which the king then reigning gave him the manor of Sockburn, to hold by this tenure, that upon the first entrance of every bishop into the county the falchion should be presented.
The falchion (a thirteenth-century one that is now in Durham Cathedral), was then handed back. This tradition continued to be kept until the early nineteenth century (though it is possible there was a revival once in the 1920s).
T HE L OSCHY H ILL D RAGON
On Loschy Hill, above Stonegrave near Nunnington, there once lived a dragon. It was one of the poisonous kind, more like a snake than a winged firedrake. It dribbled poison across the land, breathing out plague and pestilence that killed man and beast. Fear spread over the whole area.
During the day, it lay dozing, entwined in the trees of Loschy Wood, or curled around the hill itself. Then a young man might, dared by his friends, climb the hill a little way and, if he were brave enough and undaunted by the poisonous fumes, gaze with fear on the vomit-yellow coil of its hideous body. At night, though, it would rouse itself and, slithering on the slime trail of its own poison, set out to hunt. Benighted travellers or straying beasts might see wisps of a white vapour flowing around them and be filled with a strange weakness, before the dragon took them into its deadly embrace and the razor-sharp teeth struck.
As it grew larger, its hunger grew greater. Soon whole flocks of sheep began to disappear, or a farmer would find his byre empty of cattle and nothing left but a trail of blackened and shrivelled grass across the field. A travelling ‘reddleman’ or tinker might arrive at the isolated farmhouse where he had been welcomed many a time before to find silence and dead dogs and a gruesome smell.
But how to get rid of such a monster? At first, bands of irate farmers and peasants tried to drive the dragon out with flails and pitchforks. Many died in a few minutes. Those that were left, tried to burn the wood, but although the dragon had no fire of its own, it was of dragon-kind and what dragon ever feared fire?
Next the knights began to come. They were better protected against the creature’s poison with their closed helms and steel armour, but the dragon merely killed their horses and crushed the life out of their riders before they could use their swords.
People began to despair.
Then Sir Peter Loschy, a knight whose lands were in nearby Nunnington returned from many years on crusade. He had hardly dismounted before his servants were telling him about the terrible dragon that had settled so near his lands.
Now, Sir Peter was valiant, but he added a keen intelligence to his valour; he saw immediately that the usual approach to the dragon was doomed to failure. He had always been interested in blacksmithing – most knights were – and had spent many hours as a young man talking to his father’s blacksmith and armourer, or watching him turning hard iron into shining armour. The day after his return, he went down to the smithy to chat to his old friend whose son now did most of the work. They talked about the dragon.
‘Trouble is,’ said the blacksmith, ‘no armour is strong enough to withstand the crushing hug of the beast. It’s as strong as a mill wheel and so fast that you’re dead before you can get in a decent blow.’
‘Brute strength is no good,’ said the son, ‘it’s far stronger even than you, my lord!’
Sir Peter thought for a moment. ‘If it’s so strong,’ he said, ‘perhaps there’s a way to use its strength against it. It doesn’t seem to have any of the usual weak spots.’
‘Suppose,’ said the son, thoughtfully, ‘just suppose that you could use its own strength to kill it by making it drive itself onto your sword.’
‘Or,’ broke in the smith, getting a little excited now, ‘suppose you wore a band of sharp spikes around your waist. Then when it tightened its coils …’
‘Or better still,’ shouted Sir Peter. ‘suppose I