Sacred Texts  Legends and Sagas  Celtic  Index  Previous  Next 

Traditions and Hearthside Stories of West Cornwall, Vol. 2, by William Bottrell, [1873], at

p. 94

The Fairy Dwelling on Selena Moor*

"Merry elves, their morrice pacing,
   To aërial minstrelsy,
Emerald rings on brown heath tracing,
   Trip it deft and merrily."

WHEN the ancient family of Noy flourished in Buryan there was a large tract of unenclosed common, belonging to the farms of Pendrea, Selena, and Tresidder, which extended from Cotnewilly to Baranhual, and branched off in other directions. Great part of this ground was swampy and produced a rank growth of rushes, water-flags, and coarse herbage. Many acres were gay in summer with cotton-grass, bog-beans, cucco-flowers, and other plants usually found in such soil. In some places were dry rocky banks overgrown with sloe-trees, moor-withey, furze, and brambles; these patches being surrounded by a broad extent of quaking bog or muddy soil appeared like islands in a marsh. There were also many springs, rivulets, and pools, that seldom froze, much frequented by wildfowl in winter. Great part of this moorland was then impassable; horse-tracks leading to Baranhual, Selena, and other farms, passed over the dryest places, and, were continued by rough causeways through swamps;—they were very bad roads at all seasons.

Most of this wilderness has long been enclosed and drained; Pendrea portion of it is now a separate tenement called Westmoor. Near Cotnewilly were the scattered remains of an ancient grove which, in very remote times, extended thence to Alsia-mill.

One afternoon in harvest, Mr. Noy, with some of his men, were over to Baranhual helping his kinsfolks, the Pendars. As more hands were required for the next day, which was to be the gulthise (harvest home), soon after 'croust' time he rode up to

p. 95

[paragraph continues] Church-town to get them, and to invite the parson, clerk, and sexton—the latter was particularly welcome to the harvest folk as he was generally a good fiddler and droll-teller. With these, according to old usage, were asked the crafts-men and others who had lent hand about the harvest work, and aged inmates of the poor house; one and all were welcome to the gulthise supper.

Soon after 'day-down' Mr. Noy, followed by his dogs, left the public-house intending to return to Baranhual, but he didn't arrive there that night nor the next. The Pendars and their people thought he might have enjoyed himself at the Ship Inn till late, and then have gone home to Pendrea. Mr. Noy had no wife nor anybody else to be much alarmed about him, as he was a middle-aged or rather elderly bachelor. But next day when people from Church-town, Pendrea, and scores of neighbours from other farms, came with their horses to help and to feast at the gulthise, and nobody among them had seen or heard of Mr. Noy from the time he left the inn, they got somewhat uneasy; yet they still supposed he might have gone to some corn-carrying down the lower side of Buryan, as was likely enow, for all the neighbours round about were just like one family then.

As usual there was a great chase bringing home the corn in trusses; leaders and other helpers took their flowery-milk (hasty pudding) for breakfast, apple pies for dinner, just when and how they could, with beer and eider whenever they felt inclined, so they might keep the mowers always building, to have the corn under thatch before supper time. All being secured in the mowhay scores of all ages enjoyed roast and boiled beef, mutton, squab pies, rabbit and hare pies, pudding, and other substantial fare, usually found at a bountiful gulthise supper; then drinking, singing, dancing, and other pastimes, were kept up till late. In the meantime Dame Pendar had sent messengers round to all places where she thought Mr. Noy might have gone, and they returned, just as the feast was breaking up, without any tidings of him.

Then everyone became anxious, and as it was near day-break they volunteered to disperse and search in every place they could think of before going to bed.

So away they went, some on horseback, others afoot, to examine mill-pools, stream-works, cliffs, and other dangerous places, near and far away. They returned at night, but nobody had seen or heard of the missing gentleman. Next morning horsemen were despatched to other parishes, and as Mr. Noy was well known and liked there was a general turn out to hunt for him; but this day, too, was passed in a like fruitless search miles away.

On the third day, however, in the grey of the morning, a horse

p. 96

was heard to neigh, and dogs were heard barking among thickets on a piece of dry ground almost surrounded with bogs and pools, on Pendrea side of Selena moor.

Now it happened that no one had thought of looking for Mr. Noy in this place so near home, but when with much ado, a score or so of men discovered a passable road into this sort of island in the bogs, there they saw Mr. Noy's horse and hounds; the horse had found plenty of pasture there, but the dogs, poor things, were half-starved. Horse and dogs showed their joy, and, led the way through thorns, furze, and brambles—that might have grown there hundreds of years—till they came to large 'skaw' trees and the ruins of an old bowjey or some such building that no one knew of. Hunters never attempted in winter to cross the boggy ground that nearly surrounded these two or three acres of dry land, and in slimmer no one was curious enough to penetrate this wilderness of thickets which, like all such places, was then swarming with adders.

