington, one mile distant, to deposit the bits of the worm.
After the worm was vanquished the knight bent down to pet his dog and it licked his face. Both man and hound died from the monster’s venomous blood.
Slingsby is a few scant miles from Loschy Hill and the legend here is so like the previous one that they may share one root legend. The fight with the worm, assisted by the dog and the death by worm blood, is exactly the same. Here, however, the knight is Sir William Wyvill, whose family was known to have lived in Slingsby in the 14th century.
The worm’s lair, according to a 17th century document, was a great round hole three yards wide and half a mile from town. The worm was thought to be over a mile long.
Though it is quite a way from Loschy Hill and Slingsby, the story of the Kellington worm runs much the same. Here the worm dwells in a marshy forest and is fought not by a knight, but by a shepherd called Ormroyd (Orm being Norse for dragon). Once again his dog aids him, and once again both die in the same manner. Perhaps dragon slayers should avoid bringing their dogs along!
This was a fire-spewing, winged dragon that devoured not only humans and animals but ate up trees. The knight who battled him was almost as formidable. More of More Hall was a huge man who reputedly killed a horse with his bare hands after it had angered him; he then ate it.
The night before the battle More had a black-haired maiden of 16 anoint him.
His armour was covered, like so many other dragon slayers, with spikes, each six inches long. The fight raged between man and beast for two days and one night. Neither opponent could get a palpable hit on the other. The dragon finally grabbed More, intending to throw him high into the air like a rag doll. More managed to kick a spiked boot into the dragon’s only vulnerable spot, its backside!
The woods near Handale Priory were inhabited by a crested, fire-spitting worm with a sting in its tail. It made a habit of eating maidens, until being slain by a youth named Scraw. Scraw found an earl’s daughter in the worm’s cave and rescued her. His reward was her hand in marriage, and vast estates. The wood was known as Scraw’s Wood from then on.
A winged fire-breathing dragon terrorized the area and took up residence on a hill. It demanded the milk of nine cows every day. As well as breathing fire it spouted poison gas, killing anyone who ventured too close. After a long battle, a wandering knight finally killed the dragon. He then continued on his way without demanding a reward, or even revealing his name. The dragon was skinned and its hide taken to Stokesley Church were it hung for many years. The hide vanished many years ago.
The dragon of Filey was defeated not by a knight but by a timid, hen-pecked little tailor named Billy Biter. One misty morning he fell into the dragon’s lair. As the dragon was about to eat him, Billy offered it some parkin – a sweet, sticky Yorkshire pudding. The monster liked it so much it demanded more.
When Billy told his nagging, over-bearing wife she insisted that she cooked the parkin and took it the dragon. The dragon so disliked Billy’s wife that it ate her as well as the parkin. Her cooking was so bad that the pudding stuck the dragon’s jaws together.
The dragon went to the sea, but was overcome by the icy waves. His bones turned to stone and became Filey Brigg, a promontory of rock that stretches a mile out to see. In the 1930s there was a report of a sea dragon seen, by a coastguard, on Filey Brigg.
The dragon of Well was slain by a knight named Latimer, a local landowner. A dragon is featured on the Latimer coat of arms.
A dragon was said to reside in a tumulus guarding treasure.
A dragon lived in a pond together with a giant char. It caused little trouble but would stir up the water on occasion.
One of the best-known British dragon legends is that of the Lambton worm. The story goes that Sir John Lambton, the young heir to Lambton Castle, went fishing one Sunday morning instead of going to church. He caught a small, horrid snake-like creature on his line. Disgusted, he threw it down a well and forgot about it.
Sometime later he joined the Crusades and travelled to the Holy Land. Whilst he was away, the snake-like creature in the well grew to massive proportions and emerged to wreak havoc on the surrounding land. It ate livestock, sucked the milk from cows, and ate people. It had its lair on an island in the middle of the River Wear. Many tried to slay it, but it could rejoin severed portions of its body and hence always emerged triumphant.
The people began to pacify it with troughs of milk. Once the milk was watered down and the worm, sensing the deceit, went on the rampage.
Word of the worm reached Sir John Lambton who realized that the worm was the very creature he had caught, grown to mind boggling proportions. He returned from the Crusades and sought advice.
