Archives For the sea

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…

The Ghost Ship of St Ives Bay

February 28, 2013

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…

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…