The revenge of the Mermaid of Padstow

The Doom Bar of Padstow

Over the ages the Cornish people evolved their own unique traditions, folklore and legends full of smugglers, pirates, giants and mermaids. One such example is the folktale of the Mermaid of Padstow which offers an explanation of how the Doom Bar, a large sandbar, that has accounted for many shipwrecks, was created.

The Doom Bar of Padstow lies in the estuary of the River Camel on the north coast of Cornwall.  It is a sandbar that has been a hazard for ships for many centuries wrecking many that sailed accidently upon it, or were forced by storms.  The term, Doom Bar is derived from Dunbar Sands which it was once called and dunebar, or sand dune.  A part of the eastern part is thought to have been above water in the distant past and covered in forest about 4,000 years ago that was eventually covered by sand and dunes and a rise in sea levels the cause of which is unknown.  The area it covers and its shape can vary depending on wind and tides and there are several traditions and legends about how it was created and two involve mermaids.

The Mermaid of Padstow

Mermaids are strange creatures and can be perilous for humans who encounter them.  They are sometimes seen as harbingers of doom bringing storms, drownings and shipwrecks.  Sometimes they are immoral temptresses winning the hearts of young men and luring them into the sea to their deaths, or never to be seen again on land.

One folk tale told by Enys Tregarthen tells how a curse from a dying mermaid created the Doom Bar in revenge for her murder by a local man named Tristram Bird.  According to the tale He had brought a new gun and gone down to Hawker’s Cove to shoot seals with it.   As he was hunting he found a beautiful young woman sitting on a rock, singing a sweet song and brushing her hair with a golden comb.

Mr Bird was entranced by her song and beauty and fell in love with her.  Approaching her he begged her to be his wife but the woman refused.  Deeply hurt by her rejection he shot her with his gun.  It was only then he realised that she was a mermaid and that had been the reason for her rejecting him.  There was nothing he could do to save her and as she died she cursed the harbour from Hawker’s Cove to Trebetherick Bay laying a “doom bar” across it.  Immediately a terrific storm hit the estuary and when it subsided a bar of sand lay across it covered by wrecked ships and dead sailors.  Ever since then the Doom Bar of Padstow has been causing a hazard for shipping ever since.

Another tradition told in the ballad, The Mermaid of Padstow a local man called Tom, or Tim Yeo killed a seal which turned out to be a mermaid.  Another explanation given by John Betjeman tells how a mermaid was found by a local man who fell in love with him.  He being mortal could not be with her in the sea for long.  She could not stay on land for long and so they were doomed to remain separated.  Nevertheless,  she was desperately in love with him and tried to entice him beneath the sea to live with her forever.  He was not ready for such a fate and rejected her but she tried to pull him in the sea to be with her.  He only escaped by shooting her.  Enraged by pain and rejection she grabbed a handful of sand and flung it towards Padstow.  From this handful of sand, more sand accumulated around it and the Doom Bar grew to what it is now.

Shipwrecks

Since records began in the 19th century there have been over six hundred shipping incidents on the Doom bar and most of these have resulted in wrecks. Two of the most notable wrecks on the Doom Bar was HMS Whiting, in 1816, a 12 gun Royal Navy warship ran aground there  and in 1895, the Antoinette, a three masted sailing vessel of 1,118 tons, making it the largest vessel to be wrecked so far.   To make it safe for navigation the vessel was blown up with explosives resulting in a cloud of sand and smoke that could be seen for miles.  However, in February 2010 the shifting sands revealed the remains of a large wooden vessel believed to be the Antoinette

Perilous

As with many folk tales the legend of the Mermaid of Padstow strives to explain the creation of a natural feature of the local environment in simple terms.  Many a good ship has floundered on the Doom Bar and even in modern times it needs to be approached with care and respect or it can prove perilous.  The same can be said about mermaids for they too can be perilous!

