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Lands End


HE Land's End is romantic and beautiful in the extreme, and the prospect from it is one of indescribable magnificence. Tradition says that it formerly was connected by land with the Scilly Islands. The sea has carried away the ridge of rocks and point of land which is said to have been the fabled Lyoness that now lies beneath the waves. All Cornwall is full of King Arthur, who was born on and lies buried in its soil; and as we gaze along the reef of rock that projects beyond the vast irregular bluffs, we think of Tristram and Lancelot, of Galahad and Percival, and of their great leader. What a charm hangs about the Arthurian romances! We are glad that they have been the subject of a great poet's genius, for the stories are full of great deeds, of noble ideas, of chivalrous feeling; a grand foundation for the character of a nation.

But we must turn to the view from the Land's End. It is magnificent, as we have said; two channels here commingling with the sea, which stretches far beyond our sight, heaving and sparkling in the sunshine.

The billows roll in and break with thunderous sound at the base of the cliffs, throwing up high jets of sparkling rainbowtinted spray in summer, and in winter masses of angry water. Who that has not seen it can even by imagination picture the Land's End in a storm? The scene is sublime, the mighty waves lashing the cliffs in fury, and tossing their white foam nearly to the summits; and the sound of the sea in wrath-it is like and yet not like thunder; it is the voice of a terrible element, before which every other sound is faint. "The voice of the great Creator, heard in tempest on the Cornish shore, is acknowledged with profound awe."

The waves have made a great opening through the buttress of rock below where we stand, from one side to the other. They rush foaming through the mighty hole, and will some day separate the mass of rock from the land.

There is a curious lump of cliff here, named Dr. Johnson's Head, which really does resemble in some degree the profile of the London sage.

The Land's End was the Bolerium of ancient geographers; it is an immense mass of granite, sixty feet high. About a mile and a half from the shore rises the tall Longships Lighthouse, built of granite by Mr. Smith, in 1796 - a most needful building on such a coast as this, especially as Cornwall, a hundred years ago, still had wreckers on the shore, who showed false lights and wrecked many a good ship on the deadly rocks. Beyond, against the western sky, in a line with the ridge of rocks, lie the Scilly Islands, indistinct and shadowy. To the north is the bold curve of Whitesand Bay; and Cape Cornwall, apparently extending even farther west than the Land's End.

A Cornish poet has thus described this extreme point of England:-

On the sea The sunbeams tremble, and the purple light
Illumes the dark Bolerium - seat of storms,
High are his granite rocks; his frowning brow
Hangs o'er the smiling ocean. In his caves
There sleep the haggard spirits of the storm.
Wild, dreary are the schistine rocks around,
Encircled by the wave, mere to the breeze
The Haggard cormorant sleeps; and far beyond,
Where the great ocean mingles with the sky,
Are seen the cloud-like islands, grey in mist.

Near the Land's End is Carnbrea Castle. It is very small, scarcely sixty feet long by ten wide, and is built on a ledge of rock; in some parts it is three storeys high, in others only one. Part oŁ this castle is very ancient, and of rude architecture. Strange stories are told by the country people of Carnbrea. They say that a mighty giant - Cornwall abounded in giants - lies buried beneath it, and that a block of granite indented into five nearly equal parts is his hand, which, protruding through the surface, became fossilized. Carnbrea Hill is said also to have been the scene of a combat between the devil and a troop of saints. The demon was vanquished, and tumbled from the heights. In this fight the missiles were rocky boulders loosened from their foundations. The hill abounds in antiquities: there is an ancient came on it, some cairns, and strange shapes in rough stone.

Round the coast near the Land's End are the following headlands and rocks: Pednmen-dhu, i.e., the black headland - the rock at its base is called the Irish Lady; Sennen Cove; and a village of the same name; Vell-an-Dreath, the mill in the sand; Carn Towan, the sandy carn (towans are heaps of driven sand); Carn Barges, the kite's cart; Carn Mellyn, the yellow carn; Polpry, the clay pit; Carn Liskez, the carn of light, where the Druids were wont to kindle their sacred fires; Carn Glos, the grey rock; Cape Cornwall, which is 230 feet above the sea. Off Cape Cornwall (a grand object itself from the ocean) are two dangerous rocks, called the Brisons, or Sisters, about sixty-five feet high. Here is a submarine mine called Little Bounds; and inland, about a mile to the north-east, is the famous Botallack mine.

