Thursday 21 December 2023

Lien Gwerin 8: now available

The brand new edition of Lien Gwerin: A Journal of Cornish Folklore is now available to order. This is issue number 8, and is the final edition of the series.  This issue is full of wondrous folkloric delights, and is beautifully illustrated throughout.

Please order here


Milva Kernow - A Cornish Bestiary by Merv Davey
Folklore of the Tinners way by Cheryl Straffon
Old Looe Stories & Legends Series: Dosmary Pool
Whitfeld’s ‘Scilly and its Legends’ by Rupert White
The Myth of Santa Warna by Ithell Colquhoun
A Rare Treasure of Cornish Folklore by Ronald M. James
Uter Bosence and the Piskey by William Bottrell
Interview: Sheridan James Lunt
Mystery of Tregudda Gorge by Alex Langstone
Book Review
Games of Giants: West Penwith Quoits by Karen F. Pierce
Found Folklore: Bodmin’s Berry Tower by Alex Langstone

Front Cover art: 'Mermaid' by Sheridan James Lunt
Back cover art: 'Pen Hood' by Paul Atlas-Saunders

Saturday 21 October 2023

Folklore of Bodmin’s holy wells


Folklore of Bodmin’s holy wells

Alex Langstone

The historic town of Bodmin, has a long and distinguished history. The place-name means abode of monks, from the Cornish language Bod-meneghy, and was once famous for its priory, friary, guild chapels, sacred relics and a 9th century illuminated manuscript. The town has several holy and healing wells, and they have some interesting folklore surrounding them. 

The town's priory park contains the holy well of St Petroc, which lies in a hollow between the football club and Pendower Meadow and was once within the scared enclosure of the former priory. Dedicated to St Mary and St Petroc, little remains of this once great institution, just a few visible foundations, bits of masonry and the fishpond. The well does have a wonderful tale attached to it. During some renovation work in the early part of the 20th century, a wooden statue of St Mary was found concealed in the well. It is believed that it was hidden from Cromwell’s troops during the Civil War. The statue was found to be in a remarkable state of preservation, maybe due to the miraculous qualities of the sacred well? The statue was given to the Catholic community in 1908 and was sent to Buckfast Abbey for preservation and minor repairs. It is now kept at St Mary’s Abbey in Bodmin. 

The holy well in St Petroc’s churchyard (below) has a dedication to St Guron, the 6th century founder of the site. The holy well’s source rises under the church and flows through the well house and then out into a trough via two gargoyles. Rush crosses were thrown into the well on Good Friday, to confirm who would still be alive at Easter the following year. If the cross floated all was apparently fine.  There is also an early medieval tale told about St Petroc, who miraculously restored the eyesight of a dragon which lived in the valley by the well. 

Nearby, in the town centre lies the Bree Shute which was also known as the Eye Well. The water here was once famed for curing sore eyes, and a plaque above the well still reads ‘Eye Water’. 

On on the edge of the town lies the beautifully secluded Scarletts well. Sited adjacent the Carnewater river it was historically recorded as a mineral rich healing well. Sited by the town’s parish boundary, the well has frequently been visited over successive generations by townsfolk performing the ritual of Beating the Bounds, where an effigy of a dragon was once ceremoniously paraded.   The site is set back into an ivy clad bank, where a spring gushes forth from the hillside and flows into a granite trough which holds the water briefly before its current continues towards the woodland stream. The well was once part of the Priory of Bodiniel and has many stories of healing and miracles associated with it. During the 17th century Richard Carew documented that people flocked to the well for its healing virtues. 

There is some interesting modern folklore attached to Scarletts well, which may have some alluring indications to an older origin. The well is believed to have been used by many of Bodmin’s wise women and charmers, including Nell Parsons, who used the waters to assist in her trade, and her water pitcher (left) now resides in the collection of Boscastle’s Museum of Witchcraft and Magic. The contemporary mythology of Bodmin witch Joan Wytte, tells us that she also utilised the well for scrying, healing and magic.

A few years ago, whilst visiting this well, I struck up a conversation with a local man, who told me that when he was a child, he knew of a tale about a white lady who haunted the leafy lane around the site. I can find no references to back up this statement. However, a curious story is told about St. Whyte, and although this saint has her shrine in Dorset, she may have been venerated at the nearby church of the Holy Rood and has been linked locally to the towns holy wells.  Maybe the tales of Joan Wytte and St Whyte are a folkloric echo of some lost lore of the ghostly white lady of the well? 

Idyllically sited on a farm in Fairwash Coombe lies the Bodmin Holy Well, which was famed for divination.   This ancient holy well is also known as The Well of the Holy Rood. There is no public access to the well, but you can visit the site of the Holy Rood chapel, from whence the well takes its name, and the surrounding cemetery is reputed to be haunted. Berry Tower is the only part of the chapel that is still standing, and an apotropaic charm (below) can be seen scratched inside, no doubt put there to help ward off the restless ghosts around the old churchyard.

