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Tuesday, 26 July 2011

A Meander with Dragons

A drawing of mine of a dragon - please attribute this blog if you wish to use it.

[Dragons have long been an obsession of mine.

In my eyes their long and mighty forms cloaked the ridges of the moorland hills and sawed faster than army jets through the bright skies. At school the seagulls where the free and distant forms of dragons, in my dreams their mighty arching wings birthed a wake of forest. When I was angry I would ripple through the air on long strokes of wings that beat to the timing of my lungs and no force can intimidate me when I see the dragon beyond the trees..

The West Country hasreletively few dragons, though they are as mighty as any.. Certianly they are outnumbered down here by Giants and Pixies. This meander will show what I have found of West Country dragons so far-

I have read that the slaying of the dragon represented the domination of Christianity (embodied in the saint) over other faiths (represented by the Dragon). I have also read that the spilling of the dragons blood, or pinning of the dragon to the ground is an older allusion to the release of natures fertility into the ploughed earth of the farmer. I would not take either of these ideas as the absolute truth.  History always spreads its roots wide for inspiration. 

There is of course Saint George and the dragon, Saint George being a feature of mummers plays and the dragon sometimes being mentioned (see Robert Hunt's Popular Romances of the West of England for example). In North Devon the dragononly appears breifly, and describes himself as being composed of different sorts of metals, while at Bovey Trace a wooden mask with bullocks teeth and whiskers, and a tinbuttoned coat with tails might have been a dragon (see The Mummer's Play in Devon and Newfoundland by Theo Brown Folklore, Vol. 63, No. 1 (Mar., 1952), pp. 30-35).  Both the Dragon and Saint George are described as being present in pre-19th century May Day celebrations (see Mrs Bray's A Description of the Part of Devonshire Bordering On the Tamar and the Tavy, Letters to R. Southey).  Saint Michael the Archangel and his slaying of dragons is celebrated in our local church in Chagford, in the form of a carving and a staned glass window.

A drawing of mine of a dragon - please attribute this blog if you wish to use it

But these are foreign dragons.  I want dragons from the land I have walked upon!

I realise I am beginning sounding a bit like the gullible emettes (tourists) sent by locals to fight the dragons on Bodmin at Halgaver's Dragon Pit, (from Cornish Dragon Lore by Andy Norfolk published by Meyn Mamvro1997) but bare with me...

One dragon is found in the name of a man much referred to in ancient Westcountry (esp. but not exclusively Cornish) lore (as well as elsewhere in Britain and France). This is Uter Pendragon (also referred to in Robert Hunt's Popular Romances of the West of England). But I shall not dwell on him - I want fire and wings, majesty and mystery, gold and maidens, curling horns and sharp talons and eyes as deep as the ocean!  I want the Dragon who if you are born on a Sunday in Devon you stand a chance of facing and taking the treasure from (ok, so this may be a metaphor, thus making my point pointless...).

I want 'real' dragons!

There are many ancient dragon saint and Dragon stories in Cornwall, many supposedly dating back to the first millennium.

Staint Carantoc, a Welsh saint who later lived in Crantoc, Cornwall (acording to his legends). A legend I have not been able to satisfactorily untangle involving a cursed altar, King Arthur, Somerset and the King of the ancient Cornish/Devonian/Somerset kingdom of Dumnonia, ends with the saint stopping King Arthur's men from slaying a winged serpent in Cornwall. An alternative version has him defeating (or subduing) the Dragon himself to retrieve his altar, founding a monastery at Carhampton on land gifted to him for his brave deed. (This is from a mixture of Cornish Dragon Lore by Andy Norfolk in Meyn Mamvro 1997, Baring-gould's The Lives of British Saints Vol II and Wikipedia!). 

Saint Sampson slew a Cornish Dragon, while better known Saint Petroc of Cornwall and West Devon, in one version of his life, cured a dragon by plucking a stake from its eye (thus showing true christian virtue). Another version has him trapping the dragon/serpant in its marshy home.  This dragon was formed by a certian King Teudar who kept many serpents in a marsh to throw criminal in. When his son put a stop to the practice the serpent ate on another until only one giant wyrm remained. Saint Petroc put a girdle about the serpent and led it tamely to the sea, where he released it, rather like saint Patric and the snakes of Ireland.  This ocurance has been linked to the dancing of the Obby-oss by traitors pool near Padstow on May-Day (from Cornish Dragon Lore by Andy Norfolk published by Meyn Mamvro1997 - includes more info).    It all sounds very allegorical to me, and fits very well with the Dragon being a Pagan religion, as does a more resent dragon / saint manifestation at Wievliscombe in Somerset in 1827 (more info - http://www.mysteriousbritain.co.uk).

