The Legend of the Laidley Worm Bamburgh

Bamburgh Castle
Bamburgh Castle © David Simpson

The Legend of the Laidley Worm

Bamburgh is the setting for one of the curious ‘worm’ legends, which seem to be a regular feature of North Eastern folklore. The story is that in ancient times the jealous step mother of a Bamburgh princess turned the young maiden into a laidley (or loathsome) ‘worm’, who began to terrorise the neighbourhood of Bamburgh and Budle Bay.

For seven miles east and seven miles west,
And seven miles north and south,
No blade of grass or corn would grow,
So deadly was her mouth.
The milk of seven streakit cows,
It was their cost to keep;
They brought her daily which she drank
Before she went to sleep.
At this day might be seen the cave
Where she lay faulded up,
And the trough o’ stone the very same
Out of which she supped.

The princess’s brother hearing of the activities of this terrible beast, returned to England from business abroad (in the expected tradition) to deal with the serpent. The creature greeted the prince’s ship at Budle Bay near Bamburgh with the following well chosen verses.

O’ quit thy sword, unbend thy brow,
And give me kisses three;
For though I am a poisonous worm,
No hurt I’ll do to thee.
O’ quit thy sword, unbend thy brow,
And give me kisses three;
If I’m not won here the sun goes down,
Won shall I never be.
So, He quitted his sword and smoothed his brow,
And gave her kisses three;
She crept into the hole a worm,
And came out a fayre lady.

When the prince confronted the stepmother, to whose magic powers he was immune, she desperately pleaded for his forgiveness. Showing no mercy the prince responded with revengeful anger and turned his stepmother into a loathsome toad. The ballad concludes;

And on the land’s near Ida’s towers,
A loathsome toad she crawls;
And venom spits on everything
which cometh to the walls.

The Ballad of the ‘Laidley Worm’ has similarities with the Lambton and Sockburn Worm legends of County Durham, but is probably not of their antiquity. It is said to have been written by a Cheviot mountain bard in the thirteenth century, but evidence suggests that the true author was a vicar of Norham on Tweed, many centuries later.

BamburghLindisfarne Farne Islands

Warkworth, Amble and Druridge Bay

Alnmouth, Boulmer, Craster and Dunstanburgh


A Map of the Worm Legends of North East England. Poster Print.


North East England History and Culture