The coast near Lizard Point in Cornwall is a place of great beauty, with steep wave battered cliffs, towering over little hidden coves and beaches. Here the sea has always shaped the lives of those that live close by. And, as many a fisherman knows, it hides many secrets and mysteries.
If you walk along the coast, you will find lots of strange things that have been left stranded on the shore. But none stranger than that found by an old Cornish man, some four hundred year ago.
The man's name was Lutey and he lived in a cottage in the little village of Corantyn (now Cury) near Mullion.
It was a fine summer's day: the sun shining in a cloudless sky. He was walking in one of the coves near the Lizard Point. The tide had gone out, leaving a wide bar of sand.
He was walking along, looking at the shells and flotsam that had washed up onto the beach, when he saw, in a deep pool left by the falling tide, a beautiful lady. She had long golden hair and was sitting on a rock. She seemed very upset and was crying pitifully.
As he came near, she darted from the rock into the pool and he saw, to his amazement, that she was a mermaid.
He was curious and a little alarmed, for he had heard many tales of the danger of such 'sea sirens' from the fishermen of Gunwalloe.
He wanted to run home but, thinking of her pitiful cries, he moved carefully towards the pool.
He could see that the mermaid too was very afraid, as she tried to hide herself in the rocks among the sea-weeds.
"You needn't mind me", he said. "I'm an old man. I won't hurt you. What are ye doing by thyself then, this time o' day?"
At first, she was too afraid to speak, then crying bitterly she begged him to go away.
The old man again told her he meant her no harm but could not leave her when she was so upset.
"What saddens you, young one?" he said. His voice was kind and the mermaid swam a little nearer to the rock. She looked at him with large green eyes, and, after a little more coaxing, she told him her story.
She had been swimming near the coast with her husband and children. Tired by the hot sun, the merman suggested swimming to a cave they liked, in Kynance Cove.
They entered the cavern at mid-tide. There was some nice soft weed, and the cave was deliciously cool. Her husband settled down to sleep and told them not to wake him until the turn of the tide. Tired out by their play, the little ones too settled down.
She had left the cove to look for food and smelt a beautiful scent on the summer breeze. It came from the flowers that grew about the point, so she had drifted in on the waves, to get as close as possible. Her mind lulled by the sweet perfume, she had not noticed the falling tide, until she found herself cut off in the rock pool.
Now she could not get back to her husband and family.
She looked again towards the sea. Seeing once more the long dry bar of sand, she again began to cry.
"What shall I do?" she said. "I must get back to the cave."
The old man tried to comfort her but she told him that, if her husband awoke and found her missing, he would be terribly angry. She was supposed to be hunting food for his dinner. He would, she said, be sure to awake at the turn of the tide, as that was his dinnertime. If no food arrived, he'd raise a storm in his fury and would, as likely as not, eat the children, for mermen were very savage when they were hungry.
The old man was horrified by this and asked what he could do to help. She begged him to carry her out to sea. If he would be so kind, she would grant him three wishes.
At once he knelt down upon the rock and the mermaid clasped her fair arms around his neck. He got up from the rock and slowly carried the mermaid across the sands on his back.
As he put her gently into the sea, she thanked him and asked him what he wished.
"I ask not," said he, "for silver or gold, but for the power to do good: to break evil spells, to charm away disease and to find stolen property."
The mermaid happily agreed to give him these powers. She told him he must come to the half-tide rock the next day, and she would tell him how to achieve the things he wanted. Then, taking her comb from her golden hair, she gave it to him and told him to comb the water with it when he got to the rock.
Next day he went to the rock, combed the water and the mermaid appeared. She thanked him again for his help, and began to tell him many magical things: he learned how to break the spells of witches, how to prepare a cup of water that would show the face of a thief and the healing power of the seaweeds and herbs.
She told him that, as long as he kept the comb, she would come to him whenever he combed the water with it. Then, with a smile, she slid off the rock and disappeared. They met several times after that and the old man learned many secret things.
Once the Mermaid's curiosity got the better of her. She persuaded her old friend to take her to a secret place, from which she could see more of the dry land and the strange people, with split tails, who lived on it.
When he took her back to the sea, she asked him to visit her home, and even promised to make him young if he would do so. To this, the old man gently said no.
Instead, he stayed in his cottage and became known as a strong healer who could charm away the worst of luck. And this learning, he passed on to his children, along with the magic comb.
The rock at which they met, became known as 'Mermaids Rock'. And should you doubt this story, just visit the coast and ask for Mermaids Rock. It will soon be pointed out to you. You may even be lucky enough to see a mermaid yourself; but remember, such magic only happens to those who truly believe.