Category Archives: Cryptozoology

The Fairies of Cornwall (11) Two short stories

Today, I’m just going to let you read two short stories from William Bottrell’s “Stories and Folk-Lore of West Cornwall— Third Series” which Bottrell self-published in 1880.

The first story is told about a young farmer called Richard Vingoe who was targeted by fairies, for no good reason other than it was within their power to do so, near Treville Cliffs in West Cornwall:

“After wandering for five hours over places which appeared strange to him, Richard followed the path through the rocky bottom or glen into an underground passage or cavern, from which, on emerging, he found himself in a pleasant looking country.”

“Walking on, he heard the sounds of merrymaking and came to a place where people appeared to be having a feast. He noticed a great number of persons playing bowls. Being fond of that game, he was about to run and seize the silver ball as it fell near him, when a female darted from behind a rock, which had screened her from view, and made eager signs for him to stop playing and to follow her. She went into an orchard near at hand. He approached and saw that she was a young lady who he had once loved, but who had been dead for a number of years. She told him she was changed into the fairy state by having trespassed on the fairies’ domain, and that he had narrowly escaped the same fate.”

“She was disposed to save him for the sake of their former attachment. When the persons playing bowls and spectators of the game had all gone out of sight, she conducted her former lover to the upper world by a shorter road than that by which he entered; on the way she told him that, as he was engaged to be married within a few weeks, she had no desire to detain him. She advised him, however, to defer his wedding three years, that he might be sure he knew his own mind. When Vingoe promised to follow her advice, they passed through an opening in a carn, and he saw Nanjizal” (which is a real place):

His conductress then said good-bye, and vanished. Being fatigued with his journey, he lay on the grass, near the spot where he again saw the light of day, and there he was found asleep nearly a week after. Vingoe was never the same man again, for he took to hard drinking and he died unmarried.

Notice how many of the usual themes are introduced…..

………wandering for hours, disorientation, caverns in the rocks, a distant feast and merrymaking, an orchard, playing bowls, a dead person who is not dead but has been captured by the fairies and finally, the poor innocent victim who, like all the rest, is affected by his time with the fairies.

The map below shows you where Nanjizal is, thanks to the efforts of the Orange Arrow. This is the very last bit of England (hence Land’s End) and the dark grey shading in the top right represents the western edge of the town of Penzance. As an area, it is full of magic and witchcraft, even nowadays, and it must contain at least fifty Stone Age circles and other types of monument.

The second story concerns a servant girl called Grace who has been tricked into going to work for a human sized fairy:

“Grace told her master (the human sized fairy)  that she wasn’t used to going to bed so early. He answered,  “Please yourself on that score, and stay up as long as you want to.”

He then brought her a basket of fruit and told her to eat what she pleased of them. Afterwards, he gave her a cup of fruit juice that she found delicious. By the time she had drunk it to the last drop, she forgot her home and playmates among the hills. She forgot her brothers and her sisters, her father and her mother even. She no more remembered her former life, and only thought of her kind Master and the delightful place in which he lived. She dreamed of it that night and nothing else.”

This last tale could well have been something from a science-fiction short story. Not only do we have the familiar tale of eating or drinking something, and then there is no escape ( rather like the Greek Persephone) but we also have that feeling of lethargy yet total happiness, and a forgetfulness that leads to a perfect life, almost as if Grace had joined a modern day sect:

If you ever see the gentleman in the picture, make sure that you tell him what a “helter-skelter” is in England. It’s not what he thought it was.

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The Fairies of Cornwall (10)

Jenny has given birth to a beautiful baby. She decides to leave her baby at home and to go to the village Harvest Festival. When she returns, the baby is missing. Eventually she finds the infant, and takes it to bed with her. In the months which follow, the baby becomes increasingly strange. Many of the neighbours say that they fear that the fairies have played a trick on her and have replaced her baby by a changeling.

They told her:

“You can do nothing better than to bathe your child in the Holy Well at Chapel Carn Brea”.

