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The Magic Almanac

The Pendour Mermaid

S

ome say she was angel. Some would have you believe she was a devil-fish. Me, well I’ll let you make up your own mind. Either way, today you can see her carved on a wooden pew in Zennor church. Comb as big as a rake in one hand. A mirror in the other. Not that she’s much to look at these days. The woodworms have had a good chomp over the years. But there’s no mistaking the lively flick or her tail. So, how did this maid of the sea come to be carved here, in a little Cornish church on the cliffs? Well, I’ll tell you… Our story begins on a summer’s day in Zennor. (If you’ve never been there I suggest you pay a visit. It is one of the prettiest little villages you could hope to see, sat right on top of the cliffs on the rugged north coast of West Penwith.)

The Pendour Mermaid 40

It was a summer’s day and the sun sparkled like a lion’s mane on fire up in the blue, blue sky. It shone down on the granite cliffs that rose like a great cathedral out of the sea. And it lit up the sea all the colours of a peacock’s tail: green and silver and blue and purple all at once. Sitting on a rock at the bottom of the cliffs at Pendour Cove, watching the sun sparkling and the sea dancing, was a girl. Not just any ordinary girl. 41


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Her hair was gold as the first ray of sunlight on a summer’s dawn and it hung long, long, down past her shoulders, down her back, which was pale and peachy as a seashell, right down past her waist where it fanned out into the sea in sandy tendrils. Her eyes were sea-green, flecked with silver. She was humming a little tune to herself which rose and fell like the waves that splashed the limpets and tickled the anemones. Where the sea hugged her waist, it wasn’t her legs that were shimmering under the water like the light of the moon and the stars, but a tail that was sequinned with pearly scales. For she was a mermaid. And it is difficult to imagine a creature more stunning. Running her fingers through the length of her hair, gently splish-splashing her tail in the water, she watched the sea through her half-closed lashes, weaving strands of sunlight on the warp of the shimmering waves. It was about as perfect a moment as she could wish for and she didn’t think things could get much better – but then, just then she heard a sound. It floated down from the cliffs above her, carried on the breeze that smelled of warm earth and sea pinks. It was like nothing she’d ever heard before. It entered her ears like the sound of a seashell, soft and gentle, yet powerful as the rushing tide, and whispered secrets to her heart.

The Pendour Mermaid


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The Pendour Mermaid

This wasn’t such an easy thing. Humans are wary of mermaids. True enough, there were stories of tricksy mermaids who lured men to their watery graves, like Old Man Lutey the smuggler who was bewitched by the charm of a beautiful sea maiden (but that’s a story for another day). Like humans, some mermiaids were good, some not so. So, it was a risky business to go ashore, but her mind was made up. She mustered all her courage and disguisng herself in human form she set off for the church.

Every evening when the fishermen came in off the boats they’d go to the church to sing in thanks for the catch. And it was one of her favourite things to sit and listen to their songs. Mermaids have an ear and a heart for music. But never had she heard a voice like this. In the days that followed, at the same time every day she came to the rock to listen as the voice mingled with the waves and the call of the sea birds. On the third day a decision came to her: she must meet the owner of the voice.

That evening, the folks of Zennor didn’t notice much at first when the lady with the silvery sea-green eyes and the shimmering cloak took a pew at the back of the church. They were all singing and the evening sun lit up the stained glass window and painted the church in stripes of reds and blues and yellows.


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The Pendour Mermaid

Matty Trewella was singing up at the front in the choir. He’d just got back from a long spell pilchard fishing. He’d been away at sea more weeks than he’d care to remember, with only the rum-swilling skipper, three Newlyn fishermen and the call of the seagulls for company, and they’d not caught many fish at that. Since he’d got back he was so happy to be home he’d been singing his heart out for joy. Now as he stepped forward to sing, his eyes were drawn to a maid at the back of the church. The evening sun cast its light on her. A few tendrils of hair escaped from under her hood and they dazzled as brightly as quartz.

manes flying behind them. The voices wove together entangling like fishing nets bound up, hers high and pure, sparkling and gleaming in the rafters, his bass deeper than granite rolling along the floorboards and rising up the pillars to meet hers. They ebbed and flowed like the tide binding together, tight as the ropes in the rigging of a frigate. And the little church shook from the granite rock of its foundations to the timber of its roof beams. And the Zennor folk were swept along on the rolling waves of the two voices singing.

Matty began to sing. The bass notes of his voice rumbled like boulders on the ocean floor tumbled by Atlantic rollers. As he sang, a higher voice came to join his. The notes tinkled and floated, like white horses riding the waves, their rainbow

In the weeks that followed, the beautiful, mysterious maid with silver sea-green eyes came to church and the two wove the magic net of their duet. But on the third Sunday, Matty was nowhere to be seen.


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Old Mrs Predithick, the organ player said she’d seen Matty coming out of the church early that morning, carrying a chisel and a mallet. He had woodchips on his shirt and in his hair. She’d thought it odd ‘cause he never was much of a carpenter. When the folk of Zennor went into church that evening, there was the carving of a mermaid on the pew at the back, where the mysterious maid had sat. Last she’d seen of Matty, said Mrs Predithick, he was headed in the direction of Pendour Cove. Matty Trewella never was seen in the village again, but that summer the fishermen came home in boats laden with fish. Zennor has had a good catch every summer since. What’s more, there are those that say that when the sun sparkles high in the blue, blue summer sky over a peacock sea, and the breeze blows in over the sea pinks from Pendour Cove, if you listen carefully, you can hear two voices singing, soft and gentle, pure and true, like a seashell whispering its secrets to your heart.

The Pendour Mermaid


The Pendour Mermaid