The horse stopped at what had been a door-way, pawed on the 'drussal,' looked around and winneyd; the dogs, followed by several people, pushed through the brambles that choked the entrance, and within they found Mr. Noy lying on the ground fast asleep. It was a difficult matter to arouse him; at last he awoke, stretched himself, rubbed his eyes, and said, "Why you are Baranhual and Pendrea folks; however are ye all come here? To-day is to be the gulthise, and I am miles and miles away from home. What parish am I in? How could ’e have found me? Have my dogs been home and brought ’e here." Mr. Noy seemed like one dazed as we say, and all benumed as stiff as a stake, so without staying to answer his questions, they gave him some brandy, lifted him on horseback, and left his steed to pick its way out, which it did readily enow, and a shorter one than they discovered.

Though told he was on his own ground, and less than half a mile from Baranhual, he couldn't make out the country as he said, till he crossed the running water that divides the farms. "But I am glad," said he "however it came to pass, to have got back in time for the gulthise." When they told him how the corn was all carried three days ago, he said they were joking, and wouldn't believe it till he had seen all in the mowhay under thatch and roped down; that the loose straw was raked up, and all harvest implements put away till next season.

Then whilst breakfast was getting ready, seated on a chimney-stool by a blazing fire, he told his neighbours that when he came to Cotnewilly, the night being clear, he thought he might as well make a short cut across the moor and save nearly a mile—as he had often done before in summer time—instead of going round

p. 97

by the stony bridle-path; but his horse, that was pretty much used to finding his own way when his master was tipsy, wanted to keep the usual road, and his rider, to baulk him, pulled farther off towards Pendrea side of the common than he would otherwise have done, and went on till he found himself in a part that was unknown to him; though he had been, as he thought, over every inch of it that man or beast could tread on, both in winter and summer. Getting alarmed at the strange appearance of everything around him, he tried in vain to retrace his steps, then gave the horse its head, and let it take its own course.

Yet instead of proceeding homeward, as was dobbin's wont, it bore Mr. Noy to a land so crowded with trees that he had to alight and lead his steed. After wandering miles and miles, sometimes riding but oftener afoot, without seeing any habitation in this strange place, which he believed must be out of Buryan but in what parish he couldn't tell, he at last heard strains of lively music, and spied lights glimmering through the trees and people moving about, which made him hope that he had arrived at some farm where they had a gulthise, and the harvest-folks were out, after supper, dancing in the town-place.

His dogs slunk back, and the horse wasn't willing to go on, so he tied him to a tree, took his course through au orchard towards the lights, and came to a meadow where he saw hundreds of people, some seated at tables eating and drinking with great enjoyment apparently, and others dancing reels to the music of a crowd or tambourine—they are much the same thing—this was played by a damsel dressed in white, who stood on a heaping-stock just beside the house, door, which was only a few paces from him.

The revelers, farther off, were all very smartly decked out, bait they seemed to him, at least most of them, to be a set of undersized mortals; yet the forms and tables, with the drinking-vessels on them, were all in proportion to the little people. The dancers moved so fast that he couldn't count the number of those that footed jigs and reels together, it almost made his head giddy only to look at their quick and intricate whirling movements.

He noticed that the damsel who played the music was more like ordinary folks for stature, and he took her to be the master's daughter, as, when one dance was ended, she gave the crowd to a little old fellow that stood near her, entered the house, fetched therefrom a black-jack, went round the tables and filled the cups and tankards that those seated, and others, handed to be replenished. Then, whilst she beat up a new tune for another set of dancers, Mr. Noy thought she east a side-glance towards him; the music, he said, was so charming and lively that to save his soul he couldn't refrain from going to join the dancers in a three-handed

p. 98

reel, but the girl with a frown and look of alarm, made a motion with her head for him to withdraw round a corner of the house out of sight. He remained gazing, however, and still advancing till she beckoned to the same little old man, to whom she spoke a few words, gave him the crowd to play, and leaving the company, went towards the orchard signaling to Mr. Noy to follow her, which he did. When out of the candle-glare and in a clear spot where moonlight shone, she waited for him. He approached and was surprised to see that the damsel was no other than a farmer's daughter of Selena, one Grace Hutchens, who had been his sweetheart for a long while, until she died, three or four years agone; at least he had mourned her as dead, and she had been buried in Buryan Churchyard as such.

When Mr. Noy came within a yard or so, turning towards him, she said, "thank the stars, my dear William, that I was on the look-out to stop ye, or you would this minute be changed into the small people's state like I am,—woe is me."

Ho was about to kiss her, "Oh, beware!" she exclaimed, "embrace me not, nor touch flower nor fruit; for eating a tempting plum in this enchanted orchard was my undoing. You may think it strange, yet it was all through my love for you that I am come to this."

