Many tales have never come so close to legend in Dundee as the tale of the Nine Maidens. Whether it be fact, faked, or some half-baked version of the truth, we will never really know. All we do know is that the legend of the nine maidens is great , and has inspired a public house and a school in Dundee to commemorate the tale.
The first clue to the validity of this tale lies in the fact we don’t really know where the story originated or when it was first told, but here it is as we know it:
A man lived with his nine, reportedly beautiful daughters on farmland known as Pitempton. After a particularly busy day tending the land on what had turned out to be a very warm day, the farmer felt that his insatiable thirst could only be quenched by a pail of water fetched from a nearby well. Having been so tired from his day of labouring, he entrusted his eldest daughter to the task.
As time passed, and with no sign of his eldest daughter, the father sent the second-eldest daughter to find out what was taking so long and prolonging his thirst. Once again, when his second daughter did not return, he sent the third-eldest daughter. When she did not return either, he sent the next in line. This continued until he had sent each and every one of the sisters after each other, despite nobody ever returning. Eventually, the farmer decided he should go and see what had delayed his daughters. By this time, he must have been so thirsty and tired that the walk to the well would have taken up most of his energy.
Imagine his horror, when, upon reaching the well, he saw the nine slain bodies of his lovely daughters strewn over the ground by the well! Coiled around their battered bodies, basking in the blood of the innocent victims, the farmer was aghast to see a huge serpent-like dragon. Fearing he was about to become the tenth kill of the evening for the furious beast, the farmer fled screaming and shouting.
Disturbed by all the commotion, a crowd of neighbours had gathered as the farmer calmed down enough to tell them what he had seen near the well by Pitempton. Although they were scared, the people were also maddened by the deaths of the nine maidens, so they armed themselves with anything they could use as a weapon and set off to slay the dragon. It is said that Martin, a man of “brave heart and tremendous skill and courage” led the angry crowd back to the well to engage the beast. Martin is also referenced as the lover of one of the felled beauties, which may explain his heroism in the forthcoming battle.
Perhaps sensing that it was no match for the baying mob, the dragon attempted to make it’s escape, over the Dighty and into the lands beyond. Martin, however, had other ideas, and caught up with it. Using only a wooden club, he beat the dragon, eventually slaying it as the crowd yelled “strike, Martin”. Incidentally, the place where the dragon was defeated was named “Strike-Martin”, and was subsequently named Strathmartine – a name which has been used as titles for streets and buildings in the city.
In reality, there may not be much credence to the legend of the nine maidens, but it lives on in the city’s culture and will continue to do so for generations to come. If you have ever wondered why we have a green dragon in the high street…now you know!
Topmost images courtesy of http://www.lyndseyphilipphotography.com/
– DD Tours operates walking tours in Dundee city, covering dark local history such as wars, battles, murders, diseases, riots, disasters and executions. Walk with us for an unforgettable storytelling experience.