Giants of Cornwall

Alexa St John Palmer, South West Membership Project Officer Alexa St John Palmer South West Membership Project Officer
Mounts bay in the mist

We’ve all heard of the Giant’s Causeway in Ireland, but did you know that Cornwall has also been home to many of these legendary creatures? Less well known but just as lively as their Irish relations, here are some stories of giants that might make you look at the landscape of Cornwall in a different light.

Cormoran, the giant of Mounts Bay

Mounts Bay was once filled by a great forest, now submerged. In this forest lived two giants: Cormoran and his wife Cormelian.

The giants quarried granite to build a mound in the middle of the bay on which to live, but the granite was heavy and Cormoran, by all accounts, was not particularly nice. Instead of sharing the load he forced his wife Cormelian to carry the granite up the hill in her apron.

 

Giants leave their mark on the St. Michael's Mount causeway

One day Cormoran once again decided to leave his wife to do the heavy work, and went off to take a nap. As soon as he was asleep Cormelian dumped the heavy granite and filled her apron with lighter greenstone instead, but as she did this Cormoran awoke and caught her. Enraged, he pushed his wife and as he did, her apron strings broke and the greenstone scattered across the bay. If you look closely, you can still find a piece of this greenstone hidden in the causeway leading to what we now know as St. Michael’s Mount.

The Mount in its bay
The Mount  in its bay
The Mount in its bay

At some point after this, the bay flooded and Cormoran was left alone on his rocky island (and some might think that served him right). From here he would wade ashore to snatch livestock from the local farms and generally make a nuisance of himself as he was forever fighting and arguing with other local giants. The enormous boulders that cover west Cornwall are said to be the remains of an ongoing battle he had with a giant on Trencrom Hill, where the disgruntled neighbours continuously hurled rocks at each other.

 

Cormoran's downfall

Eventually, the locals grew fed up of Cormoran. A reward was offered for killing the boulder throwing, wife pushing, livestock steeling fiend. A young boy named Jack stepped up with a bold idea. As Cormoran slept that night, Jack crept onto the Mount. Under the giant’s nose the boy dug a deep pit on one side of the island disguising it with sticks and branches. And then he waited.

St. Michael's Mount in the pink light of dawn
St. Michael's in the pink dawn
St. Michael's Mount in the pink light of dawn

As sun’s head rose above the shoulders of Mount’s Bay, Jack blew his horn. Cormoran jumped awake. Infuriated the giant raced down the island towards the sound – but the freshly risen sun was in his eyes and he didn’t see the well-hidden hole that Jack had dug, until he fell straight into it

Some legends say that Jack then filled in the hole, trapping the giant, and some say that Jack beheaded him with his axe, but all agree on one thing – after this point, Jack was forever known as Jack the Giant Killer. Sound familiar?

St. Michael's Mount causeway leading into the mist
St. Michael's Mount causeway leading into the mist
St. Michael's Mount causeway leading into the mist

Cormoran’s heart

If you walk up the causeway to St. Michael’s Mount, you might just come across a heart-shaped rock set into the pathway. This is Cormoran’s heart. If you stand on it, rumour has it you can still hear the giant’s heartbeat, pulsing away in the ground deep under his Mount.

 

Bolster and St. Agnes

Another colourful character was the giant Bolster who lived in the area surrounding Chapel Porth. Some stories have Cormoran and Bolster as the same ill-tempered brute, but for the purposes of our tale we shall consider them as separate ill-tempered brutes.

Bolster was a big giant, a giant giant you could say, so large that he could easily plant one foot on St. Agnes Beacon and have the other securely on Carn Brea over 6 miles away. He too stole sheep, was a terrible husband and generally made a nuisance of himself.

Looking up the coast from Godrevy to St. Agnes Beacon
Looking up the coast from Godrevy to St. Agnes Beacon
Looking up the coast from Godrevy to St. Agnes Beacon

No-one suffered more of this behaviour than St. Agnes. Bolster relentlessly followed St. Agnes around, endlessly and loudly proclaiming his undying love for her. Such was the persistence of this pestering that even a lady of Christianity such as St. Agnes was at the end of her patience with giant. He had to be got rid of.

A local knight, Sir Constantine and his fellow knights offered to take on Bolster in a showdown at Chapel Porth, but it was no good. Bolster was enormous and easily defeated each of his challengers. Frustrated, St. Agnes hatched a cunning plan of her own.

A giant's eye view of Chapel Porth and Wheal Coats
A giant's eye view of Chapel Porth
A giant's eye view of Chapel Porth and Wheal Coats

St. Agnes' challenge

She pretended to be warming to the giant’s devotion, but asked of him one small final act to prove that he really did love her. She asked him to fill up a small hole in the cliffs of Chapel Porth with his blood. If he did that, she’d accept him.

Bolster laughed at his luck – of course he could fill up this tiny hole and probably several times over, he was a gigantic giant after all. So, standing on the cliffs at Chapel Porth Bolster stretched his great arm across the hole and cut into a vein.

Chapel Porth in the Cornish sunshine
Chapel Porth in the Cornish sunshine
Chapel Porth in the Cornish sunshine

Great torrents of blood poured into the hole, a crimson river from the giant’s outstretched arm, and Bolster waited for the hole to fill and St. Agnes to be his. And he waited. And waited…

 

Bolster's downfall

Hours past. Still the hole did not fill. Bolster grew weaker and weaker, and St. Agnes watched on. Little did the giant know the extent of her cunning. This tiny hole she had picked opened into a cave at the bottom of the cliffs, and this cave led straight into the sea. As quickly as Bolster’s blood poured into the hole, it poured right back out again into the sea.

The caves at Chapel Porth
Caves at Chapel Porth
The caves at Chapel Porth

After many hours, Bolster collapsed and eventually the great giant bled to death. St. Agnes was free and if you go to Chapel Porth today, you can still see the hole that Bloster tried to fill… and the red stains where the giant’s blood soaked into the rocks around it.

So you see, you may not have known about them, but the giants of Cornwall too have left their mark.