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Cornwall: Widdershins

Where is Cornwall?

In our third and forty second episodes, we referred to loads of interesting Cornwall-based things - and promised links and photos, so here they are:

Helston Flora Day

This ancient festival is usually held on 8th May. A spring festival to celebrate the end of winter and mark the arrival of the new vitality and fertility with the trees and flowers bursting into life. The houses and shops of the town are decorated with greenery and floral arrangements to express the spirit of renewal.

When the big bass drum strikes the first beat of the dance at seven in the morning, the spirit of the day is stirred and the celebrations commence. Couples dance through the streets, entering selected houses and shops to drive out the darkness of winter and bring in the light of spring.

The colourful pageant, known as Hal an Tow, tells the history of Helston with the participating characters singing about the challenge of the Spanish Armada, the English patron saint, St. George and the fight between St. Michael and the devil.

St Michael's Mount

From as far back as 495AD, tales tell of seafarers lured by mermaids onto the rocks, or guided to safety by an apparition of St Michael. The patron saint of fishermen, it’s said the Archangel Michael appeared on the western side of the island – below where the entrance to the castle is today – to ward fishermen from certain peril. It’s a legend which has brought pilgrims, monks and people of faith to the island ever since, to pray, to praise and to celebrate.

And four miracles said to have happened here during 1262 and 1263 would have only added to the religious magnetism that drew pilgrims from far and wide.

The island is also an important landmark for those spiritual seekers, who say its unique energy is thanks to age-old ley lines which course under the sea, and cross at the heart of the Mount. 

Whether it’s religious beliefs, spiritual energies, or simply the opportunity to take a breath and reflect, people of all sorts are drawn to pause and become immersed in the uplifting atmosphere of the Mount.

The Pipers and The Merry Maidens

The Pipers menhirs are set in fields just across the road from the well known Merry Maidens of Boleigh stone circle. In the far west of Cornwall one comes to expect a lot of ancient sites; however, this particular area has an unparalleled concentration. There are at least two further sites within a 200 metre circumference. The Pipers themselves consists of two massive granite standing stones set around 100 metres (330 ft) apart on a north-east / south-west alignment.

The Pipers are actually the largest menhirs still standing in Cornwall measuring 4.5 metres (13 ft) and 5 metres (15 ft) in height. The larger of the two stones is reportedly sunk 1.6 metres (5 ft) into the ground. We know this because the base of both stones were excavated by William Copeland Borlase in 1871 although nothing was found.

This late Stone/early Bronze Age (2500-1500BC) stone circle is renowned for both its beauty and the stories connected to it. It lies in a gently sloping field between Lamorna and St Buryan, a stone’s throw from Tregiffian barrow and a number of other ancient sites, and its remarkable qualities were first recorded in the C17th.

The regularity of spacing between stones and its truly circular form make the Boleigh Merry Maidens unusual in Cornwall, however restorations in the C19th (on the orders of the land owner Lord Falmouth who wanted to avoid the fate which had befallen other nearby circles and stones, namely field clearance and their use in construction) led to some stones being put back slightly skewed. There are 19 stones in all, with a gap in the eastern section which is common to almost all British stone circles. In addition to the regular spacing, the stones were also obviously carefully chosen and positioned as they gradually diminish in size from the southwest to the northeast; this waxing and waning in size believed to mirror the cycle of the moon. Measuring up to a maximum of 1.4m, the stones are dressed so as to be level on the top and have their flattest side facing the interior of the circle, which in turn has a diameter of around 78'.


An unusual and attractive Cornish site, the Mên-an-Tol is believed to belong to the Bronze Age, thereby making it around 3,500 years old, though little evidence has been found. It consists of four stones, the most memorable being the circular and pierced upright stone. Only one other example of a holed stone exists in the county: the Tolvan Stone near Gweek.

