For centuries there have been tales and folklore shared of monsters and magic, unexplained mysteries, and supernatural events. From Celtic legends to Cornish myths, discover the stories from the land and sea that have been whispered across generations.
The Beast of Bodmin Moor
Over the years, tales have been told of a black panther-like creature that stalks the wild moorlands of Bodmin. Known as the elusive Beast of Bodmin Moor, some think the existence of such an animal is simply a children’s fable, but others claim to have seen the beast with their own bare eyes.
Since 1978, there have been over 60 suspected sightings, all reported to the police about “a large, cat-like creature with sharp teeth and white-yellow eyes”. The claims were so compelling that in 1995 the Government intervened and ordered an official investigation of the moors, concluding no sufficient evidence of this Cornish myth.
The sweeping clifftops, crumbling, 13th-century castle ruins, and tumbling grass slopes of Tintagel are strongly linked to the legend of King Arthur. This part of the North Cornish coast is said to be the birthplace of the legendary king of Britain, with many of the characteristics of Tintagel matching those described in the stories of Camelot, Arthur’s fortress.
Whilst lots of historians believe King Arthur was a true life hero of sub-Roman Britain, others question the existence, dubbing the character merely that of fiction and folklore.
Deemed one of the most haunted spots in Cornwall, Jamaica Inn first opened its doors as a coaching inn in 1750. Quietly perched between Bodmin Moor and Launceston in an isolated part of the county, it was well known for being a smuggler’s pitstop, with dodgy dealings and underhand residents frequenting the rooms.
The story of Jack the Giant Killer is one of the Cornish myths dating back to the times of King Arthur. A relatively violent tale, Jack – son of a Cornish farmer, is painted as a relentless slayer of giants, in heroic moves depicted in gruesome battles where he rescues the soon-to-be victims of these giants.
This particular story can’t be traced back any further than the eighteenth-century, and the characteristics of such giants can be debunked as myth, but many believe they are an exaggeration of human intruders or threatening invaders.
The legend of Tom Bawcock is recognised every 23rd December with a feast night in the famous fishing village of Mousehole. The celebration of Tom Bawcock is said to commemorate one fisherman’s bravery and sacrifice on a stormy eve. Mousehole was suffering a terrible bout of rough oceans, and food supply was drying up. When all looked hopeless, on the eve of Christmas Eve, Tom Bawcock braved the gales and thrash of the waves to try and catch some fish.
His efforts were not in vain, and he returned to the little harbour of Mousehole, battered by the seas, but with buckets full of fresh fish. The village greeted him like a hero, and everyone was so hungry that they baked the fish whole in a pie. This iconic dish came to be known as the Cornish delicacy – Stargazy Pie.
One of the most well-known Cornish myths is concealed in the Celtic oceans. Legend has it that the Mermaid of Zennor hid amongst the waves, eyes on the shoreline, watching for men that strayed from the beaten path. She famously lured choirboy Matthew Trewhella into the water, where his body was never seen again.
Whilst this chilling disappearance of the young boy is certainly true, the likelihood of this being an attack from a mythical creature rather than a tragic accident is widely disputed. Whether you believe in mermaids or not, artefacts of the tale of the Mermaid of Zennor do exist, and can be admired in Zennor Church. Her long, seaweed-like hair and scaly tail are carved into an old mediaeval bench.
The most fascinating landmark, dating back to the early Bronze age, can be discovered in a Cornish field between Lamorna and St Buryan on the west coast. The Merry Maidens Stone Circle is made up of 19 granite megaliths, and derives its name from the Cornish ‘Dans Meyn’ which translates to dancing stone.
There are lots of different theories as to how the collection of stones came to be, why there are 19, and why they are placed in such a way that makes the perfect circle. One of the more whimsical theories comes from the Victorian era, that suggests the Merry Maidens were a group of young girls who disrespected the Sabbath Day and were caught dancing in the fields. Their punishment was to be turned to stone, a fable no doubt told to warn other young children to behave themselves.
There are many mythological creatures tied to Cornwall that are supposed to be feared, but the stories of Cornish piskies are a lot more lighthearted and fun. Depicted in folklore and fairytales as tiny winged beings with wrinkled faces and red hair, the Cornish piskies are said to be cheerful but mischievous, and sometimes unpredictable, playing pranks on those more fortunate, but helping those in need.
These days, the Cornish piskie is a symbol of good luck, and graces the pages of children’s storybooks, providing amusing tales of trouble and magic.