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By Nick Seymour

One of my favourite counties in England, apart from Wiltshire, has to be Cornwall. I love the myth, mystery and ethereal beauty of the place. Think ghostly phantom ships whispering through the foggy, silent waters and mesmerising mermaids on jagged, deadly rocks. Bleak and desolate moorlands where the ghosts of lonely travellers, smugglers and phantom coaches are witnessed. Cornish piskies in stone circles, dancing, making merry and tempting humans into the fairy world. Lonely hamlets, hidden away in damp and dismal folds of the Cornish hillsides, where magic is practised and the old ways still hold on. Undoubtedly, one of the attractions for me are the many, many tales of supernatural goings-ons, folklore and fairylore. I’ve a good few haunted places I need to visit down there, but until I get motoring down the A30, this guest blog fills the Cornish hole in my soul.

I’m glad to introduce you to guest blogger, Nick Seymour from the Devon and Cornwall Guide. Nick tells us some folklorish tales and points us in the direction of a couple of suitably mysterious places to visit.

Tintagel Castle Ruins

Cornish Myths and Legends

Cornwall has a rich tapestry woven from myths and legends. From mischievous piskies flitting amongst the heather to terrifying sea serpents guarding the coastline, these tales have been passed down for generations. King Arthur’s legend finds a home here at Tintagel Castle, while the tragic love story of Tristan and Isolde echoes through the windswept moors. But Cornwall’s myths reach beyond famous tales. The Beast of Bodmin Moor, a shadowy big cat, continues to spark debate, and the lost city of Lyonesse, swallowed by the waves, ignites the imagination. Join us as we delve into the enchanting world of Cornish myths and legends, where real and unreal blur, leaving us with a deeper appreciation for this magical land.

Cornish Knockers – fairies of the mines

The Impish Piskies of Cornwall: Mischief and Magic on the Moors

Cornwall’s windswept moors and hidden coves are not only places of beauty, but also realms teeming with mythical creatures. Amongst these, the piskies (also known as piskies or pobel vean, meaning “little people” in Cornish) hold a special place. Unlike the dainty fairies of popular imagination, Cornish piskies are a touch more earthy and mischievous.

Imagine tiny folk, no taller than a child’s knee, with skin the colour of sun-baked earth and hair like tangled flax. They dress in clothes fashioned from leaves and moss, blending seamlessly with their natural surroundings. Piskies are known for their playful, sometimes downright impish, nature. They might lead weary travellers astray with flickering lights, tangle fishing nets for amusement, or hide household objects just to see the frustration unfold. But their mischief rarely stems from malice. More often, it’s a test of patience and a reminder to respect the delicate balance of the natural world.

Despite their trickery, piskies are also seen as helpful creatures. They might mend a farmer’s tools overnight, churn butter while the family sleeps, or guide lost children back home. However, their assistance comes with a price. Piskies are easily offended and demand respect. Leaving them offerings of cream, bread, or a pinch of tobacco is said to appease them and secure their favour!

Cornwall is riddled with tales of piskie encounters. Legends speak of piskie rings, circles of flattened grass where they gather to dance under the light of a full moon. Some stories warn of changelings, mischievous piskies who steal human babies and leave their own sickly offspring in their place.

Whether mischievous pranksters or helpful guardians, piskies are an integral part of Cornish folklore. They embody the untamed spirit of the land, reminding us of the magic that whispers through the ancient stones and dances on the windswept moors.

The ruins of Tintagel perched on the rockface

Tintagel Castle: Where Myth and History Collide

King Arthur, the legendary defender of Britain, is a figure shrouded in mist. While historians debate his historical existence, his fantastical tale has become deeply intertwined with the dramatic ruins of Tintagel Castle, perched precariously on the Cornish coast.

The connection between Arthur and Tintagel first appeared in Geoffrey of Monmouth’s 12th-century work, Historia Regum Britanniae. Geoffrey claimed Tintagel as Arthur’s birthplace, a product of a forbidden liaison between King Uther Pendragon and Igraine, wife of the Duke of Cornwall. This literary spark ignited a fire that continues to burn brightly.

Tintagel itself boasts a rich history predating Arthurian legend. Archaeological evidence suggests the site was occupied as early as the 5th century AD. Its strategic location made it a natural choice for a stronghold, later becoming a seat of Cornish rulers. However, the existing ruins date to the 13th century, built by Richard, Earl of Cornwall. Earl Richard, a keen Arthurian enthusiast, likely chose Tintagel in part to capitalize on its legendary connection.

The dramatic setting of Tintagel amplifies the Arthurian mystique. The castle, divided by a natural chasm and accessible only by a narrow bridge, evokes a sense of mystery and hidden power. Visitors can explore the Great Hall, thought to be the heart of the castle, and imagine Arthur holding court amidst his knights. The island cliffs, battered by the relentless waves, conjure images of epic battles and fantastical creatures.

While the historical truth behind Arthur’s birthplace remains elusive, Tintagel Castle embodies the enduring power of myth. It’s a place where legend and reality intertwine, leaving visitors to ponder the stories whispered by the wind and carved into the very stones. Whether Arthur truly walked these halls or not, Tintagel stands as a testament to the enduring human fascination with chivalry, magic, and the enduring power of storytelling.

