Cornwall is known for being the land of mystical myths and legends, where mermaids lured fishermen out to sea and a huge beast roamed the moors – there’s plenty of stories to capture the imagination.
Most of us have heard the stories of King Arthur or the tales of piskies, giants, and sea monsters but some may not have heard some of the more unusual ones.
Here’s a list of some of the more bizarre Cornish myths and legends you might not have known about.
The Stone from Hell – or Helston as it’s better known today
Fundamental to the mythology of Helston is its naming story involving the Archangel St Michael.
According to one legend, the devil was flying across Cornwall carrying a boulder to block the entrance to Hell, when he was challenged by St Michael. Ensuing in an airborne battle, the devil dropped the rock, and the place where it fell became known as Hell’s Stone, or Helston.
It is said that for centuries, a large flat stone lay in the rear courtyard of the Angel Hotel in Coinagehall Street until it was broken up and used as building material for the rear extension of the hotel in the 1700s. However, according to Helston Heritage Trail website, it is still visible in the wall either side of a window beyond the Cellar Bar.
The Lost Land of Lyonesse
Much like stories of the Lost City of Atlantis, it is believed that Cornwall has its own drowned city which lies beneath the waves between Land’s End and the Isles of Scilly. According to legend, Lyonesse was part of King Authur’s realm but was engulfed by the sea one night after a ‘mighty storm.’
Church bells are said to ring below the waters and for centuries, Cornish fishermen have reported glimpses of spires and castles beneath the waves. The Isles of Scilly are even thought to be the old Lyonesse mountain tops.
Legend also has it that there was one sole survivor of the flood – one man who had been hunting on Land’s End and lost a horseshoe on the way. Today, the symbol of three horseshoes or a white horse can be seen in the crests of local families, who believe they’ve descended from the lucky man.
The cursed well of Bodmin Moor
St Cuby’s Well located to the south of Bodmin Moor, is said to have been cursed by its builder to prevent thieves from stealing it.
It is said that St Cuby, who was born in Callington, built a chapel on the moor and carved a bowl with his favourite creatures seen on his travels, before placing a curse on it.
According to folklorist and author, Alex Langstone: “Anyone who had the arrogance to take Cuby’s basin from its holy site would suffer a terrible fate. For many generations, the well’s neighbours respected the curse and left the font alone. Then one year, a nearby farmer decided to test the curse.”
The farmer is said to have taken four of his prize oxen and tied strong ropes around the granite basin. As the oxen began to take strain, they all fell down dead on the ground -the curse had struck the farmer and he lost his ‘greatest beasts’. You can read more about St Cuby’s Well, here.
Lady of the Lake at Dozmary Pool
Another bizarre legend from the mystical land of Bodmin Moor is the tale Dozmary Pool – which much like the rest of the moors, is steeped in mystery, myth, and legend.
The pool is said to have strong associations with ‘Excalibur’, the mythical sword belonging to King Arthur, which according to some legends, was given to him by the Lady of the Lake.
When Arthur lay dying after his final battle at Camlann, it is said that he asked one of his most loyal knights, Sir Bedivere, to return the sword to the pool. As Bedivere hurls Excalibur into the lake, a slender arm reaches up and grabs the sword, before pulling it back into the depths of the water.
Lady of the Lake giving King Arthur Excalibur (Image: Alfred Kappes)
The Sea Bucca
It is said that the Bucca inhabited Lamorna Cove, on the Penwith Peninsula. Once a human prince, he was cursed by a witch and transformed into a dark brown conger eel with a tangled clump of seaweed for hair.
The story goes that he assisted the Lamorna fishermen, herding the fish together and driving them into the fishermen’s net.
Despite this seemingly friendly and helpful nature, however, the fishermen feared him for he was rumoured to be capable of terrible vengeance, and so they left him a share of their catch on the beach as an offering.
The Doom Bar (a well known beer is named after it)
According to local legend, the Doom Bar, located at the mouth of the Camel Estuary on the north coast, was created by the mermaid of Padstow as a dying curse after being shot.
There are a number of variants in the story of how and why the mermaid was killed but one widely told tale, tells of a Padstow local who’d bought a gun and wanted to shoot something worthy of it.
The man apparently went hunting seals at Hawker’s Cove but found a young woman sitting on a rock. Enticed by her beauty, he offered to marry her and when she refused, he shot her in retaliation, only realising afterwards that she was a mermaid.
As she died, she cursed the harbour with a “bar of doom”, from Hawker’s Cove to Trebetherick Bay. It is told that a terrible gale blew up that night and when it finally subsided, there was the sandbar covered with wrecks of ships and their victims.
You could be possessed by the devil at this haunted bridge
Devil’s Arch Bridge on the back road between Truro and Tresillian got it’s name because it is said that if you dare walk under the bridge, you must hold your breath or the devil himself will possess your soul and drag you to hell.
Legend also has it that the road is haunted by a notorious highwayman who would dangle a noose from the apex of the bridge to hang passing coach drivers, before stealing the belongings of the passengers within.
Some locals have said that they have seen the ghost of a man on horseback, while others have seen the ghostly figure of a coach and horses. You can read more about the bridge, here.
Devil’s Arch Bridge