Hello everyone, and welcome to LukeLore. A quick deep dive into a folklore topic, where I share some of the stories from around the world that have piqued my interest.
This episode we’re back to one of my favourite topics. Or least favourite… The water: It has stuff in it that wants to kill you!
We’re going on a whirlwind tour of the British Isles where I point at some interesting places and I say: “See that? That wet bit? Don’t go in it.”
From there, it’s on you what happens next, but I’ll be powerwalking away in search of hot drinks and snacks – well away to safety.
SECTION BREAK – A Treasure That’s Staying Lost
Sometimes a treasure will lie for the taking, should you be brave enough. Other times, there are good reasons it will never be recovered. This is an Aberdeenshire tale that spans generations.
Gight Castle now sits in ruins, and depending on who you talk to this is a marked improvement. Researching the area I found this lovely quote of Clan and castle: “It was always said that the Gordons walked with the devil. Gight Castle was a bleak, miserable place that had been built in the 16th Century and had been the target of whispering of witchcraft and ill-doing ever since.”
So, it was right off to a great start from the foundations being laid.
As a part of its storied, some would say “cursed”, history the castle came under siege from Covenanters in 1644, and the 7th Laird of Gight responded to this by fleeing with an important stop at a deep pool of water on the castle grounds, throwing all his gold into it with the dual purpose of lighter fleeing followed by the later hope of recovering it all. The pool then got its name from the trees beside it and the new function of holding gold:
This deep pool that’s a part of the River Ythan almost immediately became known for both the allure of riches, and the warning of being pretty bloody cursed. The hazard signs are there, this isn’t a particularly still pool. It’s an angry one that roils below the surface, threatening to sweep up the unwary or foolish for a one way trip to visit the lightless bottom.
Hundreds of years back, two feuding Clans thought that Hagberry Pot would be a novel way to settle their bad blood. One Clan challenged the other to go retrieve the gold, leading to the challenge being accepted as a way to bury the hatchet while also having a nice pile of riches as a prize for the victory. So the head of the Clan and his sons go with observers from both sides in search of glory. The oldest son of the head of the Clan stripped down and braved the temperamental waters. He was young, he was strong, and he was a great swimmer; he easily mastered the river, and the river would respond to this in a way no one expected. The water churned, dipped, and parted to reveal a submerged stone staircase that appeared to lead towards the Castle Gight. The oldest brother was encouraged to continue, and waded along the revealed passageway. He was gone for about ten minutes when he came crashing back out of the passageway and scrambling out of the pool. He’d gone white as a sheet, being covered in small cuts and scratches. It took a while of warming him up before he would talk. His father, eyes on the prize, asked him if he saw the treasure, and his son answered that yes: the treasure was down there… But he wouldn’t answer why he didn’t bring any of it up with him, and nothing could convince him to go back down. No promise, bribe, or threat could get him back in Hagberry Pot even though the weird passage remained revealed.
His younger brother stripped down to go next, reassuring his father that he was the braver of the two anyway – he told everyone there to just wait for him. He would claim the treasure and win the challenge! Ten minutes passed once more, and he shot out of there even faster than his older brother. In a worse state, too, his turned pale skin badly bruised along with the same mass of cuts across him. Pressed to answer what was down there, why both brothers fled, he screamed that a devil guarded Hagberry Pot. The very Devil himself!
The rival Clan took this as a cue to mock the sons of their rivals, and said they would go where the weaker Clan could not. The only son of their leader stepped up to the challenge, better known as a piper than a fighter he proposed that he would go down there with his pipes and everyone could follow along the passage aboveground. For as long as everything was fine, he would play a marching song. Then if anything went wrong, devil or otherwise, he would play a frantic warning and head back. So he did go, and began playing his marching tune for those above. So did members of both Clan follow along for about five minutes, the point the rival Clan’s sons would have turned back, and then the piping suddenly stopped. No warning played, there was just silence. Everyone rushed back to help him back out, only this lone son did not return from the passage. People waited, and began to suggest a rescue party, but to everyone’s horror the strange current that revealed the passage vanished. Any attempt to find it underwater failed, and the piper was lost.
His Clan didn’t give up on him, and I like to think the rival Clan put aside their differences and tried to help too, but as much as they tried returning the passage just seemed to be gone. So the story goes that from that day all the way through to now if you are out at night between Hagberry Pot and the ruins of Castle Gight there’s a chance you can hear sad, lonely piping being played from below the ground…
This wasn’t the only, or arguably even the worst, attempt to retrieve the gold at Hagberry Pot.