Sir John visited a wise woman, Elspat of the Glen, who told him how the worm might be bested. But before she gave him the information, she made the knight swear an oath. He must kill the first living creature that he met after the battle, or a curse would fall upon the Lambtons and nine generations of the family would meet with untimely deaths.
The witch said that he must weld spikes to his armour to prevent the worm constricting him. He must also fight it in the middle of the river Wear, where the current was strongest. This would wash away the segments of the worm’s body before they could rejoin.
Sir John followed the witch’s advice and arranged for his father to release a hunting dog for him to kill after the fight. The worm was fought in the middle of the river and all went to plan. The coils were severed and washed away before they could rejoin.
When he reached the bank, his father was so overjoyed that he forgot to release the dog and rushed down to greet his son. Sir John could not kill his father, and so the witch’s curse fell on the family. Nine generations of Lambtons did not die easily in their beds.
A portion of the hide of the Lambton worm was supposedly kept on display at Lambton castle, and was said to resemble cow’s hide. The specimen was lost when the castle was demolished in the 18th century.
Prior to the Norman Conquest Sir John Conyers slew a man-eating dragon of some type. Before he did battle he went, in full armour, to the church and offered up his only son to the Holy Ghost. Up until 1826 each newly elected Bishop of Durham was presented with the sword Sir John used in the fight, the Conyers Falchion. The sword actually dates from the 13th century, so it cannot be the original. It is probably a facsimile created as the older weapon rusted away over the ages.
Oddly, in recorded manuscripts and civil speeches, the exact species of dragon cannot be decided upon. The creature is referred to as a dragon, a flying serpent, a worm, or a wyvern. Almost the whole draconic gamut!
The story here is very like that at Sockburn. But the species here is the limbless worm. The great serpent inhabited an oak wood and gobbled up man and beast. It was slain by a champion from the well-known local family, the Pollards. A falchion was the weapon of choice here as well. Whenever the Bishop of Durham entered the diocese, he would be presented with the sword.
Pollard was given a grant of land – as much land as he could ride around whilst the bishop was at dinner. Pollard sneakily rode around the bishop’s castle. The bishop refused to give up his home, so Pollard was given a far greater estate instead, much larger than he could have ever ridden around in the time allotted.
In 1563 a huge serpent was exhibited (presumably stuffed) in Durham. It had supposedly killed 1000 people in Ethiopia, and was almost certainly a crocodile.
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.
A green dragon lurked by three holy wells in the grounds of Longwitton Hall. It had the power to make itself invisible and heal any wounds. It did not terrorize the area like others of its kind, but kept people away from the wells.
Sir Guy of Warwick was asked to free the wells and rode out to fight the dragon. It became visible when it attacked him. The knight was no match for the dragon’s flaming breath and teeth and claws. He barely escaped alive.
After recuperating, he and his horse returned for a second bout with the dragon. This time he noticed that on the few occasions his sword could penetrate the monster’s scales, its wounds healed almost instantly. He also noticed that it always kept the tip of its tail in one of the wells. Once again Sir Guy was almost killed. But he realized that the dragon was drawing healing power from the well.
After licking his wounds again he challenged the beast for a third fight, but this time Sir Guy had a plan. Feigning defeat, he staggered away from the well. The dragon followed and its tail drew clear of the well. Sir Guy positioned his horse between the dragon and the wells and took up the battle again. Finally, he was able to deliver a fatal wound to the monster whilst it was away from the healing power of the wells.
A dragon protects a barrow on Money Hill. No more is known of this legend, but the name Money Hill suggests it was guarding a treasure horde.
Brilliantly coloured flying serpents were said to inhabit the woods of Penllin as recently as the mid 19th century. People who were old men and women at the beginning of the 20th century recalled them well from their youth. They were prone to raid chicken coops and as a result were hunted into extinction.
Another colony of the winged serpents resided here. One old woman said her grandfather had killed one after a fierce fight. She recalled seeing the skin preserved at his house when she was a girl. To the horror of cryptozoologists, it was thrown away upon his death.
A worm was supposed to live at the bottom of a whirlpool in the River Taff. It was said to drown people and suck down their bodies to eat.
