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Linton Worm


Borders, as Sir AValter Scott remarks in his Minstrelsy of the
Scottish Border, though he refrains from transcribing it on
account of its resemblance to '* Kempion." The legend was put
into Terse — very unequal, however, in character — by a former
vicar of Norham.

It opens with a parting between a king and his daughter. He
goes out to win a second bride, and leaves his child, the Lady
Margaret, in charge of Bamborough Castle. We see her, during
her father's absence, arranging everything against his return,
tripping out and tripping in, with the keys hanging over her
left shoulder. At last the day arrives ; the chieftains of the
Border are all assembled to receive the king and queen. They
come ; the Lady Margaret welcomes them to hall and bower,
and then, turning sweetly to her stepmother, reminds her that
everything now is hers. One of the chieftains, struck by the
young girl's beauty and simplicity, praises her loudly in the
queen's hearing, as

Excelling all of woman kind
In beauty and in worth.

The jealous queen mutters, "You might have excepted me;"
and from that hour Margaret's fate was sealed. The next morn-
ing the maiden was standing at her bower-door, laughing for joy
of heart ; but before nightfall her stepdame had witched her to a
loathsome Worm, so to abide till her brother, the Childe of
Wynde, should come to her rescue from beyond seas. The cave
is still shown at Spindleston Heugh where the Worm hid itself
by day; during the night it would wander on the coast. We
do not hear of any depredations it committed beyond the ex-
action of a tribute of milk (that favourite beverage of northern
worms !); but so poisonous was the creature that for seven long
miles in every direction the country was laid waste — no green
thing would grow.

At last, word went over the sea to the Childe of Wynde, that
his native land was desolated by a Laidley Worm on Spindleston
Heugh ; and, fearing lest any harm should befall his sister, he
summoned his merry men, thirty-and-three in number :


They built a ship without delay,

With masts of the rowan-tree,
With fluttering sails of silk so fine,

And set her on the sea.

They went on board, the wind with speed

Blew them along the deep;
At length they spied a huge square tower

On a rock so high and steep.

The sailors recognised the Northumbrian coast and King Ida's
Castle, and made towards shore.

Meanwhile, the queen looked out of her bower-window,'aud
spying the gallant ship with its silken sails, sent out her evil
companions, the " witch wives," to sink it in the waters; but
they returned baffled and sullen, murmuring that there must be
rowan- wood about the ship, for all their spells were powerless.
Next she dispatched a boat with armed men to withstand the
landing of the vessel ; but the gallant Childe speedily put them
to the rout. Lastly, it would seem that the Worm itself with-
stood its deliverer, for we are told that

The Worme lept up, the Worme lept down,

She plaited round the stone.
And aye, as the ship came close to land.
She banged it off again.

However, the Childe of Wynde steered the ship out of her
reach, ran ashore on the sands of Budle, a small village near
Bamborough, and, drawing his sword, went boldly towards the
monster, as if to do battle at once. But the creature submitted,
exclaiming, —

" O quit thy sword, and bend thy bow.

And giye me kisses three;
For though I be a poisonous Worme,

No hurt I'll do to thee.

O quit thy sword, and bend thy bow,

And give me kisses three ;
If I'm not won ere set of sun,

Won shall I never be.'.'

He quitted his sword, and bent his bow,

He gave her kisses three;
She crept into her hole a Worme,

But out stept a ladye.
Our hero folded his recovered sister in his mantlcj and bore
her with him to Bamborough Castle, where he found his father
inconsolable for her loss, though, through the queen's witcheries,
he had tamely submitted to it. However, the queen's power
was over now, and the Childe pronounced her unalterable doom.
Changed into a toad, she was to wander till doomsday round
Bamborough Castle, and the fair maidens of that neighbourhood
believe that she still vents her malice against them by spitting
venom at them.

Crossing the Border into Roxburghshire, we approach the
haunts of the Worm'e of Linton, and very romantic they are.
There is the mountain-stream of the Gale, bursting in brightness
from the Cheviot Hills, and hurrying into the plain below, where
it pauses ere it wends its way to join the Tweed. There is the
low irregular mound, marking where stood the tower of Linton,
the stronghold of the Somervilles ; there is the old village church,
standing on its remarkable knoll of sand ; there are the stately
woods of Clifton, and, above all, the lofty heights of Cheviot
crowning the distance.

Such is the fair scene which tradition avers was once laid waste
by a fierce and voracious monster. His den, still named the
" Worm's Hole," lay in a hollow to the east of the hill of
Linton ; and small need had he to leave it, for from this retreat
he could with his sweeping and venomous breath draw the neigh-
bouring flocks and herds within reach of his fangs. Still he did
occasionally emerge and coil himself round an eminence of some
height, at no great distance, still bearing the name of Worm-
ington or Wormistonne. Liberal guerdons were offered to any
champion who would rid the country of such a scourge, but in
vain — such was the dread inspired by the monster's poisonous
breath. Not only were the neighbouring villagers beside them-
selves with terror, but the inhabitants of Jedburgh, full ten miles
off", were struck with such a panic that they were ready to desert
their tdVra.