Whatever devil may be down there laid a very early claim to that gold. Right after it was thrown away, the Covenanters who cleared the Castle decided they would quite like that fortune and the new Laird sent a diver into the Pot. It didn’t take too long before the diver returned, empty handed and white as a sheet, claiming he had seen the devil and barely escaped with his life. The new Laird wanted that gold, and the poor diver was the only person around capable of the retrieval job, so refusing to go back did not go well for him. The new owners settled right into their new castle with a robust round of torturing the diver until he broke, and declared “I’d rather face the diel himself, than face the laird of Gight.” Pecking order of fear established, the diver went back in the pool under the watchful eye of the Laird and his men.
The Devil himself, or whatever was down there, had decided who the rightful owner of that gold was, and it sure as hell wasn’t any human no matter how greedy, cruel, or desperate they were. The diver soon resurfaced. In four parts, crudely quartered with brute force alone, his heart still beating its last as the chunks bobbed along the surface. Its point was well made, and Hagberry Pot was named with fair warning to stay away for your own good.
SECTION BREAK – What Does Pride Come Before, Again?
Okay, before we get to the star story of the episode, a quick trip to the woods where the purifying nature of water is part of a morality lesson. This is a story from Lancashire called “Muckity Meg”.
We’ve had our fair share of Fair Folk encounters on this show, I will use the F word only twice here; once to describe a location and just now for any new listeners (who I then urge to go find older episodes on the topic for a full explainer): Fairies can take issue with a number of things, one of which is people being too full of themselves. The Sidhe appreciate talent, sometimes in very worrying ways, but if you’re too smug for your own good you stand a fair chance of catching their ire. Annoying the Good Neighbours is never a good idea, and there are ways to do it that are your own damn fault, this is a morality tale of someone doing just that.
There was once a young woman called Meg, who was a poor girl from a poor family that had a small farm to work just to get by. Meg knew she was pretty, and as such thought she was better than everyone and everything else around her. Blessed with shining sapphire blue eyes and long hair of glorious natural golden curls, while she looked good there was nothing else to her. She was lazy, and had a superiority complex. She would stick her nose up in the air as she passed sheep, she refused to milk the cows, and wouldn’t go anywhere near the pig sty insisting that pigs stink (not that she would know, as she would actually have to do any chores to get close enough to tell).
One day, carrying out her usual routine of not bothering to do any work around the farm at all, Meg was daydreaming about how she should be married to a rich merchant because of how pretty she was when she stumbled across a wondrous bower in the woods. She had followed along a babbling brook on her travels to discover a place the trees were woven into a beautiful shaded spot, with silks of all colours mixed among the branches that were spun into this clearing which was pretty obviously a fairy bower, but Meg had neglected all intellect and common sense: So sure she was that her good looks made her special and deserving of greatness without effort. As such, when she saw a stunning dress made of the finest golden cloth, Meg was so oblivious she put it on without hesitation.
This turned out to be about as good an idea as it sounds to anyone with an inkling of self preservation instinct.
The Fair Folk watched Meg dancing around on their ground, in their dress, and decide to teach her a lesson. From all around her fair voices sang:
“Muckety Meg she wears a fine gown,
She stole it, she stole it from Down a Down,
She never paid a filthy penny,
And why? Because she hasn’t any.”
At this first refrain Meg found herself stuck fast to the ground, feet glued fast and utterly immovable. This surprised her. What she saw when she looked down horrified her. Dirt from all the animals she ignored on the farm was smeared all over the dress, and all under it. All over her. Cow pat, sheep droppings, and pig filth.
The Seelie Wights found her horror hilarious, dancing out of sight behind the trees and laughing in delight. The commotion called the farm animals Meg held in contempt to witness the humiliation, and as they all gathered around they joined the song of the sidhe with human voices:
“Nobody likes a grimy lass,
Nobody wants a stinking girl,
Nobody needs a dirty beast,
Go away and roll in the muck.”
Meg stood transfixed and terrified, beginning to panic. Suddenly all around her now where the local villagers, people she would normally look down upon all pointing and laughing at her, joining in the singing too:
“Nobody likes a grimy lass,
Nobody wants a stinking girl,
Nobody needs a dirty beast,
Go away and roll in the muck.”
A gentlemen in fine clothes all of green stood out to Meg, out of place among the revelling villagers and animals, standing still observing her. She begged him for help, and he tells her he will help her for a price. He will take her bright blue eyes, and replace them with dull green ones. In desperation, she accepts, and while it didn’t hurt when it was done tears of loss pouring from her new eyes cut rivulets in the animal muck smeared across her face. He tells her that while beautiful, the blue eyes are not enough, so she offers him the golden dress. The gentlemen in resplendent green tuts and shakes his head, chastising her that she stole that dress, and now because of her it’s all covered in mess. He wants real gold instead. Meg is confused at this, the gentleman can have all of it but she doesn’t have any. With a smile the gentleman is suddenly holding shears, and he takes all of her hair while she wails in distress. He leaves her with only the shortest of curls close to her head and takes the rest, then tells her to go wash herself in the river.