Trellech a’r Betws
A gwiber is supposed to guard a prehistoric tumulus in the area.
A flame-spewing wyvern lived in a ruined castle, and was covered in impenetrable scales. A soldier waded into the river with a large piece of red cloth. The wyvern reacted to the cloth like a bull (or a male robin) and swooped down to attack it, allowing the soldier to shoot it in its one vulnerable spot. Like the dragon of Wantley, the vital spot was its rear end!
In one of the strangest British dragon legends, the beast here was a cockatrice whose body was covered in eyes. For some unexplained reason the estates of Winston were up for grabs to whoever could look on the freakish thing without it seeing them.
One resourceful chap hid inside a barrel and rolled into the cockatrice’s lair. He shouted out “Ha, bold cockatrice! I can see you but you cannot see me!”
He was granted the estates. What happened to the multi-eyed monster is anyone’s guess.
A dragon roosted in the tower of Llandelio Graban church until a local ploughboy worked out a way of destroying it. He carved a dummy dragon out of oak, and had the blacksmith cover it with steel hooks and spikes. It was then painted red and erected on the tower whilst the dragon was away hunting.
Upon returning, the dragon saw what it thought was a rival and savagely attacked it. The real dragon coiled about its facsimile and tried to squeeze the life from it. The genuine dragon was fatally wounded, and both the monster and the fake dragon came crashing down from the tower to their ruin.
A monster known as the Wybrant gwiber terrorized the neighbourhood. An outlaw from Hiraethog tried to kill it, but it bit him, tore out his throat, and flung him into the river for good measure!
A gwiber brought a reign of terror to the area until the surviving locals studded a huge megalith with spikes and hooks and swathed it in red cloth. The red colour enraged the gwiber who attacked, becoming fatally entwined on the hooks. The megalith is known as the Red Pillar, or the Pillar of the Viper.
In this detailed story a rich nobleman invites a soothsayer to the celebration feast after his son’s birth. The sage foretells that the boy will die of a gwiber’s bite. The boy is sent away to England for safekeeping, and his father offers a reward to whoever can slay the last gwiber in the area.
A clever lad digs a pit on the path were the gwiber usually slithers. At the bottom he places a highly polished brass mirror. He covers the pit with sticks and grass then waits. The gwiber falls into the pit and sees its own reflection. Thinking it a rival, it attacks the mirror until exhausted; then they boy leaps into the pit and hacks off the gwiber’s head.
Years later the nobleman’s son, now a spoilt teenager, returns and is shown the gwiber’s skull. He contemptuously kicks it and one of its long, dead fangs slices through his boot. The fang retains traces of venom and, as prophesied, the boy dies.
A wyvern dwelt in this lake beneath the slopes of Moel Offrum. It emerged to poison the countryside and devour whatever it could catch. The Wizard of Ganllwyd employed a group of archers to kill it, but the wyvern always eluded them.
One day a shepherd boy named Meredydd found the wyvern sleeping on the hill. He ran two miles to Cymmer Abbey and borrowed a magick axe. He hacked the wyvern’s head off while it was asleep.
After the Roman Legions left, Vortigern became the first British king. He decided to build a stronghold on the Iron Age hill fort of Dinas Emrys. Every time work began upon Dinas Emry, it would be destroyed by earthquake-like disturbances. Vortigern’s wizards said that in order to stop these events, the ground should be sprinkled with the blood of the son of a virgin. A boy was found whose mother had apparently been magically impregnated by a spirit. He was about to be sacrificed when he went into a trance and announced that beneath the hill was a lake. In the lake dwelt a red dragon and a white dragon who perpetually fought.
Vortigern’s men dug down and found the lake. When the lake was drained they found a pair of dragons. The two great reptiles fought until, at last, the white dragon gave way and fled. Seeing this as an omen that his forces would defeat the invading Saxons, Vortigern adopted the red dragon as his emblem.
The boy was none other than a young Merlin.
In the 18th century a group of men were swimming across this small lake close to Snowdonia. One of them was grabbed and devoured by a worm.
The Linton worm was perhaps the laziest British dragon. It lived in a cave on Linton Hill and instead of actively hunting prey; it would suck passing animals and people into its waiting maw.
