A long time ago, on the western wall of the old church in Mordiford, Herefordshire was once a painting of a gigantic dragon. Above the painting was a very odd poem, it read:
This is the true effigy of that strange
Prodigious monster which our woods did range.
In Eastwood it by Garstone's hand was slain,
A truth which old mythologists maintain.
The dragon portrayed in the picture was a fearsome creature with a massive body over twelve feet long, a powerful tail, three pairs of enormous wings , a terrible red mouth with a forked tongue, webbed feet and scales of green and gold. In the picture its great wings flapped and its great tail twisted back in anger. However, according to local mythology the dragon was not always so large or so threatening.
One day, many years before the image was painted on the church wall, in a stretch of hilly forest north-east of the village of Mordiford known as Haugh Wood, a little girl called Maud was out blackberrying. It was a warm autumn day. Suddenly Maud heard a strange noise and went to investigate.
In the long grass and brambles she found the most charming little creature. The creature was the colour of the greenest grass, with gold flecks like the sun; it had a slender pointed tail but its most dazzling features were its flickering eyes, for they shone as bright as the stars themselves.
Maud picked up the strange creature and carried it gently to her home. Her horrified father recognised it as a baby dragon but Maud pleaded and pleaded with him not to kill it. Seeing her great distress he relented and allowed Maud to place the little reptile by the fireside. Here it lapped up a saucer of milk.
Maud went to bed but could not stop thinking about the little dragon. Wide awake she crept downstairs to see it. To her horror, she overheard her parents planning to kill the creature in the morning. Maud quickly put on her warmest clothes, for the autumn night was very chilly, and took the baby dragon into the woods. In the undergrowth she made a mossy nest and promised aloud to come back and feed it and care for it.
Maud kept her promise. She kept the dragon hidden and fed it on milk. For many years she would slip away whilst carrying out her errands and go to the woods and see the creature, so the dragon and the girl grew up together.
But the dragon could not stay hidden forever. As it grew the dragon developed a taste for meat and began to eat the local farm animals. It would leave its lair in the woods and venture out along a nearby Lane in search of cows.
After it had eaten its fill it would go down the wooded lane to the point where the rivers Wye and Lugg join to slake its thirst. The beast grew into a monstrous serpent. It soon devoured most of the local cattle – and sometimes the people, who searched it out to try and kill it.
Many brave young men tried to kill the creature but few returned and none succeeded. The local people became too afraid to venture into the woods or to walk down the Lane.
Everybody, that is, except Maud. For. however hungry the dragon became and however strong its dragonish traits, it never harmed the young woman who had shown it such kindness.
Then, one day a condemned criminal, known as Garstone, offered to get rid of the dragon in exchange for his freedom. He had nothing to lose for it was either facing the dragon or the hangman’s noose. The desperate locals promised him a pardon if he should succeed. The threat of execution had sharpened Garstone’s wits, he knew he could never win a straight fight and needed to ensure that he had an advantage over the beast.
A few hours later the locals watched puzzled as he rolled a cider barrel down to the water's edge. He jumped into the barrel and lay concealed waiting for the dragon to approach. The ambush worked. When the curious dragon went to look at the barrel the criminal Garstone jumped out and plunged a sword into the heart of the dragon.
With a thunderous cry the dragon staggered a little way up the lane before dropping with an almighty thud to the ground. Garstone followed watching its death throes. He stood over the dragon victorious but he never lived to enjoy his triumph, for as he watched the trembling frame of the mighty beast, the dragon shuddered out one last mighty poisonous breath. The poison covered Garstone and soon the man and the beast lay dead together.
There were many celebrations in the local area but seeing the once proud and fearsome creature slumped on the ground, the beautiful Maud could not stop her tears flowing for her childhood companion. As a reminder of the great victory the church wall was painted with a picture of the great beast.
When the church was restored around 1810 the western wall was demolished and rebuilt. The picture was never restored. However, the dragon was not forgotten for the path which led from the dragon's lair in the wooded hills to its drinking place at the river became known as Serpent Lane. And it is said that on the exact spot where the dragon breathed its last, and Maud shed her tears of sorrow, the grass never grew again.