Travel to the Secrets of the Lake, Stour Valley with Liz Trenow
The Secrets of the Lake, Stour Valley and a dragon legend
Travel to the Secrets of the Lake, Stour Valley with Liz Trenow – In a quiet village in Colchester, there is a lake. There is also a church with dragons in the windows. A landscape fit for legends and an author who comes along and takes whispers, rumours and these legends and mixes them all up into a wonderful novel. Liz Trenow comes to The BookTrail today with sword raised, ready to take on the dragon legend and take us around the literary locations of her novel…
I was brought up in the beautiful Stour Valley – the landscape that inspired the artist John Constable – that forms the border between Suffolk and Essex, and one of my earliest memories is of visiting Wormingford Church, where a stained glass window dramatically depicts a crocodile being slain by a knight on a white charger.
There is something terrifying and yet rather comical about the long white legs dangling like strands of spaghetti from its scary teeth. The image fired my imagination and, aged about eight, I wrote a story about it. Decades later, the legend has become the inspiration for my eighth novel, The Secrets of the Lake.
The dragon that terrorised the villagers of Bures and Wormingford was first reported in the 1400s by a monk who thrillingly described: ‘an evil dragon of excessive length with a huge body, crested head, saw-like teeth and elongated tail. . . . arrows sprang from its ribs as if they were metal or hard stone’.
The theory is that this ‘dragon’ was in fact a crocodile given as a gift to King Richard I during the 12th century Crusades and originally kept at the Tower of London. It somehow escaped – perhaps from a travelling menagerie – and found its way to the River Stour, where it started stealing sheep and, so the legend goes, demanding to be fed virgins (hence those waving white legs) until the supply began to run out.
In desperation the villagers turned to a local knight, Sir George of Layer de la Haye. However, local lore has it that the crocodile/dragon lives on in Wormingford Mere to this day, and mysterious bubbles are seen when the beast is displeased. If it is disturbed, the story goes, evil things will happen. How could I resist this as a plot line?
The Secrets of the Lake is a coming of age story set in the 1950s, as the traumas of two world wars continued to reverberate through the community. My main character, Molly, is the vicar’s daughter. She is a new arrival in the village and so wants to make friends. However, she is also a carer for her Downs Syndrome brother.
Sixty years later, the police visit Molly and tell her that they have found human bones in a drained lake. The discovery prompts distressing memories of that long hot summer when Eli, a reclusive WW1 veteran who tends the graves in the churchyard, tells them about the dragon. When tragedy strikes, it seems the legend is coming true.
I am very grateful to the village of Wormingford (its very name refers to the dragon, or ‘worme’). This village’s stained glass window inspired a young author all those years ago…
Thank you to a local landowner who marked the millennium by cutting out a giant dragon – with wings and fire – into the hillside near Bures. You can see the earliest image of the dragon in a 14th century wall painting in nearby Wissington Church.
All these depictions make for a wonderful ‘dragon trail’ by taking a few short diversions from the Stour Valley Path. Sadly you can only glimpse the Mere through fences, as it is owned by an angling society. And don’t expect to find the real Wormingford in my novel. Most of the characters and events in the novel are pure fiction!
Find out more about the dragon legend: www.bures-online.co.uk
The Stour Valley path – www.dedhamvalestourvalley.org
Many thanks to Liz for taking the time to talk about her novel and what inspired it.