Photography by Susannah Relf
Photography by Susannah Relf
 
 

Events in Cornwall

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August 2014
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Cornish Myths and Legends

Ghost Stories of Cornwall

Cornwall has been described as the most haunted place in the British Isles, and for good reason! Stories of hauntings abound and most towns and villages have had more than their fair share.

At the famous old coaching hostelry Jamaica Inn (made famous by Daphne Du Maurier's Novel) at Bolventor, near Bodmin, the ghost of a murdered sailor returning to finish his last drink has been seen by many visitors sitting on a wall outside.

Customers at The Dolphin Inn at Penzance have witnessed the sight, and in recent years, the sound of an old sea captain dressed in tricorn hat and laced ruffles paying them an unwelcome visit. It is believed he may have been a victim of Judge Jeffries (1648-89), the famous "Hanging Judge" who is reputed to have held an Assizes in what is now the dining room of the inn, or possibly an old smuggler returning to claim the casks of brandy recently found hidden away in the cellar during renovations.

From the Punch Bowl Inn at Lanreath, near Lostwithiel, comes the tale of a demonic black cockerel believed to have been the angry soul of an old rector of the parish who fell to his death down the stairs to his cellar whilst fetching a bottle of wine. His guest for dinner that night was the new young curate who had fallen in love with the rector's young and beautiful wife. Did he fall or was he pushed? We'll never know, but the very next day a large black cockerel suddenly appeared and began attacking everyone in sight. Eventually the bird flew in through the window of The Punch Bowl Inn and straight into an old earthenware oven. A quick thinking kitchen maid imprisoned him inside it and a mason was duly called to cement it up for all eternity.

The Wellington Hotel, Boscastle's famous old coaching inn, has more than its fair share of ghostly inhabitants. Some years ago the Hotel's owner, Victor Tobutt, was working at the reception desk when the figure of a man drifted silently past him. Looking up, he was surprised to see that the man wore leather gaiters and boots, a frock coat and a frilled shirt, such as might have been worn by an 18th century coachman, and his hair tied back in the old fashioned style. "There was nothing insubstantial about him", Victor told, "he looked remarkably solid." To his shock, the apparition disappeared through the wall, but when he began to describe what he had seen to one of his employees, the man completed the description for him. Apparently he too had seen the ghostly visitor on more than one occasion.

Another employee at The Wellington Hotel, retired policeman Bill Searle has twice witnessed a misty shape wearing what appears to be a cloak drift across the landing and disappear through the wall of a guest room. It is thought to be the spirit of a young girl who, crossed in love, flung herself in despair from the ramparts of the hotel's tower. Victor also believes that another part of the building is haunted by a murdered man, and there is also an "animal friendly" spirit, which was eagerly pursued by the small dog belonging to the writer of ghost stories who stayed in the hotel. Ironically, the writer himself didn't see it, but his wife witnessed a shape move across the room, followed by the dog excitedly wagging his tail!

Several of the staff and customers have also witnessed a dark shape float down the stairs and disappear into the cellar late at night. Curiously, the two oldest hostelries in Boscastle bear the names of two of history's most famous adversaries. At the top of Boscastle's steep "corkscrew " hill, high above The Wellington Hotel stands The Napoleon Inn. It is said that the inn served as a recruiting office in the Napoleonic Wars, but the sympathies and interests of many Cornish smugglers lay more with their French suppliers than with King and Country. Legend has it that The Napoleon Inn was so named because it was actually used to recruit volunteers for the enemy!

The Ghost of Charlotte Dymond

One of Cornwall's most celebrated ghosts is that of Charlotte Dymond, who was found murdered on the slopes of Roughtor, near Camelford on Sunday 14th April 1844. Her lover, a crippled farmhand called Matthew Weeks was later hanged at Bodmin Goal for the crime, though it is doubtful that he committed it. Since that time, and especially on the anniversary of her death, Charlotte has been seen walking in the area, clad in a gown, a red shawl and a silk bonnet. Sentries of the Old Volunteers stationed in Roughtor were very reluctant to stand duty there, so convinced were they of her ghostly presence. A memorial stone marks the site of her murder, and the story has been immortalised too in "The Ballad of Charlotte Dymond", by Cornish poet Charles Causley.