A drawing of mine of a dragon - please attribute this blog if you wish to use it


A dragon was also vanquished on May-Day from Mile Hill, near Portreath, Cornwall, by a white dog. It was banished into the sea (from Cornish Dragon Lore by Andy Norfolk published by Meyn Mamvro1997 - includes more info), marking a bit of a watery, low lying theme for Westcountry dragons that is beginning to emerge. 

Indeed a dragon at Christechurch, Dorset, did itself emerge from the sea, blasting the town with its firery breath in 1113. The somewhat less terrifying story of Blue Ben, the dragon of Kilve, Somerset, was that he slipped on a causeway and drowned in the mud bellow!  His skull shows him to be an icthyosaur (more info - http://www.mysteriousbritain.co.uk)

Talisman made of fossilized Belemnites from Lyme Bay, Dorset, are said in 1944 to have formed in the heads of dragons (http://www.museumofwitchcraft.com).

A drawing of mine of a dragon - please attribute this blog if you wish to use it


Out here on Dartmoor we have also have a Dragon legend  - the story of the Dragon of Wo brook. Indead William Crossing hints that there where once more dragon legends on the moor (Folk rhymes of Devon). The Wo, or O Brook dragon, in typical dragonish style (or at least in typical anthropocentric retelling), terrified the neighborhood from it cave on the edge of the brook, eating both sheep and unwary human travelers. It may not have been alone, though it is the one that is remembered best.  On a nearby hillside to Week Ford is a prehistoric hut circle with a gable-end added, said to be where the workmen hid their tools in a time when dragons flourished in the valley below (William Crossing's Guide to Dartmoor). The dragon was described as a winged serpent, though it must also have had feat,  for when the locals banded up and caught the beast (they have no need of heroes here on the moor - if you want a job doing you do it yourself) they bound it hand and foot and tossed it in the river to drown.  Such is the unhappy lot of dragons...

Another was said to have lived and died (again killed) at Manaton on Dartmoor, hissing in its mineshaft lair (more info - http://www.mysteriousbritain.co.uk)

Some dragons are not easily vanquished.  At Aller in Somerset a farmer called John Aller lay in wait in a marsh for their local fiery dragon who lived at Curry Rivel and had taken to destroying crops with its breath. John smote off its head, but everywhere the blood fell the land was made barren - no grass grows their to this day. He himself was badly burnt by the blood, so badly that he lived only long enough to be carried to the church. In gratitude the local farmers named the village after him (from T. W. E. Higgens, in Folklore, Vol. 4, No. 3 (Sep., 1893), pp. 396-404).

In Zennor, in Cornwall, a large Wyrm was driven out or killed by setting fire to the gorse, making it a little at odds with other dragonic vanquishments where water was the predominant element (from Cornish Dragon Lore by Andy Norfolk published by Meyn Mamvro 1997 - includes more info). Another firey dragon launched a flaming ball at Helston, where it can still be seen, now cooled to solid rock (more info - http://www.mysteriousbritain.co.uk).

A drawing of mine of a dragon - please attribute this blog if you wish to use it


To add to the elemental confusion one dragon on the Somerset / Dorset border at Kingston Saint Mary was slain by a hero who rolled a boulder down into its flaming mouth!  (more info - http://www.mysteriousbritain.co.uk)

Another dragon at Crowcombe, Somerset was killed by a dunk woodcutter, who thought the Wyrm was a log, and sat on it. When it moved such was his surprise that he slew it with his axe. One half went towards Taunton, and the other Minehead.  The dragon of Norton Fitzwarren was killed by the more refined blade of an 13th century Sir Fulk. The dragon itself was said to have risen from the decaying bodies of the dead Britons killed by the Romans at a local Iron Age hill fort.  Another dragon was slain by a knight at Churchstanton (more info - http://www.mysteriousbritain.co.uk).

A drawing of mine of a dragon - please attribute this blog if you wish to use it


There are a few other Somerset dragons, though little remains of their stories, at Wells, Trull and Castle Neorche (more info - http://www.mysteriousbritain.co.uk).


