The Drollercoaster series continues with another folktale from Cornwall’s eastern land of Wivelshire provided by Robert Burroughs. In this case the story relates to the former fishing village of Portwrinkle, or Porth Wrickle as it is known locally, that is located at the western end of Whitsand Bay. The story is followed by background notes written by Burroughs.
The Hudol of Porth Wrickle
Sam Burrows, the fisherman walked along the beach at Hudollygook.
‘Crunch, Crackle, Crunch’ went the sand and seaweed beneath his boots. He heard a lady sing in the morning mist. Who could it be?
Sam listened, but now all he could hear were the waves washing up on the beach ‘Swish, Swash, Swizzle, Sizzle’ went the waves. The tide was ebbing and sucked the pebbles on the shore. The tide was ebbing and sucked the pebbles on the shore. The morning mist slid around the cove, between the reefs. It slipped amongst the bigger rocks and over the harbour wall. The morning sun climbed higher in the sky.
Sam ‘skinned’ his eyes and stared into the mist. He heard a giggle and a laugh nearby:
“Hey Sammel’ lend me a hand! My head’s in the mist and my tails are in the sand! I’m stuck”, said the Hudol.
A Hudol has two tails, not just one!
“But what is a Hudol?” I hear you say.
Well firstly, you need to know, that it doesn’t sound like huddle, or rhyme with puddle. It’s a Hudol, so it rhymes with poodle and flapdoodle! It’s neither fish, nor flesh, nor fowl. It’s probably wiser than a very old owl. And just like the waves it can be wild. It’s somewhere in-between a mermaid and a seal-child. And it always causes TROUBLE. Especially for fishermen!
This one was by the Basin pool, on a ‘cadderware’ stone; That’s a mermaid’s seat. She was waving a pearly seashell, hoping to be seen.
Sam strode out between the two white Menawen rocks until he reached the tide line, where the waves were receding and breaking.
“Now where did that voice and song come from? “
The Hudol must have been sitting for some time by the counterquay, on the flat cadderware rocks. Gazing into her mirror, while combing her locks. Her hair was as tangly as the kelp. And the tide had ebbed away.
Sam could not believe his eyes; he rubbed them three times with his red and white fisherman’s ‘hanky’ just to be sure and he looked again.
“I’m stranded”, she said, “On my favourite seat. The tide’s running out. And the sands on my feet, where my tails should be.”
Hudols have webbed feet when they are stranded on land. So, they always carry a mermaid’s purse and pair of socks with them.
“I need you to carry me out into the bay, before it’s too late. Or I might just fade away. Like the mist.”
Sam didn’t hesitate! He pulled up his sea boots, way over his knees and waded out. He picked up her mirror, her comb and her shell, slipped them into his pocket (and his hanky as well) and lifted her off the rock. Then he carried her from Flat Rock into the mist, towards the Brawn. And the swell of the waves rolled over his boots.
Sam, who was not sure if the lady really was a Hudol, said:
“Well Dearie I believe I shall have to carry ‘thay’ home. You’m wet right through my ‘luvver’ and be wisht to the bone. And that vest of seaweed will just never do. you need a nice, thick, dry Gansey to coddle up to. Look! Just like this one Susanna knitted for me”.
But she just laughed and held on to him, ‘tight round his chest’.
“Oh No!” she said “Sammel you’ll come home with me. I’ve a nice little bungalow under the sea. Down-Along and Out-a-Ways”.
And the next moment Sam felt himself being pulled,
Down, And Down, And Down;
Until he sat with a Bump on the hard ocean floor.
“Ouch” he said: “That hurt!”
He looked around and what did he see?
He saw undersea horses and undersea cows and undersea oxen pulling old boats as ploughs. He saw lobsters in waistcoats and dolphins in hats, watch a shoal of young scampi, playing cricket with bats.
“Did I bump me ‘noggin’ on a rock when I fell over?” He wondered.
“Tis altogether another world down here!”
He scratched his head and got to his feet.
He saw merfolk and morrigans, all going to the Fair. It was market day! Now a morrigan, you might know, is a Cornish sea-fairy and Sam knew very well he had to be wary, for just like a Hudol, they can be ‘real contrary’ at times, especially if you want to avoid them whistling up a storm or puffing up a ‘pea-souper’ of a fog.
But these just smiled and said:
“Nice morning! Ain’t it Sammel? Coming to the Fair?”
“Well I never!” he said to himself.
And the words turned to bubbles, floating over his head and away.
“Stay here with me” said the Hudol. “Our life will be dandy! There are wrecked kegs of rum and fine bottles of brandy. And fish cakes for supper, and creamy crab candy. Come, sit here beside me and look at my treasures.”
So, Sam found a fine seat for himself:
“Well now!” He thought, “That one looks about fit for a prince!”
But it didn’t feel too ‘comfy’. And soon made him wince. He was stuck! You must never take gifts from a Hudol! There are always strings attached.
Sam thought long and hard on how it might be to live with the Hudol, out under the sea. But then he remembered his childer’n and wife. He remembered his parrot, his dog and his cat. He remembered the hearth and his old smoking hat. And the crackling fire, and the smoke from his pipe as the flames flickered higher. It was cold and wet in the Hudol’s house.