Carn Brea is the first hill after Land’s End and is made of Hercynian granite. It is at the southern edge of the parish of St Just in west Cornwall and has a beacon which is the first of the whole series visible on hill tops across the whole of England.

The story continues:

“Jenny dutifully bathed her baby in the Holy Well at Chapel Carn Brea. She had nearly passed around the top of the huge hill and was coming to some large rocks near the open moor when she heard a shrill voice, seemingly from above her head, call out “Thy wife and children greet you well”. Jenny was surprised to hear the shrill voice with nobody in sight.”

“Jenny returned to her home and stayed there until morning. Being fatigued and worried she overslept, for it was nearly daybreak when she awoke and hurried away, full of both hope and fear, to the fence around the field. And there, sure enough, she found her own dear child sleeping on some dry straw. The infant was as clean from head to foot as soap and water could make it, and wrapped up in a piece of old bright flowery chintz, which Fairies often covet and steal from washing lines when it is placed there in the sun to dry.”

“Jenny nursed her recovered child with great care but there was always something strange about him as there always is with one who has been in the fairies’ power, if only for a few days. He was constantly complaining, and as soon as he was able to toddle, he would wander far away to all sorts of out of the way places. The rich lady of Brea came to see him and brought him many nice things that his mother couldn’t afford to buy. When he was about nine years of age Squire Ellis took the changeling (as he was always called) into his service, but he was found to be such a poor simple innocent that he could never be trusted to work in the fields alone, much less with cattle. As the fancy would take him, every now and then, he would leave his work and wander away over hills and moors for days at a time.

Yet he was found useful for attending to rearing cattle and sheep. He was so careful of his master’s flock at lambing time that there was seldom any lost. He often talked to himself and many believed that he was then holding a conversation with some of the fairy tribe visible only to him . They were trying to entice him to ramble among the rocky outcrops, hills and moors, their usual haunts.

When he was about thirty years of age he was missing for several days. His flock had been noticed staying longer than usual in the same place, on a moor between the Chapel Hill and Bartinney. He was found, surrounded by his sheep, lying on a quantity of rushes which he had pulled up and collected for making sheep pens. He lay with his arm under his head, apparently in sweet sleep, but the poor changeling of Chapel Carn Brea was dead.”

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The Fairies of Cornwall (9)

This is a old Cornish story about a pretty young girl called Jenny who has given birth to a beautiful baby son three or four days previously. She decides to leave her baby for a few hours to go to the Harvest Festival in the village. In the world of Cornish fairies, this is a NO-NO in capital letters a thousand feet tall. It can only end in total catastrophe.

“Jenny, thinking about her baby left all alone at home, didn’t stop for the drinking after the harvest festival, but had one good drink of beer, got some cakes to take home and then she hurried away. When she opened her door, she saw, by the moonlight, that the cradle was overturned. Straw and rags were on the floor, but no child was in sight”:

“In searching all the holes and corners, she came to the corner where the wood was kept and there, among the heaps of dried grasses, ferns, and gorse, she found the child fast asleep. Being very tired, she took up the child and went to bed”.

“The next morning, when she looked at the baby by daylight, it seemed to her that there was somehow something strange about him. She didn’t know what, but he seemed to be different somehow from when she went off to the Harvest Festival. The baby was healthy enough but he seemed never satisfied unless he was all the time breastfeeding or eating. He would roar like a bull if he didn’t get his own way. He always wanted to be in her arms or eating. She began to wonder what on earth was going on”.

 

“Poor Jenny couldn’t do her household chores and had no rest at all in her life with the squalling hungry brat. Yet despite all his breastfeeding and eating, the baby always seemed to be wasting away to skin and bone. And so it continued through the entire winter. The more he ate the thinner he became. Many of the neighbours shook their heads when they saw the child and said that they feared the fairies had played a trick on her that afternoon when she went to the harvest festival.”

“They believed that the fairies had left a changeling which, according to local belief:

“….was believed to be a fairy child that had been left in place of a human child stolen by the fairies.”