The other three stones are more regular granite pillars commonly used in stone circles, with one dressed flat side. There is speculation that these were simply four of the stones of an ancient circle, further large stones having been discovered lying just below the ground nearby. Another theory is that these stones once formed a chamber tomb, a hole of some form apparently being quite commonly used in fertility rituals involving the passing out of exhumed bones from the tomb.

Trethevy Quoit

Located high on the moors, overlooking a meeting of streams near St Cleer, this impressive quoit is known locally as the ‘giant’s house’ and, although a sweet image, John Norden’s 16th century description of “a little howse raysed of mightie stones, standing on a little hill within a fielde” somewhat belies it heftier significance. It is widely considered to be the best-preserved quoit in Cornwall, and among the best in the UK.

Erected in the early Neolithic period (c3500BC), and originally partially covered by a mound, Trethevy Quoit is unusual because not only does it have 6 supporting stones forming its internal chamber, but it was also constructed with an antechamber (although only one of the two original stones still remains). The only other Cornish quoit to boast two chambers is Lanyon Quoit. The huge Trethevy capstone sits at an uncomfortably steep angle, though it is unconfirmed as to whether this was its original position or the result of partial collapse at some point in its 5 millennia history. At the lower side of the capstone, five small hollows can be found.

Carn Cottage

Despite the lack of hard evidence, Aleister Crowley has been associated with Carn Cottage in literature from the 1950s right up until, most recently, in David Whittaker’s ‘St Ives Allure’ published in September 2018:

“To this day it has a sinister reputation amongst the locals. The fact alone that it is rather hidden and isolated from the community has prompted stories of hauntings and witchcraft. These stories had been partially endorsed by the presence, in the 1930s, of the self-styled ‘Great Beast’, Aleister Crowley. He is supposed to have summoned up the very Devil himself in the cottage and performed a black mass down the hill in Zennor’s church.”

Bodmin Jail

Bodmin Jail on the edge of Bodmin Moor in Cornwall was originally built during the reign of King George III in 1779 as part of the ground-breaking Prison Reform, built by military engineer Sir John Call.

Building works started in the early 1770s using 20,000 tonnes of local Delank granite, and stone from the adjacent Coocoo Quarry. 

The resulting building was a milestone in prison design, based on the plans and ideals of the prison reformer John Howard. It was one of the first modern prisons in the UK with individual cells, segregated male and female areas, hot water and light and airy areas for prisoners to live and work. In addition, prisoners were paid for their work from products sold by the governor.

Cornish Pasty



(rough puff can also be used):

  • 500 g strong bread flour (it is important to use a stronger flour than normal as you need the extra strength in the gluten to produce strong pliable pastry)

  • 120 g lard or white shortening

  • 125 g Cornish butter

  • 1 tsp salt

  • 175 ml cold water


  • 400 g good quality beef skirt, cut into cubes

  • 300 g potato, peeled and diced

  • 150 g swede/turnip*, peeled and diced

  • 150 g onion, peeled and sliced

  • Salt & pepper to taste (2:1 ratio)

  • Beaten egg or milk to glaze


Add the salt to the flour in a large mixing bowl.

  1. Rub the two types of fat lightly into flour until it resembles breadcrumbs.

  2. Add water, bring the mixture together and knead until the pastry becomes elastic. This will take longer than normal pastry but it gives the pastry the strength that is needed to hold the filling and retain a good shape. This can also be done in a food mixer.

  3. Cover with cling film and leave to rest for 3 hours in the fridge. This is a very important stage as it is almost impossible to roll and shape the pastry when fresh.

  4. Roll out the pastry and cut into circles approx. 20cm diameter. A side plate is an ideal size to use as a guide.

  5. Layer the vegetables and meat on top of the pastry, adding plenty of seasoning as you go. The amount of salt and pepper to use will vary according to taste but a good rule of thumb is to use a good pinch of salt and a gentle pinch of pepper on each layer. 