Meg finds she is free to move again, and flees to the nearby river that led her here to throw herself in the rushing current. It scours her clean, and she finds she likes the feel of the water cleansing the muck away. She stays there for a while, taking some time to realise everyone has disappeared. So, too, had the golden dress. She was back to her usual rags, but they were clean now and in a final bit of magic emerged from the river dry. With fresh resolve, she hurried home to do all the chores she used to avoid. She would later meet a farmer’s boy who had just moved into the area, who complemented her on how pretty she was even without her long golden locks and her blue sapphire eyes lost to the Otherworld. It’s hard to say if she lived happily ever after, but she was ready to work for it.
SECTION BREAK – The Lyminster Knucker
Well, colour me Knuckerless, for I didn’t actually know this one and it’s fun to say to boot! So, a Knucker is a kind of water dragon in some places. Specifically places that had some Norse residents over the years as it appears to come from the Old Norse word nikyr, which means “Water Monster”. This doubly caught my attention as this could also be a root word leading into one of my old favourites the Nuckelavee, the weird skinless sort-of- centaur that emerges from the ocean to find humans for a good killing. For now, however, we’re investigating a water dragon.
So, let us over to Lyminster, a quaint English village in West Sussex. To this day it has less than 500 people living there, and if legends are to be believed there’s an alarming reason the place never really took off. Not far from the church of Lyminster lies the Knuckerhole, a modestly sized hole in the world that is fed by underwater springs and as such is rumoured to be bottomless. Go deeper, and you just find more and more underground sources feeding it.
So, we have a Knuckerhole. Where, then, is the Knucker?
Fortunately, and/or hopefully, the Knucker of Lyminster is long dealt with. This bottomless Knuckerhole was apparently prime real estate for a Knucker, which seems to go off like an eldritch abomination goldfish with the space for unlimited growth. And I don’t mean “eldritch abomination” to simply mean “bit big, innit?” While content in its bottomless hole for a while apparently this particular Knucker soon grew out across the land in an unnatural spiralling mess until parts of its red scaly body lay sprawled across every field and hedgerow of the small town. Maybe I just have an overactive imagination, but this gives me disturbing images of a misshapen mass creeping across the countryside like a fungus. A truly nightmarish unstoppable growth of scales spreading like the Martian Red Weed from War of the Worlds.
You may by now have an accurate idea of this not being a particularly nice dragon. The Knucker is supposed to have swallowed up every last animal in the area to feed this explosive mycelium growth of gluttonous reptilian monster, it then moved on to picking off the townsfolk along with any unwary travellers. This immense abomination was no pursuit predator, but unnatural size has its advantages. For all it bizarrely uncoiled across the countryside from its water hole, it was no hydra. It still had a single head. But it could feel all of Lyminster, it was entwined throughout the land after all, and it had a strange oversized tongue to go with the rest of its weird body. Once it noticed a traveller too close, it would lick them up off of the road. Either catching people up like a toad a juicy looking fly, or else just licking along the road scooping a screaming victim up to a sloppy doom. I’m not actually sure which of those sounds worse, and this Knucker was so strange it may have been able to do either depending on mood or angle of attack. In some stories it ate up every maiden in the area, this being a favoured food, and eliminating an entire generation or three of one gender would explain why the village ended up so small even to this day.
So then we come to the tale needing a dragonslayer, as an endlessly growing aquatic wyrm with insatiable hunger isn’t the kind of situation that will resolve itself. Some of the stories go that a knight answered the call and killed the Knucker, but I only found very simple versions of that tale, and it feels like a default answer someone pressed for the story would give if they didn’t know the answer. “Dunno, I guess a knight did it?”
No, the other stories give us full details as well as a name. A hero of legend for the ages, who will live on in myth for all time.
The man, known as…
Not blessed with the most heroic of names, Jim still got the job done. And this was no groundshaking demigod out for a titanic fistfight, this was my favourite kind of folk hero! Jim Puttock had a cunning yet brilliant plan to take down the ravenous sprawl spreading out from the Knuckerhole. For whatever reason, no one else was answering the call. Be it the remote area, a strong enough sense of self-preservation to not mess with this monstrosity, or else it just gobbled up anyone brave enough to volunteer for old fashioned dragonslayer duty that REALLY wasn’t going to work in this case; so far the calls for help had been in vain.
