The is a legend that is quite hard to track down, I remember parts of it from my childhood but to be honest it was sketchy. My only distinct memory of it was that I remember begging for a Wolf-Hound – unsurprisingly my begging fell on deaf ears!
Anyway, Southery is a small but pretty little village roughly 11 miles from Ely and right on the Cambridge / Norfolk border. Now, this little village with less than 1,500 residents was once surrounded by water when Southery was still an island cut off by Southery Fen. Those that lived in Southery at this time were a rough bunch, they lived in huts thatched with reeds and made their livings by catching eels and robbing small boats that travelled the Wissey or Little Ouse. Did I mention that they were wild? In fact a number of monks that had come from Ely to build a church were occasionally found robbed with their throats slit.
The Abbot of Ely was highly unimpressed with this lawlessness and sent armed men tosearch for those that were responsible for the murders and to bring them to justice. Unfortunately though, the Abbots men were searching in swamps and their task was proving to be near impossible, so he turned to the Baron of Northwold, Norfolk for help. The Baron was immediately interested as he himself had lost men to the men in the Fens and so he sent a pack of wolf-hounds to guard the searching men.
This was all good in theory however when the wolf-hounds arrived they refused to eat the fish given to them by the monks, this was quite a problem as the monks had no other food for the animals. So, they did what hungry animals do when they have no food – the hounds went hunting. In the beginning they fed off the dead monks and soldiers that were lying in the fens, but once they had eaten their way through those dead bodies they turned their attention on the living. The people of Southery fled, they abandoned their village and moved to the Fens, the monks devastated returned to Ely.
It was not long until the hounds came into strife once more, food become scarce and they then fell on each other until there was only one left, the most fierce of all the wolf-hounds, a female that was said to be as big as a donkey. This last beast became hungrier and weaker until a Fenman found her dying of hunger in the reeds. He ran to get some friends as there was no way that he could carry her alone and he had the animal brought to his own hut. His wife who took pity on the poor creature and fed the hound along with her own child until she was big and strong once more and in the process the wolf-hound had become tame.
The villagers came back to their homes now that there was no more threat and the wolf-hound became friendly to all of them, however she would not take to the monks at all. One day the villagers noticed that she had disappeared and could not be found at all, they despaired that the monks had killed her. To their relief a week later the wolf-hound returned to the villagers. It didn’t take them long to notice that her paws were torn and bloody as if she had travelled much further than the soft soils of the Fens. What was stranger still was that she had returned pregnant.
The Fensman’s wife noticed that one day the wolf-hound walked out from the corner of their little hut carrying something in its mouth, she had a puppy that was neither wolf nor dog – it was something strangely in between. The creature grew up it is said to be almost as big as an ox, but like his mother seemed to like the villagers of Southery and when his mother died he took on the role of provider for the villagers, bring home a sheep or often a stag.
Finally the monks finished building the church and the Bishop of Elmham, Norfolk came to open the newly built church. He rode in with a troop of armed men in quite a fanfare, one of the soldiers who had been one of the original armed men sent by the Abbot and witnessed the destruction wrought on the village by the original wolf-hounds, saw the large animal with the villagers. The frightened man-made to attack the hound but before he could get close enough the creature was at his throat and began to devour him in front of the horrified crowd. The soldiers with the Bishop finally roused themselves from the most terrifying scene and let loose a shower of arrows at the dog, which now injured crept off to the Fens to die.
This story took place hundreds of years ago, but it is said that you are out and about in the Fens at night around the 29th May, the date of the Southery Feast. You will hear the terrible howls of the wolf-hound as he pads along the soft ground, but know that you will die “within a twelvemonth”.
If you happen to go to the pretty little village today (don’t worry you will get a much more warm welcome from the locals than all those years ago!) make sure that you go to the now ruined church, go to the charnel house and look at the cornerstones and you will see where the wolf-dog has gnawed. It is said that he comes back every year on the night of the Feast, you will also notice that on that night the men of Southery still at the pub will walk the long way home to avoid walking past the church at midnight on the night of the Southery Feast!