Cornwall Myths, Legends and Folklore

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The Hurlers - Bodmin Moor

Cornish Myths & Legends

Many legends grew up around the old stones which are found all over Cornwall. The Hurlers, a group of stones on Bodmin Moor, a few miles from Liskeard, are said to be the remains of a group of men who were turned to stone after playing games on a Sunday. The nearby Pipers were also petrified. Apparently the two of them had been playing their pipes on the Sabbath Day!

A similar fate seems to have befallen the Merry Maidens and the Pipers at Boleigh, not far from Newlyn. At Looe, the Cock-crow Stone was said to turn around three times whenever it heard a cock crowing.

As recently as the thirties, one old custom prevailed in St Ives. This was a ritual to ensure the luck of a newly baptised child. Kimbly, a sort of bread, or Cheeld’s Fuggan, a saffron cake containing currants was carried by relatives of the infant and was thrust on the first person, who was the opposite sex to the child, whom they met on their way from the church.

A man who shot a raven on Marazion Green was reproved by an old man who told him that King Arthur was still alive in the form of that bird. The same belief was also accorded to the chough, and it was considered very unlucky to kill either bird.

Towednack, near St Ives, was a last refuge of many superstitions. It was said that spring was brought to Cornwall there during a cold and wintry April. A farmer invited friends to sit by his fire and threw a hollow log onto the flames. A cuckoo flew out and the weather immediately became warm and spring like. Following this episode, a Cuckoo Feast was held each year on the Sunday nearest to 28 April.

Yet another Towednack farmer missed some of his property and was determined to discover who had stolen it. He invited all his neighbours to touch a trivet beneath which a cock had been placed, saying In the Name of the Father, Son and Holy Ghost speak. One nervous old woman touched the trivet and the cock crowed. The woman later confessed to the theft.

In nearby Nancledra, there used to be a logan-stone which rocked only at midnight. It was known as the 12 O’Clock Stone. Children suffering from rickets were cured if laid on the stone and rocked, but this only worked if they were born in wedlock. The stone would not rock for the illegitimate. These logan-stones were said to be favourite meeting places of local witches, who rode there on ragwort stems. Anyone wanting to be a witch had to go secretly at midnight to the stone and touch it nine times.

Nine was a magical number in the world of superstition. It was the number of times one should crawl on all fours through the Crick or Creeping Stone at Madron to cure lumbago. Of course, the crawling had to be widdershins or against the sun, and the sufferer had to be well enough to crouch on hands and knees! A similar ceremony took place at Men-an-Tol, where ailing children were passed through the holed stone to cure them of rickets or scrofula.

In 1925, a certain field near Mullion had never been ploughed because it was believed to be an ancient burial site. The local people believed that whoever disturbed the land would suffer the loss of his eldest son or endure some equally severe misfortune.