St. Michael’s Mount is a tidal island that lies just in Mount’s Bay, off the coast of Cornwall and a short distance from the town of Marazion. At high tide it becomes an island and when the tide goes out it can be reached from Marazion by a short stroll across a stone causeway. Looking very much like the scene from a fairy tale the mount rises up out of Mount’s Bay and is crowned with a castle. Below the castle lies a cluster of houses and a small harbour where the causeway runs from Marazion connecting it to the Cornish mainland.
Many centuries ago Mount’s Bay was above water and once home to a forest that. It is not known exactly what happened but the forest is now under the sea. Whether the land sank or the sea rose is not known, but this land is said to have been drowned by the sea in an event that was possibly similar to a tsunami. The petrified remains of the trees can sometimes still be seen after storms.
Cormoran the giant
Many years before the flood the forest was said to be the home of birds, animals and probably humans. But there was also giants and the biggest of all was Cormoran and there are many tales concerning him and many versions of the same tale but in Cornish folklore it is Cormoran, with the help of his wife who built the Mount with the name “St Michael’s” added later from a different legend.
In the middle of the forest was one huge white rock and one day while roaming the forest Cormoran came across it and taking a liking to the place decided to built a high hill of white rocks and to make it his home. His idea was to look out from the heights of the hill over the countryside keeping an eye on what was going on all around.
Building the Mount
It was a mammoth task he had set himself but he knew just what he wanted and he cut, shaped and sorted the slabs of granite using only the white. Those that had a tinge of green, grey or pink he rejected. Cormoran had a wife by the name of Cormelian who was a very conscientious and hard working giantess. Now Cormoran was a lazy fellow and he made poor Cormelian carry all the blocks of granite from the quarry to the site while he put his feet up and went to sleep.
Now Cormelian worked at the task conscientiously putting each slab of white granite in her apron, carrying it to the site and putting it in place. She soon found it to be very hard work and began thinking that the slabs of green, grey or pink granite would look much prettier than just white. They were easier for her to get to and not so far to carry and she was beginning to get tired and bored with carrying slabs while her husband snored and slept. She grew increasingly frustrated and resentful and the work was taking days and days. One day while Cormoran snored she picked up a huge green slab and placing it in her apron and carried it to the growing mound of stones as quickly as she could lest he should wake. Just as she was about to put the stone in place Cormoran opened one eye saw what she was doing.
He was furious with her but instead of raging and shouting crept up behind her and struck her such a blow on the back of her head that she staggered. Her apron string broke and the huge green slab fell to the ground. There it remains in that exact same spot today and no human could ever move it. The sea rose or the land sank and the area became inundated with the sea and is how we find it today on the beach.
Cormoran and the Lord of Pengersick
Cormoran had a very hideous appearance. As well as being very ugly he only had one eye and that was situated in the middle of his forehead. He had a large mouth with a few yellow, broken teeth left, but most were now gone. His hideous appearance and sheer size made the local people terrified of him. He was also the most habitual thief taking whatever he wanted from anyone.
All the local people and farmers were frightened of him and he knew it and used to his advantage. When he was hungry he would stride the short distance from the Mount to the mainland and steal the best sheep, pigs and cattle, throwing them over his shoulder and striding home to enjoy eating them. The local farmers suffered sorely from this thievery but were helpless to prevent it.
Now it came to pass that one day Cormoran met his match, well more than his match. The estate of the Lord of Pengersick lay nearby and it was well known that his lordship was away in foreign lands in the east. Cormoran would take advantage of this raiding the estate for the best sheep, pigs and cattle in all of Cornwall. One day Cormoran thought he would raid his lordships livestock so setting out from the Mount he strode across to Pengersick Cove which was the nearest and quickest way to the estate.
In the past Cormoran had stolen a great deal of livestock from Pengersick and had no fear of any confrontation with the local people or the lord. His sheer size and hideous appearance had always frightened them off and he laughed at the thought of it. He feared no human. He had no time for any of them only had respect for giants like himself, but especially the giant of Trecrobben Hill who was his friend.
Now it just so happened that the Lord of Pengersick had returned from his travels in the eastern lands where he was said to have learned much of the ancient arts of magic and sorcery. It is told that by the use of these arts he knew Cormoran was coming and was ready for him. His servants had told him about the giant’s thieving and his lordship resolved to teach him a lesson.