  6. Bring the pastry around and crimp the edges together.

  7. Glaze with beaten egg or an egg and milk mixture.

  8. Bake at 165 degrees C (fan oven) for about 50 – 55 minutes until golden.


History and legend are inseparable at Tintagel. From about the 5th to the 7th century AD it was an important stronghold, and probably a residence of rulers of Cornwall. Many fragments of luxury pottery imported from the Mediterranean were left behind by those who lived here.

It was probably memories of this seat of Cornish kings that inspired the 12th-century writer Geoffrey of Monmouth to name it in his History of the Kings of Britain as the place where King Arthur was conceived, with the help of Merlin. At the same time, Cornish and Breton writers linked the love story of Tristan and Iseult with Tintagel.

In turn, these associations with legend led the hugely rich and ambitious Richard, Earl of Cornwall, to build a castle here in the 1230s. The site was of no military value – legend alone seems to have inspired him to build here. And long after the castle had fallen into decay, its mythical associations kept interest in Tintagel alive. 

St Cuthbert's Duck

In case you wondered what a St Cuthbert's Duck looks like...

Cornish Language Kelly's Ice Cream Advert

Tintagel Castle

History and legend are inseparable at Tintagel. From about the 5th to the 7th century AD it was an important stronghold, and probably a residence of rulers of Cornwall. Many fragments of luxury pottery imported from the Mediterranean were left behind by those who lived here.

It was probably memories of this seat of Cornish kings that inspired the 12th-century writer Geoffrey of Monmouth to name it in his History of the Kings of Britain as the place where King Arthur was conceived, with the help of Merlin. At the same time, Cornish and Breton writers linked the love story of Tristan and Iseult with Tintagel.

In turn, these associations with legend led the hugely rich and ambitious Richard, Earl of Cornwall, to build a castle here in the 1230s. The site was of no military value – legend alone seems to have inspired him to build here. And long after the castle had fallen into decay, its mythical associations kept interest in Tintagel alive.

King Mark of Cornwall

King Mark of Cornwall was said to be the son of King Felix, who died after an Irish raid on his castle at Tintagel.

In Arthurian legend Mark is portrayed as violent, treacherous and cowardly. He was said to have ruled Cornwall in the early 6th century.

Legend describes him as cousin of King Arthur and uncle of Tristan. Mark sent Tristan to fetch his young bride, Isolde (or Iseult) from Ireland. Tristan and Isolde fell in love with a little help from a magic potion and their story has been told again and again. More modern versions of the legend include some by Thomas Hardy, John Masefield, Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch, John Erskine and John Updike.

There is some evidence for an actual historical figure who ruled Cornwall in the Dark Ages, such as that of the Welsh nobleman, March son of Meirchyawn. In the 9th century “Life of Paul Aurelian”, Cunomorus ruled Cornwall in the early sixth century. Mark has been identified with this king who was believed to have had his seat at Castle Dore, near Fowey.

Cunomorus is associated with Tristan on the famous Tristan Stone near Fowey, which commemorates Drustanus, son of Cunomorus.

Slaughterbridge Arthurian Centre and The Ogham Stone

The Vale of Avalon is part of King Arthur's Cornwall Discovery Trail (which includes Tintagel, Dozmary Pool (photo below), King Arthur's Great Halls and St. Nectan's Glen.

The Idylls of the King

Alfred Lord Tennyson's epic poem, The Idylls of the King, is in twelve books. Here's a small sample, from the moment Arthur is dying:

...Then loudly cried the bold Sir Bedivere:

"Ah! my Lord Arthur, whither shall I go?

Where shall I hide my forehead and my eyes?

For now I see the true old times are dead,

When every morning brought a noble chance,

And every chance brought out a noble knight.

Such times have been not since the light that led

The holy Elders with the gift of myrrh.

But now the whole Round Table is dissolved

Which was an image of the mighty world,

And I, the last, go forth companionless,

And the days darken round me, and the years,

Among new men, strange faces, other minds."

