Moving from the north of England into Scotland we come across the last of my Worm Trilogy. The Linton Worm. Unlike my other two worm articles, which were definitely legends of some time ago – the Linton Worm appears to be more of a historical fact, than legend.
Above the south entrance of the ancient parish church of Linton, in Roxburghshire, is a coarse sculpture of a knight. He has a falcon on one arm, with his lance raised, in the other. He is attacking some kind of monster, which the common folk call a worm, or snake.
The knight is John Sommerville of Carnwath, Lanarkshire, Scotland, and he confronted the Linton Dragon, also known as, Wyrm of Wormistone of the parish of Linstone, in 1174.
Tradition has it that this animal lived in some sort of a den some way away from the church. From its lair it would destroy the countryside, and spell-bounding its victims with its fascinating eyes, combined with its ghastly breath, would suck its prey into its jaws.
Large rewards were offered for its destruction, but all in vain. It continued to grow, and got so large it would wind itself round and round the huge hillock nearby, which is still called, Wormeston today.
As it slept, with its mouth wide open, it is said, that it was slain by, Lord Lariston. He was so brave he charged at the snake, at full gallop, and thrust his lance down its throat. On the end of the lance was a piece of peat dipped in scalding pitch.
The peculiar charm of the peat is said to have nulled the effects of the monster’s poisonous breath, while its jaws were blocked by the slow burning turf. It died, slithering and sliding around so violently, that the monster’s thrusts were ground into the sides of the hill. The spirals can still be made out today.
The current noble family of Sommerville are said to be descended from this famous knight, and in memory of his great achievement, their crest bears a dragon. The sculpture on the church does not do this story justice as the carved monster looks more like a wolf or a boar. Both animals, which in early times, roamed the Cheviot Mountains close by. The gallant knight seems to be a bystander while the monster prefers to attack his horse.
An inscription, which might have told the true story is now, unfortunately, totally blotted out, so we must rely on traditional words which are as thus, ” The wode Laird of Lariestoun slew the wode worm of Warmiestoune, and won the Lintoan paroschine.”
At the time the monster was killed by the ancestor, of Lord Sommerville, Caledonia was haunted by large birds of prey and it is more likely to have been one of these that fell to his sword.
However, John Sommerville was rewarded by King William l, with lands and a barony of Linton, for his great deed. His act of bravery engraved in stone and commemorated, for all time, by adorning the entrance to Linton Kirk.