Botallack Mine

This extraordinary mine is 1,050 feet deep, and some of the galleries extend 1.200 feet and more under the bed of the ocean. The roar of the sea overhead in this mine is so terrific that even the miners are at times terrified, and escape as quickly as possible to the land. The descent can only be made twice a day-at 7 a.m. and 2 p.m.

When you cross the brook which divides St. Leaven from Sennen, you are on the Treville estates.

Tradition says that William the Norman gave this estate to his wine-taster, a relative of the ancient Counts of Treville, who named his estate after himself. The race is, we believe, now extinct. A peculiar appearance always foreboded the death of a Vingoe. Above the deep caverns in the Treville cliff rises a cairn, from which, whenever a member of the family was about to die, chains of fire were seen ascending and descending, accompanied by loud and terrible noises. These tokens, it is said, have not been heard since the last male heir died a violent death.

There is another Cornish traditionary story of Sir John Arundell, who dwelt on the north coast of Cornwall, at a place called Efford, on the coast near Stratton. He was a very honourable, excellent man, and a just magistrate. One day a wild shepherd, who professed to possess supernatural powers and to be a seer, was brought before him for having in some way broken the law; this man also possessed a dangerous influence over the people, and Sir John committed him to prison for a short time. On his release, at the expiration of his term, he repeatedly waylaid the knight, and looking threateningly at him, muttered,-

"Thou shalt die by human hand
Upon the yellow sand."

Arundell was not above the superstitions of the age. He also believed that the seer might fulfil his own prophecy by murdering him. He therefore removed from Efford, which was close to the sands, and went to Trerice, where he lived for some years, and saw nothing of his old enemy.

But Richard de Vere, Earl of Oxford, seized St. Michael's Mount. Sir John Arundell was at the time sheriff of Cornwall, and he at once gathered together his own retainers and a large body of volunteers, and attacked the Lancastrians. The retainers of Arundell were encamped on the sands by Alarazion. The followers of the Earl of Oxford one day made a sally from the castle, rushed on the sheriff's men, and in the fight Arundell received his death-wound. " Although he had left Efford to counteract the will of fate, the prophecy was fulfilled; and in his dying moments, it is said, his old enemy appeared, singing joyously:-

'When upon the yellow sand,
Thou shalt die by human hand.'"

For the above incidents, and for some other legendary stories, we are indebted to Mr. Hunt, who collected and published them in his " Popular Romances of the West of England." From these and from other sources we have also learned from what the rock called the "the Irish Lady," near Pedn-men-dhu (the headland of Biack Rock), takes its name. It is a pathetic story. In a terrible storm an Irish vessel was one night wrecked on this rock. Only one of her passengers-none of the crew-escaped; and this was a lady, who was seen the next morning sitting on the top of the rock. The fishermen would have been rejoiced to rescue her, had it been possible; but it was not The wind and waves rendered the rock inaccessible while the storm lasted, and it continued for two days and nights. When at last it ceased, the lady had disappeared she had probably fainted from exhaustion, and had been washed away by the waves. What her feelings must have been, sitting there in sight of land, and of human beings powerless to help her, we can only dimly imagine. Long afterwards the fishers of the Land's End used to declare that they saw her seated on the rock, and heard her wailing cry, whenever the storm was at its height.

Sir Humphrey Davy wrote a poem on this tragical occurrence.

At low water there is to be seen off the Land's End a ridge of dangerous rocks, against which the Atlantic, the English, and St. George's Channels beat in fury. One of these rocks is still called the Armed Knight, because it once had on its summit an iron spike, which was thrown down in a tempest in 1647, and the rock was broken by it into three pieces. No one could explain how the spike came to be placed on such a spot.

The fine rocks of Tol-Pedn-Penwith have on the top of them a stone, which is called "The Chair." Here it is said a famous witch and wrecker named Madge Figgy used to sit and practise her magic arts to raise storms and wreck vessels. That she caused several wrecks by the display of false and misleading lights, there is no doubt.

There is scarcely a spot in Cornwall, in fact, that is not haunted by some old memory, ghostly or magical; and this is in a great measure the case-with some differencesall over England. The history, traditions, and poetical fancies of the people are found everywhere connected with the land, as the preceding pages have shown; but in no part of it have romance and tradition so firmly bound their fetters on the soil as at the Land's End.

Lands End

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Picturesque England - Matthew Spong 2004