© 13/01/2016 zteve t evans

References and Attributions

Copyright January 13th 2016 zteve t evans

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The Mermaid’s Pool, Kinder Scout in the Peak District, England

The Peak District is an area of England that has been shaped and carved by the forces of nature for millions of years.  It is place of stunning and rugged, natural beauty with many strange and unexpected landscapes and places to discover.   Its highest point is Kinder Scout, a moorland plateau some 2,088 feet (639 metres) above sea level.

File: Mermaid’s Pool – geograph.org.uk – 247324.jpg From Wikimedia Commons, the free media repository – Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic license. Author: Dave Dunford

Humans have been active in the area for thousands of years and have also left their mark on the landscape.   Mesolithic flint artifacts have been found and Neolithic earthworks and burial mounds.  In the Bronze Age the area was believed to have maintained a fair sized population who made their living mainly through agriculture.    There are many sites of archaeological and historic interest and many legends and folk tales associated with the area.

The pool and the waterfall

One such place is a bleak, dark and rather forbidding pool of water that lies below Kinder Scout known as the Mermaid’s Pool.   Many people think the pool and the nearby waterfall of Kinder Downfall may have been places that were sacred to Celtic and earlier people who inhabited the area.

The waterfall is created where the river Kinder falls from the edge of the high moorland plain. On windy days the water sometimes appears as if it is flowing upwards.

File:Kinder upfall.jpg From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported license. Attribution: Dave59 at en.wikipedia

The Mermaid’s Pool is peculiar because it is said to be slightly salinated.  It is said that fish cannot live in it or animals drink from it. According to local legend it is connected to the Atlantic Ocean by an underground tunnel.  It was also believed that the pool’s water possessed healing qualities for those who were courageous, or desperate enough to bathe in it.  For these reasons it was believed to have been a sacred place for Celtic and earlier people who often took natural springs and lakes as places of reverence as the dwelling places of spirits. Sometimes and in some places they would place offerings into the waters hoping that the spirit or god would grant a wish.

The mermaid

The Mermaid’s Pool is believed to be the dwelling place of an immortal water nymph, or mermaid, who has the power to grant immortality. For unknown reasons many mermaid legends are associated with Easter and so is this one.

The most favoured time of year for her to grant this is on Easter Eve.  But it is said she can generous or perilous on a whim.  If she takes a liking to someone she will give them eternal life but if she takes a disliking  she will drag them down into the depths of the pool, drowning them.

Local legend also says that by staring into the waters the mermaid may grant visions of future events, but may pull those who catch a glimpse of her to their death in the pool.

The nymph legend

There is a local legend in the nearby village of Hayfield that tells that a nymph lived inside Kinder Scout and would bathe daily in the pool.  One day a local man caught her bathing and became friends with her.  The nymph took him to a cavern where he is said to have stayed for some time.   The man apparently impressed her to such an extent that as a reward she gave him the gift of immortality.

Relics of older times

It may be that these stories are relics from much older times when ancient people held such places as sacred before Christianity became the dominant religion.

Sang Nila Utama and the Lion City of Singapore

Today Singapore is a thriving, bustling, modern, cosmopolitan city that is a meeting place for many people of different cultures and ethnicity. This provides a melting pot that exudes its own unique and vibrant character. It is a place where people live the multicultural experience to the full. Singapore is a major trading centre and plays an important part in the economies of the region and the rest of the world.  Presented here is a version of the legend of the founding of Singapore pieced together from different sources but mostly from the Malay Annals which is an important cultural text from Malaysia and registered with UNESCO’s Memory of the World programme.

487px-Crest_of_the_Singapore_Municipal_Commission,_Central_Fire_Station,_Singapore_-_20110505,_deskewed

Wikimedia Commons, Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0

The legend of the Rise of Singapore

The Malay Annals are also known as The Sejarah Melayu and among other stories tell of the legend of how Singapore was founded by Sang Nila Utama, who was also known as Prince Niltanam, or Sri Tri Buana. He was the ruler of the Srivijaya Empire of Sumatra and his capital was Palembang.  According to the legend he was one of the princes who were believed to be descendants of Raja Iskandar Dzu’l-Karnain who was also known more commonly as Alexander the Great, the ruler of the great Macedonian Empire.  however some scholars dispute this.

