Archives For Legends

Cornish Myths and Legends

Gustav Dore 1868 Illustration from 'Idylls of the King'

Gustav Dore 1868 Illustration from ‘Idylls of the King’

The idea of a lost city under the sea is an enduring and captivating myth! Atlantis has caught our collective imagination for a long time. Despite its status as a ‘myth’ there are always those who seek a reality to underpin it – and most would usually (deep down) want it to be true as well. So the lost land of Cornwall … are there really submerged towns and villages between Cornwall and the Scillies? We would love to think so….

During the reign of Alfred the Great (9th century) The Anglo-Saxon Chronicles were started (we know they were still being updated in the 12th century) and they detailed the history of the Anglo-Saxons (no surprises there). It is here that we get the first glimpse of a lost land. It was recored that on the 11th November 1099 the lands that bordered Cornwall were sunk beneath the waves during a terrible storm. Only one person survived (a Trevelyan) and he escaped by riding a white horse that rose from the waves. However, historical truth is a fickle and fragile thing and people have used the legend, forgotten it, resurrected it, changed it and generally made of it what they wish. Was the mainland connected to the Scillies? Did the sea levels change significantly over the centuries (or on one night as legend has it)? The Seven Stones Reef lies in the artea of Lyonesse and some refer to it as ‘The Town’ in memory of the many towns that were lost. In Mounts Bay there is said to be the remains of a sunken forest that can be seen at low tide. Fishermen occasionaly get parts of old building in their nets when trawling the area. And, of course, many have heard the muffled sounds of church bells ringing (there were said to have been 140 villages and churches) beneath the waves. Continue Reading…

By Benjaminevans82 at en.wikipedia [Public domain], from Wikimedia Commons

By Benjaminevans82 at en.wikipedia [Public domain], from Wikimedia Commons

A stunning bit of coastline between Newquay and Padstow – a great beach if you don’t mind the steps down to it (rebuilt by the National Trust)! But it isn’t those steps the name refers to. The ‘steps’ are large outcrops of rock that litter the beach and the sea at high tide (the beach disappears at high tide – you have been warned). Placed there, so legend has it, by the giant ‘Bedruthan’, presumably so he (or she) could skip along the stones without getting wet feet. Ummm. Or possibly (so a more cynical but possibly more realistic legend has it) the whole giant thing was a Victorian invention so more people would visit! Whatever the explanation, the views are dramatic and brilliant and the beach a total delight, but don’t get cut off at high tide….

So, what of ‘Knockers’? Knockers are a type of faery, not the pretty ones that flit about the woodland, but a grisly looking dwarf with a hook nose. They like to mine, usually far from the humans that used to populate the tin mines and proably in deeper places. Bedruthan was the site of a tin and iron mine and the Knockers were there too. Generally keeping out of the way of humans, but not to be trifled with or annoyed (you just might find yourself lost in a deep part of the mine). Being mischievious they might move your tools around, but generally they were benevolent (although in some tales they most definitely are not!). Some say they are still there, and walking on the beach you can sometimes hear the the tap tap’ of their picks deep in the mine now long gone from our world. Others say that the tapping noise is caused by the ghosts of the tin miners giving a warning when a disaster was about to happen. Knockers or ghosts (or dripping water)? Listen out for yourself and wonder what it is that causes the creepy noises…

Uther Pendragon, by Howard Pyle (1903)

Uther Pendragon, by Howard Pyle (1903)

Personally, I love Arthurian Legends and there are a few places where the legends are particularly strong. Cornwall, Wales, the West Country generally and, of course, Glastonbury have a good slice of the pie in that respect and just the word ‘Tintagel’ brings visions of a dark stomy night and the strange events surrounding Arthur’s conception … There are, of course, many stories and variations on stories that claim Tintagel as the place where Arthur was either conceived, or sometimes, where he was born. The ruin that stands at Tintagel now is medieval in origin, a 13th century fortification and stronghold of the Earls of Cornwall. It perches perilously on a tiny island linked to the mainland by a narrow bridge – not for the fainthearted! Arthur is not medieval though (late 5th and 6th centuries), although most of the tales do date from these times (which is why we tend to imagine him in armour surrounded by Knights). It was Geoffrey of Monmouth who kicked the whole thing off by writing his fictional account of the ‘History of the Kings of Britain’ in the 12th century and he made up all kinds of wonderful characters and tales that are now well and truly embedded in our ‘mythical history’. Incidentally, the tales concerning the Knight Lancelot and the Holy Grail stories were created by French writer Chr├ętien de Troyes, also in the 12th century. The tales thrived in the middle ages and are still immensely popular today. Generally, we love the idea of a King that unites us, inspires us and rules in a wise and fair way. If only …… Continue Reading…

