I usually love the summer holiday. No homework for the kids; work for me, but I go part-time, which means we can then go and explore our area. We see family. We see friends. It’s amazeballs, and I know it won’t last much longer as the teenage years are fast approaching.
But this year feels different. This year is
OH MY ARRRGGGHHHH WHAT THE HECK AM I GOING TO DO WITH THE KIDS FOR THE SUMMER HOLIDAY?
We can see friends…from 2m away.
We can go and walk around a few gardens, but going inside is just not going to happen.
We can’t go to the Theatre. We could go to the Cinema, but it feels a bit complicated.
Camp was cancelled, and I’m having to work more than normal to keep my Theatre company going.
I needed a solution. I came up with a daft one, but it really worked so I’ve decided to turn it into something and share it with you all.
Today, we became Story Hunters and went Dragon Hunting. In Surrey. Oh Yeah!
For those who don’t know, I’m a local history nut, and of course, I love stories, so I’m amazed I didn’t discover local folklore earlier. Now that I have, I’m totally hooked. I’ve been reading Surrey Folk Tales by Janet Dowling, a brilliant storyteller. She has researched and put together a collection of local stories that have been passed down over the years. After a bit of discussion with the kids, we decided that we were going to spend our summer as Story Hunters. We’ll be spending our days tracking down local myths and legends, learning new stories along the way.
Today, we went to find the Dragon of West Clandon.
THE STORY OF THE DRAGON OF WEST CLANDON
Once upon a time there was an English soldier. He had fought hard for his country, but food was scarce, and the army hadn’t been feeding their soldiers properly. He was starving, and sick of being treated badly when he had fought so hard for his country. With a heavy heart, he decided to run away from the army, hoping to see his family again.
Half-starved, he started to head in a North West direction, knowing that if he was caught, he would be in big trouble. After a few days travelling, he happened upon West Clandon. From his hiding place in the bushes, he saw a woman throw out some food scraps, including a bone with some meat on it. When she’d gone, he went to grab the bone, but a dog beat him to it. As the dog started to walk off with the bone, hunger took over, and the soldier went to grab the dog. They wrestled until the soldier realised what he was doing – taking a bone from a dog! Really!
He gave up and sat down. Feeling sorry for himself, he put his head in his hands and wept. Suddenly, he felt a warm wet lick on his hand. When he looked up, the dog had dropped the bone at his feet. It was the first act of kindness he’d known for a long time, and he and the dog became best friends. They lived in the wood, where they would gather food and eat by the fire at night. But the fire was their undoing because the local militia/police found the soldier by following the smoke. They arrested him, and when the dog tried to stop them, the militia hit the dog on the head with a stick, leaving him for dead.
The soldier was put in a jail cell, and the local militia sent word to the army that they had a deserter. Whilst waiting for the army to come and pick him up, the soldier heard a fracas in the street. People were screaming and running away. When he asked the guards what was going on, they told him that the Dragon had come into West Clandon and was blocking the road again. The Dragon stole their sheep and tried to eat them!
The soldier saw a chance to earn his way out of his predicament. He told the militia that in return for his freedom, he would rid the town of the Dragon. OK, they laughed. You can give it a go, but if you try to run away, we’ll catch you and you'll be in trouble.
The soldier was released from prison and went off to try and find the Dragon. He went walking amongst the fields, looking for signs, when suddenly a small hill rose up. It was the Dragon! He breathed his fire at the soldier and then launched an attack. The soldier fought bravely, but the Dragon was strong, and his scales were impenetrable. The soldier started to tire, and it looked like he would lose the fight. Just as the Dragon was preparing to deliver his final blow, the air was filled with a blood-curdling howl. From nowhere, the dog leapt to the man’s rescue, leaping onto the neck of the Dragon. Together, the soldier and the dog fought the Dragon and slew him.
The militia and the villagers were as good as their word. The soldier was pardoned and settled in West Clandon where he spent the rest of his days….Happily Ever After!
WE BECOME STORY HUNTERS
I told the story to my kids, aged 7 and 10, and they loved it. I said to them West Clandon was just down the road, there was a dragon there, and we could go and find it. The 7-year old screamed! I showed her a picture of it, and she agreed to go.
And here it is—the Dragon of West Clandon.
The story of the Dragon first appeared in print in 1796. This Dragon is much younger, having been originally cut in 1977 to commemorate Elizabeth IIs Silver Jubilee. Made of compacted chalk, the Dragon was created by Francis Robinson and Donald Papworth from a design by Donald’s brother, David.
The Dragon disappears under the undergrowth and is periodically re-exposed by a group of village volunteers. I must say, he looked on fine form when we went to see him, so they’re doing a great job.
We first saw the Dragon as we drove past in our car. You can only see him when you’re heading along the A426 towards Guildford, so we looped the short stretch of road several times to get the effect. I then parked up, and we walked along the road to go and get a closer look. It’s a busy road, and we weren’t able to step back far enough to take in the whole thing, but it was still worth it. The path to the Dragon is grassy rather than pavement, but it’s quite wide. Care needs to be taken, of course, as the road is a dual carriageway. If you’re going to go and see the Dragon, I’d recommend a drive-by first so that you can decide whether or not your kids will cope with the road.
ST PETER & ST PAUL CHURCH
After we’d taken plenty of selfies with the Dragon…
… we headed back into West Clandon as I’d read there was a plaque in the local church to commemorate the story. We were lucky enough to find the church open (I hadn’t checked beforehand!) It is a picture-perfect beautiful with some nice features and lovely surrounds. Above one of the doors inside, we came upon the wood carving to commemorate the story of the Dragon.
We also came across dole shelves, which held twenty small loaves of bread. Known as The Bone dole after John and Elizabeth Bone, the family would put twenty loaves of bread on the shelf twice a year for the poor in the parish.
Finally, we took a stroll around the graveyard, reading the names and dates and coming up with stories of our own about their lives. The kids were particularly moved by the grave of Allen Palmer who died at just 7 months old. We also read the names on the war memorial, remarking on just how many names were on there given the size of the village.
After a brilliant afternoon of culture and conversation, we bundled back in the car and made our way home The whole trip took about three hours and was a fantastic way to while away an afternoon. I’d recommend it as a short trip, or you can attach them to a bigger day out, such as a trip to Clandon Park once it reopens.
WOULD YOU LIKE TO SEE THIS STORY PERFORMED?
Would you like to see Story Storks take on this story and bring it to life for with our interactive storytelling? I qui