A Ghostly Tale from the Depths of Cornwall
To get you in the mood for All Hallows’ Eve we thought we’d share with you another tale from the Toad Hall vaults. It’s the spooky but heart-warming yarn of Jory Kenvern and the clawing hands of Widows’ Jut.
Jory Kenvern rose from his bed and stretched out his arms towards the old rafters of his fisherman’s cottage on Hawker’s Cove. He yawned and rubbed the sleep from his eyes before kissing his wife on the forehead, careful not to wake her. The frost on the window panes let him know that the morning chill was lingering, so he pulled an extra vest from his clothes chest before heading down the rickety timber staircase to tend to the fire. He was comforted by the warmth of his bone-dry smock – hung out after yesterday’s labours – and he duly slipped into it before boiling the kettle and draining a mug of nettle and rosehip tea accompanied by a rough slice of cottage loaf dipped in the drippings of last night’s stew.
The stars were still up as he trudged down the tangled path towards the lane that would lead him to the old cliff pass, dressed in his fisherman’s oilskins, the ones his father had handed down to him when he finally could admit that his tired hands could haul no more. He could hear the sound of the waves crashing against the rocks below as he gingerly traversed the craggy route down to the shore where his small fishing boat was beached, the first glints of the morning sun now visible on the horizon. The gulls were also stirring, mewing and gurgling on the cliff edge as Jory began hauling his old clinker past the tidemark having checked his nets and lines and stowed his gubbins.
Soon he was rowing out on the ebbing tide and humming his favourite sea shanty to the gentle roll of the coastal swells, bearing southerly down the peninsula to Muggins Rock where the megrim and brill had been biting. He drew in his first net and was delighted to see the flap and flitter of oily flesh land on the deck. Once he’d laden his bucket he lit his tobacco pipe and enjoyed a few deep puffs, plotting a new course past Blind Man’s Nose where the shags were hunting off the bluffs.
By lunchtime, Jory had filled three deep buckets with his fresh catch – his best haul in years – and still his knotted flax nets were returning laden with fish. He sang a hearty song about storm petrels and mermaids as he hauled, thankful for the sea’s kindness. Another fisherman, by the name of Nancarrow from Padstow, whistled to Jory as he rowed back towards the shoreline, ‘How fares ye Jory of Hawker’s Cove?’ he shouted from starboard. ‘I be very grateful old Brin Nancarrow of Padstow Harbour, for me buckets be full to the brim and I intend to stay a little longer to enjoy me good fortune.’ ‘Best turn in,’ yelled Brin Nancarrow, ‘dark clouds be heading our way and a storm be brewing out there on the Celtic Sea.’ He pointed to the horizon where ominous skies were clotting. ‘Aye,’ replied Jory. ‘Thank you for your concerns.’ Jory tracked Brin Nancarrow’s boat as it vanished round the headland, and weighing up his odds he decided to risk one last throw of his nets before the storm set in.
The wind was already picking up and the distant rumble of thunder made his heart beat faster as he rowed out further past Widows’ Jut, the ruin of many a hardened seafarer. Jory knew to keep a safe distance from the froth, but his trusty oars were proving no match for the choppy seas and prevailing bellows. Panic set in as the swells grew and the black clouds above were lit by lightning. Jory anxiously looked to the distant shore, waving his arms to signal his distress, but darkening skies cast a grim shadow over both him and his boat as a sting of hail now stung his face. Tempestuous waves roared all around him, his old fishing boat tossed and turned from bow to stern until it crashed and splintered against the jagged rocks.
Overboard went Jory, kicking his boots and thrashing his arms in a desperate bid to stay afloat, but the murky depths below were dragging him under and its icy chill gnawed at his bones. As he sank into the inky fathoms, clinging onto his last breath, he was horrified to see grotesque flesh-eaten hands grabbing and clawing at his limbs; the drowned souls of those who’d suffered a similar fate and who now haunted the seabed in despair. Down sank Jory, the bubbles from his mouth signalling the emptying of his lungs and the rotten faces of the dead and perished filling his last grasps with horror. As he closed his eyes and sent a final loving kiss to his wife, he was shocked back into life by a forceful jerk to his shoulders and felt himself rising upwards, darting like a seal chasing a stray mackerel, back towards the stormy surface.
When Jory awoke, he was back home in his bed swaddled in woollen blankets, still shivering from his ordeal. He looked up to see his wife stroking the matted curls of his hair. ‘We thought we’d lost you Jory Kenvern,’ she said tenderly, tucking in the blankets tighter. ‘Tis a miracle you survived such a storm. Three days you’ve been unconscious in your bed. The doctor told me to prepare for the worst, but I told em, not my Jory, he’ll pull through alright, just you watch and see. Now take some of this broth to help built your strength.’ Jory pulled himself upright and took the spoonful of broth, his eyes adjusting to the hazy sunlight streaming through the cottage window.
It was then that he remembered the grip on his shoulders as he sank further into those haunted depths. ‘But who was it who saved me?’ he asked with a furrowed brow, ‘I was done for had it not been for the sturdy arms which plucked me from the seabed.’ His wife stared long and hard at him, seemingly puzzled by the question. ‘Why, no one saved you. By the grace of god you were washed ashore half-drowned and spotted by Ross Trengrouse as he was nailing shut the doors to his shippon. You were gripping on to this for dear life. I had to prise it from your fingers.’ She dangled a silver pendant in front of him. ‘I swear it’s the spit of the one your father gave to you on his deathbed, the one you lost at sea last year.’
Jory took hold of the pendant and recognised it instantly, identical to the one his old dad had worn all those years at sea, carrying with him the etching of St Andrew the apostle, patron saint of all fishermen. He studied it more closely and spotted the same broken link that had allowed it to slip from his neck and into the sea – the link he had been meaning to fix before it had buckled – and he knew then that it was indeed his father’s pendant, and his father’s before him, and with a warm heart he realised whose strong arms had reached down to save him.
Happy Halloween from All at Toad Hall Cottages 🕸