Wednesday 3rd September 2014
The Bisterne Dragon. [755 words]
Thanks to Folk Tales/Michael O’Leary.
Wild boars rushing out at you from the woods, with the sun behind them, or was it a dragon? It has been told that it was dragons. They were to be found in Saxon shore in West Sussex, south coast of England, where they were called ‘knuckers’ and they lived in bottomless ponds.
The Bisterne dragon, however, being a more honest sort of dragon, preferred the airy heights of Burley Beacon. Burley in case one is not sure is situated south westerly edge of the Forest.
From there, it was possible to swoop down onto the farms and water meadows of the Avon Valley, which runs downs the western edge of the Forest.
A bully often likes to focus on a particular victim, and the Bisterne dragon focused on Lower Bisterne Farm. At first the residents were able to appease the dragon by leaving buckets of milk each day – but paying protection money, so to speak, never works out in the long run, the dragon became greedier and wanted more. It had already tasted blood and did not see any reason to hunt when there were cattle in the fields making them easy prey. Soon the dragon had caused so much uproar from Crow to Winkton, and Lower Bisterne Farm was nearly broken. So it was the landowners and farmers decided to hire the lone hero to battle the beast, and so they hired the one and only —-dah dah dee dee dahhhhh!! yes you guessed it,, walking into the vision of the gathering applauding crowd, all cheering and chanting his name ‘Sir Maurice de Berkeley’ what a mouthful that must have been.
Sir Maurice covered his armour in bird lime – bird lime is a very sticky substance which is made from holly bark – and this is very relevant to the New Forest. In the Forest there is an abundance of holly and ‘ of all the trees that are in the wood the holly bears the crown’. It is at midsummer that the holly king overpowers the oak king, and at midwinter the oak king overpowers the holly king: moreover, the holly is associated with the element of fire, – most suitable when doing battle with a dragon. And yet Sir Maurice was a lone hero – a dragon fighter- and he had come all the way from Gloucestershire, so it was believed his bird lime was made from the bark of the wayfaring tree.
Sir Maurice sprinkled the bird lime with broken glass, and, with his two mighty dogs running before him, he set forth to do battle with the dragon. These two dogs were capable of bringing down the mightiest of beasts, but the dragon contemptuously tore them apart and spat out the sundered canine corpses as being quite unfit for dragon consumption.
Then Sir Maurice was alone, facing the terrible Bisterne dragon, and, whilst the landowners, farmers and peasants of the Forest skulked in their homes and barns, the terrible battle commenced. Typical of Foresters today, hiding away and shouting the odds. Anyway, all day the battle continued – the foul, evil smelling beast wrapping its coils around the knight, and screeching with pain as the broken glass tore at its scales. Finally, Sir Maurice was able to sever the head of the beast, and, as the green blood burnt into the soil, he staggered from the field of battle, a broken man. He died soon after; the injuries had damaged his body so badly, seemed unable to heal. But it was the trauma of the battle – for this had eaten deep into his soul, and the mark of the dragon could never be washed away.
This battle took place in Dragon Field at Lower Bisterne Farm, [now private land]. On the wall of Bisterne Manor House, [private house] lots of private stuff going on here,, there is a stone carving of a dragon between fiery beacons; there is also a coat of arms with a dragon crest, and in the centre is the Berkeley Arms. Looking protectively out over the entrances of the house are two stone dogs, great mastiff – type dogs killed by the Bisterne dragon. Dragons are a great part of English folklore, so what is it to be, was there really a dragon, or was it a wild boar, or was it just a tale. Either way, it is a good read, just open your mind and let your imagination flow…