"People believed, and so it seemed, that I was found on the moor dead; it was also supposed that I must have dropped there in a trance, as I was subject to it. What was buried for me, however, was only a changeling, or sham body, never mine I should think, for it seems to me that I feel much the same still as when I lived to be your sweetheart."

As she said this several little voices squeaked, "Grace, Grace, bring us more beer and cider, be quick!"

"Follow me into the garden, and remain there behind the house; be sure you keep out of sight, and don't for your life, touch fruit or flower," said she, in conducting out Mr. Noy, who desired her to bring him a tankard of cider too. "No, my love, not for the world," she replied, "await me here, I'll soon return. Sad is my lot to be stolen from the living and made housekeeper to these sprites," murmured Grace, in quitting the garden.

Over a few minutes she returned to Mr. Noy, led him into a bowery walk, where the music and noise of merriment didn't overpower their voices, and said, "you know, my dear Willy, that I loved you much, but you can never know how dearly."

"Rest yourself," she continued pointing to a stone, "on that seat, whilst I tell ye what you never dreamt of." Mr. Noy seated himself as desired, and Grace related how one evening, about dusk, she was out on Selena Moor in quest of strayed sheep, when hearing him, in Pondrea ground, halloo and whistle to his

p. 99

dogs, she crossed over towards the sound in hopes of falling in with him, but missed her way among ferns higher than her head, and wandered on for hours amidst pools and shaking bogs without knowing whither.

After rambling many miles, as it seemed to her, she waded a brook and entered an orchard, then she heard music at a distance, and proceeding towards it, passed into a beautiful garden with alleys all bordered by roses and many sweet flowers, that she had never seen the like of. Apples and other tempting fruit dropped in the walks and hung over head, bursting ripe.

This garden was so surrounded with trees and water—coming in every here and there among them—that, like one 'piskey-led,' all her endeavours to find a way out of it were in vain. The music, too, seemed very near at times, but she could see nobody. Feeling weary and athirst, she plucked a plum, that looked like gold in the clear star-light; her lips no sooner closed on the fruit than it dissolved to bitter water which made her sick and faint. She then fell on the ground in a fit, and remained insensible, she couldn't say how long, ere she awoke to find herself surrounded by hundreds of small people, who made great rejoicing to get her amongst them, as they very much wanted a tidy girl who knew how to bake and brew, one that would keep their habitation decent, nurse the changed-children, that wern’t so strongly made as they used to be, for want of more beef and good malt liquor, so they said.

At first she felt like one entranced and hardly knew how to 'find herself' in such strange company; even then, after many years’ experience, their mode of life seemed somewhat unnatural to her, for all among them is mere illusion or acting and sham. They have no hearts, she believed, and but little sense or feeling; what serves them, in a way, as such, is merely the remembrance of whatever pleased them when they lived as mortals,—may be thousands of years ago.

What appear like ruddy apples and other delicious fruit, are only sloes, hoggans, (haws) and black-berries. The sweet scented and rare flowers are no other than such as grow wild on every moor.

In answer to Mr. Noy's enquiries about small people's dietry, Grace told him how she sickened, at first, on their washy food of honey-dew and berries—their ordinary sustenance—and how her stomach felt so waterish that she often longed for a bit of salt fish.

The only thing she relished was goat's milk, "for you must have often heard," said she, "that these animals are frequently seen on moors, or among carns and in other out-of-the-way places, miles from their homes. They are enticed away by small people

p. 100

to nourish their babes and changelings. There's a score or more of goats here at times. Those cunning old he-ones that often come among a flock—no one knows whence—and disappear with the best milkers, are the decoys, being small people in such shapes. One may often notice in these venerable long-beards, when seen reposing on a rock, chewing their cuds, a look of more than human craftiness and a sly witch-like glance cast from the corner of their eyes."

Looking at Mr. Noy for a moment with a melancholy expression, she sighed and continued, "I am now getting used to this sort of life and find it tolerable, the more so because the whole tribe behave to me with great kindness, the elderly men above all; you observed that little fellow to whom I spoke and who now plays the tambourine, I desired him to tell the rest, in case they inquired for me, that I was gone to look after the children, and he is so much attached to me as to do or say anything I request." Seeing Mr. Noy look somewhat lowering, Grace exclaimed, "Oh! my dear Willy, don't be such a noddy as to be jealous, for he's no other than vapour, and what he is pleased to think love, is no more substantial than fancy."

Mr. Noy asked if there were any children among them besides those they stole and replaced with changelings?