So Cormoran waded ashore thinking he would quickly snaffle a sheep or a cow for an easy meal and stride home to enjoy his ill gotten fayre. Now as he stepped ashore a funny thing happened to him that had never happened before. He began to feel really queasy in the stomach and his head went all funny inside and he felt confused and bewildered. He thought perhaps the strong sun had affected him but others say it was the Lord of Pengersick who through magic arts was watching his every move and had thrown a spell on him, but Cormoran had no inkling of this. All Cormoran knew was he felt decidedly peculiar and unwell but things were about to get very strange indeed.
Forcing himself to keep his mind on his goal of stealing his dinner he decided to catch one of his lordship’s cattle that were peacefully grazing nearby. Still feeling decidedly wobbly he crept up to one and tried to grasp it round the neck. To his surprise the cow was as slippery as an eel and he began floundering around trying to grasp it but it kept slipping out of his grip.
Cormoran was now feeling really woozy and very confused and bewildered. He began losing his temper and gave up trying to catch the cow. Instead out of desperation and spite he grabbed its calf, which although also slippery, was smaller and he managed to master it. Tying its legs together he threw it around his neck and and tried to hurry home to the Mount for a good dinner.
He was still feeling strange and funny in his head but as he staggered home he noticed something else strange that was happening. For his long legs the distance back to his home was not great and he usually managed it with ease but now something was happening he could not explain. No matter how fast he tried to walk, or how long he made his strides he did not seem to be getting very far.
Looking around him the countryside appeared different and peculiar, but he could not say why, or was even sure of where he was. He was becoming exhausted and seemed to have got nowhere but at last he saw Pengersick Cove, but in the sea was a great black rock which he could not ever remember seeing before. Confused and bewildered he thought he must have taken a wrong path and he tried to turn around and go back the way he came.
To his shock and growing horror he found he could not turn around and could not even walk backwards. he found himself being dragged towards the black rock by some invisible force. He laid down and dug his heels in the ground but the rock still dragged him towards it closer and closer. Soon the invisible force had dragged him near enough for him to stretch his arms out thinking to hold himself from the rock, but he found his hands were now stuck fast to it. No matter how hard he tugged and pulled and twisted he could not free his hands from the rock. He was stuck fast and now he was panicking.
To make matters worse the calf he was carrying around his neck was also panicking kicking him and bellowing and soon he was covered in cuts and bruises but his hands were stuck to the rock and could do nothing to free the calf or fend it off. Soon he could feel himself turning cold. His hands on the stone started to stiffen followed by his arms and his back and then his legs. Soon all his body felt as rigid and as solid as stone, but all the while his senses grew keener enhancing his fear. Fear gripped him as he thought he would now become petrified solid.
It is said the Lord of Pengersick with his magic arts saw all this and was well pleased with the spell he had put on Cormoran and decided to leave him there till the next morning to teach him not to go thieving his livestock. So Cormoran was left to stand as still and rigid and cold as stone in the bay with the calf kicking and bellowing until morning. The tide came in and the water rose up to his neck and he feared he would drown but he did not and then the tide went out again.
In the morning Cormoran was still well and truly stuck to the stone and could not pull or twist his hands free. The Lord of Pengersick, thinking he would teach him another lesson arrived on his horse and began berating Cormoran and gave him a severe tongue lashing making the giant quake. However his lordship was not finished with Cormoran and dismounting from his horse gave the giant a severe thrashing with his stick.
So severely and so viciously was Cormoran beaten that he screamed and writhed in agony. He struggling so hard that he pulled the skin from his hands to get free from the rock that had held him and ran into the sea striding rapidly through the waves to his home on St Michael’s Mount. There he nursed his hands in misery for many a day until they healed. Never again did Cormoran steal livestock from his lordship’s land though he still raided the other farms in the area.
Cormoran’s hands eventually healed up but during that time he made the life of his poor wife, Cormelian, a proper misery. As well as having sore hands and bruises and weals across his back, his pride had been hurt from the lesson the Lord of Pengersick had given him. He was mortified about what the other giants would think and poor Cormelian had to endure his bad temper for many a day to her dismay.
The death of Cormelian
Now Cormelian was a very kind and good-natured giantess and was always working hard looking after the home and her grumpy, bad-tempered husband. It was thanks to her that the worst of his bad behaviour was curbed. Her one weakness was her excessive inquisitiveness. She was not really nosy and she never did anyone any harm, but her curiosity always seemed to get the better of her and this was to prove tragic.