The Quest of Sang Nila Utama

Sang Nila Utama decided he wanted to build a new city where he could live and rule. He set out to sea with a fleet of ships on a quest to find a suitable place. His ships visited many islands and coves around the coast of South Sumatra. Eventually he and his fleet arrived at the Riau Islands.

The  queen of the islands gave them a stately welcome and the he decided to rest his men for a few days on these most hospital of islands. For personal recreation he and his Chief Minister sailed to a neighbouring island to try their hand at hunting.

The Stag

They came across a stag or deer of some kind and immediately gave chase. The stag ran to the top of a small hill. Although the Prince and his Chief Minister were in hot pursuit, the animal disappeared fro sight. Looking around the summit of the hill the Prince found a large rock which he stood on in order to gain a better view of the countryside below. However, he could see no sign of the animal.

Finding the Island of Temasek

From his vantage point he could see out across the sea and there not far away was another island. On the island he could see a patch that was like shimmering white cloth. In fact it was a beautiful beach with fine white sand that was shimmering in the sunshine.

Calling to his Chief Minister he asked what the island was called. His Chief Minister told him the island was called Temasek. The prince decided that he wanted to visit the island so they returned to the ship and set sail for Temasek.

The Storm

While out in the open sea a great storm suddenly arose. Huge ways tossed the ship and it began taking in water. Soon the ship was in peril of sinking so the order was given to throw all heavy objects overboard. Still, huge waves assailed the ship and water poured into the hold.

At last, fearful the ship would sink, the captain advised Prince Sang Nila Utama that is was his grandfather, the Lord of the Sea, who was causing the storm. He urged the prince to throw his crown overboard as an offering to appease his grandfather’s rage.

The prince agreed and threw his crown into the sea. As the crown sank below the waves the storm abated and stopped, leaving the ship to safely reach Temasek. The ship found a secure anchorage at the mouth of what is today known as the Singapore River.

A Strange Beast

The prince decided he would explore the region while also hunting for game. Telling his Chief Minister to form a hunting party they began to make their way inland. All of a sudden the party came across a strange beast which none of them had seen before.

It had a black head, an orange body and a white neck and breast and was a very handsome animal. At the approach of the hunting party the animal disappeared swiftly into the jungle, where they could find no further trace of it.

Prince Sang Nila Utama asked his Chief Minister if he knew what the animal was called. The Chief Minister was unsure, but told the prince he thought it most likely that it was a lion.

A Good Omen

Although they had lost the animal the prince was pleased. He believed that its sighting was a good omen and he decided to build his new city on the island of Temasek. The Prince sent out to his homeland for help while he and his men remained on the island beginning their work in building the new city.

The Lion City

Prince Sang Nila Utama decided to call the new city “Singapura,” which means “Lion City” and it was founded in 1324. To gain international recognition of his new city state he established diplomatic links with China who recognised it in 1366. He ruled the Lion City for 48 years. When he died he was said to have been buried with his wife at the foot of Bukit Larangan, now known as Fort Canning Hill, though his remains have never been found.

What was the Creature they saw?

Modern studies indicate that lions have never inhabited the region. Many people think that the animal the princes and his men saw was actually a tiger. This is argued against by many on the grounds that tigers were fairly common in Southeast Asia and that the prince and his men would have had no problem identifying a tiger.

This gives weight to those who claim the animal was a mythical creature that resembled a lion, but was the guardian of the island of Temasek. What ever kind of creature it was the Prince was right in believing its sighting was an auspicious sign.

His Lion City grew and flourished to become one of the most important places in the region attracting many different people from many different ethnic and religious backgrounds. From its legendary beginnings it has become the busiest port in the world and also one of the most prosperous countries today.