"Very few indeed," she replied, "though they are fond of babies, and make great rejoicing when one happens to be born amongst them; and then every little man, however old, is proud to be thought the father. For you must remember they are not of our religion," said she, in answer to his surprised look, "but star-worshippers. They don't always live together like Christians and turtle-doves; considering their long existence such constancy would be tiresome for them, anyhow the small tribe seem to think so. And the old withered 'kiskeys' of men that one can almost see through, like puffs of smoke, are vainer than the young ones. May the Powers deliver them from their weakly frames! And indeed they often long for the time when they will be altogether dissolved in air, and so end their wearisome state of existence without an object or hope."

She also told him—but he didn't remember exactly the words she spoke—that she was the more content with her condition since she was enabled to take the form of any bird she pleased, and thus gratify her desire to be near him, so that when he thought of her but little suspected her presence; she was mostly hovering round and watching him in the shape of some common small bird. Grace assured Mr. Noy of her everlasting love, yet as long as nature would permit him to retain his mortal form she would rather behold him in flesh and blood, than see him changed to her state. She also told him, that when he died,

p. 101

if he wished to join her, they would then be united and dwell in this fairy-land of the moors.

Mr. Noy wanted to know much more about these strange beings, and was about to enquire, when they again called, "Grace, Grace, where art thou so long? Bring us some drink quickly." She hastily entered the house, and that moment it came into his head that he, too, would have some liquor, disperse the small tribe, and save Grace.

Knowing that any garment turned inside out and cast among such sprites would make them flee, and happening to put his hand into his coat pocket, he felt there the gloves that he had worn for binding in the afternoon; quick as thought, he turned one inside out, put into it a small stone, and threw it among them; in an instant they all vanished with the house, Grace, and all the furniture. He just had time to glance round, and saw nothing but thickets and the roofless house of an old bowjey, when he received a blow on his forehead that knocked him down, yet he soon fell asleep and dozed away an hour or two he thought.

Those to whom Mr. Noy related his story, said that he had learnt nothing new from Grace, for old folks always believed of the fair people such things as she told him, and they disliked to be seen, above all by day-light, because they then looked aged and grim. It was said, too, that those who take animal forms get smaller and smaller with every change, till they are finally lost in the earth as muryans (ants), and that they passed winter, for the most part, in underground habitations, entered from cleves or earns. And it is held that many persons who appear to have died entranced, are not really dead, but changed into the fairy state.

The recovered gentleman farther informed them that he had remarked amongst the small folks, many who bore a sort of family-likeness to people he knew, and he had no doubt but some of them were changelings of recent date, and others their forefathers who died in days of yore, when they were not good enow to be admitted into heaven, nor so wicked as to be doomed to the worst of all places. Over a while, it is supposed they cease to exist as living beings, for which reason fewer of them are now beheld than were seen in old times.

From the night that Mr. Noy strayed into the small people's habitation, he seemed to be a changed man; he talked of little else but what he saw and heard there, and fancied that every redbreast, yellow-hammer, tinner (wag-tail), or other familiar small bird that came near him, might be the fairy-form of his departed love.

Often at dusk of eve and moonlight nights, he wandered round the moors in hopes to meet Grace, and when he found his search

p. 102

was all in vain he became melancholy, neglected his farm, tired of hunting, and departed this life before the next harvest. Whether he truly died or passed into fairy-land, no one knows.

A story, much like the foregoing, is related of a young farmer called Richard Vingoe, who was 'piskey-led' in Treville Cliffs. After wandering for hours over places which appeared strange to him, he followed a path through a rocky 'bottom' or glen into an underground passage or cavern, from which, on emerging, he found himself in a pleasant looking country. Walking on he beard sounds of merry-making, and came to a place where people appeared to be keeping feast. He noticed a great number of persons hurling, and being fond of that game, he was about to run and seize the silver ball, as it fell near him, when a female darted from behind a rock—which screened her from view—and made eager signs for him to desist and follow her, as she withdrew into an orchard near at hand. He approached and saw that she was a damsel who had been dead a few years. She told him how she was changed into the fairy-state by having trespassed on the small people's domain, and that he had narrowly escaped the same fate. She also informed him of their mode of life, and that she was disposed to save him for the sake of their former attachment, as in the above story.

When the hurlers and spectators of the game had all gone out of sight, she conducted her former lover to the upper world by a shorter road than that by which he entered; on the way she told him that as he had engaged to be married within a few weeks, she had no desire to detain him. She advised him, however, to defer his wedding three years, that he might be sure he knew his own mind. When Vingoe promised to follow her advice, they passed through an opening in a carn, and he saw Nanjizel; his conductress then said good-bye, and vanished. Being fatigued with his journey he lay on the grass, near the spot where he again saw the light of day, and there he was found asleep nearly a week after. Vingoe was never like the same man again, for he took to hard drinking and died unmarried.

The details of both stories are so similar that they appear to be mere versions of the same fairy-tale.

Click to enlarge


94:* This story should have preceded the "Queen's Visit," but it was not obtained in time.

Next: Introduction