Robert Naylor.

From John O'Groats to Land's End online

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that Tregeagle, as steward to one of the claimants, had destroyed
ancient deeds, forged others, and made it appear that the property was
his own. The defendant in the trial by some means or other succeeded in
breaking the bonds of death, and the spirit of Tregeagle was summoned to
attend the court as witness.

When his ghostly form appeared, the court was filled with horror. In
answer to counsel's questions he had to acknowledge his frauds, and the
jury returned a verdict for the defendants. The judge then ordered
counsel to remove his witness, but, alas! it was easier to raise evil
spirits than to lay them, and they could not get rid of Tregeagle. The
monks were then sent for, and said that by long trials he might repent
and his sins be expiated in that way. They would not or could not hand
him over to the fiends, but they would give him tasks to do that would
be endless. First of all they gave him the task of emptying Dosmary
Pool, supposed to be bottomless, with a small perforated limpet shell.
Here, however, he narrowly escaped falling into the hands of the demons,
and only saved himself by running and dashing his head through the
window of Roach Rock Church. His terrible cries drove away the
congregation, and the monks and priests met together to decide what
could be done with him, as no service could be held in the church.

[Illustration: KYNANCE COVE AND THE LION ROCK. "The fine rock scenery on
the coast continues all the way to Land's End, while isolated rocks in
many forms and smugglers' caves of all sizes are to be seen."]

[Illustration: NEAR THE LIZARD. "The Lizard Point with the neighbouring
rocks, both when submerged and otherwise, formed a most dangerous place
for mariners, especially when false lights were displayed by those
robbers and murderers, the Cornish Wreckers."]

They decided that Tregeagle, accompanied by two saints to guard him,
should be taken to the coast at Padstow, and compelled to stay on the
sandy shore making trusses of sand and ropes of sand to bind them, while
the mighty sea rose continually and washed them away. The people at
Padstow could get no rest day or night on account of his awful cries of
fear and despair, and they sought the aid of the great Cornish Saint
Petrox. The saint subdued Tregeagle, and chained him with bonds,
every link of which he welded with a prayer. St. Petrox placed him at
Bareppa, and condemned him to carry sacks of sand across the estuary of
St. Looe and empty them at Porthleven until the beach was clean to the
rocks. He laboured a long time at that work, but in vain, for the tide
round Treawavas Head always carried the sand back again. His cries and
wails disturbed the families of the fishermen, but a mischievous demon
came along, and, seeing him carrying an enormous sack full of sand and
pebbles, tripped him up. Tregeagle fell, and the sack upset and formed
the bar that ruined the harbour of Helston, which up to that time had
been a prosperous port, the merchant vessels landing cargoes and taking
back tin in exchange. The townspeople, naturally very wroth, sought the
aid of the priests, and once more bonds were placed upon Tregeagle. This
time he was sent to the Land's End, where he would find very few people
to hear his awful cries. There his task was to sweep the sands from
Porthcurnow Cove, round the headland called Tol-Peden-Penwith, into
Nanjisal Cove. At this task, it is said, Tregeagle is still labouring,
his wails and moans being still borne on the breeze that sweeps over the
Land's End; so as this was our destination, we had rather a queer
prospect before us!

Between Gweek and Helston we crossed the famous promontory known as the
Lizard, which in length and breadth extends about nine miles in each
direction, although the point itself is only two miles broad. The rocks
at this extremity rise about 250 feet above the stormy sea below, and
are surmounted by a modern lighthouse.

Originally there was only a beacon light with a coal fire fanned with
bellows, but oil was afterwards substituted. The Lizard Point in those
days, with the neighbouring rocks, both when submerged and otherwise,
formed a most dangerous place for mariners, especially when false lights
were displayed by those robbers and murderers, the Cornish wreckers.

The Lizard, the Corinum of the ancients, is the most southerly point in
England, and the fine rock scenery on the coast continues from there all
the way to the Land's End, while isolated rocks in many forms and
smugglers' caves of all sizes are to be seen. Weird legends connected
with these and the Cornish coast generally had been handed down from
father to son from remote antiquity, and the wild and lonely Goonhilly
Downs, that formed the centre of the promontory, as dreary a spot as
could well be imagined, had a legend of a phantom ship that glided over
them in the dusk or moonlight, and woe betide the mariners who happened
to see it, for it was a certain omen of evil!

