Over on our social media channels, some of our most popular posts are those relating to Penwith’s rich folklore. The Penwith landscape is rife with such tales, and we’re compiling some highlights from these social media posts into blog posts. We’re kicking off with some of the mythological creatures found in Penwith- ranging from giants, to mermaids and knockers… The tales below just scratch the surface of Penwith’s rick folklore- if you’d like to know more make sure you follow us on social media (Facebook, Twitter or Instagram), and find out more about our Taking Names project.
Did you know that when walking the Penwith landscape, you are walking in the footsteps of giants? Literally! (Well at least according to local folklore...) Stories abound of giants in the Cornish landscape, and we seem to have had quite a few down in Penwith. In fact, so the stories ago, many large stones and rocks in our landscape (particularly round Trencrom Hill) are here because giants used to throw them at each other for fun!
One of Penwith's most famous heroes is Jack the Giant Killer, who killed the giant Cormoran who lived on St Michael's Mount, and who raided the mainland to eat people and cattle alike! Jack tricked the giant into a large pit and finished him off with a pick-axe- making himself a legendary hero in the process (unless you're a giant, in which case you're probably not a fan...).
Of all the creatures of Penwith folklore, Blunderbore the giant was certainly one of the most unpleasant- he terrorised locals and visitors to Ludgvan, kidnapping couples in order to eat the men and marry the women- although he would hang the women by their hair in his dungeon to starve if they refused to eat their late husbands too! He was eventually killed by Jack the Giant Killer, who had already dispatched the giant Cormoran of St Michael's Mount, although some stories name his killer as Tom the Tinkeard.
While the giants of Penwith folklore tend to be quite violent, the giant of Carn Galva was said to be a kindly exception who protected local residents from other giants, played quoits with the local granite stones, and who rocked himself to sleep at night on a logan stone.
In Penwith you're never too far from the ocean, or its associated folklore- one such tale is that of the Mermaid of Zennor, possibly the most famous of all the Penwith tales. As the story goes, a beautiful young lady with an enchanting voice attended Zennor church for many years, with no one knowing who she was or where she went between the services. After some time she caught of the eye of the best tenor in the church choir, and one day the pair vanished together. A simple elopement many thought, but years later a captain whose boat was moored in the ocean nearby saw the young lady rise out the sea as a mermaid and politely asked him to move, and his anchor was stopping her husband coming home! And some say you can still hear the pair singing under the sea... A mermaid can be found carved into a pew in Zennor Church.
Pixies and Knockers
Tales of travellers becoming lost on the Penwith hills having been misled by mischievous pixies have been around for many years- this is known as being ‘pixie led’. The solution is to turn a piece of clothing inside out- you will then be able to get your bearings.
Woon Gumpus common is a particular stronghold for pixies and fairy folk, who hold their revels there. Years ago, a local man spied on one of their gatherings determined to steal some pixie treasure for himself. He was able to watch a feast, but was unable to take anything- the cunning pixies had seen the man and tied him down with millions of very fine threads! The irate pixies kicked and punched him, and then left him tied up until morning when he was finally able to free himself, leaving empty handed while feeling very sore, and with a severely bruised ego!
Tin mines are an integral part of the Penwith landscape, and as such belief in the Knockers has been rife here- these spirits of the mines would tap at the walls, some believed to warn of cave ins or to lead the way to rich lodes. While there is a debate as to whether the Knockers were fairy folk or the spirits of those who had died in the mines, it was thought that offering the remains of a Cornish pasty would help keep the Knockers benevolent to the miners. Another common food offering was a piece of 'fuggin' or lardy cake. One miner who refused to leave such an offering met with disaster as the vengeful knockers buried the rich lode he has been working on and all his mining tools in a rock slide, and eventually they hounded him out of mining all together. "As stiff as Barker's knee" is an old Cornish phrase referring to a miner who refused to share his meal with the Knockers, who were so enraged they threw all his tools at him, laming him for life.
The Bucca is a Cornish being of the coast, mines, and wild spaces. Held by some to be a being similar to the Spriggans, others to be a sea-spirit, and for some an older horned-god deity of Cornwall, it has both light and dark aspects- known as Bucca Dhu and Bucca Gwidden, the Black Bucca and the White Bucca.