Royal St. George
in Royal Berkshire
Though King Arthur favoured Camelot and Caerleon as his chief seats of power, his father King Uther Pendragon, Emperor of Britain, had always loved Uffington above all his palaces. It was from Uffington Castle that Merlin had turned a flock of sheep, grazing below Kingstone Down, to stone; and it was here that the Old Emperor died. While Merlin whisked little Arthur away to be raised in safety, King Uther was buried under a large mound, a small hill even, near his favourite home. The country became split once more into numerous minor kingdoms, while Arthurís return was awaited; but it would be many years before he would slip the sword from the stone and re-unite his Empire.
Some of the sub-kingdoms flourished during this period of independence, but that centred around the Berkshire Downs was not so fortunate. The local King who had taken power in Uffington after Utherís death had thought that the Emperorís tomb would bring wealth to his kingdom through the visits of pilgrims; but the monument was nothing but a blight on his people. King Uther, as befitted a mighty Emperor, had been buried along with many of his finest treasures. Unfortunately, the smell of so much gold and silver had attracted the attention of a ferocious dragon. It had flown straight to King Utherís tomb and taken up residence as guardian of the Imperial treasure.
When the beast had first arrived, it had ravaged the countryside to satisfy its appetite. So the King of Uffington had ordered that the dragon be fed each day with a plump sheep from one of the local farms. This was but a temporary solution however, for it was not long before all the sheep in the kingdom had been eaten. These were followed by the cattle, and then all other animals available. Eventually the King had had to make a very difficult decision. He knew he had to try and keep the majority of his subjects safe. So he decreed that lots should be drawn every morning and whoeverís name was pulled from the hat would have to sacrifice themselves to save the rest!
Sad was the day when the first child of Uffington had been set forth, tied to the stake, for the dragon to devour; but the torment brought to the townsmen had not ended there. All names returned to the hat each day. They could never be sure whose name would next be drawn; and so it continued. Gloom and despair descended on the Kingdom: You could feel the anxiety in the air as you walked down the streets. The King of Uffington felt so guilty that not even his own family were exempt. And then the unthinkable happened. The name of the Kingís own daughter, Princess Sadra, was pulled from the hat.
All the Kingdom mourned on the morning that the young princess was brought to the Dragon's Hill. The beast lay asleep. She was tied up where it could see her when it awoke. Then the people of Uffington withdrew. They did not wish to witness the poor girl's fate.
Passing through the Kingdom at this time was a swarthy young knight looking for adventure. He had set out from his home, near what is now Coventry, to try and make a name for himself. He was an accomplished soldier who had served the Old Emperor, but with the Imperial Guard disbanded, he needed to find a new path in life. He had sought excitement throughout the sub-kingdoms of the Midlands and Southern Britain: at Glastonbury (Som) he had obtained a miraculous sword. Now he was riding the Downs. It was just as he rounded a bluff down in the valley below Uffington Castle that he heard a piercing scream, and knew his time had come. His horse, named Bayard, stamped at the sound. Looking up, the knight could just make out the tiny figure of a beautiful maiden frozen with terror at the approach of a huge monster!
The princess had kept her composure remarkably well up until that moment. The dragon had woken and smelt her presence. She could bear the situation no longer, and terror overtook her. The dragon's nostrils were smoking now as it crept forward; but down in the valley, the young knight was spurring on his horse up the steep hillside. The dragon stepped forward again. Its foul breath engulfed Princess Sadra and she passed out at the smell. Our hero reached the top of the escarpment just as the dragonís jaws opened wide to encase the girl. He hurled his spear straight at the dragonís exposed hindquarters. The beast let out a huge cry of pain, and swirled round to face its attacker. Sword drawn, the knight charged into the fray. He had never faced so terrible a foe, but had no time to question the wisdom of his actions. Sword clashed upon scale and tooth. Flame and Claw clashed against shield. The knight was unseated now, but he fought valiantly on. The noise was so horrendous that curiosity enticed the court out onto the castle ramparts to see what was going on. They couldnít believe their eyes. The knight was attacking the dragon with the ferocity of a wild animal, dodging its fiery breath with amazing agility. Forward he thrust with his sword again and again, until suddenly it slid smoothly between the beastís scales and embedded itself deep in its heart. The acidic blood poured from the wound onto the grassy mound, burning through to the glimmering chalk below. The howls of anguish from the dying animal resounded around the valley. Its body thrashed wildly and then was silent.
The people of Uffington flooded from the Castle, overjoyed to see their oppressor finally vanquished. They took up their saviour and carried him high above their heads through the open castle gates. Cheers hailed his entry. The King of Uffington greeted the knight warmly and with gratitude. He had not only saved his people, but his own daughter as well; and the girl seemed to have taken an instant shine to her hero. So the King declared that as reward for his gallantry, the knight had won the princessí hand in marriage, and would one day inherit the throne. The people cheered. As a further honour to the knight, it was decided to carve a great monumental dragon into the chalk hillside next to the castle, while the beast itself was buried with King Uther under the Dragonís Hill. All would now remember his miraculous deed forever; and the King turned to the burly young knight and exclaimed, "I havenít asked you lad, what is your name?"
"George," said the knight.
|© Nash Ford Publishing 2001. All Rights Reserved. This location is now administered by Oxfordshire County Council.