Half a century ago, Belgian Zoologist Bernard Heuvelmans first codified cryptozoology in his book On the Track of Unknown Animals.

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Thursday, October 22, 2009

LINDSAY SELBY: Was the Lambton Worm a Lake Cryptid?

Clear Day

The tale of the Lambton Worm is about a legendary cryptid in what is, at the moment, my local area. Durham also has lots of sightings of big cats.

The tale is set in the time of the crusades around the river Wear in Durham UK.

John Lambton, the young heir to Lambton Hall, was fishing on the river Wear one Sunday morning, instead of being at church. Something large started to tug on the hook so he reeled it in. It was a black worm like creature, which was only small, but twisted and coiled with great power. It had needle sharp teeth and seemed to secrete a sticky slime. Cursing, he went to throw the creature back when an old man appeared from behind him, he looked at what Lambton had caught, and warned Lambton not to throw the creature back into the river. "It bodes no good for you but you must not cast it back into the river, you must keep it and do with it what you will." The old man walked away.

John Lambton threw the creature into an ancient well on the road back to the hall.

John Lambton grew up and went off to the crusades. The water in the well where he had thrown the creature became poisoned, strange venomous vapours were seen rising out of the well, and village gossip surmised that the well had been cursed, and that something unworldly lived in its depths. When the worm reached maturity, it climbed out of the well and wrapped itself three times around a rocky island in the middle of the river.

The villagers saw the creature and called it a dragon.The dragon had no legs or wings, but a thick muscled body that rippled as it moved. Its head was large and its gaping maw bristled with razor sharp teeth, venomous vapours trailed from its nostrils and mouth as it breathed. The creature became hungry and started to rampage around the countryside, always returning to its hill or Worms Rock in the river Wear. It took small lambs and sheep and ate them whole, and it tore open cows udders with its razor teeth to get at the milk, which it could smell from miles away. Villagers who were brave enough to tackle the beast were crushed and killed.

Eventually when the dragon approached Lambton Hall, the locals had heard about it and were ready for its coming. They filled a large stone trough with warm milk and the creature plunged into the trough and drained it dry. Now full the worm returned to its river abode. This became a ritual that went on for seven years. The dragon stopped killing the cows and the sheep and only ventured up to the hall for its daily offering of milk. As the years passed the trail became marked by a path of dark slime and the life around the area returned to normal. Occasionally people would come and try and slay the worm but didn’t survive and the worm continued.

John Lambton returned from the crusades a battle hardened knight. When he heard of the worm he devised plan to kill the beast. He went to the wise woman who lived in Brugeford to gain her advice. She told him that the plight of the village was his fault and that it was his duty to remedy the situation: “You and you alone can kill the worm, go to the blacksmith, and have a suit of armour wrought with razor sharp spear heads studded throughout its surface. Then go to the worm's rock and await its arrival. But mark my words well, if you slay the beast you must put to death the first thing that crosses your path as you pass the threshold of Lambton Hall. If you do not do this then three times three generations of Lambtons will not die in their beds.” John swore an oath to uphold this. He then went to the local blacksmith and had him forge a suit of armour embedded in double-edged spikes.

The next day he engaged in battle with the worm in the river. Every time the dragon tried to embrace him it cut itself to ribbons on the spikes, so that pieces of its flesh were sliced off and floated down the river on a crimson tide. Eventually the worm grew so weak that he could despatch it with one heavy sword blow to its head.

He then let out three blasts on his bugle to tell of his victory, and as a signal for the servants to release his favourite hound from the house to complete his vow. Unfortunately the servants forgot in the commotion and joy, and as John passed over the threshold of the hall his father rushed out to greet him. Dismayed John blew another blast on his horn and the servants released the hound, which John killed with one sweeping blow from his sword. But it was too late, the vow was broken and for generations after none of the Lambtons died in their beds. It is said that the last one died while crossing over Brugeford Bridge over a hundred and forty years ago.

Songs and poems about the worm live on. There are two hills one called Worm Hill and another called Penshaw Hill both supposed to be the worm’s home. Penshaw Hill as markings around it which from a distance could be where a large worm curled but are more likely to be man made as at one time it was a fort.The tale of course could have been written as a moral story about what happens if you don't go to church on a Sunday.....a large worm eats your neighbourhood!

What I find so interesting about the story is the description could be any water cryptid, serpentine and black, reaching enormous size. Could there have been some truth in the story and a cryptid was living in the River Wear at one time? Just a thought.

EDITOR'S NOTE: Probably inspired by the fact I'm not very well today, and feeling sorry for myself, but these days I would assume that very few people die in their beds - at least not in their own beds. Most people die in hospital I would assume...


Anonymous said...

The Lambton Worm DOES have characteristics linking it to Giant Eel reports: one is that at the beginning it was only a small worm (Elver?) and later grew to enormous size. The other is the peculiar feature that it was suppsed to have nine nostrils. Nine nostrils are reported in serpentine River monsters (Nagas) in South Asia and Indonesia. although nobody really knows what that means really: and one of Rafinesque's scientifically named Sea Serpents was Octipos bicolor, owing to the fact that it showed "Eight gills".

One of my guesses that that would mean fins right behind the head divided visably into eight or nine sections, and then (Eternal) gills misread as "Nostrils" but it is also odd that the same mistake seems to have cropped up in more than one place if this is so.

Anonymous said...

The Lambton Worm does show similarities to the Giant Eel category: at first it is a small worm (Elver?) but later on it grows to enormous size (say 20-30 feet long, typical in such reports) And it has nine nostrils, also reported in "Nagas" of South Asia and Indonesia. Nobody knows exactly what that means but at least one Sea-serpent was reported as having "eight gills" ( and was scientifically named by Rafinesque as Octipos bicolor)

Tabitca said...

Thanks for your input Dale. I think there often is some truth in folktales, they may be embellished like Chinese whispers , but they have to start somewhere.

Dear Editor, I should imagine statistically most people die in "A "bed, not necessarily their own. For this reason I have been remaining upright during my bout of ill health as much as possible in the hope of beating the odds :-)