Nobody knew why the fairies did this. Every culture across Western Europe seems to have had its own ideas. On that basis, there is no reason to exclude immediately that this was not an attempt by superior beings to harvest human DNA, and then to manipulate it, although the ease with which a changeling was identified hints at the many problems they were having with this.

Jenny’s neighbours told her:

“You can do nothing better with the child than to bathe him in the Holy Well at Chapel Carn Brea”.

Carn Brea is the first hill after Land’s End and is made of Hercynian granite. It is at the southern edge of the civil parish of St Just in west Cornwall and has a beacon which is the first of an entire network on the hill tops of England. In this way important messages can be passed such as “Spanish Armada in sight” (1588) or “Battle of Trafalgar won” (1805):

As far as I know, the last time the beacons were used was for the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee in 2012. The next episode in this cute little fairy story will appear soon.

 

 

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The Fairies of Cornwall (8)

This post is a continuation  from Episode No 7…..

Mr Noy has wandered into the Land of the Fairies, where he meets Grace Hutchens who was his fiancée for several years. One day she was found dead on the moor. She thinks that she had a fit, and that when she was buried, her coffin contained merely a changeling, sent by the fairies.

A changeling, incidentally, is a child believed to have been secretly substituted by fairies for the parents’ real child in infancy.

While this was going on, the real Grace Hutchens had inadvertently wandered into the Land of the Fairies on the moor. While she was there, she bit into a plum and was therefore forced to remain with the Fairies as a  servant girl to tidy up, bake cakes and brew beer, clean their houses and nurse the changeling children. Grace says to her erstwhile fiancé….

“People believed that I was found dead on the moor. It was supposed that I must’ve had a fit, as I was subject to them. What was buried as me, however, was only a changeling, a sham body.”

Mr Noy wanted to know much more about these strange beings, and was about to inquire, when the fairies again called “Grace, Grace, why are you so long. Bring some drink quickly.” She hastily entered the house and at that moment it came into his head that he too would have some drink, disperse the small tribe of fairies and save Grace.

Knowing that any garment turned inside out and cast among the fairies would make them flee, and happening to put his hand into his coat pocket, he felt for the gloves that he had worn in the afternoon.

As quickly as he could, he turned one inside-out, put into it a small stone and threw it among them.

In an instant they all vanished with the house, Grace, and all the furniture. He just had time to glance around and saw nothing but bushes and the roofless walls of an old cottage:

Suddenly, Mr Noy received a blow on his forehead that knocked him down. He soon fell asleep and dozed away an hour or two…… or so he thought.

Those to whom Mr Noy related his story, said that he had learnt nothing new from Grace, for local people had always believed of the fairies such things as she had told him, and that none of the fairies liked to be seen by daylight because they then looked aged and grim. It was said too, that the fairies who take animal form get smaller and smaller with every change, until they are finally lost in the Earth as ants.

Mr Noy, now fully recovered from his adventure, further informed his neighbours that he had noticed, among the fairies, many who bore a sort of family likeness to people he knew, and he had no doubt that some of them were changelings of recent date. Other familiar faces were their forefathers who died in days of yore, when they were not good enough to be admitted into heaven, nor yet so wicked as to be doomed to the “worst of all places”.

The worst of all places was not, in fact, a football stadium, but Hell:

According to Mr Noy, the fairies pass the winter, for the most part, in underground habitations, entered from the huge granite outcrops on the moors. And it is held that many persons who appear to have died entranced are not really dead, but have been changed into fairies.

This is Carn Kenidjack near St Just. It is a completely natural rock formation, but the connection between granite outcrops and fairies is extended by many people, even nowadays, to include the numerous megalithic sites of western Cornwall. I have certainly met one farmer at a little village near Constantine who believed that if you went at dawn’s early light down from the farmhouse to the megalithic tomb, you would see the fairies dancing in the form of little tiny lights:

This is Pixie’s Hall Fogou near Bosahan Farm. A fogou is a kind of underground chamber whose purpose, after around four thousand years of thinking about it, we have not yet ascertained.

