We’ve all heard the stories. Unsuspecting travellers on some dark, remote road being led astray by strange lights, false paths or mysterious strangers and becoming hopelessly lost. The Cornish call it being piskie-led, (it often happens on the way home from the pub) and there are certain paths that were once famous for such misadventures. Walkers on these routes have to keep their wits about them.
In the past the Hooting Cairn and the moorland that surrounded it, known as the Gump, was considered a haunted place. This rocky outcrop lies not far from Pendeen and St Just in Penwith and it lies close to the cross roads of several ancient track ways.
Carn Kenidjack, to give this place its modern name, dominates the surrounding landscape. It rises to about 650 ft above sea level. The rocks on the summit are strange and, silhouetted against the sky, take on fantastical forms. This whole area is dotted with ancient remains. The Tregeseal Stone Circle, for example, which lies at the foot of the Carn and a row of prehistoric holed stones close by.
It is without doubt an evocative landscape, which may go part way to explaining the various stories that have grown up about Carn Kenidjack. The first is its other name, the hooting cairn. According to local folklore, although I have never heard it myself, when the wind comes racing in from the sea in a particular direction, the rocks of the carn actually howl.
The noise was described by John Thomas Blight in 1861 as fearful and melancholy and he sees the carn as a place where Macbeth’s witches would have been right at home!
“Even by day it imparts a gloomy and mysterious impression; by night the miners cross the Gump in fear and trembling.”
Blight talks of ‘fairy legends’ remembered by the local people at the time. Stories of old men being tempted off their path by ‘irresistible music’. Finding tiny bands of fairies playing little pipes and wearing hats made of flowers. Other stories about this place are more dark and menacing.
“The old half-starved horse on the common, with their hides grown rusty brown like the dried and withered grass, are ridden by an arch fiend at night. He is said to hunt lost souls over this heath and an old stile hard by bears and evil name, for there the souls are sure to be caught.”
Robert Hunt wrote in his book Popular Romances of the West of England that the dead are in possession of the landscape around Carn Kenidjack.
The Gump, he says, is the haunt of the ghost of Old Moll, a witch who was the terror of the local community and he goes on to tell another tale. Two miners were walking home across the Gump and heard strange noises. They found themselves being led up to the carn by a strange shadowy rider on an old horse.
The miners then described watching two devils fight each other in the shadow of the mass of rocks. They were so frightened that they clung to each other and hide behind one of the huge granite rocks until the sun came up the next morning.
Nothing quite so dramatic has ever happened to me there, but what I will say is that this area is full of so much history. So many lives have passed through it and been part of this landscape, that it is little wonder that imaginations and senses are heightened.
My advice would be to get out and walk these ancient paths. Always be open to what’s around you but perhaps think twice about following unexplained music or shadowy riders up the hooting cairn!