John Duncan ‘Tristan and Isolde’, 1912

Doomed Love on Cornish Shores: Tristan and Isolde

The Cornish coast echoes with the sorrowful tale of Tristan and Isolde, a love story as passionate as it is doomed. Tristan, a valiant knight from Cornwall, journeys to Ireland to secure the hand of Isolde for his uncle, King Mark. Fate, however, has other plans. Aboard the ship returning to Cornwall, a love potion intended for the king and Isolde is mistakenly consumed by the young couple. Bound by an irresistible passion, Tristan and Isolde embark on a clandestine affair, a constant dance between their desires and loyalty to the king.

Their love story unfolds against the backdrop of windswept Cornish moors and hidden coves. They seek refuge in secret grottoes and steal precious moments under the cloak of night. Cornwall becomes a bittersweet stage for their forbidden love, a land of both beauty and heartache.

Their transgressions lead to exile and a desperate attempt to forget each other. But destiny proves stronger. When Tristan falls mortally wounded, he sends for Isolde, the only one who can heal him. A white sail on the approaching ship signals her arrival, but a cruel twist of fate leads Tristan to believe she has abandoned him. He dies heartbroken. Isolde, arriving to find her love lifeless, succumbs to grief beside him. Their tragic end leaves a permanent mark on the Cornish landscape, with some legends claiming two entwined trees grow from their grave, a symbol of their love that even death could not sever.

Bleak and unwelcoming, Bodmin is a place of dark mysteries

The Beast of Bodmin Moor: Fact or Feline Fantasy?

The rugged expanse of Bodmin Moor in Cornwall holds a captivating mystery – the Beast of Bodmin Moor. This phantom black cat, often described as panther-sized with piercing yellow eyes, has haunted local folklore for decades. Sightings began 1970s, with reports of mutilated livestock and fleeting glimpses of a large, unidentified creature.

The Beast’s legend gained momentum with each encounter. Farmers spoke of sheep carcasses drained of blood, while terrified locals claimed to see a shadowy figure slink through the heather. The sheer number of sightings – over 200 reported – fuelled the fire, sparking media attention and igniting public imagination.

Theories abound as to the Beast’s identity. Some believe it’s a big cat escaped from captivity, perhaps a puma or a black leopard. Others suggest a more fantastical explanation, a prehistoric creature surviving in the remote moorland. In 1995, the sheer volume of reports prompted a government investigation. Sadly, despite extensive searches and forensic analysis, no concrete evidence of the Beast was found. However, the investigation carefully avoided definitively disproving its existence, leaving the mystery open-ended.

The legend of the Beast of Bodmin Moor continues to captivate. Tourists flock to the area hoping for a glimpse, and local businesses capitalize on the myth. Whether it’s a real creature or a collective hallucination, the Beast has become a symbol of Bodmin Moor’s   wildness and untamed spirit. It serves as a reminder that even in a modern world, there’s still room for a touch of mystery, a place where folklore and reality blur into a captivating enigma.

Credit: Greg Martin, Cornwall Live

Lyonesse: A Legendary Atlantis Beneath the Waves

Off the dramatic cliffs of Land’s End in Cornwall lies a haunting legend – the lost city of Lyonesse. Swallowed by the unforgiving sea in a single night, Lyonesse is said to have been a vast kingdom, a fertile land dotted with prosperous towns and a staggering 140 churches. Some claim it stretched from Land’s End all the way to the Isles of Scilly, a testament to its grandeur.

The story of Lyonesse’s demise varies. Some legends point to a single, catastrophic tidal wave, while others whisper of divine punishment for the city’s arrogance. The Cornish name for Lyonesse, “Lethowsow,” translates to “the sunken land,” forever etching the city’s fate into the local language.

Despite its disappearance beneath the waves, Lyonesse continues to capture imaginations. Folklore claims that on a calm day, one can still see the faint outlines of submerged buildings – the ghosts of a glorious past. The Seven Stones Reef, a treacherous collection of rocks halfway between Land’s End and the Isles of Scilly, is often linked to Lyonesse. Some believe it’s the remnants of a grand cathedral or castle, the once-proud crown of the lost kingdom.

The legend of Lyonesse resonates with the universal human fascination with lost civilizations like Atlantis. It speaks to a yearning for the past, a desire to glimpse a world that no longer exists. Additionally, Lyonesse’s fate serves as a cautionary tale, a reminder of the power and unpredictability of nature.

Whether Lyonesse was a real city or a metaphorical representation of a bygone era is debatable. However, its enduring legend serves as a testament to the enduring power of storytelling. It reminds us that even when swallowed by the sea, a story can continue to echo through the ages, whispering from the depths and stirring our imaginations.

Wassail, drink hail! The Dark Gathering of Tintagel

Come to see for yourself

Cornwall’s rich tapestry of myths and legends extends far beyond these few examples. From playful piskies to the haunting echoes of Lyonesse, each story reveals a unique facet of the Cornish spirit. These tales are not merely relics of the past; they are living traditions, passed down through generations, reminding us of the power of storytelling and the enduring magic that lingers within the rugged landscapes and windswept moors. So, delve deeper into Cornwall’s myths and legends. You might just discover a piece of yourself reflected in these timeless stories.

If you are heading down to Devon or Cornwall this summer, check out the Devon and Cornwall Guide. It’s a great place to go to find out all the best and most magical places to visit.


My greatest thanks to Nick from The Devon and Cornwall Guide, a blog filled with information about what to see and things to do across Devon and Cornwall. If you are taking your summer holidays in the West Country, it’s definitely worth and read.

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