Can you think of a county more atmospheric and laden of haunted potential than Cornwall?
With its stories of ship wreckers, smugglers, Tommyknockers, piskies, giants and mermaids, there’s more legend per square mile here than in Narnia. So, in preparation for a Halloween celebration in Cornwall, here’s our guide to ‘who goes there?’ and ‘what on Earth was that!?’ Whilst some of these ghouls, sprites and night terrors stay firmly within the borders of Cornwall, others could follow you all the way home…
So abandon hope all ye who enter our compendium of crikey, as we take you on a journey to the other side (of the Tamar) to our tormented top ten of Kernow’s most haunted holiday destinations.
1. Calan Gwav, Penzance
Cornwall has its own version of Halloween, no longer commonly practised, that’s called Calan Gwav and revolves around the first harvest of apples on St Allan’s Day. Most iconic is the Allantide game, in which four apples were dangled from a horizontal wooden cross suspended from the ceiling. Atop of the cross, candles were attached, so as the players attempted to eat the apples, they would also have to dodge the falling hot wax.
You can still buy Allan apples in Penzance around Halloween time (if you know where to look -> sshhhhh!) Several divining games are also played; each one more bizarre and peculiar than the next.
2. Bolster of St Agnes
Cornwall is full of famous giants and you can actually see one every year in the village of St Agnes, home to the evil Bolster. Legend has it that Bolster was so big he could place one foot on St Agnes Beacon and his other on Carn Brea, 12 miles away. The good village folk re-enact the story of his demise on the hill above Chapel Porth every May Bank Holiday so, if you can’t make it in October, head to St Agnes for an early summer scare. Take the kids (for the giant to eat).
3. Ralph of Portreath
Bolster’s neighbour is the far less sociable Ralph, who lived in a cave near Portreath. He was known for hurling boulders at passing ships. Once they floundered, he’d pick the vessels up and shake out the sailors, eating them like dry roasted peanuts; then he’d hook the ship to his belt and take them back to his cupboard. If you’ve ever heard of Ralph’s Cupboard, now you know what’s lurks inside: the gnawed bones of a thousand seafarers.
4. Cormoran of St Michael’s Mount, nr Marazion
Cormoran lived at St Michael’s Mount, Marazion, and was killed by Jack the Giant Killer of popular legend. Said to be a bit of brawler, Jack defeated the beastly Cormoran by digging a pit on the Mount and goading the giant into chasing him. He did this by blowing a whistle into his ear as he slept. After Cormoran fell into the pit, Jack chopped his head off. Lovely…
5. Carn Galver of West Penwith
Last but not least in our list of Cornish colossuses is the kindly giant of West Penwith, known as Carn Galver, who ran a kind of protection racket. He’d defend the village of Zennor and its inhabitants from other marauding giants in exchange for the odd sheep or goat. He slept at the ocean’s edge, his head rocking on a Logan stone. To our knowledge, he’s still around, so keep your eyes peeled when driving across the sparse and ghostly wastes of West Penwith.
6. Ghostly church bells, Land’s End
Lyonesse, lost beneath the waves in the 11th century, was a fabled landmass that stretched between Land’s End and the Scilly Isles and is the source of much conjecture. The town is said to be located near Seven Stones Reef, a notoriously dangerous patch of rocks that lies just below the surface. Evidence of a patchwork of Cornish hedges (which are constructed from stacked stones) crisscross the seabed, and on stormy nights it’s possible to hear the bells of the Lyonesse’s town church ring out.
Fans of Arthurian myth will recall the name Lyonesse from the story of ‘Tristan and Isolde’ as it was where the former was born. In 1967, Lyonesse and the Seven Stones Reef made the national news when an oil tanker, the SS Torrey Canyon, caused an international environmental disaster when it came to blows on the rocks and sank.
7. The Beast of Bodmin Moor
More famous than Frankenstein’s Monster, toothier than Count Dracula, and perhaps nearly as elusive as Big Foot, Cornwall’s own creature-feature is a big black cat. Said to be a panther, the Beast of Bodmin Moor has been one of the most enduring local legends of recent times (first sightings date back to 1983). Everybody knows somebody in the duchy that claims to have had an encounter, and who’s to argue? No-one wants to be a sceptic. Pack some Go-Kat into your luggage and you should be okay.
8. The mermaid of Zennor
Heading back to Zennor, we have a romantic myth – that of a local who fell in love with a mermaid! One day a churchgoer called Mathew Trewella was spirited away by a mermaid. He had followed her to the ocean’s edge and, from there, was never seen again. However, years later, a fisherman encountered a mermaid who was sat on a rock who told him all about her husband who lived beneath the waves, a man called Mathew. Sounds fishy to us.
9. Tommyknockers and piskies, below the ground
Derelict mineshafts are everywhere in Cornwall. Mostly unchartered and largely impassable, many of the tunnels, shafts and adits are blocked with dense vegetation or clid caps (which are conical grates with gaps large enough to let bats and birds pass through them). In such proliferation are these subterranean networks throughout Cornwall, you’re never all that far from a piskie or a tommyknocker. Piskies are mischevious leprechaun-like creatures that used to make miners lose their way, turning them around and making them panic in the small, cramped tunnels. They could also appear to underground workers as Tommyknockers, which are the ghosts of dead miners lost during cave-ins and other fatal accidents. The living can still hear their ghostly hammers and voices calling for release.
10. Strawdogs – St Buryan
The infamous, formerly banned film Strawdogs, featuring Dustin Hoffman, was filmed in St Buryan near Land’s End. Made in 1970 and released in 1971, the film can be viewed as a horror as it tells the story of a professor and his wife who move to Cornwall but get on the wrong side of the locals with terrible consequences. So make sure you’re kind and considerate to everyone you meet else on your holiday, else it could be you in the sequel…
Don’t worry, there’s still room for you and your family and friends amongst the cobwebs and fog, so make sure you let your imagination run wild on your next holiday to Cornwall. Keep your wits about you and you could encounter other nocturnal delights such as piskies and tommyknockers, banshees and the misty sceptres of smugglers.
To book your Halloween break in Cornwall, check out our scary good collection of holiday cottages, as well as our selection of hotels, B&Bs and holiday parks. Successful vetted by the Ghostbusters (not really) so you won’t be disturbed by things that go bump in the night.