The Dragon of Longwitton, Northumberland
Another dragon is supposed to have lived in a wood just outside Longwitton. This monster arrived to take possession of three magic springs that lay in the wood. This was a huge inconvenience for the local people, who had made a tidy living from the many pilgrims who came to drink of the sacred waters and so have their illnesses cured. The local men set out to attack the dragon, but it beat them off with ease. It soon transpired that the dragon did no real harm to the surrounding countryside, being content to sit in the woodland and drink the waters of the three springs.
Some months later a knight came riding by and offered to kill the dragon for the villagers. Next day the knight rode out to fight the dragon. The beast proved to be enormously strong, but ungainly and sluggish. The knight on his nimble warhorse was able with ease to dart in to deliver wound after wound on the monster. But no matter how well he fought nor how badly he wounded the dragon, the knight could not see any sign that his opponent was weakening. Perplexed he drew off to think.
Next day the knight returned to the attack. He was now convinced that the dragon had some magic about it that explained its invulnerability. As he fought, the knight watched the dragon carefully. He soon spotted that whenever it was wounded the dragon would place its tail into the water flowing from the three sacred springs. Guessing that this was the source of the dragon’s self-healing ability, the knight decided to try a trick.
On the third day that he went out to fight, the knight pretended to be wounded and fatigued by the previous two days of combat. Feigning an injured leg and weary arms, the knight fought badly and did not push home any attacks. Instead he crept slowly backward, luring the dragon further and further from the sacred springs. When he thought the dragon had come far enough, the knight leapt on to his horse and galloped quickly to get to the springs first. The dragon turned, saw it had been tricked and attacked with great fury. It was no match for the knight, however, and soon it lay dead on the grass. The three sacred springs were restored to use and the grateful villagers hailed the knight as a hero.
This tale seems to be derived from the early days of Christianity in Northumberland. Early missionaries very often used the dragon as a symbol of pagan deities and their power. The Biblical book of Revelation features a battle between the Archangel Michael and the Devil in which the latter is described as being a gigantic serpent. The fact that sacred springs feature so strongly in the tale seems to confirm this theory. Many of the pagan goddesses who preceded Christianity in this area were linked to sacred springs or wells, several of which had miraculous powers.
The tale of the Longwitton Dragon should, therefore, be read as an allegory of the coming of Christianity to the village. A Christian outsider - the knight - destroys the pagan deity - the dragon - that has possession of the springs and so converts them to Christian use. The story as it stands is probably pure storytelling, but it may refer to a real conflict between pagan adherents and Christian converts sometime in the 6th or 7th centuries.
from "Mysterious Northumberland" by Rupert Matthews
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