The finest sight that we saw here was in broad daylight, and consisted
of an immense number of sailing-ships, more in number than we could
count, congregated together on one side of the Lizard. On inquiring the
reason, we were told that they were wind-bound vessels waiting for a
change in the wind to enable them to round the point, and that they had
been known to wait there a fortnight when unfavourable winds prevailed.
This we considered one of the most wonderful sights we had seen on our

As we left Helston on our way to Penzance we had the agreeable company
as far as St. Breage of a young Cornishman, who told us we ought to
have come to Helston in May instead of November, for then we should have
seen the town at its best, especially if we had come on the "Flurry"
day. This he said was the name of their local yearly festival, held on
or near May 8th, and he gave us quite a full account of what generally
happened on that occasion. We could easily understand, from what he told
us, that he had enjoyed himself immensely on the day of the last
festival, which seemed to be quite fresh in his mind, although now more
than six months had passed since it happened. In fact he made us wish
that we had been there ourselves, as his story awoke some memories in
our minds of -

The days we went a-gipsying a long time ago
When lads and lasses in their best were dressed from top to toe,
When hearts were light and faces bright, nor thought of care or woe,
In the days we went a-gipsying a long time ago!

[Illustration: THE "FLURRY" DANCE.]

His description of the brass band of which he was a member, and the way
they were dressed, and the adventures they met with during the day, from
early morning till late at night, was both interesting and amusing.
Their first duty was to play round the town to waken people who were
already awake - sleep was out of the question - children too had a share
in the proceedings. They knew that booths or standings would be erected
all over the town, some even on the footpath, displaying all manner of
cakes, toffy, and nuts that would delight their eyes and sweeten their
mouths, if they had the money wherewith to buy, and if not, there was
the chance of persuading some stranger to come to the rescue! But first
of all they must rush to the woods and fields in search of flowers and
branches, for the town had to be decorated before the more imposing part
of the ceremonies began. Meantime the bandsmen were busy devouring a
good breakfast, for bandsmen's appetites are proverbial. Perhaps they
are the only class of men who play while they work and work while they
play. In any case, after breakfast they sauntered round the town talking
to the girls until the auspicious hour arrived when they had to assemble
in the market square to head the procession of the notables of the town
dressed in all kinds of costumes, from that of William the Conqueror
onwards. My brother was anxious to know what quickstep they played, and
if it was "Havelock's Quick March"; but our friend said it was not a
quickstep at all, but something more like a hornpipe. Was it the College
or the Sailor's Hornpipe? It was neither, was the reply, as it had to be
played slowly, for the people danced to it while they marched in the
procession, and occasionally twirled their partners round; and then
after some further ceremonies they separated and all the people began to
dance both in the streets and through the houses, going in at one door
and out at another, if there was one, tumbling about and knocking things
over, and then out in the street again, and if not satisfied with their
partners, changing them, and off again, this kind of enjoyment lasting
for hours. Sometimes, if a man-of-war happened to be in the
neighbourhood, the sailors came, who were the best dancers of the lot,
as they danced with each other and threw their legs about in a most
astonishing fashion, a practice they were accustomed to when aboard

There were also shows and sometimes a circus, and the crowds that came
from the country were astonishing. Now and then there was a bit of a
row, when some of them had "a drop o' drink," but the police were about,
and not afraid to stop their games by making free use of their staves;
this, however, was the shady side of the great "Flurry" day.

Meantime every one had learned the strange dance-tune by heart, which
our friend whistled for us, whereby we could tell it had come down from
remote times. Indeed, it was said that these rejoicings were originally
in memory of the victory of the great Michael over the Devil, and no one
thought of suggesting a more modern theory than that the "Flurry" was a
survival of the Floralia observed by the Romans on the fourth of the
Calends of May in honour of Flora, the Goddess of Flowers.

