WEIRD SUFFOLK: The day a dragon came to Suffolk and the locals feasted on dragon-roasted sheep at the pub
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Ed Sheeran famously wrote a song about the Castle on the Hill but Suffolk also boasts a dragon on a hill and the story behind it is absolutely extraordinary.
The dragon watches over Bures, a beastly reminder of the day when a real life dragon terrorised Suffolk and refused to be killed. Carved and picked out in chalk, the dragon, measuring 75m by 95m can be seen along the Cuckoo Hill to Clickett bridle path on the east side of Bures and viewed from St Stephen's Chapel. Created in 2012 as part of the Queen's Diamond Jubilee celebrations, the dragon harks back centuries to when the servants of a local knight, Sir Richard Waldegrave, discovered a dragon on his land which they were unable to kill.
In the East Anglian Daily Times in August 1976, writer Robert Hadgraft wrote about the unusual tale of Bures' unexpected scaly visitor. "It was on a spring day in the year of 1405 that the town of Sudbury, busily going about its affairs, slowly but surely became engulfed by a wave of panic," he wrote. "Word was spreading that a horrific and fearful sight had been witnessed down on the banks of the River Stour. According to several reliable townsfolk, who had seen it with their own eyes, an enormous monster had emerged from the water and was breathing fire in the general direction of anything that moved.
"As people fled to the north side of town and doors and shutters were bolted, several brave and resourceful fellows decided that the town must be protected. Armed with bows and arrows they cautiously approached the riverside, and proceeded to fire upon the strange creature.
"And, although their arrows made little impression - merely bouncing off its tough skin - they were successful in that the beast became agitated enough to return to the water and retreat downstream in the direction of Bures."
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News spread of the dragon's presence in the river and villagers fled in terror - in Bures, the creature appeared at an area called Clappits, thought to be the site of the present Claypits housing estate and promptly killed most of a flock of sheep and the shepherd tending them. It then set up a temporary residence at Sir Richard's home, Smallbridge Hall, at which point the menfolk of the village decided to take action. Armed with bows and arrows, they launched an attack on the dragon but failed to cause it any harm as the weapons bounced off its tough, scaly skin. Retreating for tactical talks, the villagers gathered forces and the entire population from miles around got together and set off to tackle the beast en masse - realising it was outnumbered, the dragon decided to flee.
Hadcraft wrote: "It was seen to hurriedly make its way, overland and on foot, to the village of Wormingford, where it plunged into a mere, never to be seen again.
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"One version of the story has it that the bowmen who made the attack at Bures, retired to the Eight Bells public house to enjoy a hearty meal of the sheep which had conveniently roasted in a barbeque by the dragon's fiery breath.
"The only account to survive that was actually written at the time appears to ne contained in the chronicles of Monk John de Trokelowe, his writing was, of course, all in Latin and was later translated into English.
"The monk writes, in a remarkable matter-of-fact style, that the creature was 'vast in body with a crested head, teeth like a saw, and a tail extending to enormous length'."
According to local legend, a mysterious bubbling can still be seen in one corner of the mere where the dragon disappeared which is allegedly where the Devil - who had taken the form of the beast seen by villagers - still lives to this day. One theory is that the 'dragon' was, in fact, one of King Richard I's pet crocodiles given to the Lionheart as a gift from King Saladin during the 12th century Crusades. The reptile would have been kept at the Tower of London alongside other curious creatures collected by the King, but is believed to have escaped and ended up in the marshes near Bures.