A drawing of mine of a dragon - please attribute this blog if you wish to use it


One dragon has not been vanquished from Devon, though it was mentioned over 400 years ago (see William Crossing's Folk rhymes of Devon), and that is the Dragon of Cadbury Castle and Dodburry - both ancient (Iron Age?) hill forts.  Surely this dragon must be the last lonely remnant of its kind down here to have not one but two huge hoards of treasure that it guards, so vast in wealth that -

"If Cadbury and Dolbury dolven were,
All England might plough with a golden share."
(Hope Moncrieff's Black's guide to Devonshire;)
or
"If Cadbury Castle and Dolbury Hill down delved were,
Then Denshire might plough with a golden coulter,
And eare with a gilded shere."
  (William Crossing's Folk rhymes of Devon)
 
This Dragon is a fiery beast that may only be seen at midnight, when it flys from one hoard to another, guarding its nest in solitary and awe-full splendor.  Many other hills in Devon, Cornwall and Somerset are also said to hold vast hoards, though no other has a dragon still guarding it (William Crossing's Folk rhymes of Devon).

Having said this was the sole survivor of the Dragonish race Devon does hold one or two other stories. In the 17th century twelve or so Dragons where seen at Winkliegh, while no story exists of the slaying of the dragons at Challacombe, or the removal of their bronze- age hoard (more info - http://www.mysteriousbritain.co.uk)...]

A drawing of mine of a dragon - please attribute this blog if you wish to use it

Dorset Dorsers - dialect and origen of pack horses

A 14th century European depiction of a pack horse, from a copy of the Tacuina sanitati, a book on health.  From Wikipedia, public domain
 
"Dorsetshire Dorsers.

Dorsers are peds or paniers carried on the backs of horses, on which higiers use to ride and carry their commodities. It seems this homely, but most useful instrument, was either first found out, or is the most generally used in this county, where Fish-jobbers bring up their fish in such contrivances, above an hundred miles from Lime to London."

Ray 1768

Map - Lyme Regis

A compleat collection of English proverbs; also the most celebrated proverbs of the Scotch, Italian, French, Spanish, and other languages. ... By ... ... is added, (written by the same author) ed 4

Stabbed with a Bridport Dagger

Bridport, Dorset - by Steve Chapple [CC-BY-SA-2.0 (www.creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
 
"Stabbed with a Byrdport dagger.

That is, hanged. The best if not the most hemp (for the quantity of ground) growing about Byrdport, a market town in this county. And hence it is that there is an ancient statue (though now disused and neglected) that the cable ropes for the navy-royal were to be made thereabout."

Ray 1768

Map - Bridport


[The proverb is well known enough today to be used in the Wikipedia entry for Bridport.]


A compleat collection of English proverbs; also the most celebrated proverbs of the Scotch, Italian, French, Spanish, and other languages. ... By ... ... is added, (written by the same author) ed 4

Lenson-Hill and Pillsen-Pin proverb (or Pilsdon Pen and Lewesdon Hill, Dorset)

Veiw from Coneys Castle toward Pilsdon Pen and Lewesdon Hill - by Derek Harper [CC-BY-SA-2.0 (www.creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
 
"As much a kin as Lenson-hill to Pillsen-pin.

That is, no kin at all. It is spoken of such who have vacinity of habitation or neighboarbood, without the least degree of consanguinity, or affinity betwixt them For these are two high hills, the first wholly, the other partly in the parish of Broad Windsor. Yet the sea men make the nearest relation between them, calling the one the cow the other the calf; in which forms it seems they appear first to their fancies, being eminent sea marks."

Ray 1768

Map - Pilsdon Pen
Map - Lewesdon Hill

A compleat collection of English proverbs; also the most celebrated proverbs of the Scotch, Italian, French, Spanish, and other languages. ... By ... ... is added, (written by the same author) ed 4

Tuesday, 19 July 2011

Lydford Law proverb


Lydford / Lidford Castle - by john spivey [CC-BY-SA-2.0 (www.creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

"First hang and draw, 
then bear the cause by Lidford law.

Lidford is a little and poor (but ancient) Corporation in this County with very large privileges, where a Court of Stanerries was formerly kept.  This libellous Proverb would suggest unto us, as if the Townsmen thereof (generally mean persons), where unable to manage their own liberties with necessary discretion, administering preposterous and preproperous justice."

