Cornwall

South West Tales: A Halloween Special, Part 2

Set some mood lighting, cuddle up on the sofa and get ready to be thrilled by some more of our favourite myths, legends and spooky tales from across the South West in our Halloween special part 2. 

Cornwall

The Whooper of Sennen Cove 

Awash with tales of giants, mermaids, pixies and more, Cornish mythology is full of all kinds of characters – some good, some bad, and some ambivalent. Often, folk stories were created to serve as moral examples for society and as warnings of the omnipotent power of Mother Nature. Yet, who’s to say the protagonists were never real? One particular story that has carried through the generations involves the Whooper of Sennen Cove. As the tale goes, many years ago, sea mists that descended upon Sennen Cove were accompanied by a loud whooping sound. Made by friend or foe, it wasn’t clear, but locals interpreted the sound as a warning to stay away from the water. That was, apart from two gutsy fisherman who believed their friends’ suspicions were misplaced. One day, a thick mist shrouded the cove and the whooping sound returned, but undeterred, the men set about hauling their boat to the water’s edge. As their boat slipped through the misty veil, the ripples of the wake left behind them were the last anyone ever saw of the men.  

Jamaica Inn

Originally built as a coaching house in 1750, the Jamaica Inn near Launceston was made famous by Daphne du Maurier’s eponymous novel. A welcoming refuge for weary voyagers, it often hosted travellers walking on foot across the wild and brooding Bodmin Moor, as well as less savoury visitors in the form of smugglers using the inn to store bootleg rum from Jamaica. While the pub undeniably saw its fair share of characterful guests over the years, what’s more interesting is that some say a handful of them never left. Over the years, countless stories of spectral sightings have been recorded in the Jamaica Inn, with many unconnected witnesses describing the same experiences. The most commonly recounted sighting involves that of a sailor seated near the great fireplace, believed to be a man who was staying at the inn before being murdered on the moors. That said, tales of ghostly cries, unexplained bangs and eerie murmurings are not unusual in the inn, making it purportedly one the most haunted buildings in Cornwall. 

Devon

Sir Francis Drake and Buckland Abbey 

Sir Francis Drake is probably best known for his role in the defeat of the Spanish Armada in 1588. One of the most famous victories in British history, the battle saw the destruction of two-thirds of a 130-strong Spanish fleet in a failed invasion of England. While looking back, historians have agreed that a combination of poor management and inexperience on behalf of the Spanish and extreme weather conditions led to ultimate victory, many Brits at the time found the astonishing events a little hard to compute. In fact, when Drake returned home to Buckland Abbey in Devon, locals were so suspicious of him that many believed he’d actually made a pact with the Devil to secure the Spanish defeat. Despite the fact he later died in Puerto Rico, somewhat less glamorously, of dysentery, the belief is that his tormented soul is still tied to his former home. Over the centuries, his ghost has reportedly been seen riding out across Dartmoor in a black coach driven by headless horses, accompanied by a pack of demonic dogs. Maybe he’s upset about the dysentery.   

If you’d like to discover the setting of this tale, you can stay at the beautiful Mulberry Barton, set within the 700-acre, National Trust owned Buckland Estate.

The Bideford Witches 

One of the scariest stories in Devon comes not from myth, but from truth. In what was one of the last cases of its kind in England, the Bideford Witch Trials in 1682 revolved around three local women accused of witchcraft: Temperance Lloyd, Mary Trembles and Susannah Edwards. Although the craze of witch-hunting had largely died down in England by the late 17th Century, Temperance, Mary and Susannah all found themselves victims of vicious rumours and flagrant discrimination that quickly garnered mass support. Unsurprisingly, the vast majority of the evidence against the women was based on hearsay, yet this didn’t stop their cases being taken to court. Despite the apprehension of the presiding judge, Sir Thomas Raymond, sentencing was swayed by the strength of public opinion and political pressure to control the masses. Sadly, Temperance, Mary and Susannah were all found guilty of witchcraft and condemned to the gallows, becoming the last ‘witches’ to be hanged in England. 

Dorset

Portland Rabbits

If you really want to spook a resident of Portland this Halloween, then you need only refer to rabbits. Don’t actually say “rabbit”, though. No, really. Part of a long-standing superstition on the Isle of Portland, the dreaded R-word has for many years led to shivers down the collective spine of the community here. To this day, Portlanders still won’t say the word itself and instead choose safer alternatives, like "underground mutton" and, a little more literally, "long-eared furry things". This is because, back in the heyday of the isle’s quarrying history, bunnies were blamed for causing landslips in quarries and damaging the structural integrity of mines with their burrowing. Adorable yet to be feared entirely, these little fluffy mammals were considered such bad omens that if anyone saw one onsite, then the whole crew would refuse to work again until the coast was clear. Even today, the mere mention of the R-word will illicit a chilly response from locals. You have been warned.

The Moigne Downs UFO

During the summer and autumn of 1967, a record number of UFO sightings were reported across Britain. In fact, so numerous were these sightings that the Ministry of Defence received news of sightings almost every day that year, including many from active police officers. While many of the 362 recorded cases were quickly explained away, there were still dozens of reports that couldn’t be. Of these cases, the Moigne Downs UFO was one. The bizarre case of Angus Brooks, a retired BOAC Comet Flight Administration Officer, occurred on 26th October 1967. According to Brooks, as he was walking with his two dogs one evening, he had a close encounter with a UFO that suddenly appeared at “lightning speed” from the sky. He explained how the craft was around 150-feet long and hovered a quarter of a mile from where he was stood on a hill for a full 20 minutes. So convincing was his story and so detailed were his recollections that the MoD launched a full investigation into his case, only to conclude the sighting couldn’t be either confirmed or dismissed. Well, who knows.

Somerset 

Stanton Drew Stone Circles

Stanton Drew in Somerset is home to three 4,500-year-old stone circles, one large and two small.  They have never been excavated, so details about exactly how, why and when they were built have never been agreed. Perhaps in the absence of these facts, or rather as an explanation, a number of stories have been passed through the generations explaining their existence instead – most commonly, the tale of the petrified dancers. As the story goes, a wedding party was held on a Saturday night many centuries ago where the stones now stand. As with every great party, music was played long into the night, until the stroke of midnight when the fiddler, who had been playing zealously all night, downed his instrument. The fiddler knew that no one was supposed to dance on a Sunday, but the party guests were insistent and soon a handsome replacement stepped forward from the crowd. The new performer, the Devil in disguise, started playing and with every minute his music became faster and faster. Faster and faster the dancers danced into the early hours of Sunday morning until they eventually became exhausted, falling over and turning into stone. 

Sally in the Wood 

Sally in the Wood is the name given to a road that cuts through Brown’s Folly woods near Bath. Like many woods at night, when tree trunks twist and contort in the darkness and creaks and cracks punctuate the silence, Brown’s Folly is a little eerie at night-time. Yet it’s this particular stretch of road that inspires the deepest fears amongst locals, who regard the unlit road as a dangerous place to drive once the sun has set. According to local accounts, numerous drivers have heard the cries of a young girl coming from within the woods at night, and some have even claimed to see the figure of a girl running out into the road ahead of them before disappearing. Though these claims can’t be verified, the spooky sightings are believed to be of ‘Sally’, the ghost a murdered gypsy girl who was supposedly imprisoned in a tower in the middle of the woods in the 18th Century. The tower can still be seen to this day, although we don’t recommend going there at night. 

 You can read the first edition of our Halloween tales here for more spooky tales from across the South West. Or, if you're ready for a luxury escape this Halloween, take a peek through our boutique retreats here

 

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