A Cornish Tale of a vengeful mermaid and a lost harbour
The Mermaid of Seaton is no Disney heroine, the Mermaid of Seaton had spirit, the Mermaid of Seaton had a vengeful streak.
Chery Manley tells the story of the Mermaid in the her children’s book. A story of how she befriended a fisherman, but then destroyed his village after becoming snared in a net.
This is a myth that has a close link with the landscape, a myth that can re-told on the very spot where the story occurred.
Origins of the tale
The earliest written version of the story can be found in the one of the best resources for discovering the myths of Cornwall, Robert Hunt;s book of 1908.
Popular romances of the west of England; or, The drolls, traditions, and superstitions of old Cornwall
Robert Hunt 1908
“NEAR LOOE,—THAT IS, BETWEEN DOWN Derry and Looe,—there is a little sand-beach called “Seaton.” Tradition tells us that here once stood a goodly commercial town bearing this name, and that when it was in its pride, Plymouth was but a small fishing-village. The town of Seaton is said to have been overwhelmed with sand at an early period, the catastrophe having been brought about,—as in the case of the filling up of Padstow harbour,—by the curse of a mermaid, who had suffered some injury from the sailors who belonged to this port.”
Seaton (Sethyin in Cornish)
The story is set in a small coastal village in South-East Cornwall, not in the larger better known resort across the border in East Devon. Here the River Seaton reaches the sea after its relatively short journey from Bodmin Moor.
The River Seaton is fickle in its route across the sands to the sea. Each year it twists and turns, cutting new bends and channels; the wanderings assisted by the force of winter gales. It is the changing course of the River and the power of the sea that accounts for the lack of harbour today, but of course the tale explains it was the mermaid that is to blame.
Seaton- a site to tale a tale
Seaton is easy to visit, it has a car park next to the beach and a great little beach cafe overlooking the river. The beach is easy to access, but take care with young children if the river is in flood, its upper banks can be steep, and the water can flow fast. Its not hard to imagine the story unfolding before your eyes here, and Cheryl’s book is a handy size to take along to read aloud to children, after all stories are not just for beditme!
A virtual wander around Seaton on Google Earth
Go down the hill to the beach and its cafe, the bridge across the River Seaton is just after the junction with the main road.
Behind the beach is a play area for children, and extending up the valley is the Seaton Valley Country Park. This park is a lovely wooded wildlife reserve, well served with an easy to walk path and wild fowl ponds.
The Mermaid of Seaton story re-told for Children
Cheryl re-tales the story in a magical way that young children will love. The Mermaid is brought back to life through words that are just perfect for storytelling and children will enjoy the light hearted pictures and characters. If you do visit Seaton, take the book along, tell the story, and keep the tale alive.
Stockists near Seaton
If in Looe, this shop must be visited. It has a great range of Cornish food. The cheese, chocolate, gin and beer collection is perfect to stock up for Christmas. The range of pure quality far surpasses any supermarket.
The Seaton Beach Cafe
An excellent spot to enjoy drink, look for the mermaid and grab a copy of the book. Open all year round, this makes a great place to start and finish a walk from, whatever the weather.
More on-line locations for the Mermaid of Seaton
The Memaid of Seaton story is told old line on the Mazed Tales website, and in song through the music of Changing rooms. Mike Hartland mentions the Mermaid on his sheet music for the Seaton Furry.
- The Seaton Mermaid on Mazed Tales>
- The Seaton Mermaid by Changing Rooms>
- Seaton Furry, a Cornish Dance, by Mike Hartland>