Get thee to Nunnington

Nunnington Church where lies an effigy of a knight with an animal at its feet. Is it the brave knight Sir Peter Loschi and his faithful dog, or another knight entirely?

Some time ago I wrote about the Sockburn Worm which, as legend has it, terrorised an area around Darlington until it was slain by the brave Sir John Conyers. Many such tales have been passed down the centuries, and it is believed that the ‘worm’, which is a two-legged dragon also known as a wyvern, is actually an allegory for the marauding Saxons and Vikings who invaded Britain between the fifth and 11th centuries.

When I was first born, my dad was village bobby in Oswaldkirk, and just two miles from there is Nunnington, a pretty North Yorkshire village with its own stately home, two art galleries and a church, whose origins date from the 13thcentury. This tiny place has its very own ‘worm’ legend, as I discovered when I read Dad’s column from 23rd August 1980.

The legend goes back to the Saxon era: The villagers of Nunnington were celebrating the annual summer gathering of the hay on top of the hill where the church now stands. They had crowned their ‘queen’, an 18-year-old local girl, who was being paraded around on a cart carrying the symbolic final load of hay, flanked by half a dozen youths.

Suddenly, above the joyful noise of the festivities came a dreadful sound, like ‘thousands of angry geese all hissing together’. Everyone stopped still, their voices instantly hushed, the music fading quickly into silence.

Into the light stepped a terrifying monster with the head of a dragon and the body of a serpent, poisonous flames and fumes bursting from its mouth. Everyone scattered in terror, dashing to their homes and bolting their doors behind them. The poor festival queen was marooned on her cart as the youths scarpered, and she froze with fear. The deathly serpent coiled itself around her and carried her off to its lair on nearby Loschy Hill, and she was never seen again.

Although some attempts were made to tackle the creature, none possessed the skills and courage to succeed, apart from one man. That was local knight, Sir Peter Loschi, who had been away defeating Saxons and other enemies of King Arthur, as well as single-handedly recovering the king’s standard, rescuing countless damsels and fighting off lions, dragons, and numerous other dastardly beasts. He had just returned with his faithful dog to have a well-deserved rest.

But, on hearing the plight of the young maiden, this brave hero could not sit back and do nothing, especially as the hideous beast continued to abduct the terrified young residents of his home village.

He had a special suit of armour made that was studded with razor-sharp blades. He also possessed a special sword with a Damascene blade, the same as King Arthur’s famous Excalibur.

When everything was ready, he took his dog and headed to the lair. The beast ran out to confront him, and Sir Peter lashed out with his sword while his dog bit it on the legs and tail. But every time the creature was injured, it instantly healed itself again. Sir Peter tried and tried, but made no headway with the ever-healing animal and he eventually grew tired, so that the worm was able to coil itself around him.

It looked like all was lost, until the blades of Sir Peter’s armour sliced the end of its tail clean off. Before it could heal again, the dog grabbed the piece and ran away with it. With renewed strength, Sir Peter lashed out with his mighty sword, and every piece of the animal that he severed was grabbed by his dog and carried away so that the diminishing monster could not heal itself. Finally only the head was left, and with one final hiss, the dragon died.

As he made his triumphant way back to the village, the fearless knight’s dog jumped up and licked Sir Peter on the face. Sadly, the dog’s tongue and breath were laced with the dragon’s poison, and within minutes, both these gallant victors were dead.

In Nunnington Church lies an effigy of a knight with an animal at his feet. Although most say it is Sir Walter de Teye, who died in 1325, others prefer to believe it depicts the heroes of this story. Whatever you think, why not visit Nunnington Church (when it is open) and decide for yourself?

Read more at Follow me on Twitter @countrymansdaug

This column appeared in the Darlington & Stockton Times on 21st August and the Gazette & Herald on 19th August 2020

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