And slowly answer'd Arthur from the barge:

"The old order changeth, yielding place to new,

And God fulfils himself in many ways,

Lest one good custom should corrupt the world.

Comfort thyself: what comfort is in me?

I have lived my life, and that which I have done

May He within himself make pure! but thou,

If thou shouldst never see my face again,

Pray for my soul. More things are wrought by prayer

Than this world dreams of. Wherefore, let thy voice

Rise like a fountain for me night and day.

For what are men better than sheep or goats

That nourish a blind life within the brain,

If, knowing God, they lift not hands of prayer

Both for themselves and those who call them friend?

For so the whole round earth is every way

Bound by gold chains about the feet of God.

But now farewell. I am going a long way

With these thou seëst—if indeed I go

(For all my mind is clouded with a doubt)—

To the island-valley of Avilion;

Where falls not hail, or rain, or any snow,

Nor ever wind blows loudly; but it lies

Deep-meadow'd, happy, fair with orchard lawns

And bowery hollows crown'd with summer sea,

Where I will heal me of my grievous wound."

You can read the whole thing for free on Project Gutenberg, here.

The Beast of Bodmin Moor

The so-called "Beast of Bodmin Moor" has sparked stories and legends for three decades about a phantom black cat the size of a puma stalking the moors of Cornwall.

Since 1978, more than 60 reports have baffled local police about sightings of a large cat-like creature with supposedly sharp, prominent teeth and white-yellow eyes; a cross between a domestic cat and a panther. A string of mutilated livestock has done nothing but fuel the rumours.

Some people have reported being chased by the powerful and scary cat-like creature. Others have spotted it in the distance, not quite believing their eyes. Grainy photographs and video footage exist, but not enough to prove that it is real.

In 1995 the Government ordered an official investigation into the existence of the beast, which concluded that there was no verifiable evidence of a big cat on Bodmin Moor.

It is worth noting it was careful to state that there was no evidence against it, either...

Jamaica Inn

In 1750, Jamaica Inn became a coaching Inn when coaches first started crossing the moor, linking the towns of Launceston and Bodmin. The Inn is exactly halfway and where horses were changed and weary passengers rested and they have been doing this for the 270 years since then.

Its fame became worldwide when Daphne du Maurier wrote the best-selling novel ‘Jamaica Inn’ following her enforced stay in November 1930 in Bedroom 3 where she recovered from the ordeal of getting lost until late at night when out horse riding.

Whilst the character and charm of the old parts of the Inn - the olde worlde bars, some restaurant areas and the ‘old rooms’ 3 to 12 - have been carefully preserved, a recently built new wing now provides contrastingly modern bedrooms with breath-taking views over the moor. In total there are now 36 bedrooms and suites.

The Inn also has a Smuggling Museum full of artefacts and where tales of Cornish smugglers, wreckers and villains are brought wonderfully to life in a short film. Its Daphne du Maurier Museum has many recently acquired exhibits including the original letters to Daphne and her husband from the Queen, Prince Philip, Prince Charles, Lord Mountbatten and others.

The Inn in 1959 and now...

The Adventure of the Devil's Foot

The BBC audio drama that terrified Eleanor as a child...

Jan Tregeagle

When the wind moans across the moor or yells on the cliffs, the old people used to say, ‘Tis the crying of Tregeagle.”

Jan Tregeagle is the great giant ghost of Cornwall; it is said he was a steward to a lord, Baron Robartes, and that left in charge of his master’s lands for too long, he lined his own pockets and robbed the poor tenants of his master’s farms.

Very rich he became; but so bad was his reputation that people said he had sold his soul to he Devil in return for more than his fair share of the world’s goods.

At last he died and was buried in St. Breoke church, but his soul was not to rest. Lord Robartes returned to his estate to make a reckoning. In the rent book he found that Tregeagle had not marked a cross against a certain farm, to show that the rent had been paid; though the poor farmer insisted that he had duly paid it to the steward. “I swear I paid it to Tregeagle,” he said to the lord. “May Tregeagle himself come before us to tell you so!”

