In pre-Christian Britain there was a considerable belief in the power of the ‘treacle’ or healing well. Treacle is a word which in itself originally meant ‘healing’. Believing in water as the source of life, the people revered their wells as holy; a practise which continued rather than died out when Christianity came to these isles.
Dotted all around Britain you will find many treacle wells, in excavated settlements, ancient buildings and even located near churches. One such notable example is St. Margaret’s Well at Binsey in Oxfordshire, which has been a site of pilgrimage for many hundreds of years. Originally a pagan well, the well at St. Margaret’s came to be famed for its powers of fertility. Henry VIII and his wife Catherine of Aragon were said to have visited it when hoping for a male heir.
Northumberland is no exception. Indeed, there is a tale which finds its origin near the town of Longwitton which describes local belief in not one but three treacle wells, found deep within the woods.
Among the most famous tales from the north-east is this one, about the time when the dramatic landscape surrounding Bamburgh Castle was terrorised by a fearsome dragon.
The castle we see today (which is by the way, always worth a visit) was built by the Normans in the 12th century. However, it is said that this highly defensible spot on the Northumberland coast has been inhabited since at least the 5th century; home to native Britons known as the Din Gaurie. This was a time of suspicions, of belief in witchcraft and magic; when the people truly believed in the fantastical creatures which so colour the many tales they passed on to us.
If there’s an animal the Chinese venerate more than any other, it’s the dragon. In ancient China, only the Emperor could wear such an emblem of supreme power; it was a capital offence even to be found with the symbol of a dragon on your person. In western folklore the dragon is a frightening and dangerous monster; intelligent, but cruel and destructive. In China however, the dragon is a noble creature of the heavens and even kind to humans; as this popular folk tale will tell.
A long time ago when there were no rivers but only the vast eastern sea, where dwelled four great dragons; the Long Dragon, the Yellow Dragon, the Black Dragon and the Pearl Dragon. The dragons were boisterous creatures and the Jade Emperor had long bade them out of his court. They loved to play among the clouds and paid little attention to the people living far below them, until one day they saw a spiral of fragrant smoke emerge from between the clouds.