In similar fashion, the capstone of Chûn Quoit frequently plays host to the same kind of lights:

One footnote, incidentally, is that “the fairies who take animal form get smaller and smaller with every change, until they are finally lost in the Earth as ants”. The Cornish people have their own special name for ants which is “Muryans”. It comes from the Breton “merien” and Welsh “myrion”.

 

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The Fairies of Cornwall (7)

Last time, in Part 6, we were discussing the apparent abduction of Mr Noy, and his being found five or six days later, very close to his own farm, although he did not recognise where he was. There is an alternative version of the story which tells the abduction story from Mr Noy’s point of view:

“Mr Noy told his neighbours that when he had reached the village of Ludgvan, the night being clear, he thought he would take a shortcut across the moor and save nearly a mile, instead of going all the way round by the stony path.”

Here’s a map where the orange arrow indicates “Ludgvan” and down in the south west is St. Buryan, generally recognised nowadays as Cornwall’s capital of witchcraft:

Mr Noyes’ horse, however, which was used to finding his own way when his rider was drunk, preferred the usual route by the stony path, and Mr Noy was forced to pull him towards the opposite side of the common.

He then found himself in an area that was unknown to him, although he had been, or so he thought, over every single inch of the common both in winter and summer. Alarmed at the strange appearance of everything around him, he tried in vain to retrace his steps. Not knowing what to do, he let the horse take its own course. Yet instead of proceeding homeward, the horse took Mr Noy to a strange land so crowded with trees that he had to dismount and lead his horse. He wandered  for miles and miles, sometimes riding but more often on foot, never seeing any habitation at all.  It was a strange, unknown place, which he believed must be outside his own parish, but in which other parish he couldn’t tell. At last he heard lively music and saw lights glimmering through the trees.

People were moving about, which made him hope that he had arrived at some farm where they were having a harvest festival and the farm labourers, after supper, were dancing in the town square.

The dogs hung back, and the horse didn’t want to go on, so he tied it to a tree, and walked through an orchard towards the lights. He came to a meadow where he saw hundreds of people.

Some were seated at table, eating and drinking. Others were dancing to the music of a tambourine. This was played by a young lady dressed all in white who was standing only a few feet from him.

He looked at her closely and was surprised to see that the young lady was none other than Grace Hutchens, a farmer’s daughter. She had been his sweetheart for a long time, but she had died four years ago. At least he had mourned her as dead and she had been buried in the local churchyard.

She turned closely towards him and said, “Thank the stars, dear William! I have come to stop you being changed into the fairy state that I am in. Woe is me!”

He tried to kiss her. “Beware”, she exclaimed, “Embrace me not. Touch not the flowers nor the fruit. Eating a plum from this enchanted orchard was my undoing.

You may think it’s strange, but it was because of my love for you that I came to this.

People believed that I was found dead on the moor. It was supposed that I must’ve had an epileptic  fit, as I was subject to them. What was buried as me, however, was only a changeling, a sham body. It was not me for I feel much the same now as when I was alive.”

Grace then told the story of how she herself had been ensnared.

“One evening, I was out on the moor looking for stray sheep, when I heard what I thought was you whistling to your dogs, so I went towards the sound to try to meet you. I got lost, though, under ferns higher than my head. I wandered on for hours among pools and bogs without knowing where I was going.”

After rambling many miles, as it seemed to her, Grace waded a stream and entered an orchard. Then she heard music and walked towards it. She passed into a beautiful garden with roses and beautiful flowers that she had never seen before. Apples and other tempting fruits dropped onto the paths or hung overhead.

This garden was so surrounded with trees and water that, like one led by the fairies, all her efforts to find a way out were in vain. The music too seemed very close at times but she could see nobody.

Weary and thirsty, she picked a plum, that looked golden in the starlight. Her lips no sooner closed on the fruit than it dissolved to bitter water which made her faint. Then she fell to the ground in a fit and became unconscious. She didn’t how long it was before she woke up to find herself surrounded by hundreds of fairies who made great efforts to get her to remain among them. They had very much wanted a servant girl to tidy up, someone who could bake and brew, one would clean their houses and nurse the changeling children who were never as strong as they used to be, for want of beef and good malt liquor, so they said.