There was a thunderclap overhead and the room grew midnight black. Slowly it grew lighter again, and there stood Tregeagle himself; and he bore witness, bound by an oath on the holy bible, that the farmer had actually paid his rent, though he had failed to mark the book. So the man was allowed to go home.

But once brought back from the dead Tregeagle could not be banished. He refused to go down to Hell, where Satan was waiting to torment him; and he could not go to Heaven because of all his past sins.

Each night the Devil and his hounds hunted him around the parish. He troubled the lord and the people so much with his cries of woe and pleas for mercy, that the parson decided he must help both Tregeagle and the villagers.

He and his brother churchmen ordered that the ghost of the steward should be bound to bottomless Dozmary Pool, away up on the high moors, where he must work ceaselessly every night to bale out the water with a limpet shell which had a hole in it. As long as he worked thus he would be safe from the Devil and the hell-hounds.

But if during the night he once stopped, they would be able to seize him...

Cormoran The Giant and Morgawr The Sea Serpent

Cormoran is a giant associated with St. Michael's Mount in the folklore of Cornwall.

Local tradition credits him with creating the island, in some versions with the aid of his wife Cormelian, and using it as a base to raid cattle from the mainland communities.

Cormoran appears in the English fairy tale "Jack the Giant Killer" as the first giant slain by the hero, Jack, and in tales of "Tom the Tinkeard" as a giant too old to present a serious threat.

The Morgawr is a sea monster that is reputed to swim along the southern coast of Cornwall, Britain's far south west peninsula. It draws on the belief held by many that prehistoric creatures survive, thriving in deep waters...

The Mermaid of Zennor

Eleanor's story this week is her telling of "The Mermaid of Zennor" - a tale that has inspired people across centuries.

The Mermaid's Chair (below) sits in Senara's church, about which the Cornish Story website says the following:

Along the Atlantic Coast of Cornwall, a few miles west of St Ives, sits the small village named “Zennor.”

The village is home to 196 residents, a small pub, a few guest houses, and a church. Although the church itself is of Norman origins, it is said to stand on the site of a Celtic church dating back to the 6th Century AD. The pub known as the ‘Tinner’s Arms’ is located opposite ‘St Senara’s Church’ and was, according to folklore originally built in 1271 to house the masons who built the church.

The church was dedicated to Saint Senara who legend has it was a Breton Princess also known as Asenora. Historical fact records little of her, but legends claim Asenora’s husband, a Breton King, suspected her of infidelity when she became pregnant. As a harsh punishment he had her nailed into a barrel and cast out to sea, where she eventually washed up on the Cornish shore.

Notwithstanding she founded the church in Zennor so to bring Christianity to the local Celtic people, before moving on to Ireland to spread the word of God.

Keats' Lamia

...Do not all charms fly

At the mere touch of cold philosophy?

There was an awful rainbow once in heaven:

We know her woof, her texture; she is given

In the dull catalogue of common things.

Philosophy will clip an Angel's wings,

Conquer all mysteries by rule and line,

Empty the haunted air, and gnomed mine—

nweave a rainbow, as it erewhile made

The tender-person'd Lamia melt into a shade....

The Armada Portrait

The iconic Armada portrait commemorates the most famous conflict of Elizabeth I's reign – the failed invasion of England by the Spanish Armada in summer 1588.

The painting is on permanent public display in the Queen's Presence Chamber in the Queen’s House, on the site of the original Greenwich Palace – the birthplace of Elizabeth I.

The Armada Portrait summarises the hopes and aspirations of the nation at a watershed moment in history.

The portrait was also designed to be a spectacle of female power and majesty, carefully calculated to inspire awe and wonder.

Here's Mary Beard's analysis of the painting...

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