Words and photos copyright Alex Langstone. Article first published in Meyn Mamvro Vol. 2 No. 8 Autumn/Winter 2023

Wednesday 12 April 2023

A Peek at the Folklore of Mylor and District

A Peek at the Folklore of Mylor and District

Alex Langstone

The parish of Mylor has some interesting and little-known folklore, the oldest of which has its origins at the ancient and imposing church, which stands in a large oval churchyard overlooking the creek. As with so many of the early medieval Cornish saints, legend states that St Mylor sailed from Brittany in 411 AD and landed at a creekside location by an ancient freshwater spring and a tall standing stone. Here St Mylor founded his monastic cell in the woods. The holy well and cross can still be found in the churchyard, and the cross is interesting because at five and  a half metres including its foundations, it is the largest churchyard cross in Cornwall. It was probably a bronze age menhir before it was carved with its wheel headed cross design. Locally it is believed to mark St Mylor’s burial spot.

Mylor holy well

On the edge of the ancient woodland of Devichoys, where the parishes of Mylor and Ponsanooth meet, can be found a haunted lane known locally as ‘Irish Woman’s Hill’. It was here that sometime during the first decade of the 21st century, a shimmering ghostly manifestation was seen by a resident making her way home. The lady concerned had just turned onto the old coach road which runs alongside Goonreeve Farm, and ultimately terminates at the town of Penryn. These days the road is little more than an isolated narrow country lane. It was a late summers afternoon, and the driver was shocked to witness an old lady standing in the road as she turned into the lane. She was wearing a long, black skirt and had a black shawl over her head and shoulders. She appeared to be wandering slowly along the lane, stopping every few seconds to catch her breath. The local lady followed cautiously in her car, as she trudged along the old lane and around the bend ahead. But when the driver rounded the corner, the lane was empty and there was no sign of the hunched figure of the old lady. After searching the hedgerows on either side, thinking that she may have stopped for a rest, the perplexed driver carried on her journey, pondering no doubt, about where the black-clad figure had gone. Several years later, the same lady met a man who farmed the land on the corner of said lane, She took the opportunity to ask him about the strange incident. Without hesitation the farmer stated that it was the ghost of an old Irish woman who haunts this lane. It is told that she was on a stagecoach heading to Penryn when she suddenly died. It was frequent practise in those days to bury dead passengers on the roadside where they perished. The field here is known as 'the Irish woman's field' because she is buried there. No-one knew her name, nor where she had come from. Though stories of her ghostly form have often been reported, both during daylight and after dark.[1]

According to some of the older villagers, the lane where she met her demise, which runs from the junction near Devichoys Woods and going towards Penryn, was often referred to as ‘Irish Woman’s Hill’.[2]

The Mayor of Mylor, is an old custom, which traditionally links Mylor parish with Penryn. Traditionally held each Autumn, when the hazel-nuts are ripe, the festival of ‘nutting-day’ is kept. A crowd from the town go into the country to gather nuts. Meanwhile townsfolk would proceed to Mylor, and whilst there, elect one of their number as the sham mayor. Seated in a chair shaded with green boughs, and borne on the shoulders of four strong men, the Mock Mayor and his compatriots process from Mylor to the ancient borough of Penryn. The procession would consist of torch bearers, bodyguards wielding weapons, and two ‘sergeants’ clad in official gowns and raised hats, each wielding a monstrous cabbage on his shoulder in lieu of a mace. The rear was brought up by the throng of the ‘nutters’. As they approached the outskirts of Penryn, the town band would join them and march them joyously into Penryn, where they were received by the massed population of the town. At the town hall speeches were given, and the celebrations went on late into the night, with street fires, music and dancing.[3]

Another amazing tale from the village is The Black Bull of Mylor. I came across this incredible tale many years ago, and it involves the sighting of a ghostly, fire breathing black bull, who is reported to haunt Church Lane between the church wall and Well Ackett:

One night the two men were out on their rounds, and were intending to make their way towards Trefusis Point, so as to pass by the Big Zoon, when after they had passed the church stile they were suddenly brought to a stop―Away in the distance, coming towards them, they could hear a fearful roaring noise; then they could hear the gravel flying, and as the sound came nearer they could make out the form of a big black bull, tearing towards them with fire coming from his nostrils, and roaring something terrible! [4]

The tale seems to originate from the 1830s, when smuggling was still rife around the creeks of the Fal and was probably made up (or kept alive) to keep folk at bay during the illicit operations along the creek after dark.[5]

Church Lane, haunted by the Black Bull

First published in my regular folklore column in Meyn Mamvro Vol. 2 No. 7, Spring/Summer 2023. 


[3] Robert Hunt. Popular Romances of the West of England: Sham Mayors – The Mayor of Mylor

[4] Old Cornwall, volume 1, issue 7, published in April 1928, and written by W. D. Watson.

[5] For a full investigation of this folklore see LienGwerin 7, Feb. 2023, pp 48 - 52

Monday 23 January 2023

Lien Gwerin 7

Lien Gwerin: A Journal of Cornish Folklore, issue number 7 is now available on general release.

You can order direct from us on the link below.

Alternatively, the issue is now available worldwide. Why not order from your local bookshop? Or online via Amazon or our print-on-demand partner


The Folklore of the Hal an Tow by Andy Norfolk

The Old Man of Cury by Robert Hunt

Cornish River Lore by Alex Langstone

Folk Dance Collectors in Cornwall by Merv Davey

The Morgawr: Elusive in Sea and Folklore by Ronald M. James

Passing through the Devil’s Eye by Karen F. Pierce

Book Review: Fern Seed & Fairy Rings

Hazel Trees in Cornish Folklore by Rupert White

Black Prince Flower Boat by Kathy Wallis

Obituary: Dr Alan M. Kent

First and Last Folklore by Katie Giles

Plus original art by Paul Atlas-Saunders