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