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List Words : Graihagh Jackson | 23 April

6 places to celebrate St George's fiery past

To commemorate the patron saint of England, Graihagh Jackson delves into the UK's fire breathing history and finds out where these mythical creatures once ruled

1. Follow in the footsteps of a dragon

The southern county of Sussex is brimming with legendary myths of monstrous dragons, killing livestock and fair damsels. One such dragon is said to have coiled around Bignor Hill, and squeezed it so tightly, it left scaly imprints on the hillside. You'll get a real sense of the serpent 's strength while hiking the hummock.

Bignor Hill makes up one of the National Trust's biggest estates on the South Downs, so be sure to bring your walking boots and don't miss the ancient Roman Road that weaves through the forests.

2. Scramble over the scales of a dragon

No list of dragon folklore would be complete without including a tale from Wales, which flies the red beast on its national flag. Head to Rhossili Bay to ramble over Worm's Head. The Worm (meaning dragon in old English), resembles a basilisk semi-submerged in water, winding its way out to sea. Race against the tide and gander around the craggy and hill-ridden island to get a real feel for the size of the mammoth creature that haunts the Bristol Channel.

If you don't feel satisfied with the two mile walk, try your hand at paragliding with the Worm as your backdrop. For the less adventurous, check out a cutesy café named the Bay Bistro in Rhossili village and buy a hand-crafted souvenir or two.

3. See where a knight met his gruesome end

Inside the village church in Nunnington, north Yorkshire, is an ancient tomb surmounted with a knight in shining armour and his trusty dog. Legend has it, the grave belongs to Sir Peter Loschy, who slayed a dragon that could magically regenerate lost limbs. Until then no-one could destroy the dragon; cunningly the knight ordered his trusty dog to carry the castrated limbs over the hills so the dragon could not reform.

According to the ancient story, overcome by emotion at overthrowing the beast, the dog jumped up and licked Sir Peter's face, unknowingly poisoning his master with the dragon's venomous blood. And so the two suffered an unfortunate fate.

The All Saints Church, where Sir Peter is allegedly buried, is a beautiful Grade I listed building, with the tower dating back to 1672. After paying tribute to the dragon slayer and his best friend, explore the Rye River banks, the flower-covered meadows and the peacocks of the National Trust's Nunnington Hall.

4. Seek spilt mythical blood

Oxfordshire’s Dragon Hill is suppose to be the very hillock that St George slew the infamous dragon on. The flat-top mound has patches of bare, chalky ground where no grass will grow – folklore maintains that it is where the beast's blood pooled, foreboding any future life in its wake. Be sure to hike to the nearby Uffington White Horse, which is a mare carved into the hillside and said to be a representation of St George's noble steed.

While you're there, don't miss the impressive Iron Age castle, believed to be the site of the battle of Badon, where King Arthur defeated the Saxons.

5. Pay tribute to a dragon's grave

Not many tales of vanquished dragons exist; more people have perished than been victorious. The story of Sir John Conyers is therefore slightly unusual. Historic tales tell of a beast that ruled Yorkshire's lands, overthrowing noble men and devouring villagers. Until Sir John intervened. The knight vanquished the wyvern with only a sword,  by stabbing it under the wing.

The treacherous battle is marked by a Grey Stone near Loftus, 30 miles from Sockburn and the famous sword can be marvelled at in Durham Cathedral.

6. Bare witness to an ancient deadly duel

Two conflicting stories exist in the Dragon Fields of Bisterne, Hampshire; one is of victory while the other is a bloody tale of defeat for Sir Maurice Berkeley. The fire breathing  creature flew to Burley Beacon, declaring it his lair. In one tale, the greedy dragon demanded a pail of milk a day. In another, the basilisk has a taste for human flesh...

Growing weary of the mean-green fighting machine, the local people hired a knight to slaughter the dragon. This is where the story splits: one depicts Sir Maurice tricking the creature and defeating it, while the other asserts that the brave knight fought the terrifying monster but didn't survive to tell the tale.

Whichever you believe, make the most of the New Forest's beauty. Amble around Avon Heath Country Park nearby and if the weather takes a turn for the worst, head to the Boston Tea House in Ringwood to enjoy their selection of loose teas and tasty bites.

Alternatively...

If you want to see a real dragon, head to Indonesia's Komodo National Park, home to the largest lizard species on Earth. The Komodo dragon is a scary two meters in length and 100kg of malice wrapped in loose, leathery skin.

Komodo can be visited year-round. May to October is the driest time, while July to August is the busiest. Flights are available from Bali to Flores and once in Labuan Bajo, boats can be hired to take you to Komodo and Rinca Island.

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