Friday 12 July 2024

The Holy Wells of Cornwall: Revisited


Reviewed by Alex Langstone

There have been many books about Cornish holy wells over the years, and it is great to see a new one. Although this volume is not comprehensive in its study of the vast amount of wells within Cornwall, it does give us a detailed historical analysis of some of the best preserved and most interesting wells in the region. The author has chosen sixty wells to focus on, and the volume gives us a thorough overview of each of them, including their folklore and historic dedications. There are some very popular wells included, such as St Clether, Madron and Sancreed. However, there are also some of the more obscure and little known wells here, which are fascinating and will encourage the reader to seek them out. These include St Piala's well at Phillack, St Indract's at St Dominic and St Pedyr's at Treloy.   
Some of my favourite wells are included in this collection. Scarlett's Well, Bodmin; St Nun's, Pelynt; St Samson's, Golant and Menacuddle, St Austell. There are also many here that I have yet to visit, and this book will greatly assist in seeking them out. It is great to see that the volume is thoroughly indexed, and the author has thoughtfully reproduced many historic maps and photographs, including a rare photo (left) of St Petroc's holy well (1) at Bodmin,  before it was flooded by the Environment Agency, to help with a flood alleviation scheme!

'The Holy Wells of Cornwall: Revisited' by Rupert White. Published by Antenna Publications in 2024. 332 pages, fully illustrated with index. £12 from Amazon. A must have for holy well enthusiasts, spiritual pilgrims, and explorers of the secret country. You can buy it here


(1)  Picture from The Holy Wells of Cornwall (1970 edition) by A Lane-Davies

Tuesday 9 April 2024

Legends of Cornish Ghost Dogs

by Alex Langstone

In the leafy lanes to the south of the river Lynher, there is an old folk narrative about three black hounds with blazing eyes that are linked to an old barrow called Blighberry round, which was once visible in Ringdon Field to the rear of Wolsdon House near Antony.  The legend introduces us to the miller of St John’s, who suddenly finds that his flour is being stolen at the time of the full moon. By the following month as the moon reaches her maximum, he sets out to catch the thief, by hiding under the tangled bramble by the mill. At moonrise, he witnesses three women gathering in the clearing by the mill and was astonished to see them transform into toads. The toads then crept under the gap beneath the door of the old mill and stole the flour. However, before the miller could intervene, the toads are chased away by three large and disturbing black dogs with huge fiery eyes. Intrigued, the miller follows the dogs and observes them disappearing into Blighberry round.  Fascinated, he then witnesses three men emerge from the same barrow.
On the next full moon, after he tells his wife and family to stay at home armed with a shotgun, he walks out to the old barrow and goes inside. There he finds a great treasure, and excitedly rushes home to tell his wife. However, as he approaches his home, calling out to his family to let him in, he is shot by his terrified wife. By entering the barrow, he was transformed into a black hound with blazing eyes, and when speaking to his wife, all she heard was the frenzied howls of a demon dog. To this day, when the moon is full, the eerie cries and fiery red eyes of the black hounds can still be heard and seen in the woods between Antony and St John. 

Another black dog haunts the Bronze Age barrow on the downs near Launceston. It was first reported by a group of wrestlers, who were competing in a wrestling competition by the tumulus on St Stephen’s Downs, Langore. The ghostly dog made its appearance towards the end of the day as they were finishing the competition.  The barrow’s folklore tells us that it holds the remains of long dead giants and their gold. The round barrow survives and can be visited. 

During the early 19th century there was a terrible explosion at Wheal Vor on the slopes of Tregonning Hill near Helston. Many miners were killed and soon after the engineman declared that troops of little black ghost dogs continually haunted the place. Few of the miners liked to talk about it; but over time the word spread that the mine was haunted, and it became difficult to obtain the necessary attendance to work the mine. 

There is a tale of a spectral black dog with flaming eyes the size of teacups, that haunted the lanes on the eastern flank of Bodmin Moor. It began its ghostly seven mile walk at Minions, beside the Marke Valley mine, before crossing the river Lynher  at Rillamill, and then up through Linkinhorne village, and onwards to its spooky destination at Stoke Climsland.  

A terrifying black dog experience from the summer of 1779 was witnessed by Samuel Drew from St Austell. Samuel was only a child when he experienced the ghostly beast, whilst out poaching with a group of older men.  The tale is told something like this: Approaching midnight, the poachers gathered on the edge of the hamlet. The old lane was brightly lit by the moon, and all was quiet.  One of the lads, a mere boy, was told to keep guard by the granite hedge, whilst the older men quickly dispersed looking for deer tracks. Having been left alone, Sam’s senses suddenly heightened. He was sure he had heard the clatter of a horse approaching, and having raised the alarm, his companions drew close to the shadows. Suddenly, a huge black dog emerged from the shadows. As the creature passed by the group, they all witnessed the wild beast with his demonic fiery eyes, which struck terror into their hearts, before it passed unnaturally straight through a closed wooden gate, without any obstruction. 

There are several accounts of the Penzance harbour black dog. This ghostly hound is recorded as a harbinger of death to any who encounter him, and the dog only ever appears to certain folk, whilst to others it is invisible. There are stories told by both sailors and fishermen who have docked at Penzance over the years; including one from the 1960s, where a fishing crew sought refreshment from the Dolphin Tavern. One of the men was dispatched mid-evening to check the boat and make ready for the morning. However, he found himself accompanied by a small and friendly black dog. The animal did not leave his side until the rest of the crew returned, when the dog vanished. The following day the boat was fishing out in the bay when an unexpected storm commenced, and the crewman who befriended the black dog fell overboard and was lost. So, if you ever see a black dog on the quayside at Penzance, it’s best to make sure others can also see it; or it may signify your sudden demise. 

Article first published in my regular folklore column for Meyn Mamvro No. 9,  Spring/Summer 2024 © Alex Langstone

Wednesday 21 February 2024

Spirit Chaser: The Quest for Bega. Troy Books Edition

Originally published in 2012, this new edition of Spirit Chaser features a foreword by Ogham Grove author and prolific Glastonbury artist, Yuri Leitch. Plus, a brand-new preface, some amendments and new information by the author.

Spirit Chaser is the true story of a spiritual quest that turned into an inspirational occult pilgrimage. In June 1989, the author began following a series of psychic messages and significant synchronicity that led him to discover the enigmatic mystery of St Bega, the sacredness of the British landscape and ultimately to experience the divine reality of the Celtic tradition of mysticism, miracles, and magic. Spirit Chaser takes us on a magnificent journey into the twilight past of seventh century Britain and Ireland, and on a contemporary expedition of re-enchantment. This ultimately led into the heart of a modern-day quest, which uncovered the mystery that is the Sancta Bega, the sacred ring at the mystical centre of the British Isles.

Spectacular Cover art: © Paul Atlas-Saunders

“A glimpse into the spiritual worlds that overlay our landscape.” The Whitehaven News

“Well researched. Engaging. Fascinating.”

The spectacular front cover art is by Paul Atlas-Saunders. Based upon a stained-glass window in St Bees Priory, it illuminates St Bega’s moment of arrival upon the beach below the adjacent headland. As her boat lands, she purposefully places her foot on the sacred spot at the very epicentre of the archipelago, which constitutes modern Britain and Ireland.