A memorial to Charlotte stands very close to the car park at Roughtor and can be easily visited today. Flowers continue to be laid in memory of this young woman who suffered a tragic and violent death.

Duporth Manor

The ancient manor house at Duporth was said to have been haunted by the ghost of a nun known affectionately as "Flo". A century ago she could be heard striking matches in adjoining rooms and at the same time almost every night someone - or something? - would click open the lock on the cabinet in the drawing rooms. The manor has now been demolished and the sight has become Duporth Holiday Village, but according to a night security guard "Flo" hasn't gone away. Many strange happenings have been witnessed in recent years. The roundabout in the children's playground has been seen to turn by itself, first one way then the next without a breath of wind in the air. A kettle boiled itself in a locked and unattended room and a sewing machine which whirred into life without human assistance abruptly stopped when a member of staff said "no thanks Flo - I don't need you today". People claim to be aware of an invisible presence near the old farmhouse. An elderly lady staying at the village with her 5 year old granddaughter heard the child talking to someone on the landing one afternoon. On investigating the grandmother could see no one, and when questioned the child said she had been chatting to a nice old lady in a black dress!

The Legend of Blackways Cove

Blackways Cove is an isolated inlet just along the coast from the golden North Cornwall beach of Trebarwith Strand. It is said to be haunted, but no one really knows by whom. Could it be the ghosts of shipwrecked sailors drowned when their vessels were torn apart on the treacherous rocks nearby? Or it could be the restless spirit of a local man doomed to haunt the scene of his crime - a crime with a curious twist in the tale? Many years ago a man with two sons farmed in the vicinity, and on his death left his entire estate to his eldest son, cutting out the younger one without a penny. The younger son went away wracked with jealousy that fomented over time to be an obsession until, convinced that he had been cheated of his birthright he set out to wreak revenge on his elder brother. One night he crept onto the farm and set fire to the buildings. The blaze took hold and the entire property was razed to the ground. The ruins of this once prosperous farm may still be seen near Backways - a few stones from the farmhouse and outbuildings were all that remained. Only in the morning did he discover that his brother had died the day before - and left the entire estate to him.

The Talland Ghost Hunter

Talland is a small village on Cornwall's East coast not far from the fishing villages of Looe and Polperro. Once an area notorious for smuggling, its worthy vicar, Parson Richard Dodge who served the church between 1713 and 1747 acquired a reputation as a Ghost hunter and Exorcist, almost certainly a convenient cover to disguise his smuggling activities! Dodge claimed the power to drive away the Devil and spread the story of having met The Devil himself driving a sable coach drawn by two headless horses. He spoke of demons on nearby Bridle Lane, a path that leads down to the beach, thereby ensuring that God-fearing folk would steer clear of the area at night and not disturb his illegal trade!

He also let it be known that on his approach evil spirits would cry out "Dodge is come! I must be gone!" and so his reputation as the scourge of evil spread far and wide in the county. Legend also has it that the original Church was to have been constructed at nearby Pulpit and work had actually commenced, but each following day the stones that had been laid had been mysteriously transported over to the present site. Then, a chilling voice is said to have been heard, commanding "if you would my wish fulfil build the church on Talland Hill". The superstitious masons duly acquiesced, and there it stands to this day.

The Phantom Coach

A lonely drive through quiet country lanes one wet November afternoon led to an extraordinary encounter for Mr Cliff Hocking of Mevagissey.