Grace told Mr Noy how at first she was sickened by the fairies’ bland food of honey and berries. Her stomach had felt so watery and she often longed for some salt fish.

The only good thing was goats’ milk,

“For you know,” she said, “that goats are often seen on moors among the rock outcrops and in other wild places miles from houses. They are lured away by the fairies to feed the babies and changelings. There are sometimes twenty goats here. A cunning billy goat often comes among the farm goats but then disappears with the best milkers. He is a decoy, just a fairy in goat form.”

A “changeling” is a child believed to have been secretly substituted by fairies for the parents’ real child in infancy. Bottrell does not offer any explanation of why they do this. I suspect he had none.

I do suspect, though, that, if tales were told of changelings nowadays, we would soon begin to suggest that they were cases of alien abduction, carried out to extract sufficient genetic material to create perfect doubles, whose purpose is, at the moment, completely unknown.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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The Fairies of Cornwall (6)

The story of Mr Noy which you read in Part 5 of “The Fairies of Cornwall”, has a good many parallels with quite a number of various themes. Those of you who have ever read the books of David Paulides about the huge numbers of people who have disappeared in the National Parks of the USA will feel almost uncanny connections with the prolonged search for Mr Noy. There is a further connection with those strange cases narrated by Paulides when:

“in the grey of the morning, a horse was heard to neigh and dogs were heard barking among a dense group of trees and bushes”

almost as if they were making a noise in a different dimension. This strange phenomenon occurs in one of Paulides’ books, when a lost woman’s voice is heard by several witnesses apparently inside the rock of a cliff in the desert. She was never found.

This incident with poor Mr Noy could well be an alien abduction of medieval times expressed in terms that an agricultural worker in, say, 1400 or 1500, could understand. Mr Noy is taken away into that thicket and kept separate from the world for several days. Anything could be happening to him, and, as in all the best sci-fi films, his memory has been wiped clean at the very end.

A further parallel with alien abduction comes with the idea of Mr Noy’s sleep and of his waking up days later although he thinks it is just the next morning. This is another very strong reminder of Rip van Winkle, a fictional story by Washington Irving but one which is closely connected to two folk tales, set nearly four thousand miles apart.

Washington Irving’s father lived in the Orkneys, islands to the north east of Scotland. He could not have avoided knowing the story of the drunken fiddler who hears music coming from the burial mound of Salt Knowe near to the Ring of Brodgar. He goes inside and finds a group of trolls having a party. He stays there for two hours but then discovers that fifty years have passed outside the mound. Here’s the Ring of Brodgar:

And here’s the nearby burial mound of Salt Knowe:

We have already seen how the plot of Rip van Winkle is very like the story of the Iroquois hunter in the twelfth century.  It is very similar also to an upstate New York legend told by the Seneca tribe. A young squirrel hunter encounters “The Little People”, and spends the night with them. When he goes back to his village, it is completely overgrown and his entire tribe has moved on. For them, a year has passed.

Most of the world’s religions have a very similar tale which usually takes place in a cave, or at least somewhere reminiscent of a cave. There is the story of the legendary sage Epimenides of Knossos who spent fifty-seven years in a Cretan cave. Here he is:

“The Seven Sleepers of Ephesus” spent three hundred years inside a cave near Ephesus and in Judaism, there is the story of Honi ha-M’agel. Here’s his tomb:

All of these widely scattered stories could conceivably be explained by superior beings who have mastered the manipulation of time.

