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Cornish Myths and Legends – Enrichment Series


Legendary Tales
King Arthur
The most famous of tales associated with Cornwall, was Arthur a true British Warrior and founder of Britain, or a mythical and fairytale hero? Arthurian legends appear many times in different areas of Britain, but his conception is said to have taken place at Tintagel Castle on the north Cornish coast. His father, Uther Pendragon, is purported to have acquired the help of the wizard Merlin, in order to disguise himself as the Duke of Cornwall and entice the Duke’s wife, Ygerna, into becoming Arthurs mother.
Further Arthurian legends such as that of  Excalibur and  the Lady of the Lake allegedly took place at Dozmary Pool on Bodmin Moor.

Mark of Cornwall & the tale of Trist an and Iseult
Related to Arthurian legends, this the tale of the 6th-century warrior and King of Cornwall, Mark, the hound of the sea. Also named Conomor, the King ruled from Tintagel Castle. The tale pre-dates that of Uther Pendragon and Ygerna but has a similar echo.
King Mark, wanting a bride, sends his nephew (or son in some tales) Tristan, to fetch the beautiful Irish Iseult. On the homeward journey Tristan and Iseult, by misadventure, drink the love potion prepared by the queen for her daughter and King Mark.

Jack the Giant Killer
Incorporating many defeats of fearsome Cornish giants, Jack is a clever farm boy chosen to
accompany Arthur?s son on missions and later admitted to the round circle for his continued
servitude. Ridding the land of many of its terrible giants, Jack gains various magical items to help his efforts.

The Legend of Tom Bawcock
A hero at Mousehole who risked his life to bring back fish to the starving townsfolk during a storm. On his return, a big pie called a Stargazy Pie was made to feed all the townsfolk.


Cornish Mermaids and Tales of the Sea

The Mermaid of Padstow
In one of several versions of the tale, the mermaid enjoyed sitting on a rock at Hawker’s Cove. Falling in love with a local man, she tried to lure him to her watery home and he shot her to escape. In
another version, he fell in love with her and when rebuffed, he shot her. A third version explains how
a local fisherman mistook her for a seal and shot her. The tale, however, always ends up with the
mermaid summoning a storm which wrecked local ships and caused a sand bank to appear, now
called the Doom Bar.
The Mermaid of Zennor
The Churches at Zennor and Morvah were said to have had a beautiful lady visitor with the sweetest
singing voice. Nobody knew of her origins or where she lived, plus she was seen infrequently over
many years, but never seemed to age. After a good many years, she fell in love with a man who was
the best singer in church, Mathey Trewells. After following her home one day, neither were ever seen
again. Further to this, a ship was out to sea off Pendour Cove and wished to drop its anchor. Upon
doing so, a mermaid appeared and asked if the anchor could be moved as it was resting on the door
to her home and she was unable to get to her children. Believing the children to be those of the
mermaid and Mathey Trewells, the ship fled.
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.

Pobel Vean or “t he little people”

Said to inhabit stone circles, barrows and ancient dolmans, these childlike and mischievous little creatures appear in many Cornish tales.
Known for dancing and playfulness, their leader was Joan the Wad.
Not to be confused with spriggans,(or isspriggan in West Penwith) who have a dangerously evil edge to
their personality.
Bucca Gwidden/Widn are the good version and Bucca Dhu/Boo is the bad. Reputed to live in tin mines
and around the coast. Similar legends appear in Irish and Welsh culture.
Variously thought of as helpful or malevolent, they?re supposed to knock on the walls of tin mines to warn of, or trap miners in, an impending mine collapse.
Some believe they are spirits of miners lost in accidents, others that they are little creatures who play
practical jokes on miners.
Possibly an amusing invention of oxygen-starved miners, they would leave bits of pasty to keep them

Ghostly Cornish tales

Jan Tregeagle
The ghost of this 17th century magistrate and lawyer, who had a living reputation for his evil and ruthless
acts, attribute Jan Tregeagle as being one of the most hair-raising hauntings in Cornwall. Legends have him committing many felons including that of murdering his wife. In cahoots with the devil, he appeared to testify at a court case held after his death. Fearing they were unable to send him back to hell, the court
ordered him to complete pointless tasks until judgement day. Removing all the water from Dozmary Pool with a perforated limpet shell, he escaped from his first task to Roche Rock. Then given the task of weaving rope from sand at Gwenor Cove, two versions of the story have him completing the task when the water froze on a cold night or his efforts being destroyed by a storm. Either way, St Petroc had to be summoned to bind him in chains and take him to Helston.
Ghostly Church Bells
A series of ghostly bells reputedly have been heard tolling 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

Other Tales and Superstitions
Fishermens Superstitions
St Ives fishermen would not forgive you if you whistled at night and Cornish fishermen will only
count their catches using an old chant in the Cornish language.
Tin Miners Superstitions
A miner meeting a snail on his way to work would feed it some of their dinner or a little tallow from
their lanthorns to avoid a bad omen. The word cat or the presence of one near a mine will also stop
miners from their work until it has been caught and killed. It’s also unlucky to whistle down a tin
mine it might annoy the knockers, as they had an intense dislike of the sound!
The Merry Maidens

Stone circle of 19 stones where nineteen maidens were turned to stone for dancing on the Sabbath.
The two male pipers who were accompanying them realised the clock was about to turn midnight
and scurried away up the hill, only to be turned to stone there. There are 2 more standing stones
further up the hill.
The Logan Stone
A naturally balancing stone which rocks in the wind is a Logan stone. At Nancledra there was a Logan
stone, it was known as the 12 OClock 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. Also said to cure local children of rickets if laid on the stone and rocked. However, this only
worked if they were born in wedlock!
The Devils Stone
Helstons name has been attributed to when the devil was carrying a large stone through the sky to
block the gates of hell. Confronted by St Michael, he dropped the stone on the area.
White Hares
In Cornwall, these are the spirits of girls who have died of a broken heart.
St Non  Altarnun Well
There is a well dedicated in honour of St. Non (also known as Nonna or Nonnita), who is said to have
been the daughter of an Earl of Cornwall, and mother of St David, whose waters were supposed to
have the power of curing madness/lunacy

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