Our world has no shortage of modern day monsters - Bigfoot, the Chupacabra, and the Yeren of China make that very clear. The world of the past had no shortage, either, as the strange saga of what became known as the Linton Worm makes very clear. It's a tale that has fascinated me for many years, and which dates back to the 1100s.
It tells of a horrific, man-eating, giant, worm-like beast that terrified the good folk of Linton, Roxburghshire, which is located on the Southern Uplands of Scotland. Interestingly, and as will soon become apparent, the monster has parallels with a number of Scottish lake monsters, and particularly so Nessie of Loch Ness and Morag of Loch Morar.
According to the old tales, the Linton Worm was somewhere between ten and twelve feet in length, which, if true, effectively rules out any known British animal – wild or domestic – as being the culprit. Rather oddly, so the old legend went, the huge worm had two homes. In part, it lived in the heart of Linton Loch – a small, boggy area and the ideal place for a monster to hide.
Its other, dark abode was Linton Hill, which even today is referred to as Worm’s Den, such is the enduring nature of the legend. That the beast apparently had the ability to leave the water and slither across the landscape of Scotland brings to mind the small number of reports of both the aforementioned Morag and Nessie being seen on land.
By all accounts, the worm was a creature to be avoided at all costs: cows, sheep, pigs, vegetables, and even people, were all food for the monster. Quite naturally, the people of Linton were thrown into a collective state of fear when the slithering thing decided to target their little village. People became petrified to leave their homes, lest they became the victims of the marauding beast. Doors and windows remained locked. Farmers stayed home. That is, until a man named John de Somerville came upon the scene.
When told of the nature of the monster that had brought terror to Linton, de Somerville – known as the “Laird of Lariston” - had a local blacksmith create for him a razor-sharp spear, which he, de Somerville, intended using to slay the mighty beast.
Fortunately, he did exactly that, by setting the spear aflame and plunging it into the throat of the monster, after seeking it out at Worm’s Den. The beast fought back, its wormy form writhing and turning and twisting violently atop the hill, but it was to no avail. Exhausted, and on the verge of death, the beast retreated to its labyrinthine lair within Linton Hill. It was neither seen nor heard of again.
The Linton folk never forgot the valiant act of John de Somerville, and a sculpture commemorating de Somerville’s brave act was created in Linton Church, as William Henderson noted in his 1879 book, Notes on the folk-lore of the northern counties of England and the borders. He said:
“The sculptured effigy of the monster, which may still be seen with the champion who slew it, at the south-western extremity of Linton church, differs from both accounts. A stone, evidently of great antiquity, is there built into the wall. It is covered with sculpture in low relief, and bears figures which, though defaced by time, can yet be made out pretty clearly.
"A knight on horseback, clad in a tunic or hauberk, with a round helmet, urges his horse against two large animals, the foreparts of which only are visible, and plunges his lance into the throat of one. Behind him is the outline of another creature, apparently of a lamb. The heads of the monsters are strong and powerful, but more like those of quadrupeds than of serpents. It is perplexing also to see two of them, but not the less does popular tradition connects the representation with the Linton Worm.”
Today, both church and effigy still remain intact – and still provoking wonder, and perhaps even a little fear, in those that visit the little village of Linton.