The very mention of the names of band and hornpipe was too much for my
brother, who could not resist giving the Cornishman a few samples of the
single and double shuffle in the College Hornpipe, and one or two
movements from a Scotch Reel, but as I was no dancer myself, I had no
means of judging the quality of his performances. I kept a respectful
distance away, as sometimes his movements were very erratic, and his
boots, like those of the Emperor Frederick, were rather heavy. We could
not persuade our friend to come with us a yard farther than the village.
As a fellow bandsman, he confided the reason why to my brother; he had
seen a nice young lady at the "Flurry" who came from that village, and
he was going to see her now. He was standing in the street on the
"Flurry" day when the lady came along, and stopped to look at the
bandsmen, who were then at liberty, and he said to her jocularly, "Take
my arm, love - I'm in the band," and, "By Jove," he said, "if she didn't
come and take it," to his great astonishment and delight. Apparently his
heart went at the same time, and we surmised that everything else would
shortly follow. After bidding him good-bye, we looked round the church,
and then my brother began to walk at an appalling speed, which
fortunately he could not keep up, and which I attributed in some way to
the effect of the bandsman's story, though he explained that we must try
to reach Penzance before dark.

The church of St. Breage was dedicated to a saint named Breaca, sister
of St. Enny, who lived in the sixth century and came from Ireland. There
was a holed sandstone cross in the churchyard, which tradition asserted
was made out of granite sand and then hardened with human blood! The
tower was said to contain the largest bell in Cornwall, it having been
made in the time of a vicar who, not liking the peals, had all the other
bells melted down to make one large one. The men of St. Breage and those
of the next village, St. Germoe, had an evil reputation as wreckers or
smugglers, for one old saying ran:

God keep us from rocks and shelving sands,
And save us from Breage and Germoe men's hands.

Opposite Breage, on the sea-coast, was a place named Porthleven, where a
Wesleyan chapel, with a very handsome front, had been built. No doubt
there are others in the country built in a similar way, for to it and
them the following lines might well apply:

They built the church, upon my word,
As fine as any abbey;
And then they thought to cheat the Lord,
And built the back part shabby.

After a walk of about two miles we arrived at the village of St. Germoe.
The saint of that name was said to have been an Irish bard of royal
race, and the font in the church, from its plain and rough form, was
considered to be one of the most ancient in the county. In the
churchyard was a curious structure which was mentioned by Leland as a
"chair," and was locally known as St. Germoe's Chair, but why it should
be in the churchyard was a mystery, unless it had been intended to mark
the spot where the saint had been buried. It was in the form of a
sedilium, the seat occupied by the officiating priest near the altar in
the chancel of a church, being about six feet high and formed of three
sedilia, with two pillars supporting three arches, which in turn
supported the roof; in general form it was like a portion of the row of
seats in a Roman amphitheatre.

On the opposite coast, which was only about a mile away, was the famous
Prussia Cove, named after a notorious smuggler who bore the nickname of
the King of Prussia; and adjoining his caves might still be seen the
channels he had cut in the solid rock to enable his boats to get close
to the shore. His real name was Carter. He became the leader of the
Cornish smugglers, and kept the "Old King of Prussia Inn," though having
the reputation of being a "devout Methodist." He was said to be so
named because he bore some resemblance to Frederick the Great, the King
of Prussia. We had seen other inns in the south of the same name, but
whether they were named after the king or the smuggler we could not say.
He seemed to have had other caves on the Cornish coast where he stored
his stolen treasures, amongst which were some old cannon.

One moonlight night, when he was anxiously waiting and watching for the
return of his boats, he saw them in the distance being rapidly pursued
by His Majesty's Revenue cutter the _Fairy_. The smuggler placed his
cannon on the top of the cliff and gave orders to his men to fire on the
_Fairy_, which, as the guns on board could not be elevated sufficiently
to reach the top of the cliff, was unable to reply. Thus the boats
escaped; but early the following morning the Revenue boat again
appeared, and the officer and some of the crew came straight to Carter's
house, where they met the smuggler. He loudly complained to the officer
that his crew should come there practising the cutter's guns at midnight
and disturbing the neighbourhood. Carter of course could give no
information about the firing of any other guns, and suggested it might
be the echo of those fired from the _Fairy_ herself, nor could any other
explanation be obtained in the neighbourhood where Carter was well
known, so the matter was allowed to drop. But the old smuggler was more
sharply looked after in future, and though he lived to a great age, he
died in poverty.