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What’s the School Play this year? (5)

The last year before the war, 1938, saw a marvellous School Play in “Knock ou la Triomphe de la Médecine”. The following year, though, saw, arguably, the greatest play ever in the long and distinguished history of the School Play. It should have been called “Androclès ou la Triomphe de la Zoologie”. Instead, George Bernard Shaw stuck with the tried and trusted “Androcles and the Lion”. Here’s the Great Man in his bathing suit, standing next to one of the great female impersonators of the era, Hermann Goering:

In 1938, the star of the show had been:

“…the Car, with all its rattles, its backfiring and trick number plates, which very nearly stole the performance.” Not to mention those high heels:

That car had been constructed by Mr James Harold Norris, a builder, of 6 Hillside, Derby Road, TN 75331. Hillside is off Derby Road just before the junction with the Ring Road, and roughly opposite the end of Wollaton Hall Drive. The star of our show, of course, as always, is that debonair man about town, the Orange Arrow:

James Harold Norris was perhaps the third generation of this building and contracting firm. Before James, it was presumably his father or perhaps uncle, Mr William Thomas Norris, who was operating at either 3 or 333 Lenton Boulevard, TN 75423, as early as 1904. Before that, there was a William Norris at 60 Willoughby Street, New Lenton in 1891-1899 at least.

This year, then, 1938, the School Play was by George Bernard Shaw. It was called “Androcles and the Lion” and had first been performed in 1912. One peculiarity is that when it was published, Shaw’s preface was longer than his play.

“Knock” had given Mr Norris the Builder the opportunity to build “The car that nearly stole the show”, but “Androcles and the Lion” was way beyond the wildest dreams of the wildest optimist in the Dramatic Society. It was just wonderful. A creation, a creature, years ahead of its time.

Interestingly, the lion was played, or perhaps “operated” would be a better word, by Mr Norris’ fourteen year old son, James Harold Norris. I wonder if a deal was cut. Did Mr Norris and James come in one day and demonstrate what they had made:

“Yes, it is marvellous, isn’t it? Would you like to borrow our lion for your play? You would? Who did you have in mind to play the part of the lion? Billy Smith? Oh, dear.”

Well, that’s a pity because the lion is already booked for three birthday parties on those three evenings. How unfortunate.”

“What? Billy Smith is going to be ill on all of those three days? My son is his replacement? Why, that’s excellent news! For James, certainly, but most of all for the play. Now you won’t have to use that old army blanket and the papier-mâché head of a donkey from that other play years back.”

At this point, I cannot resist quoting one of the reviews in the School Magazine:

“What acting talents were shown by James Harold Norris, the fourteen year old son of a builder from 6 Hillside, off Derby Road. James made a remarkable lion, a lion of distinction and of individuality; a lion of understanding and of gratitude. What mattered a tail whose length varied from one night to another in a lion whose eyes could wink either separately or together at will? A delightful lion, the sort of lion anyone should be proud to know.”

And here he is. The only thing we have left of “The Lion”. A Photoshopped photograph. Unless, of course, he still roams the grassy savannahs of Ebay, waiting for somebody to recognise him and scoop him up for £15.13.

Here is that photograph in its entirety. Lots of Roman soldiers and, on the extreme right, the boy who had already played Madame Knock in the play about her husband, seventeen year old Eric Richard Gale:

In “Androcles and the Lion”, as Lavinia, though, Eric now had the biggest female part in the play. He was generally judged as “excellent” throughout, even though now, he did not have the benefit of those extremely elegant high heels of yesteryear. The Nottinghamian said:

“ER Gale was an extremely convincing lady in voice, manner and appearance; one of the best “ladies” the school has ever produced.”

Here is my best effort at a picture:

The programme for this production is still in the School Archives and, a very nice gesture, it actually lists the eleven members of the School’s Hobbies Club who made all of the: “armour, helmets, swords and other stage properties”. That doesn’t happen for every School Play. Indeed, I would take a wild bet that it doesn’t happen for any of them.

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The Fairies of Cornwall (5)

After a short respite (or perhaps, time off for good behaviour), this is another story about the man-sized evil fairies of Cornwall. We met them for the first time quite a while ago.

This is another typical Droll Teller’s tale . It concerns the behaviour of the fairies towards a Mr Noy,  a farmer who is travelling from his distant home to a particular village, on the night before the village’s Harvest Festival. There’s an especially fine crop of biscuits this year:

Mr Noy goes down to the pub, sinks a few pints, and then, cue Droll Teller….

