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The Wild Man of Orford

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If you visit the Suffolk village of Orford today, you will see rows of pretty cottages, pubs, restaurants, shops and many tourists. Many of them have come to see the remains of the medieval castle, which has stood there for over 800 years.


In 1165, King Henry II built the castle to protect the East Coast from invasion. When it was completed, Orford castle was the finest castle in England. Shortly after the castle was finished, it had a most unusual visitor.

One day, some Orford fishermen were casting their nets when they caught, what they first thought to be, a very big fish. They were strong men, but even they struggled with the weight of this catch. As they dragged in the bulging nets, they saw a large creature tangled up in the catch.

They were extremely surprised because there, in the bottom of the boat, was a man. He was naked, completely covered in hair with a long straggly beard and he was staring angrily back at the fishermen!


Now, as you can imagine, this was a great surprise to the fishermen and it seemed that it was probably just as great a surprise to the wild man as well.

The wild man was unable to talk except for grunts and noises. The fishermen stood and stared at each other, not really sure what they should do next. So they tied him up and took him to the castle to ask the constable, Bartholomew de Granville, what should be done with him.

Now, it shames me to say, that this wild man was not very well treated. He was kept in the castle dungeon and guarded day and night. Bartholomew de Granville and the jailers tried time and again to question this 'merman', but with no results. Eventually, they got so frustrated, that the poor merman was hung upside-down by the ankles and flogged, "to get some sense out of him." Despite this dreadful treatment, the merman did not talk.

At least they had the decency to feed the poor creature. He ate whatever food was given to him but seemed very fond of fish whether cooked or raw. Whenever he was given raw fish, the jailers would watch in amazement as he squeezed the water out into his hands and drink it!

Now I may not be being very fair, but I don't think his jailers were all that smart. One day, they decided to take him to the estuary of the river and let him have a swim. They hung nets out to make a barrier, so that there was no possible way he could swim away from them.

However, after enjoying a surface swim, the merman suddenly dived deep, swam under the nets and escaped into the open sea. Leaping in and out of the water in joy, he spent a little time in sight of the estuary and then he disappeared, never to be seen again to this very day.

Who he was and where he came from remains a mystery. If you visit Orford today, you will find it is no longer a busy port but, instead, a quiet village on the coast. You might even like to try your hand at a bit of fishing off the quayside. If you get an unusually big pull on your fishing line, think carefully before you reel it in!

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