After eating it would crawl out of its lair and coil around the hill, leaving deep impressions. Local peasantry offered a reward to whoever could slay the worm. The knight who took up the challenge was the Laird of Linton, who was from the Somerville.
He attached a lump of peat to a wheel that he then fitted to the end of his lance. He dipped the peat in boiling pitch, brimstone, and resin. He set light to the concoction and charged at the worm, ramming it down the beast’s throat.
He was also rewarded by being given the post of Royal Falconer to the King of Scotland.
A sea dwelling worm devoured fish stocks that the local people depended on. Not satisfied with seafood, it crawled ashore to eat farm animals and humans. People from the villages along the shore built a huge palisade of sharpened stakes and erected it at low tide. When the worm came in with the high tide it impaled itself on the spikes. Its roaring and death throes lasted for three days. Sea birds ate its carcass.
The worm here was white in colour and this legend may have inspired Bram Stoker’s novel ‘Lair of the White Worm’. It wound itself around Mote Hill and got up to the usual tricks.
A local blacksmith made a suit of armour covered with retractable spikes. He allowed the worm to swallow him and then wriggled so violently in its gut that the monsters intestines were shredded.
Here a dragon guarded a well. It ate, one by one, nine maidens who came to draw water. It was finally slain by a man named Martin who had been the lover of one of the devoured girls.
The hero of this story was a sea captain, Charles the Skipper. He came up with a trap to rid the area of a dragon that was the bane of all. He anchored his ship a little way offshore, and built a bridge from the vessel to the beach. The bridge was made of barrels lashed together and studded with metal spikes.
Then he began to roast some meat on his ship. The smell wafted to the dragon’s lair and it came swooping down to the beach. As it began to crawl across the bridge of barrels, the spikes pierced its hide and one struck the vulnerable spot. The massive beast expired on the bridge long before it got to the ship.
ROSS & CROMARTY
Until the middle of the 18th century bulls were sacrificed on August 25th (St Maerlrubha’s Day) to dragons that dwelt in the lake. These may have been akin to the creatures still reported in other Scottish Lochs to this day.
The story here is very like that of the Linton Worm. The hero was a farmer named Hector Gunn. He used a spear seven ells (585 inches) long. He fitted a lump of peat to the end and dipped it in boiling pitch. The fumes were so bad that they stopped the worm from attacking him. He rammed it between the worm’s jaws and in its death throws its squeezing coils were wrapped about the hill. Gunn was rewarded by the King with lands and money. The King was said to be King William the Lion who reigned in the 12th century.
Conc-na-Cnoimh means Hill of the Worm.
The Stoor Worm rivals the Norse Jormungand or Midgaurd Serpent for sheer size. It was so vast that when it yawned the earth shook and great waves spewed over the land. Its breath was a vast cloud of poison that withered crops on the land. The monster’s tongue was so huge it could sweep whole villages into its mouth.
In desperation a wizard was consulted, and the village was told that the only way to keep the Stour Worm at bay was to feed it seven virgins each week. This was duly done until the time came for the king to sacrifice his own daughter. He offered her in marriage to anyone who could slay the worm.
The young hero, Assipattle, then appeared on the scene. The youngest of seven sons of a well-to-do farmer, he had been branded a good-for-nothing dreamer all his life. He stole his father’s fastest horse and rode away from the farm. Then he stole an iron pot of burning peat from an old woman. Finally, he stole a boat and went to sea.
He got close enough to the Stoor Worm that when it yawned he was drawn into its mouth. He travelled for miles down the vast gullet. Eventually, he came upon the worm’s liver, glowing with an eerie phosphorous light. He cut open the liver and thrust the red hot pot inside. The liver ignited and began to boil fiercely.
In its death throes the worm vomited up its stomach contents, including Assipattle. The thrashing of the worm caused tidal waves, volcanic eruptions, and earthquakes. When it died its teeth formed the Orkney Islands and the Shetlands. Its body became Iceland, and its tongue the Baltic Sea. The still burning liver became Iceland’s volcanoes.
Somehow Assipattle survives all this and marries the Princess.
Author: Richard Freeman