The Mermaid of Zennor and other Cornish Mermaids

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The small village of Zennor huddles around the medieval churc hbetween the West Cornwall moors and North Cornish coast not far from St Ives. In that church carved on the end of one of the wooden is a strange figure of a mermaid. Depicted with long flowing hair, holding a mirror in one hand and a comb in the other is the Mermaid of Zennor.

Mermaid of Zennor chair - Zennor Church
Mermaid of Zennor chair - Zennor Church

Legend has it that many, many years ago a richly dressed and beautiful lady occasionally attended the church at Zennor. Nobody knew who she was or where she came from, but her unusual beauty and lovely voice made her the subject of much discussion.

With such beauty, the lady had no shortage of want-to-be suitors in the village. One of these local men was Mathew Trewella, a handsome young fellow with the best singing voice in the village. He took it upon himself to discover who this beautiful stranger was.

After a service one Sunday, the lady had smiled at Mathew Trewella so he had decided to follow her as she made her way off and towards the cliffs.

He never returned to Zennor.

Years passed and Mathew Trewella's unexplained disappearance faded into the past. Then one Sunday morning a ship cast anchor off Pendower Cove near Zennor. The vessel's captain was sitting on deck when he heard a beautiful voice hailing him from the sea. Looking over the side of the ship he saw a beautiful mermaid, with her long, blonde hair flowing all around her.

She asked him if he would be so kind as to raise his anchor as it was resting upon the doorway of her house. She explained was anxious to get back to her husband, Mathew, and her children. For it turns out that the beautiful stranger from the church was in fact one of the daughters of Llyr, king of the ocean, a mermaidby the name of Morveren.

Warey of stories of Mermaids the captain weighed anchor and headed for deeper water fearing the mermaid would bring the ship bad luck. He did, however, return later to tell the townsfolk of the fate of Mathew. It was to commemorate the strange events and as a warning to other young men of the dangers of merrymaids that the mermaid was carved into the church pugh.

According to a slightly different version of the tale, Morveren was drawn to the church by Mathew's beautiful voice and would dress as a human and listen at the back of the church. Every night at evensong the mermaid would come to hear him until one night as Mathew sang a particularly lovely verse Morveren let out a tiny sigh.

Although it was as quiet as a whisper Mathew stopped and turned - Morveren's eyes were shining, and the net had slipped from her head and her hair was wet and gleaming - It was love at first sight.

The mermaid was frightened and made her way back to the sea with Mathew (and a fair few of the townsfolk) in pursuit. In her haste to get back to the sea Morveren became tangled in her dress and tripped. Mathew now saw the tip of her fish tail poking out from beneath the dress.
"I cannot stay. I am a sea creature, and must go back where I belong."
But it didn't matter to him.
"Then I will go with ye. For with ye is where I belong."

With that Mathew picked up Morveren and ran into the sea never to be seen by the folk of Zennor again. However that doesn't mean they never heard him again.
He would sing soft and high if the day was to be fair, deep and low if Llyr was going to make the seas rough. From his songs, the fishermen of Zennor knew when it was safe to put to sea, and when it was wise to anchor snug at home.

The Doom Bar and the Mermaid of Padstow

This is the story of how the infamous sandbank at the mouth of the River Camel between Padstow and Rock came to be. The Doom Bar is at it’s most perilous between the tides when it is submerged by just a few feet causing unsuspecting mariners to become stranded or in storms, shipwrecked.

Doom Bar - Camel Estuary - Padstow
The Doom Bar - Padstow

In years gone by Padstow was an important port as it was a natural safe haven on an otherwise rocky coast. However, over the years the rivermouth has become so choked up with drifting sand as to be more or less useless to anything but small craft. In the past it had been deep enough for even the largest of vessels under the care of a 'merry maid' (mermaid).

One day, for reasons that are not clear, she was shot from a visiting boat. She dived for a moment but then re-appeared to make a vow.
Raising her right hand she swore the harbour would be from that day forth desolate, and always will be.

Shortly after a storm blew up wrecking several ships and throwing up the huge sandbank known as the Doom Bar. Since then the sandbank has caused a great number of ships to flounder through the centuries.

Other Mermaids

There are several other stories of mermaids from around the Cornish coast including Seaton, between Downderry and Looe. Here, where now only exists a sandy beach, was once a thriving fishing town. One day a local man insulted the mermaid and she cursed the town to be swallowed by the sands.

Mermaids Rock, near Lamorna in the west of Cornwall is home to a mermaid. It was said she would sit combing her hair and singing, luring local fishermen to their deaths.