Jim Puttock, however, had a plan.
He turned up with a horse pulling the widest cart he could find, and made a demand of the village. He wanted every cauldron gathered up and set outside in the village square above flames to heat, then he needed all the supplies everyone could gather up. He needed all their flour, of any crops. All their honey, every last piece of fruit (especially if it’s preserved), he needed everything sweet. Then he needed all the milk, cream, and butter they could find. The villagers pushed back against these demands, Jim the wannabe dragonslayer was going to starve what people they had left doing this, and what did he even think this could do to the dread Knucker? Everything he split evenly across all the cauldrons to bubble away, and he then left the village on an errand telling the locals to stir his mixtures while he was away.
Stage two of Jim’s plan was a nearby wise woman. He needed her advice as well as her expertise for the rest of his ingredients. He explained what he was up to, and the wise woman laughed, both at Jim clearing the village out of ingredients and how the next part of his plan was surely going to clear her out of supplies too. So she took a basket and filled it with all kinds of things she warned Jim he needed to be very careful in handling along with washing his hands thoroughly when done; wormwood, wolfsbane, yew gogs, mistletoe, mushrooms both tiny and pointy as well as deceptively cheerful looking red ones with white dots. His secret ingredients in tow, Jim returns to his bubbling pots to add them and finish up. With the help of a big hollow ring of tree bark, Jim confuses the villagers even further by building upon the wide cart the biggest pudding anyone had ever seen!
Just the cooking process alone was an integral part of the plan. Being done outside, the sweet smells of cooking had already been picked up by the insatiable Knucker, now Jim just needed to deliver the tricked out treat to the dragon. Finding the Knucker isn’t exactly difficult. Head towards the Lyminster church then north a ways, the red scales of the unnatural outgrowth will grow more frequent as you head in the right direction. There was no need for the Knucker to leap into ambush, Jim went right to the source calling out as he went.
I’m not sure if Jim expected this, or if he just wanted to get the great beast’s attention then got lucky in an unexpected way, but the dragon could talk. Calling out to it as he approached that he had a great pudding for it, the dragon answered. Hungry, yet curious, it asked Jim what the delicious smell was, and Jim explained the concept of pudding. It was a nice filling sweet treat, and look! Jim had prepared a giant sized one especially for the dragon. The dragon did indeed like the sound of this and licked up the pudding cart, horse and all, almost including Jim – who had to leap from the cart and then cling on to an old elm tree for dear life. The pudding pleased the dragon who, still hungry, turned to Jim as the next course. This plan would need a little time to work yet, so Jim bargained for his life. If the Knucker spared him, then he would go and make another giant pudding. Jim was no fair maiden anyway, and the biggest pudding England had ever seen had at least stuck to the sides of the insatiable maw for a moment, so the dragon agreed and settled back down.
Jim, now sadly horseless, ran back to the village to ask for one more thing. The biggest, sharpest axe the village had. Returning to the Knuckerhole with the axe behind his back, Jim found the dragon groaning and unable to raise its head up. The plan to poison it had worked fantastically! Very likely not enough to outright kill a creature that had grown to such an incredible size, but enough to at least lay it low awhile. The Knucker pleaded that it didn’t want a second pudding, it felt terrible after the first. Jim assured the prone monster that he did not have another pudding with him, then brought the axe around from his back, and got to work chopping…
In most endings Jim Puttock never touched pudding again, living to a ripe old age. Yet in some, there’s a funnier if somewhat more tragic end for the Dragonslayer known as Jim. Having killed the monster, it was everyone else’s round down the village pub! Jim downs the first mug of the local finest to the resounding cheers of the safe survivors celebrating their hero, and he then wipes the foam off of his mouth. Do you know what Jim did not do, despite the local wise woman expressly telling him to do so? Jim had not thoroughly washed his hands. Upon touching his lips, he promptly keeled over dead.
There are lessons to be had here about excesses of pudding, and the importance of washing your hands. Take good note, everyone!
I kind of want to go see the Knuckerhole now. Don’t be too surprised if a video surfaces of me loudly proclaiming “BEHOLD THE KNUCKERHOLE” in the near future. Plus, the church that’s near the worrying water feature has an incredible set of stained glass windows showing the Knucker! You can Google it readily enough, but I want to go see it for myself. It looks amazing!
Also, vowing it now so everyone can hold me to it, I will be whipping up a Knuckerkiller pudding at some point. None of the dangerous ingredients will be in it, but it’s a fun folklore theme to work with for a treat.
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