“……. eventually, Mr Noy, with his dogs, left the public house to go home, but he didn’t arrive there that night or the next. It was thought at first that he must have enjoyed himself at the inn until late, and only then have gone home. Mr Noy had no wife or anybody else to be much alarmed about him, as he was an elderly bachelor.

The next day people from the village of Pendrea along with scores of neighbours from other farms came to attend the feast at the Harvest Festival, but none of them had heard or seen Mr Noy from the time he left the inn. They became somewhat uneasy. Yet they still supposed that Mr Noy might have gone to some merry-making down near the village of St Buryan. (about eight-ten miles away, look for the orange arrow)…

In the meantime, a local woman, Dame Pendar, sent messengers to all the places where she thought Mr Noy might have gone, but they returned, just as the Harvest Festival feast was coming to an end, without any news of him. At this everyone became anxious, and they all volunteered to search everywhere they could think of, before going to bed. So away they went, some on horseback and some on foot, to examine pools, streams, cliffs and other dangerous places, both near and far away. They returned at night, but nobody had seen or heard of the missing gentleman.

The next day, horsemen were despatched to other districts, and, as Mr Noy was well known and well liked, there was a good general turn out to hunt for him. But this day too was passed in a fruitless search.

On the third day, in the grey of the morning and very close to Mr Noy’s own farm, a horse was heard neighing and dogs were heard barking, among a dense group of trees and bushes on a dry piece of ground almost surrounded with bogs and pools on the side of Selena Moor (which is between Penzance and St Buryan):

Nobody had even considered looking for Mr Noy so close to his own home, but when a score or so of men discovered a path onto this island in the bogs, they saw Mr Noy’s horse and hounds. The horse had found plenty of grass, but the dogs were half starved. Both the horse and the dogs were excited and they led the men through thorns and brambles that might have been growing there for hundreds of years. Eventually they came to some large trees and the ruins of an old sheep fold that nobody knew was there. In winter, hunters never attempted to cross the boggy ground that almost surrounded this island of dry land, and in summer nobody was curious enough to penetrate this wilderness of bushes which was swarming with poisonous snakes:

The horse stopped at an old doorway and whinnied. The dogs, with several people, pushed through the brambles that choked the entrance, and inside they found Mr Noy lying on the ground fast asleep. It was a difficult matter to wake him up. At last he awoke, stretched himself, rubbed his eyes and said, “Why, you are all from the village of Pendea! Why have you all come here? Today is the Harvest Festival and I am miles and miles away from home. What district is this? How could you have found me? Have my dogs been home and brought you here? Mr Noy seemed like one dazed and numb, so without staying to answer his questions, they gave him some brandy, lifted him onto the back of his horse, and then left the animal to pick its way out, which it did without hesitation and even discovered a shorter way out than Mr Noy’s rescuers had.

Though he was on his own land and less than half a mile from his farm, Mr Noy was unable to recognise the countryside, until he crossed the running water that divides the farms. “I am glad,” said Mr Noy, “however it came about, to have got back in time for the Harvest Festival”. When they told him how the Festival had taken place three days previously, he said they were joking, and wouldn’t believe it until he had seen all the mown hay in the barn, and all the harvest tools put away until next year.”

Another fairy abduction, then. For what reason we do not know, but Mr Noy had been absent for several days. He was then found right next to his own home, although he didn’t recognise any of the landmarks he could see. Only crossing running water restores normality. Vampires then, are not the only supernatural beings who can be thwarted by water.

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The Fairies of Cornwall (4)

Let’s have a look at one of the old Cornish stories, and see what kind of things the human sized  fairies used to get up to. As soon as I had read a few of these stories, I was immediately struck by how they seemed to echo aspects of modern life. The people who disappear in the USA’s National Parks. The activities of those nasty aliens. And bear in mind that this is one of the first stories in Volume I, so I would think it was put there as a gentle introduction. Not that the fairies are at all gentle.

