Captain Calico Jack is here to tell us a little bit about his three favourite and most mythical Cornish legends because it’s Halloween this week! Visit us at Pirate’s Quest this October half term to learn about other mythical Cornish characters.
Jack the Giant Killer
There are many tales of Cornish Giants – perhaps one of the most famous is of Giant Cormoran and Jack the Giant Killer. Legend tells how Jack was a farmer’s son who lived near Land’s End. Jack heard of a reward being offered to anyone who could rid the land of Giant Cormoran. Cormoran lived on St. Michael’s Mount, and terrorised the neighbourhood – stealing sheep and cattle, and generally being a menace. Many tried to slay Cormoran, but they all failed. Jack decided he would give it his best shot – using brains rather than brawn, Jack dug a huge pit near Morvah and disguised it with sticks and straw.
Once the pit was concealed, Jack stood at the foot of St. Michael’s Mount and blew upon his horn to summon Cormoran. The giant saw Jack and bounded down the side of the mount. Not noticing the hidden pit, he tripped and fell into in, giving Jack enough time to strike him with his pick-axe and end him for good.
The pit was filled in with earth and a huge stone was placed over it to mark the giant’s grave – the stone remains there to this very day.
With the giant gone, the locals celebrated and to show their gratitude, they rewarded Jack with a magnificent sword and belt. Cormoran wasn’t the only giant that Jack defeated – he went on to have numerous adventures and became a Cornish Hero.
The mythical Cornish Piskies
Cornwall is not short of legendary characters, but undoubtedly the most famous of all of the county’s faery folk are the Cornish Piskies. These tiny mythical creatures are thought to inhabit the vast Cornish moorland. Some believe that piskies are spirits of people who aren’t bad enough for hell but aren’t good enough for heaven. Others claim that they are ancient gods who have been scattered with holy water and shrank down in size.
Ruled over by their king, Jack O’Lantern, and their queen, Joan the Wad, piskies are usually depicted as tiny men, sometimes with joyful childlike faces and sometimes older covered in wrinkles. Piskies usually wear greens and browns, with little hats and pointed shoes.
There are many tales of the piskies antics. Usually the piskies are portrayed as being cheerful and helpful, however they do have a mischievous side. Many accounts have been told of piskies leading outsiders astray on the Cornish moors – a punishment for not respecting the ‘little people’ of the county. It is thought that the pixies are fond of meeting in large groups and dancing and frolicking through the night.
Legend tells that on one occasion, over six hundred piskies gathered at Trevose Head. They spent the night laughing and dancing until one of the piskies lost his laugh. The great gathering of piskies disbanded, frantically searching for the lost piskie laugh. The laugh was eventually found and restored by the mighty King Arthur who had taken the form of a Chough.
Betty Stogs is said to have been a lazy girl who lived at Towednack. She had a life many would have been envious of – a loving husband, a moorland cottage, and a new born baby. But Betty didn’t appreciate what she had. She showed no interest in cleaning her cottage or caring for her young child – in fact her pet cat supposedly spent more time with the baby than Betty did.
That cat laid with the baby in its cradle, and even shared its food. As a result of its mother’s neglect, the child was filthy – ‘Towednack is a windy place an’ cold,’ Betty would say. ‘A good layer of dirt will keep ‘n warm.’
One evening Betty returned home, having gone out to the local tavern and left her baby in the care of the cat – a regular occurrence. However, when Betty entered the cottage she heard not gurgling or crying of her infant, and no mews from the cat. She searched high and low but the two had completely disappeared.
Betty began to panic and practically dismantled the quaint abode in a frantic search for her baby. When her husband returned home from working in the mine he was understandably furious. Her husband gathered together their neighbours and a search for the baby went on throughout the night – no stone was left unturned.
The next morning, just as the sun was beginning to rise, Betty saw her cat and hurried to follow it. The feline led her to a thicket of fern and furze, and nearby Betty found her child, sleeping peacefully upon the grass. But the baby was almost unrecognisable – it was washed and clean, smelling sweetly of herbs and flowers.
When Betty returned home with her child, the wise ones of the village explained that the Small People were responsible. The tiny folk had seen how neglected the baby was and fancied it for their own. Luckily for Betty, the faeries hadn’t quite got the child clean enough when the sun rose and sent them back into hiding. In fear that the faeries might return, Betty never again left her child unattended and showed as much love for the child as any good mother should.