The story of the Mordiford wyvern is one of the most detailed dragon legends in Britain; it is also the one with the most variations, having no less than five.
A young girl called Maud was walking through the woods when she found a baby wyvern, bright green and no bigger than a cucumber. She took it home to keep as a pet, feeding it on milk.
It grew very fast and began to eat chickens, then sheep, before graduating onto cows. Finally, as an adult, it turned into a man-eater, but it remained friendly toward Maud. It made its lair on a ridge in Hauge Wood and always followed the same path, known to this day as Serpent Path, to the river.
Locals now took steps to end its reign of terror. This is where the story diverges. In one variation, the hero is a criminal under sentence of death. He is promised his life and freedom if he kills the wyvern.
He is lucky enough to find it asleep in its den and kills it, bringing the tongue back for proof.
Another version says the same hero hid in a cider barrel by the wyvern’s drinking place, the confluence of the rivers Wye and Lugg. He shot it through the barrel’s bung hole. Another, more exciting, twist is that the barrel was covered with hooks and blades.
The wyvern, spotting the man inside, coiled around the barrel but mortally wounded itself on the spikes.
In all of the first three of these variations, the hero dies from the wyvern’s breath. Yet another ending has the wyvern gorging itself on a drowned ox, and then being surrounded and killed by villagers while it slept off its meal.
The final story says that the hero was not a criminal but a member of a distinguished local family, the Garstons.
The legend had such a hold over the locals that in 1875 the rector found two of his parishioners, a pair of old women, trying to drown some newts in the belief that they would grow into wyverns.