In this traditional droll-teller’s story, therefore, “Uter” is a commercial traveller who is led astray by the fairies, as he tries to go back to his hotel after visiting a big country festival in Penzance. Here is its modern equivalent:

“When Uter got into the field, a cloud of fog was rising from the moors, entirely surrounding him and so thick that he could scarcely see a yard before him. Yet, although he couldn’t see anything, he could hear distant singing plainer than ever. He steered his course for the eastern side of the field, as near as he could guess toward the place with an opening in the hedgerow where he intended to pass into the next field. He soon came to the fence, but he found no opening. He searched back and forth. He wandered round and round, without success. And then he tried to get over what appeared to be a low place in the hedge; but the more he climbed, the higher the hedge seem to rise above him.”

“He tried ever so many places, but could never quite reach the top of the fence, and every time he gave up, his ears rang with such mocking laughter as nothing but a Fairy ever made. He was very anxious to reach the hotel, and above all to get out of this field, as it had a bad reputation, and was shunned by most people after nightfall. The ugliest of sprites and fairies, with other stranger apparitions, such as unearthly lights, were often seen firstly hovering around the old Chapel which stood in this field, and then departing in all directions. These ruins were so overgrown with brambles and thorns that there was but little of the building to be seen.”

“Uter had turned round and round so often that he neither knew what course he was steering nor in which part of the field he stood, until he found himself among the thickets surrounding the ruins. Even here he heard the same teasing, tormenting laughter proceeding from inside the chapel. Then he took it into his head that someone in flesh and blood was following him about in the mist. He soon lost his temper and threatened to let whoever, or whatever, was dogging his footsteps, feel the weight of his boot as soon as he could lay hands on him.

He had no sooner hit the Fairy then than the cudgel was snatched from his hand, his heels tripped up, and he was laid flat on his back; then he was sent rolling down the hill faster and faster, until he went down like a stone bowled over a cliff, tossed over the hedge at the bottom of the field like a bundle of rags, then pushed through the brambles on the moor, or pitched over the bogs and stream on the Fairy’s horns. Then he was whirled away like dust before the wind. When he fell down, he was pitched up again, and not allowed a moment’s rest from rolling or running until he passed the high road and was driven on by the Fairy, smashing against a high rock at the foot of the hill, where he was found quite insensible the next day.”

Whoever or whatever was responsible for those events, it certainly doesn’t sound like it was Tinkerbell!

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The Fairies of Cornwall (3)

The ancient stories about the fairies were collected together in Cornwall by William Bottrell (1816–1881) when he realised that the county was changing so rapidly in the mid-nineteenth century, that the old tales would all soon be lost if he didn’t record them during his lifetime. Fairy tales had never previously been written down, but were declaimed to an audience by “droll tellers”, men who would spend one night here, two nights there, as they wandered from farm to farm, being fed and making money as the hat was passed around. This was all in exchange for entertaining the people with their traditional accounts of what mischief the fairies had got up to. They still exist nowadays to some extent:

In those days, the agricultural population would often live in groups either in, or around, a large farm, providing the farmer with his workforce and the droll teller with his audience. Presumably, the droll teller might well change the details of his tale slightly to fit the lives of the people in the particular farm where he was telling his tale. Many tales mention specific people and specific places, and the tale might be changed to take account of this. Even today, a droll teller can attract a large crowd:

 The three books by William Bottrell which I have are : “Traditions and Hearthside Stories of West Cornwall-First Series (1870)”

“Traditions and Hearthside Stories of West Cornwall-Second Series (1873)”

“Stories and Folk-Lore of West Cornwall-Third Series (1880)”

And here’s the cover:

Personally, I would say that the “droll tales” were already centuries old when Bottrell collected them. Some of them apparently include particular individuals from the 1600s and I would not be surprised if the tales had their origins as far back as the years before William the Conqueror. A few certainly mention the red hair of the vikings:

Fairies back then were beings who would interfere frequently in the lives of ordinary people. They had such powers that they could do whatever they wished. Physically, they were the size of humans and people were frequently  deceived by strangers that they did not realise were fairies. More about such evil-doing next time…….

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