Cornish Stories | Myths, Legends & Fables
Within a County that holds so much magic, it’s only natural that it is bursting with fabulous stories. Myths, legends and fables are rife here in Cornwall; from mermaids to maidens, kings to big cats. Here’s a collection of my favourite tales, do you believe them?
THE MERMAID OF ZENNOR
The story of the mermaid of Zennor is beautiful and tragic, as with most fairytales. Zennor is an incredibly special place with a unique energy to the wildness it holds. The story goes, that a mermaid heard young Mathew Trewhella singing in the local church. The mermaid was lured up to the church to listen to him. Mathew fell in love with the mermaid, as much as she fell for his beautiful voice and they headed to the sea together and were never seen again. You can find the mermaid carved arm on one of the wooden chairs in the church still, a must find when visiting this charming village.
THE MERMAID OF LAMORNA
Allegedly she sits on a rock and sings whilst combing her hair in an effort to lure local fishermen to a watery grave. To see her foretells a storm, but if you do hear her sing, it supposedly spells certain peril, for a shipwreck will occur in exactly seven days.
Not just a popular Cornish beer, Doombar is named after a bank of sand which comes with its own wonderful story. The story tells of a mermaid who was, understandably, angry after being shot by a local man and in revenge, she forced a large bank of sand at the opening to the estuary to Padstow and Rock. The bank would cause many shipwrecks and create a big annoyance to the use of this passage. I think the mermaid did get her revenge, do you?
THE MERRY MAIDENS
Stone circles are fascinating and we do have our own collection of whimsical and mystical tales based around oddly positioned granite. This one is based near Lamorna and although a few stones have fallen in their time and have been repositioned, you can still visit them in their glory. The story tells of 19 maidens who were dancing on the Sabbath. As punishment for doing so, they were turned to stone and here they reside, all four centuries later.
THE LADY OF THE LAKE
Dozmary Pool is a small lake on Bodmin Moor and is steeped in a mystical tale. The pool has strong associations with ‘Excalibur’, the mythical sword belonging to King Arthur. In some legends, the Lady of the Lake herself gives Arthur the weapon. As he lies dying after his final battle at Camlann, the king asks one of his most loyal knights, Sir Bedivere, to return the sword to the pool. Bedivere hurls the weapon into the lake, and a slender white arm reaches up, taking the weapon back into the water.
TOM BAWCOCK AND THE STARGAZY PIE
Mousehole was once very short of food after storms stopped the local fishing boats from leaving the tiny harbour. This went on for a long time until the day before Christmas Eve, when Tom Bawcock decided to brave the stormy seas and take his boat out to fish. Despite the storm, he landed a huge catch of fish and battled his way back to the harbour, where the community of Mousehole warmly greeted him. The people were so hungry that they placed the fish they caught whole into a pie, with the heads and tails sticking out through the crust. This is the famous “Starry Gazey Pie”. Every year, the people of Mousehole hold a special celebration on 23rd December with lantern processions and a special serving of Starry Gazey Pie in the Ship Inn. A local resident dresses up as Tom Bawcock and presents the pie while the Tom Bawcock’s song is sung.
Bedruthan Steps is a very iconic piece of our vast coastline; a collection of sharp and rugged headlands which is instantly recognisable. The story tells that these are not just the work of coastal erosion, but of a giant who used these steps as stepping stones for quick access along the bay.
LANDS END CHURCH BELLS
A series of ghostly bells reputedly have been heard at midnight from a graveyard at Land’s End. Said to be from the spirit of a sea captain who refuses to acknowledge his ship has sunk. It’s considered a bad omen to hear them if you are a sailor, as after one unlucky sailor reported hearing them, he too was lost at sea.
JACK THE GIANT KILLER AND THE HEART STONE
The story of a young lad, Jack, who lived in Marazion, who took on a giant on St Michaels Mount. The giant was a gruesome beast who would steal cattle to eat and terrorised the land. One evening, Jack set a trap to kill the giant and if you head up to the castle, you’ll want to keep your eyes peeled for the heart of the giant, solidified in stone.
THE BEAST OF BODMIN MOOR
A very well known tale and this story can divide opinions far and wide! The beast of Bodmin Moor is a large black cat, which many have claimed to have seen roaming the moors. Many years ago, people kept exotic animals which you can no longer do. It is believed that when legalities changed, many of these exotic animals were just let free and this big cat remained. There’s photos, videos and many stories told by those who believe but they’re very often debunked.
The mythology of King Arthur contains a lot to unpack, with so many stories and wondrous tales around the Tintagel area. King Arthur was ruler of Camelot, husband of Guinevere, with his chivalrous Knights of the Round Table. Believed to be born in Tintagel, potentially plucked out of the sea to safety by the wizard, Merlin. For those who enjoy this fantastic story, there’s numerous spots around Cornwall which are worth a visit, starting in Tintagel at for Tintagel Castle and King Arthurs Great Hall. You’ll find the statue of King Arthur and his sword here. There’s also Slaughterbridge which is where Arthur is said to have died, Bossiney Mound which is the sight of the buried round table and St Nectan’s Glen, where the Knights were blessed before the quest for the Holy Grail.
THE LOGAN STONE
A naturally balancing stone which rocks in the wind is a Logan stone, you may have seen them on Bodmin Moor. At Nancledra there was a Logan stone, it was known as the 12 O’Clock Stone and only rocked at midnight. Said to be the meeting place of witches, new converts would approach the stone in secret and touch it nine times at midnight.
MEN AN TOL
An unusual and attractive Cornish site, the Men An Tol is believed to belong to the Bronze Age, thereby making it around 3,500 years old. It consists of four stones, the most memorable being the circular one. The story here shows the power of the stone, where it’s alleged ability to aid those with back pain and children suffering from rickets and tuberculosis. Passing through the hole was central to the healing process with importance being attached to the direction, the number of times (commonly 3 or 9) and the point on the lunar cycle. With its obvious feminine symbolism, the holed stone was also believed to aid fertility and its powers were sought by barren women, pregnant women seeking easy childbirth and farmers seeking bountiful crops.