Copyright zteve t evans

References and Attributions

Copyright zteve t evans

 

The Enduring Appeal of Robin Hood

The legendary adventures of Robin Hood and his Merry Men are among the best known and popular folk tales of the British Isles.  In different forms of adaption they have won worldwide fame and popularity.  As well as the swashbuckling action there is the popular appeal of a hero with the highest ideals and integrity who robs the rich to give to the poor.

Public Domain Image

Medieval forest

A working class hero

In earlier versions of the legend his status was that of a yeoman who had fallen foul of the law through injustice.  In this role as a working class hero he successfully cocks a snook at the law and authority, gaining much sympathy and support from the peasants and yeomanry who saw themselves as oppressed by an all powerful royal hierarchy.

Sherwood Forest

In Robin’s day Sherwood was one of the Royal Forests and was subject to the Forest Laws.  These were designed to protect the game such as deer, boar, wolves or hares and game birds for the benefit of the king.

The penalty for breaking them was notoriously harsh. People living in or around a Royal Forest were subject to these laws and they were believed to be the cause of much resentment.  The forest and everything in it belonged to the king and he alone could give permission for its use.  This would only be given to his barons and noblemen on license and at a price.  Ordinary people could not hunt, clear or cultivate land within in its bounds.

Although not all of their former rights were taken they were much more restricted in what they could do.  Punishments for breaking the law included being blinded in both eyes or to have the hands cut off.  Not surprisingly, this would probably be a cause of massive resentment among the ordinary people who would have wanted to supplement their meagre livelihood from the free forest resources of meat, wood and land.

In Robin Hood the people found a hero who was one of their own and who successfully stood up against their oppressors.  Robin not only broke the law and got away with it he made the authorities look foolish.

Robin of Loxley

In later versions he becomes a lord who had been dispossessed by the notoriously unjust King John for his support of King Richard who was away on the Crusades. This also had the appeal of the righteous lord who in loyally upholding the true monarch’s law in his absence is wronged by the usurper King John.

Robin Hood and Little John by Louis Rhead Public Domain Image

The Merry Men

The Merry Men were his followers and fellow outlaws.  Their number varies from 20 to 140 over time. Any one who wanted to join had to fight Robin and beat him.   Most of what we know about them comes from the ballads about Robin Hood. The term ‘Merry Men’ is a generic term used to describe followers of leaders such as outlaws or knights.  ‘Merry Men’ were followers of any one who commanded a following.   Little John, Will Scarlet, Much the Miller’s Son, Alan-a-Dale and Friar Tuck are the most well known of Robin’s Merry Men.   Maid Marion was his famous love interest.

Robin’s enemies

His arch rival was the Sherriff of Nottingham aided and abetted by Sir Guy of Gisbourne.    Under the cover of Sherwood Forest he and his Merry Men rang rings round these two as they tried their hardest to capture them.

The monarch of the time is generally considered to be King John while his brother, King Richard was absent at the Crusades.  In the ballad ‘A Gest of Robyn Hode,’ the king is named as ‘Edward.’   As the legend of Robin Hood seems to have grown over centuries it is difficult to be exact.  Who ever was the king they would have been expecting and pressing the Sheriff of Nottingham to capture and punish Robin Hood.

The Royal Forests were huge and not just areas of woodland, but included heath and scrub lands, often with human settlements within or around its boundaries.  Conversely, preserving these wild areas for game also provide perfect cover for outlaws to hideout in while living off the land by poaching the King’s deer and game.

Robbing the rich and giving it to the poor is one thing, but robbing the King’s deer would be unforgivable, especially if it was King John’s who was notorious for his tyranny and cruelty.   The Sheriff would have been under enormous royal pressure to capture Robin.

