Article by Frankie Hackett. Images courtesy Alex Langstone.
The mystifying presence of Bodmin Moor has led tale to thousands of years of folklore and mythology. The fog swept valleys and areas of flat expanse present a sense of unfamiliarity to visitors who are used to the typical enclosures of fields in the rest of England. It is this position of unfamiliarity that has inspired historical interest for many Cornish people of past and present, and this article is going to explore some of the most infamous and foundational extracts of legendary folklore of the area that has grounded itself in Cornish identity and heritage.
The Beast of Bodmin Moor
Make no mistake in thinking all of these legends are ancient and irrelevant to the modern day. In the late 1970s, an unusual excursion of reports of mutilated livestock on Bodmin Moor stirred local headlines asking questions of how and why this could have happened. Local reported sightings of a large black cat, similar to that of a leopard, stirred rumour and gossip around the area as people grasped to come to terms with the strange chain of slaughtered animals.
Since then, over 60 police reports have been filed claiming to have sighted the mythical beast. These reports ranged from being chased to just spotting an eerily and unnaturally large animal in the distance. Some photo and video evidence exists too, but the verification of this taking place legitimately has not been confirmed.
The legend of the beast has been integral to the local culture of Bodmin Moor. Many believe that the beast has since bred and that more exist out there. In the 1990s, rumours became so serious that an official government investigation concluded this type of beast being compared to a panther could not survive in the UK. Alas, the myth continued as this was still not concrete enough to declare it did not exist.
Theories of how the beast could have surfaced include the illegal importing of three pumas by a circus entertainer in 1978 which were eventually freed, but never declared due to the illicit nature of how they were obtained. Perhaps they bred and found haven in the vast expanses of Bodmin Moor, and perhaps these vast expanses are responsible for explaining why they are rarely sighted and not officially documented. Perhaps this legend will invite you to search for it yourself.
The Legends of King Arthur are possibly the most famous and recognisable tales in all of history. The complex interpolations of events of his life include many locations across Cornwall and in this case entails Dozmary pool in Bodmin Moor.
King Arthurs sword, Excalibur, has many various sources of mythical enquiry! The contradicting stories of his legend by many authors in history all locate the origins of his sword as somewhere different, but one of the core and most believable sources detail that Arthur obtained the sword (which in Cornish is actually called Calesvol) by the lady of the lake who guided him through the mist of Dozmary where he could take the sword out of the stone.
The sword was carried throughout his lifetime but in his final moments he ordered it to be taken back to the lake, where it was thrown by a knight. According to myth, an arm reached up and captured the sword, burying it under the water ever since.
Many believe the sword may still be in Dozmary today, as the legend is so believable due to Bodmin Moors mystique matching the description of the texts. Furthermore, its proximity to Glastonbury, Tintagel and other key locations of Arthurs story further this theory over others that try to match the lake to ones in Normandy, France. Whatever you believe, a trip to the lake is vital in a visit to explore the Moorlands regardless; so be sure to keep an eye out for a glistening under the water.
St Cuby’s Well
Holy Wells are in abundance in Cornwall, hidden in so many beautiful hideaways and secret woodlands. Many are a source of great fortune to religious people, blessed by God to bring luck and healing. It is for this reason that so many are ornately crafted and carefully preserved.
However, not all of these Holy Wells have maintained their mythical status for positive reasons. A well, constructed by St Cuby in 480AD, has a story behind it that make the area feel more cursed than blessed. St Cuby created a chapel and wanted to feature a hand-crafted bowl with dolphins and griffins to celebrate and remember his time travelling. He was immensely proud of his creation but anxious of thieves looking to take from his sight and so cursed the bowl for anyone who may remove it.
For many decades, the locals were aware of this curse and frightened enough to respect the well’s status. However, one day a spiteful farmer decided to test the curse, bringing all four of his strongest oxen to transport the well for himself. On arriving at the well, every oxen pulled as hard as they could but one by one all collapsed and died. The farmer, in complete shock, returned home empty handed with neither the well nor his strongest oxen.
Today the bowl has been moved to the local parish church. To some, the curse is said to have passed itself onto whoever decided to move it. To others, its movement into a new place of worship meant the curse did not trigger. Both the well and the bowl are available to visit and see, so when visiting Bodmin Moor, be sure to try and locate both. Please, however, do not try and test this curse for you may suffer ill fate for the rest of your life!
The folklore and mythology circulating Cornwall is what brings the land to life. The stories like those above are only a small cut from centuries of tales told by the residents who live here. The connection of Cornish people to the land and to the stories embedded within the land is what sets apart Cornish identity to other cultures in the UK. Bodmin Moor is usually suffocated in fog and thus you will find yourself unlucky to stay in the area and not experience the eerie but enchanting nature of the environment it has to offer when the fog sweeps in. However, only visit on the condition that you stay vigilant of beasts, can promise you wont steal any wells and that you keep a look out for anything shining under the waters of Lakelands.