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Legends

Mist over Cape CornwallThe Gwennap Head cliffs can also be an eerie place, as mist creeps in from the sea and it is perhaps not wise to venture onto this lonely place. When there was also the low moaning of the nearby Runnel Stone buoy it added a ghostly prescence to the area. Indeed , the area abounds with tales of ghosts and evil doing, of smugglers and wreckers.

There are many tales associated with Cornwall; witches, magic smugglers and wreckers. Some of these we take with a pinch of salt others we ignore at our peril.

What is known is that even today when a ship goes aground the people of Cornwall are not slow to take the opportunity to avail themselves of the windfall. In February 2002 the ship Kodima foundered of the Cornish coast and its cargo of wooden planks was released to help with the refloating procedure. The Cornish were waiting and over the next few weeks the valuable wood was secreted away in the garages, sheds and houses of Cornwall - there were brand new buildings springing up all over the southwest in 2003!

However, be that as it may, the following tales serve to give a glimpse into the old Cornwall of legend and mystery .

Madgy Figgy's Chair
A little way beyond Porthcurno lies another fishing hamlet, named Porthgwarra, which one may well suspect of owning a history of more incident than arises naturally out of nets and trawls. A short climb above this cluster of dwellings brings us out on the summit of Tol-Pedn-Pennwydh (or Gwennap Head, in modern vernacular). There is no grander sight in Western Cornwall than the sheer dropping of this mighty headland to the sea. Its dark jutting shoulders and the huge buttresses still impress the mind today as they surely did of old, when every peak along these coasts had its tale of witches gathering to watch and help the growing storms, or sailing through the air on stalks of ragwort.

On the top of Tol-Pedn is a rude recess among the cubes of granite, which keeps the name of Madgy Figgy's Chair. Madgy Figgy was accounted one of the blackest of all the Penwith witches and from Madgy Figgy's Chair she could look out over the ships navigating the treacherous waters around the Runnel Stone….and not just observe!

It is said that, often, when the winter storms were rising and the seamanship skills of the great ships was being put to the test, Madgy Figgy would be seen swinging to and fro with exultation in her chair, screaming out her incantations until the storm rose into ungovernable fury, and drew the vessels near and nearer to the reefs. Then when the crash was imminent, Madgy Figgy would sail off from her chair on a stalk of ragwort, and float shrieking, up and down in the air, while far below her, the wreckers stripped the bodies cast ashore and gathered up the wrecks’ cargo

The Ghost Ship of Porthcurno
Porthcurno Cove is situated a little to the west of the Logan Stone. There, as in nearly all the coves around the coast, once existed a small chapel or oratory, dedicated to St Leven. However, a small square enclosure is all that remains of this little holy place. The valley is, in every respect, a melancholy spot, and at night, or during a period of storms, is exactly the sort of place which might well be haunted by demon revellers. Indeed, few locals cared to cross that valley after nightfall in case they encountered the Ghost Ship of Porthcurno. This strange apparition is said to have been observed frequently, coming in from sea at nightfall, when the mists were rising from the marshy ground, in the Bottoms. A ghostly, black, square-rigged four-masted sailing ship, hatches all battened down, would sail in to the bay. But the dark spectral form would not stop at the sand…. instead, it would continue up the beach, and inland as far as St Levan, where it would disappear within sight of the church, vanishing like smoke. No crew would ever be witnessed, not even rowing the small boat which sometimes followed!

For those who saw the ghost ship, misfortune was always said to follow….

This ghostly vessel was believed to be somehow connected with a sinister man who returned from sea, and lived in the village many, many years ago. He was always followed by his equally sinister and strange servant, of foreign and forbidding aspect, who continued to be his only attendant. This servant was never known to speak to any one save his master, and nobody in the village knew who they were, or ever talked to the pair. They kept a boat at Porthcurno Cove and, at daylight, would start for sea, never returning until night (and, not unfrequently, remaining out the whole night, especially if the weather was tempestuous). Their only other pastime was hunting. It mattered not to them whether it was day or night; when the storm was loudest, there was this strange man, accompanied by his servant (the devil?), and the midnight cry of his dogs would disturb the country.