At last, however, the laird of Lariston, a man of reckless
bravery, came forward to the rescue of this distressed district;
and, as the Linton cottagers testify to this day, having once


failed in an attack with ordinary weapons, he resorted to the
expedient of thrusting down its throat a peat dipped in scalding
pitch and fixed on his lance. The device proved perfectly suc-
cessful. The aromatic quality of the burning pitch, while it
suffocated and choked the monster, preserved the champion from
the effects of its poison-laden breath. While dying, the worm is
said to have contracted its folds with such violent muscular
energy that the sides of Wormington Hill are still marked with
their spiral impressions. In requital of his service, the laird of
Lariston received the gift of extensive lands in the neighbour-

The Somerville family (for nearly four hundred years lords
of Linton) claim the merit of this exploit for the John Somer-
ville who received the barony of Linton in 1174, and built its
tower. They maintain that it was conferred on him by William
the Lion as a reward for slaying the Worm, and they bear a
dragon for their crest in memorial of it. Unfortunately, how-
ever, in their hands the Worm loses much of its grandeur and
importance. The monster encircling the hillock with its snaky
coils becomes "in length three Scots' yards, and somewhat
bigger than an ordinary man's leg, with a head more proportion-
able to its length than greatness, in form and colour like to our
common muir-edders." In this disparaging way at least is the
Linton Worm described by the author of TTie Memoirs of the
Somervilles, a.d. 1680.

The sculptured effigy of the monster, which may still be seen
with the champion who slew it, at the south-western extremity
of Linton church, differs from both accounts. A stone, evidently
of great antiquity, is there built into the wall. It is covered
with sculpture in low relief, and bears figures which, though
defaced by time, can yet be made out pretty clearly. A
knight on horseback, clad in a tunic or hauberk, with a round
helmet, urges his horse against two large animals, the foreparts
of which only are visible, and plunges his lance into the throat
of one. Behind him is the outline of another creature, apparently
of a lamb. The heads of the monsters are strong and powerful,
but more like those of quadrupeds than of serpents. It is per-
plexing also to see two of them, but not the less does popular
tradition connect the representation with the Linton Worm,
and aver that the inscription below it, now quite defaced, ran
thus : —

The wode laird of Larristone

Slew the Worme of Wormestone,

And wan a' Linton parochine.

It should be added, that, though the present church appears to
have been rebuilt at no very distant date, it stands on the site of
the former one, and is formed from its materials; this sculptured
stone having stood, it is said, above the door of the old church.
Whether it really represents some doughty deed by which the
first Somerville won the favour of William the Lion, or visibly
embodies the great conflict between Christianity and Paganism,
has been much disputed by antiquaries. The figure, resembling
a lamb behind the victorious knight, is certainly suggestive of a
mythical interpretation, and reminds us of the banner of St.
Eric, so treasured by the ancient Swedes, and stored in the
cathedral at Upsala, which bore on one side, in gold embroidery,
a lamb and a dragon.

There is another legend connected with Linton, of exceeding
interest. It is sometimes interwoven with that of the Worm, and,
though I am informed that in its more correct form it stands
alone,' 1 may perhaps be pardoned for a little discursiveness if I
pause to relate it. The church is built on a little knoll of fine
compact sand, without any admixture of stone, or even pebbles,
and widely different from the soil of the neighbouring heights.
The sand has nowhere hardened into stone, yet the particles are
so coherent, that the sides of newly-opened graves appear smooth
as a wall, and this to the depth of fifteen feet. This singular
phenomenon is thus accounted for on the spot.

Many ages ago a young man killed a priest in this place, and
was condemned to suffer death for murder and sacrilege. His
doom seemed inevitable, but powerful intercession was made for
him, especially by his two sisters, who were fondly attached to
their brother. At last his life was granted him, on condition
that the sisters should sift as much sand as would form a mound
on which to build a church. The maidens joyfully undertook
the task, and their patience did not fail. They completed it, and
the church was built, though it is added that one of the sisters
died immediately after her brother's liberation, either from the
effects of past fatigue or overpowering joy. Such is the version
of the legend, deemed the correct one at Linton. The villagers
point to the sandy knoll in confirmation of its truth, and show a
hollow place a short distance to the westward as that from which
the sand was taken.

The legends of serpents and dragons rife in other parts of
England are, on the whole, but meagre when compared with
these Northern tales. A few are enumerated by a contributor to
The Folk-Lore Record of 1878. At St. Osythes, in Essex, ap-
peared, AD. 1170, a dragon of marvellous bigness, which, by
moving, set fire to houses. At Deerhurst, near Tewkesbury, a
serpent of prodigious size was once a great grievance to the place,
poisoning the inhabitants, and devouring their cattle, till the
king proclaimed that any one who destroyed the serpent should
receive an estate in the parish belonging to the crown. One
John Smith placed a quantity of milk near the creature's lair,
which it drank and then lay down to sleep. Smith cut off its
head with an axe and received the estate, which still continued
in his family when Sir Robert Atkyns wrote this account. The
axe also was carefully preserved. At Mordiford, in Hereford-
shire, thg tradition yet survives of a furious combat between a
dragon and a condemned malefactor, who was promised pardon
on the condition of his destroying his 'antagonist. He did kill
it, but fell a victim to the poison of its breath. The contest is
said to have taken place in the river Lug, and the dragon is
represented in a painting in Mordiford church as a winged ser-
pent, about twelve feet long, with a large head and open mouth.
Near Chipping Norton, in Oxfordshire, a.d. 1349, was a serpent
with two heads, faces like women, and great wings after the man-
ner of a bat.