A Border Legend

Another piece from Highways & Byways of Northumberland. North of Bamburg and about a mile inland is Spindleston Heugh the scene of the ballad of he Laidley Worm:

Word went east and word went west

Word is gone over the sea

That a Laidley worm in Spindleston Heugh

Would ruin the North Countree

This was a princess of Bamburg Castle who, by a wicked stepmother had been transformed into the worm [ie snake or serpent] until her brother, “the Childy Wynd” should come from overseas to rescue her. On hiring of his sister’s misfortune he embarked on ship “with masts of  the rowan tree ad fluttering silk so fine” The queen, seeing the ship approaching, sent her witch wives to destroy it. This turned out to be beyond their power as the rowan tree of which the arts were made was charmed. there is an old north country saying: “Witches have no power where there is rowan tree wood”. Then the sorceress tried a boat of armed men, who were likewise unsuccessful in the attempt to break through the rowan’s spell. Child Wynd landed on Bundle Sands after passing ‘’the banks of Bamburghshire.”

When he met the Worm

He sheathed his sword and bent his bow

and gave her kisses three;

She crept into a hole a worm

And stepped out a ladye.

So he wrapt her inches mantle and hastened to King Ida’s castle, where the queen grew pale as she watched their approach. In just with he addressed the trembling queen and, with three drops fro the well, turned her into a most horrid toad.

The virgins all of Bamburghtown

Will swear that they have seen

The spiteful toad of monstrous size

Whilst walking on the green.

The cave where the Worm lived an the trough “out of which she did sup the milk of seven stately cows” were shown at Spindleston 60 years ago but were destroyed in the making of a query.

An isolated par of ghinstone still standing is said to have been used by the  brother to throw the bridle of his horse over when he went to meet the Worm. It is unreasonable perhaps to ask why he needed a horse for the short distance fro his ship to the cave. It is a wild and rugged spot where this strange adventure is placed, with the Cheviots to the west, a beautiful view.

This is a very odd tale. Part Snow White, part heroic traveller and even a whiff of that song about the woman who took in a snake that then bit her. And like many tales including Snow White and Cinderella, has a wicked step mother. Were there no step fathers or were they never wicked?

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