Last week we talked about ghost ships above the water, so it’s only appropriate to talk about mysterious and scary creatures under the water – mermaids. When you think of mermaids, if you think of cute little sea-shell adorned Disney princesses, you’re swimming in the wrong sea. Mermaids, the ones we’re going to talk about, are anything but adorable and charming. They are the stuff of nightmares for sailors all around the world.
On the website, Ancient Origins we learn about “The Bizarre Tales of Four Lesser Known English Mermaids.” Imagine my surprise to learn that there are lesser known mermaids, I didn’t know there were greater known mermaids. (See what research does for you!) But I digress. Let’s get to the stories.
“While the northern Scottish islands of Shetland and Orkney could be called centers of European Mermaid folklore, in 1737 AD a bizarre event occurred in the southern English waters near Exeter. It would haunt eight fishermen for their entire lives.
On Thursday, November 10th, 1737, at a fishing ground called Topsham bar, a group of eight fishermen had been trawling all morning. When they hauled their nets onboard, they were “startled to discover a creature of a human shape, having two legs.” All eight witnesses were interviewed independently and to the word they all stated that the creature “leaped out of the net and ran away” and while this seems difficult enough to believe in itself, the fishermen added that once they caught up with the “mysterious being” they found it dying and “groaning like a human.” One of the fishermen told police: “Its feet were webbed like a duck’s, and it had eyes, nose, and mouth resembling those of a man.” He added it had a “tail like a salmon and it was around four feet high.””
Eight different witnesses all agreeing to the same story, all interviewed independently and all verifying each other’s accounts. Makes you wonder, doesn’t it?
Okay, more lesser-known stories.
“Then, in 1812 AD, in Exmouth near Exeter, a fisherman called Mr. Toupin and his crew claimed, “to have heard music which appeared to be coming from a creature which was human-like, with a fishtail.” This is more in line with the classic mermaid tales, which were called ‘sirens’ after their legendary singing at fishermen, often luring them to their watery graves.
Mr. Toupin’s account said they were “drawn to a singular noise, impossible to describe fully but comparable to a wild, tinkling harpsichord melody.” Mr. Toupin described the creature as having; “Two arms which it had used to great agility, which terminated in four webbed fingers on each hand.” He further detailed its characteristics as: “a long, oval face, seal-like, but more agreeable, and hair seemed to crown its upper and back head.” In length, according to Toupin, “it was about five-and-a-half feet, and it appeared to be cavorting playfully near the vessel before, after three quick plunges, it swam rapidly away and was lost to sight.” Attempting to lure the beast closer to their fishing boat they threw “boiling fish into the water.””
Yum! I bet Mr. Toupin was a fun date!
But wait, the story is not over yet: “Only 11 years later in 1823, again in Exeter, a spate of mermaid sightings was reported in the River Ex, including witnesses who testified to having seen a creature which, just like the 1737 report, had “two legs placed below the waist” with “animalistic features.” Another report described a creature which “bore from the waist downwards a resemblance to a salmon” and that it “ran from the bemused onlookers till it was knocked down and killed,” according to a report in the Devon Times.”
Whether it’s being tossed boiling fish or being knocked down and killed, if you’re a mermaid, you probably don’t want to hang around Exeter.
These next stories are in places you don’t generally link with mermaids – ponds rather than oceans. These stories both take place at the northern end of England, in the Peak District.
The Mermaid’s Pool is situated just below Kinder Scout in the High Peaks. It’s a saltwater lake, which is rare because it’s so far inland. But perhaps that’s the reason it’s attracted a mermaid to its depths.
“The Mermaid’s Pool was associated with healing powers for “those brave enough to bathe in it,” and if one did so at midnight on Easter, the Mermaid was said “to appear offering eternal life,” if she looked upon you fondly that is. If not, you were going down to the depths, never to be seen again.”
So, let me get this straight. You go bathe in a freezing cold pond in the early spring in the middle of the mountains on the off-chance that a mermaid will look at you fondly and offer you eternal life? And, if she happens to be in a nasty mood, which I would be if some idiot came bathing in my pond in the middle of the night on Easter, you end up drowning to death. Who does that?
The next “pond” story takes on more of a classic “Little Mermaid” spin, well, with a much darker ending than happily ever after.
The story states that the mermaid came to Black Mere Pool, on the south-western tip of the Staffordshire Peak District, hundreds of years ago with a sailor from the nearby town of Thorncliffe. It sounds like it was true love, but the problem with an immortal falling in love with a mortal is that eventually, the mortal dies. According to legend, once her sailor died, the mermaid was angry. She couldn’t go back to the sea, and she wasn’t happy living in the lake, so she haunted the lake, seeking revenge for her lover’s death.
There are two different explanations for the mysterious mermaid that haunts the lake, other than the old legend. One explanation happened in 1679 AD when a woman peddler was dumped in the pool by a local serial killer. So, instead of a mermaid, it is a woman peddler who is haunting the lake.
Ancient Origins suggests another explanation, “Another darker mermaid tale surrounding this lake tells of a local man named Joshua Linnet, who was rejected by a beautiful young woman. Unable to deal with his pain, he accused the woman of being a witch. He managed to convince the local people to drown her in Black Mere Pond and as she was drowning, the young woman cursed Joshua.
Three days later his body was found floating in the pool with “his face covered with claw marks” believed to have been caused by the “demon mermaid.” This malevolent spirit is believed by many to still haunt the Black Mere Pool today.”
All in all, I think I’d probably avoid swimming in the waters of Black Mere Pond, just to be on the safe side.