The Old Man of Cury

Take from volume 2 of Legend Land, published 1922


They tell a story down in Meneage, as the southernmost corner of England--the Lizard peninsula--is called, of an old man from the little village of Cury, near Mullion, who once rescued a mermaid who was stranded by the receding tide, and could not get back to her husband and family, who were awaiting her in a cave by Kynance Cove.

The old man was walking along the shore one summer evening, thinking of nothing in particular, when he saw, in a deep pool left by the falling tide, a beautiful lady with long golden hair who appeared to be in the greatest distress.

When he drew nearer to her and discovered that she was a mermaid he was filled with alarm, for he had heard many tales of these sea sirens from the fishermen of Gunwalloe. He was for running off home as hard as he could, but the piteous cries of the lovely creature were too much for his kind heart, and he went forward to enquire what her trouble might be.

At first, she was too terrified to reply, but the old man managed to pacify her and she sobbed out her story. While her husband and children were asleep in the cave, she said, she had been attracted by the scent of the glorious flowers, which grow all about the Lizard, and to get as close to them as possible she had drifted in on the waves, and, revelling in the sweet perfume, had not noticed the falling tide until she discovered herself cut off in the rock pool.

Now, she explained, if her husband awoke and found her missing he would grow terribly angry, for she was supposed to be hunting food for his dinner, and if none arrived he would as likely as not eat the children.

The old man, horrified at this terrible possibility, asked what he could do to help. The mermaid replied that if he would only carry her back to the sea, she would give him any three things he cared to ask. He at once offered to undertake the task, and asked, not for wealth, but that he might be able to charm away sickness, to break the spells of witchcraft, and to discover thieves and restore stolen property. The mermaid readily agreed to give him these powers, but she said he must come to a certain rock on another day in order to be instructed as to how to obtain them. So the old man bent down and, the mermaid clasping him round the neck with her beautiful arms, he managed to carry her on his back to the open sea.

A few days later he went to the rock agreed upon and was met by the mermaid, who thanked him heartily for his aid, and fulfilled her promise by telling him how he could secure the powers he desired. Then, taking her comb from her golden hair, she gave it to him, saying that so long as he preserved it she would come to him whenever he wanted her; and with that, and a languishing smile, she slid off the rock and disappeared.

They say that the old man and she met several times afterwards, and that once she persuaded him to carry her to a quiet place where she could watch human beings walking about with their "split tails," as she described legs. And if you doubt this story, the old people along the coast will still point out to you the "Mermaid's Rock" to prove you wrong.

All around the Lizard the wild coast is indented with beautiful little coves whose pure sandy beaches are washed twice each day by the incoming tide. In the deep sheltered valleys of Meneage flowers grow in profusion, while on the bold high moorland of the interior that rare British plant the Cornish heath flourishes in great bush-like clumps.

You reach this wonderful country by the Great Western road-coach service from Helston. Mullion, Kynance, Cadgwith, St. Keverne, all in this district, are places of amazing beauty and charm. There are big modern hotels to be found at Mullion, and there are golf and sea fishing, bathing, and entrancing walks by sea or moor to amuse the visitor in this warm, sea-girt land of heath and flowers.



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