Our road crossed the Perran Downs, where, to the left, stood the small
village of Perranuthnoe, a place said to have existed before the time of
St. Piran and named Lanudno in the taxation of Pope Nicholas. It was
also pointed out as the place where Trevelyan's horse landed him when he
escaped the inrush of the sea which destroyed Lyonesse, "that sweet land
of Lyonesse," which was inseparably connected with the name of King
Arthur, who flourished long before the age of written records. Lyonesse
was the name of the district which formerly existed between the Land's
End and the Scilly Islands, quite twenty-five miles away. When the waves
from the Atlantic broke through, Trevelyan happened to be riding on a
white horse of great swiftness. On seeing the waters rushing forward to
overwhelm the country, he rode for his life and was saved by the speed
of his horse. He never stopped until he reached Perranuthnoe, where the
rocks stopped the sea's farther progress. But when he looked back, he
could see nothing but a wide expanse of water covering no less than 140
parish churches. He lived afterwards in the cave in the rocks which has
ever since borne the name of Trevelyan's Cave. It was beyond doubt that
some great convulsion of nature had occurred to account for the
submerged forests, of which traces were still known to exist.

Soon afterwards we reached a considerable village bearing the strange
name of Marazion, a place evidently once of some importance and at one
time connected with the Jews, for there were the Jews' Market and some
smelting-places known as the Jews' Houses. Here we came to the small
rock surmounted by a castle which we had seen in front of our track for
some miles without knowing what it was. Now we discovered it to be the
far-famed St. Michael's Mount. According to legend this once stood in a
vast forest of the mysterious Lyonesse, where wild beasts roamed, and
where King Arthur fought one of his many battles with a giant at the
"Guarded Mount," as Milton has so aptly named it.

As we were told that the Mount was only about half a mile away, we
decided to visit it, and walked as quickly as we could along the
rough-paved road leading up to it. On the Mount we could see the lights
being lit one by one as we approached, and, in spite of the arrival of
the first quarter of the moon, it was now becoming dark, so we discussed
the advisability of staying at St. Michael's for the night; but we
suddenly came to a point on our road where the water from the sea was
rushing over it, and realised that St. Michael's Mount was an island. We
could see where the road reappeared a little farther on, and I
calculated that if we made a dash for it the water would not reach above
our knees, but it was quite evident that we had now come to a dead stop.
The rock by this time looked much higher, spreading its shadow over the
water beneath, and the rather serious question arose as to how or when
we should be able to get back again, for we had to reach Land's End on
the next day. Finally we decided to retrace our steps to Marazion, where
we learned that the road to the Mount was only available under
favourable conditions for about eight hours out of the twenty-four, and
as our rules would have prevented our returning by boat, we were glad we
had not proceeded farther.

[Illustration: ST. MICHAEL'S MOUNT.]

According to the _Saxon Chronicle_, the inroad from the sea which
separated St. Michael's from the mainland occurred in 1099. The Mount
had a sacred character, for St. Michael himself was said to have
appeared to a holy man who once resided there, and St. Keyne also had
made a pilgrimage to the Mount in the year 490.

The rock rises about 230 feet above sea-level, and is about a mile in
circumference, but the old monastery had been made into a private
residence. At an angle in one of the towers, now called St. Michael's
Chair, in which one person only could sit at a time, and that not
without danger, as the chair projected over a precipice, was a stone
lantern in which the monks formerly kept a light to guide seamen. The
legend connected with this was that if a married woman sits in the chair
before her husband has done so, she will rule over him, but if he sits
down on it first, he will be the master. We thought this legend must
have resulted from the visit of St. Keyne, as it corresponded with that
attached to her well near Liskeard which we have already recorded.

