My grandmother was born in Sussex in 1903 and lived one hundred years. She was happiest in the countryside, working on farms, raising her children, through World War 2 on a smallholding. When she was a child the motor car was a rare sight. Horses were the normal form of transport, at least for those that could afford them. Grandma walked everywhere.
In the mornings, when in service at age 13, she would walk a half mile through the woods to the end of the lane where she changed over an empty milk churn for a full one. She remembers being terrified in case there were wolves roaming in the dark spaces beneath the trees.
Her real fear was that a dragon might rise up out of its flooded lair and eat her. Beside the woodland track there lay a ‘knucker’s hole’, a pool of water said to be so deep as to have no bottom to it. It would always have a shroud of mist across its surface, even at midsummer, the water was so cold.
Given the evidence, there are so many of these ‘knucker’s holes’ in this part of the county of Sussex, at some point there must have been an epidemic of dragons, roaming the forests of the Weald, eating children wherever they found them.
My grandmother warned me to stay away from these bottomless pits. The knucker had dug itself a deep burrow and filled it with water so as not to be disturbed by people. The ponds were too small to hold fish worth eating and were usually bounded by a ring of earth crowded with reeds, so planted such that the dragon would have difficulty climbing out of its lair.
There were plenty of other ponds for swimming or fishing. These were all perfectly safe mill ponds, nice and shallow, full of friendly carp and water lilys. One Winter, nearly a hundred years ago, one of the mill ponds froze over, providing an opportunity for the local lord of the manor to show off, driving a coach and eight horses across the lake to win a bet.
The knucker’s holes would freeze over too, sealing in the dragons, giving respite to those concerned they might be eaten while going about their business. In the end my grandmother lived a hundred years and never once saw a Sussex dragon, although she claimed to have out-run one. If you hear a knucker dragging itself out of its hole you would do well to run too, and never look back.