Portreath Ghost Stories, Myths and Legends
Set at the end of a deep wooded valley is the old north coast port of Portreath. Given its location and history it is little wonder that legends abound about this small harbour town.
A quick glance at Portreath, on the map, or in the flesh would probably make you think it pretty unlikely place to build a harbour. And not just a harbour fit for a few fishing boats; the harbour at Portreath is big enough to accommodate ships, and this is just what it did. Despite being located on one of the most perilous stretches of coast imaginable, the demands of Cornwall's industrial heartlands made this port highly profitable.
So just north of Hell's Mouth and Deadman's Cove is a narrow harbour opening with towering cliffs to one side and a ragged reef the other.
If you have ever visited Portreath when even the slightest swell is running it would probably give you the fear imagining bringing a boat in. But just imagine doing this on a winter's night in a three mast sailing ship...
So, now the scene has been set you can imagine that there were probably quite a few lives lost in and around the port. If not actually at Portreath itself the bodies often washed up at the aptly named Deadman's Cove just west of the of the bay.
It seems little coincidence then that Portreath's best known haunted house was situated just around the corner from this cove. Smuggler's Cottage was long considered home to the ghost of what appeared to be a young man dressed in Jacobean attire. The apparition was seen on a number of occasions and is said to have caused dogs to become unsettled. To add a strange twist to this tale, in the 1950s a secret closet was discovered in the cottage. Within this closet was the skeleton of a man in a black cloak along with a sword and old sea chest. Despite this macabre find the ghost of the young man continued to appear, suggesting there was no link.
As with much of the character of Portreath's waterside, Smuggler's cottage has been largely demolished to make way for, at best, soulless developments. A perfect example of this is the Waterfront Inn, right on the harbour-front. But within this mundane exterior lies a dark secret for it is said that it was built on the site of an older building that was used as a temporary morgue when bodies washed up from shipwrecks.
The bodies would have been laid out with headstones marking the date, but no name, in the hope some would be identified and claimed. This may explain the ghost of a man seen on a number of occasions at the Waterfront Inn over the years. Sometimes described as having an air of waiting for someone, perhaps his family or a loved one to find him.
Reports of this particular ghost include a lady who was eating her dinner at the inn not staying to finish her meal; workmen in the 1980s seeing a ghost-like figure and numerous sightings by kitchen staff and owners alike.
Not to be outdone it seems that most of Portreath's other hospitality providers have some sort of other-worldly presence. Both the Bassett Arms and Portreath Arms Hotel are reputedly haunted by fairly harmless sounding spirits. The ghost at the Portreath Arms is that of a woman frequents the lounge bar and ladies' room.
Although I couldn't find any evidence that it was officially haunted, Dead Man's Hut overlooking the harbour seems a pretty likely spot for a ghost or two. Officially known as the lower pilots lookout this little round white hut was apparently also used as a makeshift morgue for bodies washed up at Portreath.
Just around the corner from Portreath, on the way to Deadman's Cove is Ralph's Cupboard. Described as a collapsed sea cave, this inaccessible cove has a sense of foreboding. If you dare get close enough to the edge of the sheer cliffs you will see a collection of huge, jagged sea-stacks which are constantly battered by the Atlantic swells.
The legend goes that this was home to a particularly fierce giant, Wrath (Ralph). He would lie in wait for passing ships which he would attack, stealing there cargo and devouring the crew. The loot from the ships would be tucked away in his "cupboard".
When ships began avoiding the area Ralph continued with his evil ways, hurling the huge boulders that litter this coast at the ships and sinking them.