This mysterious being died and then the servant sought the aid of a few of the peasantry, to bear his coffin to the churchyard. The corpse was laid in the grave, around which the dogs were gathered, with the foreigner in their midst. As soon as the earth was thrown on the coffin, man and dogs disappeared, and - strange to say – at the same moment, the boat disappeared from the cove.

It has never since been seen and, from that day to this, no one has been able to keep a boat in Porthcurno Cove…..

Sweet William and Fair Nancy.
Nancy was the daughter of a rich farmer who did not consider William, her suitor, was good enough for his daughter. He tried to stop them seeing each other. However the pair continued to meet in secret & promised each other that one day they would marry. In due course William was called back to sea. The months passed by with no word from William. Nancy stayed true to him and spent hours gazing out to sea at Hella Point ( the headland to the west of Porthgwarra's cove). Il became known as`Nancy's garden. As time passed, having no word from him, Nancy began to slowly go mad. One evening she thought she heard her loved one tapping at her window, beckoning her to join him at sea. She rushed to Porthgwarra's cove, later called Sweethearts Cove, and was never seen again.

William appeared to his father that same night, telling him he had come back for his bride and bidding his father farewell. The next day news came of William's death ....... by drowning, thousands of miles away.

Lyonesse
On good days 28 miles across the water from Gwennap Head, the Isles of Scilly can be seen. Some say the Scillies are the high peaks of the land of Lyonesse now submerged beneath the sea.Fantasies of the past surge around our Cornish coast, and the Lost Land of Lyonesse is one of the most intriguing stories of all.

Lyonesse - they say - was comprised of beautiful cities, rich and fertile plains: a land peopled by a noble race, whom 140 church towers summoned to worship. So said Michael Williams in the book on Secret Cornwall.

This is a tale of disaster, and story tellers down the ages have given us a pretty clear picture of the tragedy: Trevilian - or Trevelyan - fleeing from Lyonesse on his white horse, the animal carrying his rider from a terrifying wall of water, the only survivors. The end of Lyonesse though was no sudden, dramatic deluge, for the explanation behind the successful escape of one man and his horse is that the man had shrewdly observed the sea making steady but dangerous inroads. Wisely, he moved his wife and family and livestock inland- to Cornwall- and when eventually disaster struck in the form of a flood burst, the white horse galloped to safety, bringing his rider ashore at Perran.

The interesting link with reality is that the Vyvyans, one of the most famous Cornish families and landowners in Penwith for centuries, still have as their family crest a white horse saddled minus rider: an artistic  reminder of that famous white horse from Lyonesse. It's also said the Vyvyans keep a white horse in their stables at Trelowarren, on the mainland saddled and waiting for any such crisis.

Despite the long tradition of this Lost Land, infuriatingly history records no such disaster.

Did Lyonesse once link Cornwall and Scilly? Some of the old folk declared the Scillies are the high peaks of Lyonnesse and nobody can deny the rock formation around Land's End and that on Scilly are uncannily alike.

Ronal Duncan had this to say: "The Scilly Isles, once called the Fortunate Isles, were settled in about 1700BC by immigrants from Brittany. At that time they were probably 40 or more feet higher than they are today. The considerable subsistance that occured on these islands may account for the legend of Lyonness, the country from which Tristan derived, or perhaps it may account for the legend of Avalon, the mysterious island to which Arthur's body was conveyed by Queens when he was mortally wounded in his last battle.

The Scilly Isles were, it must be assumed, a kind of Laguna Morte for the mainland because there are on the islands so many ancient tombs. It is doubtful whether the islands have ever supported a large population themselves; it is probable that the dead were ferried over from the mainland to be buried there. However another explanation has been given which cannot be proved or disproved. There are many walls on the islands which disappear into the sea, proving there was considerable subsidence. There is a legend that Avalon was joined to the islands, and it disappeared like Atlantis.

Time was when vegetation washed ashore in Mounts Bay was pointed to as evidence of Lyonnesse.There is much written evidence and a photograph from the 1890's telling of sightings of tree stumps in the waters between Mounts Bay and Land's End and of sightings of buildings in the waters. 

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