The Ghost Ship of St Ives Bay

February 28, 2013
shipwreck

Shipwreck by Ivan Aivozovsky 1854

The legend of the St Ives Ghost Ship involves a schooner called ‘The Neptune’ captained by William Grant. It was wrecked on the Cornish coast near Gwithian, close to St Ives. The captain is said to be buried in the Gwithian churchyard. But, let’s go back a bit …. The night before the storm that wrecked the Neptune the local fishermen noticed distress horns and rockets in St Ives Bay and noticed a schooner in trouble. They rowed out in their gigs to see if they could help as she rolled in the sea, trying to keep off the rocks. As they approached they noted that no one appeared to be aboard, their cries went unanswered. One man tried to board the ship, but as he reached out the ship disappeared… Continue Reading…

Tristram Bird sees the Padstow Mermaid - from North Cornwall fairies and legends by Enys Tregarthen

Tristram Bird sees the Padstow Mermaid – from North Cornwall fairies and legends by Enys Tregarthen

Sailors around the North Cornwall coast are only too aware of the perilous rocks and cliffs that make up the dramatic landscape, with few safe havens to run to in bad weather. This makes Padstow an important stop, these days for leisure craft as well as fishing boats, although the harbour can only be reached a few hours either side of high tide because of the sand bar. It is thought that the sand started to form in the mouth of the Camel estuary around the 16th century and until more recent methods for dredging and marking safe channels this made the approach very dangerous. Many vessels have been wrecked on the sands trying to gain access to Padstow Harbour over the years.

The compelling and wildly romantic reason for sand to start gathering in the estuary is to be found in the tale of the Padstow Mermaid. As ever, there are many variations of this tale. It is said that ships were led safely to the harbour at Padstow under the care of the mermaid. One day someone shot the mermaid. One tale names the man responsible as Tristram Bird, a local man who came upon the mermaid combing her hair on a rock on Hawkers Cove and offered to marry her (the sudden and overwhelming attraction of the mermaid is not to be underestimated!). When she turned him down he threatened to shoot her instead, which he did. Continue Reading…

Excalibur and Dozmary Pool

February 27, 2013

Bedevere throws Excalibur back into the Lake by Aubrey Beardsley

Bedevere throws Excalibur back into the Lake by Aubrey Beardsley


Dozmary Pool, close to Colliford Lake and the source of one of the tributaries of the River Fowey, sits within a Site of Special Scientific Interest near Bolventor of Bodmin Moor. The moor itself is full of wonderful tales, legends and ghost stories and Dozmary Pool seems to have more than its fair share. Continue Reading…

The Mermaid of Zennor by John Reinhard Weguelin 1900

The Mermaid of Zennor by John Reinhard Weguelin 1900


Myths and legends have a wonderful way of weaving themselves into the fabric of an area. They tie themselves up in historical fact, heresay and stories until you can’t tell one from another. More stories emerge from the mytholgical soup that is created. Paintings, poems and songs enrich the landscape further. To be in a physical place that anchors all these expressions of one story together and gives them the possibility of some kind of reality in the distant past, is like standing on the pages of a magical book. Drinking in the surroundings and the atmosphere whilst thinking about the characters. Where they stood, where they lived, where they died.

In the village of Zennor, a little further south from St Ives, there is a church called St Senara’s that contains a carved pew-end of a mermaid around 600 years old. It is here that a man called Mathey Trewella (there are many variations of the spelling) regularly sang the closing hymn. His voice was fine and clear and he was young and handsome. Many variations of the tale exist, some embellished and full, others scant and short, but they all agree that a mermaid was enticed to visit the church to hear him sing. Continue Reading…