Cormoran was great friends with the Trecrobben Hill giant on the mainland and they would borrow things and lend things of each other as is the way with good friends. Now when one of them wanted to borrow something they would shout across to each other and one would simply throw the other what was required, which would sail for miles high in the air for the other to catch.
Cormoran wore hobnailed boots on his great big feet and one day he could feel a nail sticking in his foot. He shouted across to his friend to throw him his cobbling-hammer. His friend duly obliged and lobbed the hammer high in the air.
Cormelian was busy working in the house and hearing Cormoran shouting ran out in her inquisitiveness to see what was happening. Running out from the dark house into bright sunshine her eyes were dazzled. Although Cormoran shouted a warning she did not see the hammer coming and it struck her full on top of her head killing her instantly. She fell down in front of Cormoran who let out a great howl and the giant of Trecrobben Hill raced down to see what had happened.
The two giants wept and hugged each other and hugged and shook poor Cormelian trying to bring her back to life but she was as dead as stone. They wailed and cried so much that they caused a gale that wrecked two ships upon the sea and blew the roofs of many of the houses in Marazion but all to no avail and all that was left to do was bury her.
Now although Cormoran was a grumpy old giant and very often mistreated Cormelian he loved her in his own way and was never the same after he lost her. His friend from Trecrobben Hill was also devastated as he had never intended anyone should get hurt let alone killed. Together the two giants buried Cormelian, but where the grave may be is not known for sure. Some say it was on the Mount in the courtyard, others say the two of them lifted up Chapel Rock and laid her to rest underneath, but others say they gave her to the sea.
Jack the Giant killer
Cormoran met his own death some years later at the hands of a local lad who came to specialize in killing giants and became known as Jack the Giant-Killer. After the death of his wife Cormoran had no one to rein him in and although he avoided the Lord of Pengersick’s livestock he raided all the other farms in the locality all the more. One day the local farmers became so annoyed with him they convened a meeting in Penzance to discuss what they should do.
After a great deal of arguing and talking an idea was proposed that they all accepted mainly because none could think of anything better. Over the years Cormoran had accumulated a great deal of treasure that he had stolen from the neighbourhood. It was proposed that anyone who could get rid of Cormoran for ever would be given this considerable treasure trove as a reward. Although no one believed anyone would be foolhardy enough to fight the giant, or strong enough to defeat him. Certainly none of them were brave enough to try. Nevertheless they put out advertisements searching for such a person but no one seemed interested or had the courage to try.
Eventually just as they were giving up on the idea to their surprise and amusement a simple farmer’s boy by the name of Jack volunteered to have a go. Although no one had faith that he could accomplish the task they were desperate so they agreed and he took up the challenge.
That night Jack took a small boat and paddled over to the Mount while Cormoran was asleep. Working fast but quietly he dug a deep pit on the path the giant used everyday that ran down from his home. As dawn broke he stood outside the giant’s door and blew three loud notes on his horn. Waking with a start, Cormoran rushed outside to see what all the commotion was. As soon as he steps out the door Jack starts shouting at him and taunts him. Furious Cormoran chases Jack down the path, but the rising sun dazzles him and he does not see the pit Jack had dug.
Jack, knowing where the pit is leaps over it as Cormoran is about to grab him and the giant blinded by the sun falls into it to his surprise. Turning quickly Jack drives his pickaxe into the skull of the giant killing him instantly and that was the end of Cormoran the Giant of St Michael’s Mount. But for every ending there is a beginning. Jack claims his reward and that is how he began his career as the famous giant-killer.
Return of the giants
These days there are no more giants in or around Mount’s Bay though tales of them remain. Perhaps one day the water will recede from the bay and the forest will return and giants will again live in it and on the Mount, but I don’t suppose the local farmers would be very pleased!
© 24/01/2016 zteve t evans
References and Attributions
Copyright 24/01/2016 zteve t evans
- St Michael’s Mount – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
- The Project Gutenberg eBook, Cornwall’s Wonderland, by Mabel Quiller-Couch – THE GIANT OF ST. MICHAEL’S MOUNT
- Cormoran – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
- Jack the Giant Killer – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
- English Fairy Tales – Jack the Giant-Killer (by Joseph Jacobs)
- Wikimedia Commons – St Michaels Mount, Marazion in Cornwall UK – File:St Michael’s Mount II5302 x 2982.jpg – By Fuzzypiggy – CC BY-SA 3.0