He was driving from Mevagissey to Truro to visit his wife in hospital when, to his shock and amazement he rounded a round bend and without warning was suddenly confronted with an old fashioned stagecoach thundering along the road towards him, drawn by four horses galloping at full speed. At the reigns sat a coachman in a greatcoat with wide blue lapels, whipping the horses into a frenzy of speed. Beside the driver blowing a posthorn sat the guard, clad in a scarlet coat and black hat. Horrified, Mr Hocking stamped on his brakes, stalling the car and throwing his hands up over his face. As the mysterious coach bore down on him, the thundering wheels, galloping hooves and urgent blast of the horn rising to a crescendo, he sat helplessly awaiting the imminent collision. Nothing happened. Instead, the terrifying sounds of the coach ceased abruptly and all was quiet again. When he looked up it had literally disappeared into thin air. The road was empty.

The phenomenon of phantom coaches drawn by ghostly horses is not an uncommon one, especially in the uncommonly haunted county of Cornwall, but to Mr Hocking this vision was a very real one. He remembers quite clearly that the coach was painted bright red, low bodied with small doors and windows and a sloping rear. Such a coach would once have carried the mail to towns and villages in the vicinity - some two hundred years ago. Why was the driver in such a hurry? Well perhaps he was late with the post - or maybe he had a rendezvous to meet. After all, Walter Cross - the Mevagissey man who had introduced the stagecoach service into Cornwall in 1796 was, among other things, a smuggler. Was it him at the reins?

The Ghost Ship of Chygwidden

The long-departed heir of the Chygwidden estate returned by ship to Porthcurnow (as it is now) to live at Chygwidden. He brought with him a dark-skinned companion who was as mysterious as he was unusual, speaking seldom to any but "The Captain" as the locals called the returned landowner.

The relationship between the two was odd and they would often quarrel though no-one was allowed to meddle in their affairs in this respect. "The Captain" had done well in his absence and was clearly wealthy though he drank often and seemed unsettled. When he felt his death approaching "The Captain" let it be known that he had no wish to die abed, but that he should die, and be buried, at sea. He died before those around him could carry out his wishes, however.

The stranger and his dog left by boat shortly afterwards, as did the lady of the house, and none were seen again but many sightings have been reported a ship - the one "The Captain" wished to die in - gliding overland in a cloud of mist to Chygwidden.

The Ghosts of Pendennis Castle

Castles naturally seem to have a certain atmosphere about them, if only because of the unique sense of history that is invoked when you visit them. However, if the staff who work at Pendennis Castle, Falmouth, are to be believed there's a lot more to Pendennis than atmosphere!

Such are the frequency of ghostly occurrences at this English Heritage site that staff occasionally put on special guided tours of the areas most affected - by the people who have had strange experiences. These tours include areas of the castle seldom opened to the public, like the kitchens which are located underground to the left of the castle entrance. Visitors and staff alike repeatedly reported sightings of a figure in this room and the frightening atmosphere and frequency of occurrences is one reason this section was closed off!

More sinister, is the story of a serving girl who fell to her death on the narrow spiral staircase leading to the main castle kitchens on the lowest level of the keep. Many people have reported suddenly losing their balance on these stairs as though they had been "pushed". Could this be the ghost of the girl, or could it be an indication that her death was a result of foul play? Either way, I can personally attest that care needs to be taken on this particular flight of stairs - I nearly fell down myself!

A more settled, friendly "presence" is the ghost of the former governor of the castle whose portrait can be seen on the first floor in the newer accommodation section. He loved the castle in life and a ghostly presence has been felt, and occasionally glimpsed, in this room. Though disconcerting, the governor's presence is not a cause for alarm - he is simply revisiting his home out of fondness.

Moving on in time, one of the ammunition stores dating from a later phase when the castle was garrisoned to service the large guns defending the bay is thought to contain a ghost. He has been seen by staff on occasions when they know no-one has been given access to the room.

Clearly not all of Pendennis' former residents are content to leave the castle to its modern day custodians and visitors and continue to make their presence felt!