Perkin Warbeck, about whom we had heard at Exeter, and who in 1497
appeared in England with 7,000 men to claim the English throne, occupied
the castle on St. Michael's Mount for a short time with his beautiful
wife, the "White Rose of Scotland," whom he left here for safety while
he went forward to London to claim the crown. He was said to be a Jew,
or, to be correct, the son of a Tournai Jew, which possibly might in
some way or other account for the Jewish settlement at Marazion. His
army, however, was defeated, and he was hanged at Tyburn, November 23rd,
1499, while his wife was afterwards removed to the Court of Henry VII,
where she received every consideration and was kindly treated.

We soon covered the three miles which separated us from Penzance, where
we went to the best hotel in the town, arriving just in time for dinner.
There was only one other visitor there, a gentleman who informed us he
had come from Liverpool, where he was in the timber trade, and was
staying at Penzance for a few days. He asked what business we were in,
and when we told him we had practically retired from business in 1868,
and that that was the reason why we were able to spare nine weeks to
walk from John o' Groat's to Land's End, he seemed considerably
surprised. We did not think then that in a few years' time we should,
owing to unexpected events, find ourselves in the same kind of business
as his, and meet that same gentleman on future occasions!

We shall always remember that night at Penzance! The gentleman sat at
the head of the table at dinner while we sat one on each side of him.
But though he occupied the head position, we were head and shoulders
above him in our gastronomical achievements - so much so that although he
had been surprised at our long walk, he told us afterwards that he was
"absolutely astounded" at our enormous appetites.

He took a great interest in our description of the route we had
followed. Some of the places we had visited he knew quite well, and we
sat up talking about the sights we had seen until it was past
closing-time. When we rose to retire, he said he should esteem it an
honour if we would allow him to accompany us to the Land's End on the
following day to see us "in at the finish." He said he knew intimately
the whole of the coast between Penzance and the Land's End, and could
no doubt show us objects of interest that we might otherwise miss
seeing. We assured him that we should esteem the honour to be ours, and
should be glad to accept his kind offer, informing him that we intended
walking along the coast to the end and then engaging a conveyance to
bring us back again. He thought that a good idea, but as we might have
some difficulty in getting a suitable conveyance at that end of our
journey, he strongly advised our hiring one at Penzance, and offered, if
we would allow him, to engage for us in the morning a trap he had hired
the day before, though we must not expect anything very grand in these
out-of-the-way parts of the country. We thankfully accepted his kind
offer, and this item in the programme being settled, we considered
ourselves friends, and parted accordingly for the night, pleasantly
conscious that even if we did not walk at all on the morrow, we had
secured our average of twenty-five miles daily over the whole of our

(_Distance walked thirty-four and a half miles_.)

_Saturday, November 18th._

We had ordered breakfast much later than usual to suit the convenience
of our friend, but we were out in the town at our usual early hour, and
were quite astonished at the trees and plants we saw growing in the
grounds and gardens there, some of which could only be grown under glass
farther north. Here they were growing luxuriantly in the open air, some
having the appearance of the palm-trees we had seen pictured in books.
We had been favoured with fairly fine weather for some time, and
although we had passed through many showers, we had not encountered
anything in the nature of continuous rain, although Cornwall is
naturally a humid county, and is said to have a shower of rain for every
day in the week and two for Sunday. We kept near the edge of the sea,
and the view of the bay, with St. Michael's Mount on one side and the
Lizards on the other, was very fine; but the Mount had assumed quite a
different appearance since yesterday, for now it appeared completely
isolated, the connection with the mainland not being visible. We were
sure that both St. Michael's Mount and Penzance must have had an
eventful history, but the chief event in the minds of the people seemed
to have been the visit of the Spaniards when they burnt the town in
1595. The Cornishmen made very little resistance on that occasion, owing
to the existence of an old prophecy foretelling the destruction of
Penzance by fire when the enemy landed on the rock of Merlin, the place
where the Spaniards actually did land. Probably it was impossible to
defend the town against an enemy attacking Penzance from that point, as

Online LibraryRobert NaylorFrom John O'Groats to Land's End → online text (page 64 of 66)