Cornish mythology, with its tales of giants, mermaids, ghosts, fairies and piskies, may have originated many years ago, but the stories are still as popular today. The Cornish legends and folklore capture the imagination of children and adults alike and provide an excellent excuse to visit many of Cornwall’s beautiful locations.
The Mermaid of Zennor
Depicting the love story between Morveren, the Mermaid of Zennor and Mathew Trewella, a handsome young man from Zennor. The legend depicts how the beautiful mermaid captured the heart of a local chorister. With the best singing voice in the town, Mathew is said to have left the life of land behind to swim under the sea with his love. To mourn his loss and serve as a warning to other local men, the villagers carved a strange figure of a mermaid with long flowing hair, holding a mirror in one hand a comb in the other. Although the villagers never saw Mathew again, to this day, it is said that on a warm summer’s evening you can still hear the sound of his beautiful voice on the wind.
North Cornwall – King Arthur
Undoubtedly Cornwall’s most famous legend, King Arthur’s legendary birthplace at Tintagel Castle is by far the most talked about, and the first stop on the Arthurian trail. Like the story of King Arthur himself, the trail has many twists and turns and takes followers on a journey through St Nectan’s Glen, Slaughterbridge – the site of ‘King Arthur’s Stone’ which marks the spot of the last battle of Camlann – and onwards to Bodmin Moor, and the mythical Dozmary Pool.
The Lake of The Lady – Dozmary Pool
Dozmary Pool is a natural moorland lake situated to the south of Bolventor on Bodmin Moor. Once it was home of ancient man, who has left remnants of his presence in the shape of hut circles and other prehistoric remains. Local folk long believed that the strange, mysterious Pool was bottomless and had a whirlpool in the centre. It is hardly surprising, then, that it has become an integral part of two major Cornish legends.
John Tregagle, the evil disciple of the Devil was doomed to bail out the endless waters of Dozmary Pool with a leaking limpet shell for eternity, in penance for his crimes. It was into the depths of Dozmary pool, too, so legend tells us, that King Arthur’s sword Excalibur was cast by his loyal lieutenant Sir Bedivere on the orders of the dying King. A hand and arm rose up from the surface of the lake, clad in the white samite, caught the sword and drew it underneath.
The Doom Bar, Padstow
Now more commonly known as a Cornish beer, this is the story of how the infamous sandbank at the mouth of the River Camel came to be.
Between tides, the Doom Bar is submerged by just a few feet, causing unsuspecting sailors to become stranded, or even shipwrecked. In years gone by, it was said that the ‘merry maid’ or mermaid would help sailors navigate their way around the rocky coast.
One day however, for reasons unknown, the merry maid was shot by a passing boat. In her last moments she vowed that the harbour would be from that day forth desolate. Shortly after her supposed death, a storm shipwrecked several ships and has continued to be the cause of a great number of losses.
The Gannel Crake in Newquay
In the early nineteenth century, two young men were gathering seaweed from The Gannel, the tidal river running along Crantock Beach, Newquay. They were loading the seaweed upon their horse and cart when the Crake began to sound. The horses immediately took off across the beach and whilst giving chase they noticed that the noise appeared to becoming from the air above them. They described the noise as the sound of a thousand voices, miserably wailing in unison. More recently the sound has been heard by a number of people who claim that although it’s not a loud noise, the sound depicts dreadful pain, as if many ghostly voices were all calling out “help me” at once…
St Michaels Mount – Giant Cormoran
Whether by boat or by foot the journey in itself to St Michael’s Mount is a mini adventure and waiting is a world of fanciful tales bursting with courage and heroics. Upon reaching the Mount which rises dramatically from the bay you will discover a land once tred by giants and as the story goes, one giant in particular named Cormoran. With a growling stomach he would wade ashore and feast on cows and sheep stolen from the villagers but he met his match in a local boy named Jack who dug a deep pit in which Cormoran fell to his death. And the tale continues – visitors to St Michael’s Mount today can retrace Jack’s steps and hunt down Cormoran’s heart hidden amongst the stone path.
Portreath – Giant Wrath
In Portreath see the remains of boulders said to once be the weapon of choice for a fearsome giant named ‘Ralph the Wrath’ who lived in a collapsed sea cave. With an appetite for sailors and a craving for their treasure he would attack passing ships and fill his cave, now known locally as Ralph’s Cupboard, with his loot.