3 famous legends that originated from Cornwall

October 30th, 2015

Cornwall boasts a rich and ancient history that began after the last ice age, and you might be surprised that this rural county is the origin of several of Great Britain’s ancient legends. Read on to find out about a few of the myths, legends and folklores which have made Cornwall a magical place to visit!

Cornish Piskies (Pixies)

The Cornish Pixies were a fairy tribe in Cornwall that were said to have been helpful yet mischievous and were often blamed for leading travellers astray. There are many tales of their origins, such as being wandering pagan souls stuck in limbo or even the un-Christened souls of babies. The cheeky creatures were said to shrink and shrink until they were no more.

One of the tales of these pesky pixies is set not far from Truro, near to our luxury Cornish cottages. The tale tells the story of a little boy who wandered away from his home in St. Allen into a small valley, in search of flowers. When the little boy didn’t return, the villagers searched everywhere for him. On the third day, he reappeared exactly where he had been last seen. He didn’t remember being gone and was completely unharmed. He said he had followed a singing bird into the forest, where night had suddenly fallen. At first, he thought stars surrounded him, but soon realised the shining lights were, in fact, tiny beings – the pixies. They led the boy to a sparkling cave full of riches and gave him honey to eat before singing him to sleep. He then awoke back in the valley.

King Arthur

Legend has it that the legendary King Arthur was born in the Cornish coastal village of Tintagel, during the 5th century AD. The remains of Tintagel Castle date much later than this, as there is evidence of earlier settlements nearby too. The cave below the castle (pictured) is said to be Merlin’s cave.

Arthur was the child of King Uther Pendragon and Queen Igraine, who was the wife of the Duke of Cornwall. The union of Uther and Igraine varies depending on which legend you believe, from tales of mutual love and longing to lust and deceit. One tale states that one evening, Merlin magically disguised Uther as Igraine’s husband to gain entry to the castle and it was under this magic and trickery that Arthur was conceived. Not long after the Duke died and Igraine married Uther.

At the age of 15, Arthur was to become King and fight against the Saxons, leading many victorious battles. Literary inventions and folklore have formed the basis for the legend of King Arthur, and though his existence is debated and disputed by historians, there is a possibility that there was once a powerful leader of the same name on whom the tales were based.

Tristan and Isolde

The story of Tristan and Isolde is a famous tragic love story which has been interpreted into theatre and opera. The story goes that the nephew to the King of Cornwall, Tristan, was badly wounded in battle. As he was expected to die, he was sent out to sea in a boat with no sails. However, he washed up on the shores of Ireland and Isolde, daughter of the King of Ireland, found him and nursed him back to health. Tristan returned to Cornwall, and he was then instructed to bring the beautiful Isolde to Cornwall too, to marry his uncle. However, on the journey, the couple accidentally drank a powerful love potion, and they fell in love.

Nevertheless, Isolde still married the King of Cornwall but continued an affair with Tristan, who also married someone else. There are different versions about what happens next; some saying that the love potion wore off, others saying that the King found out and sought revenge on the lovers. One popular one is that Tristan is once again mortally wounded and asked for Isolde, the only person who could heal him, and told his wife to keep an eye out for white sails, which signals Isolde. But his jealous wife lied about the sails’ colour, and Tristan dies of a broken heart, as did Isolde when she found out her true love had died. Tristan is said to be buried at Castle Dore in Cornwall.


When staying at our luxury cottages on your dog-friendly holiday in Cornwall why not visit some of the magical and historical sites which are part of the county’s favourite legends? Our cottages are in the perfect place for these adventures and can cater to romantic breaks, and holidays with the kids and the dog!

Updated June 2017.