“Depiction of a medieval hunting park” from The Master of Game Public Domain Image

The origin of the Robin Hood legends

It is very difficult to find any real evidence relating to the origins of the Robin Hood legends.  He is briefly mentioned in ‘Piers Plowman’ written 1377, by William Langland.  Most of the legends are mentioned in ballads from the 15th – 16th century. The oldest are ‘A Gest of Robyn Hode,’  ‘Robin Hood and the Monk,’ and ‘Robin Hood and the Potter.’

Another source is the Percy Folio which is a collection of English ballads compiled by Thomas Percy in the 17th century.    Many of these ballads are believed to go back to the 12th century.  There are also many other later ballads that have Robin Hood as the central figure or mention him in some way.

Where was Robin based?

Where Robin Hood was based is a matter of contention. Sherwood Forest is the most cited place but there are other areas that also have a claim to be his territory.  Barnsdale in Yorkshire also has strong associations with him and many places in England have places names and public houses that bear his name as do Scotland and Wales.  It may be that he could have actually travelled to other districts as a fugitive to escape the clutches of the Sheriff of Nottingham and places he stayed at were named after him.

Was Robin Hood a real person?

The Roll of the Justices in Eyre, Berkshire record that in 1261 a gang of outlaws, including someone named as William, the son of Robert le Fevere was seized without warrant.  This cross references with another official document of 1262 records in the King’s Remembrancer’s Memoranda Roll of Easter that pardons the prior of Sandleford for the seizing of the chattels of a fugitive named William Robehod without a warrant.    William, the son of Robert le Fevere and William Robehod are widely thought to be the same person, though not necessarily the legendary Robin Hood, though many think it possible.  Some scholars think ‘Robin Hood’ may have been a generic nickname for medieval outlaws.

Robin Hood as a forest spirit

There is also the theory that Robin Hood was actually a part of a much older tradition.   Some theories associate him with mythological figures such as Robin Goodfellow.  In later times his character appeared in some May Day festivities the May King along side Maid Marion.  In folklore the May King was a male youth chosen for his physical perfection who would be given rights to impregnate the females of his choice in the community.  His reign lasted from one year or seven years after which he was ritually sacrificed in the belief that this would bring fertility to the people and their crops.

Green Man from Southwell Minster Public Domain Image Author: MedievalRich

Robin Hood and the Green Man

He is also associated by some people with the ‘Green Man.’   The ‘Green Man’ is a term first used by Lady Raglan to describe an emblem carved in stone on the walls of her local church  Since then many other such Green Men have been found carved in the wood and stone of other old churches and ancient buildings.

No one is certain of its meaning but it is often found in churches in or around the edges of forests and woodlands. It is usually a face or head with leaves or branches sprouting from the mouth and entwining the head.   Many people think it was a pagan symbol representing a spirit of nature.  It is also thought to go back to Celtic times and may be a representation of the god Cernunnos.

There are a number of representations of the Green Man in the Chapter House of Southwell Minster which was built around 1100. and well within Robin’s Nottinghamshire territory.

The enduring appeal of Robin Hood

It is likely that unless other reliable evidence comes to light that Robin Hood will remain as elusive as was in medieval times.  Nevertheless his appeal and popularity are enduring and his legend continues to evolve into modern times.

Maybe we all need someone to stand against authority, steal from the rich and give to the poor.

Paradoxically, despite his outlawry he still maintains a reputation for purity of intent and honesty. He is seen as someone who is bold and courageous and a beacon of hope to the oppressed.  Some how, law breaking seems more forgivable if there is a noble and just cause behind it, carried out by someone with a pure and honest disposition.

References

Robin Hood

Merry Men

World Wide Robin Hood Society

BBC Robin Hood and his Historical Context By Dr Mike Ibeji

The Enigma of the Green Man – Theories and Interpretations

Experience the Robin Hood Legend in Nottinghamshire, UK

The legend of the Moddey Dhoo of Peel Castle, Isle of Man

Black Dog by Spettro84 – Public Domain Image

The Moddey Dhoo of Peel Castle goes back at least to the reign of Charles the Second of England.  In those days there were soldiers stationed at Peel Castle as guards.