Ray 1768

Map - Lydford

A compleat collection of English proverbs; also the most celebrated proverbs of the Scotch, Italian, French, Spanish, and other languages. ... By ... ... is added, (written by the same author) ed 4

Tuesday, 12 July 2011

The Morte Stone proverb

Morte-bay on the North Devon coast - Richard Croft [CC-BY-SA-2.0 (www.creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

"'He may remove Morte-stone'

There is a bay in this County called Morts-bay but the harbour in the entrance thereof is stopp'd with a huge rock, called Mortestone; and the people merrily say, none can remove it but such as are matters of their wives"

Ray 1768
 

A compleat collection of English proverbs; also the most celebrated proverbs of the Scotch, Italian, French, Spanish, and other languages. ... By ... ... is added, (written by the same author) ed 4

Blatent plugging of my Etsy shop

[Just thought I would say that my Etsy shop is filling up with Pixie Doors.  Please have a look...

http://www.etsy.com/shop/ThomasHine?ref=si_shop


This door is based on the 14th century Macclesfield psalter

Belstone Village Fair

Across this western land villages will be opening up their streets to the games and stalls of their annual summer fair or fete.  At their best these are brilliant low key affairs, free of the social circles that separate people by income or profession or age.

All the pictures in this piece are either by me or by my wife Lunar Hine. Please attribute any you want to use elsewhere to her blog and to this blog as well.  Thanks!
Belstone Fair is a case in point. The communities of Belstone, Sticklepath, South Zeal and South Tawton lie of the north eastern edge of Dartmoor  are something any village would be proud of. South Zeal hosts the amazingly folky Dartmoor Folk Festival, with more beards than you can shake a stick at, and two large pubs so filled with musicians that the bar is often unobtainable, and your orders inaudible! I will say more about this event after I have been this year. Sticklepath hosts the amazing spectacle of the Sticklepath Fire Show, with up to 3000 spectators, all created by the collective good will of the local people. These communities are not like the League of Gentlemen (local communities for local people...), if you are willing to put the hours in, and to be slightly respectful of the work and experience of others, there is a place for you.


So in my usual meandering style we come back to Belstone Fair, where everything is so refreshingly human scale and about participation and enjoyment, and in such a beautiful setting. Their is very little of (what I see as) that home counties taint of the over manicured and sanitized neatness at Belstone. The wild still holds hands with the cultivated, the walls still have the odd weed in, the farms their piles of rusting iron. Ponies wander the streets, and their leavings decorate the lanes.


We arrived too late for the Maypole Dancing, but their was a few girls in white dresses around. The pole was of that school playground variety, and the CD player had replaced the band (the Silver Band that had been sought had not arrived).



There was a decorated bike competition for the children...




...the cup being won by the flying chef! (personally I thought the witch deserved it even more, but that's my folkloric soul interfering with my senses.)


Announcements where made by microphone...


...that was rigged up through some home speakers on top of a car that had to be turned on to work!


There was Wack the Rat (not a real rat - a ball of rags)...



..Smashing Pottery (30p for 6 blocks I think). This man had a near constant flow of children at his stall. It was brilliant to see how relaxed everyone was about children smashing things!



There was a plant stall...


...a Tea and cake tent...


... an alcoholic tombola, Pimms stall and meat barbeque (vegetarian option was fried onions or cake)...


...a book stall and DNP van...


.. a brick-a-brack stall (the man here did his very best to sell the nigh un-sellable!  I almost succumbed and bought 5 very small paddles - "you might find yourself up a creak and need a way to get out")...



..Nine Pins, or Skittles (not sure what it is called, you see it all over this bit of Devon - a well loved local game.  Note re-setter protecting his valuables)  The winner of the whole day one a box of chocolates...


...and then, best of all, the games. I missed most of the games, and most of what I did see I didn't photograph. There was three-legged races, normal races, welly wanging (chuck a welly as far as you can) etc. To end it all eggs where sold for £1 and couples where told to stand opposite each other in rows.  Two old women, one each end of the two rows conducted this with an absolute discipline (well most people obeyed them any way!).  The aim was to through the uncooked egg to your partner, who would through it back. The lines would then get further apart. The throwing took place one at a time down the line. If you did not catch the egg you where out. If you broke it you where out (and covered in raw egg).  If your friend decided to brake the egg over your head you where also covered in egg... The following pictures are from this event.

 Practice...



...Lining up...



...Disorder...



...Order...



...Good catches...



...Entertaining catches (note raw egg)...



...And a badly shot video.

video

It was a really fun afternoon - thanks Belstone! It is well worth spending a lazy Sunday afternoon on your local village green this summer.]