Just inside the main entrance was the guard room where the soldiers were posted to keep guard.  From the guard room a passage led to an ancient church and through this to quarters of the Captain of the Guard.

In the evening as night fell it was the duty of one the guards to lock the great castle gate and take the key down the passage to the Captain of the Guard.  This duty was taken in turns and who ever locked the gate would be responsible to ensure the key was taken down through the darkness of the passage and placed into the Captain’s own hands, before returning back up the passage to the guard room.

In the gray evenings after the gate was shut the soldiers would get together in the guard room and light a fire to dispel the cold and gloom. There, they would spend the evening drinking ale and telling stories.

The Appearance of the Black Dog

When the first sightings of a large black dog with a long, shaggy, unkempt coat were reported, some accounts said it was like a huge spaniel.  No one knew who it belonged to, where it had come from, or how it got into the castle.

Its presence was a complete mystery, always appearing after the gates were shut.  Sometimes it would appear in one room, and at other times would be seen in different parts of the castle and grounds.

Every evening after the fire was kindled in the guard room fireplace and as the cold and gloom began to dissipate the dog would be heard padding down the passage to enter the guard room.

The huge creature ignored the frightened guards and making no sound lay by the fireside until dawn.  Then just before the sun rose it would get up and pad into the passage and disappear until evening when it would reappear again.

The dog is said to have had a supernatural appearance and although the guards were frightened of the beast they would ignore it.  Instead of drinking and rebelling they would tend to keep sober and quiet so as not to disturb, keeping on their best behavior.  However, now instead of one soldier taking the key to the Captain’s quarters, two would go.  No one would walk along the black passage alone after the appearance of the dog.

The Drunken Soldier

The legend tells that one night after the appearance of the dog one of the soldiers got drunk and boasted loudly that he would take the key down the passage to the Captain alone that night as he feared no dog, mortal or supernatural.

Although it was not his turn to take the key and his fellow soldiers did their best to dissuade him, he would have none of it and set off into the blackness of the passage alone.  To show his fellow soldiers his courage he taunted the beast, challenging it to follow if it dare.

Although the other soldiers tried to hold him back the drunk would not be restrained and plunged into the passage with the keys, again challenging the dog to follow to see if it was mortal, or supernatural.  The huge black beast slowly rose and followed him down the passage.

Silence fell upon the castle like a black cloak and those who remained in the guard room huddled together in fear and would not follow the drunken soldier into the blackness of the passage.   Time seemed to stand still, but after what could only have been a few minutes they heard the most deathly and terrible cries and screams coming from the passage, but none would leave the guard room to investigate, or give help.

The Return of the Soldier

Shortly, from the passage they heard the staggered footsteps of someone struggling back towards them.  The drunken soldier fell through the door into the room, his face white and twisted with fear, his eyes blazing in terror, his mind destroyed.

From then on he uttered not another sound and he could not, or would not, tell what had befallen him.  Three days later he was dead taking the secret of his ordeal to the grave.  After that night the black dog was never again seen in the guardroom, passage, or anywhere else in Peel Castle.

Could it be True?

It certainly makes a good story!  In many different places of the British Isles there are many legends of black dogs.  Many have associations with Viking settlements and the Vikings built Peel Castle which is actually situated on St Patrick’s Isle and linked by causeway to the Isle of Man.  In the Manx language ‘Mauthe Doog’ means ‘black dog’ and Moddey Dhoo is thought to be derived from this.

In England and Scandinavia phantom black dogs  are also strongly connected with early Christian church and graveyards where a black dog would be buried alive to protect the church and grounds from the devil.  The passage from the guard room was said to have run through an ancient church.

Intriguingly, an excavation in the castle grounds, in 1871, uncovered the remains of Simon, Bishop of Sodor and Man, who died in 1247.  At his feet was found the skeleton of a large dog.

References and Attributions

Copyright zteve t evans