Then last, but not least, there came into his mind hot pasty for supper.
“This idn’ no life for a fisherman, ’tis high time to scupper”
He thought; but he was still stuck to the seat.
Now Hudols are tricky and not easy to deceive; Sam needed a reason to get up and leave, so he said very politely:
“Before I ‘gets settled’ to dining off gold dishes, I seem to remember, Somehow, Somewhere, Something. About granting wishes? One good turn deserves another!”
The Hudol looked angry and swam around Sam three times, swishing with her tails:
“Oh, alright Sammel. You’ve got just three wishes. But be quick and don’t waste them”.
“In that case I wish I were home” And, he added with glee. ” i wish I were eatin’ a pasty for tea. Sitting down with the wife by the fire.”
“That’s TWO wishes Sammel” said the Hudol, frowning and wrinkling up her nose.”
“Well that’s what I desire!”
The next moment Sam with another big ‘thump’ landed back on the floor of his home, covered in a great big, wet, lump of seaweed.
“Gracious! Good Heavens! Now where have you been? And what’s all this mess, sure now I’ll have to clean that carpet and the ‘flag-slates’ all over again.”
Said Susanna his wife. She was a Giddy and not to be ‘mussed’ with.
“Leave off scrubbing the floor, I’m desperate for me crib! Where’s me knife and me fork and me’ favourite bib, Susanna?”
“Talk sensible Sammel, crib’s someth’ only fit for a donkey to eat.”
She retorted, proper angry like. He could be a messy eater but ‘thorough’, as they say.
“Now, where’s me pasty; in the oven?” He said hopefully!
“In the dog.” His wife said sharpish.
The dog looked happy and wagged his tail.
“Look here Susanna, I’ve seen things today that would have left you scared stiffer than that old iron bollard by the harbour wall.”
His wife laughed and said: “Fiddlesticks.”
Surprised and annoyed Sam stood up and declared:
“I have talked with a Hudol on ‘Cadder’beware’. Then I went for a swim and got stuck in her chair. Ahem”
And clearing his throat he added, cautiously:
“And here is the comb she had stuck in her hair. T’is a present, for you!”
Taking it out of his pocket.
“Sporting with Hudols so that’s where you’ve been. You can take your fine present straight back to your queen.”
Said his wife angrily. And she hit him on the nose with the end of the old pasty-crust.
“That’s the only pasty you deserve for telling such fibs!”
Sam had nothing left to say. But he ate what was left of the pasty; it still tasted good, far better than a cold, soggy, seaweed sandwich.
No-one believed him, not even the dog and the cat! Only Poll Parrot, on the perch, where she sat and said:
“What’s a pretty Hudol then?”
A Medieval Hudol; with a Hudolling Horn to lure curious fisherfolk
The other fishermen laughed too and sang him a kiddlywink song:
“Too much Brandy with your Lovage,
Too much Rum with your Shrub,
And we all might find mermaids in an old pilchard tub!”
Sometime later the Wricklemen were sailing home in their fishing boats past Huddollygook, when they found themselves in the ‘doldrums’. A mist came down, there was no wind, not even a whisper. The sun set and at last the moon rose above the mist, but the shore, the cove and the cliffs above were still cloaked in the fog. They shivered and shook and took a sip of grog to raise their spirits. It was deathly silent, the boats anchored up, they could barely see each other. They could not even hear the waves on the shore. They were all thinking:
“We’ll have to creep in on a hook and a cable.”
Sam stood up and looked for a light from the beacon; Not a glimmer. He looked for the obelisk where the ‘gillies’ and cormorants sit; Not a sign.
Sam listened for the lapping of the waves on the rocks; Not a sound.
Until, he heard a voice singing. Astern, on the starboard side (that’s behind on the left for landlubbers).
A slap of a tail and a splash on the sail, And up popped the Hudol and said:
“Hello there, Sammel! ‘Do-ee’ fancy a dip? If i wobble the boat, you could easily slip”.
“Now enough of your games,” said Sam. “We can’t find the shore, We can’t see the reef, nor the harbour no more. Not even the beacon light!”
And then he remembered he still had one wish. He decided to put the Hudol on the spot. And speaking out loudly, in his bravest voice, so all the other fishermen could hear, he proclaimed:
“Oh! Troublesome Fish! “
“I’m not a Fish” interrupted the Hudol, all indignant “I’m a… “,
But before the Hudol could finish he went on:
“O, Troublesome Fish! This is my last Wish! You ferry us home safely, right into the harbour. Right away mind; no tricks nor delays!”
The Hudol frowned and looked upset:
“That’s not much fun Sammel!”
Sam thought for a moment and then added:
“Well just to play fair, you can have back the mirror, And the comb for your hair.
“So that’s where they were! I’ve been looking for them everywhere.”
Said the Hudol, taking the mirror.
“You get the comb when we are home.”
Said Sam, taking no chances. He kept her pearly seashell hidden in his hanky.
“It’s a Deal!” The Hudol said: “Follow me!”
They all rowed slowly through the mist and into the harbour. Sam threw the comb to the Hudol. The Hudol waved and disappeared. The mist lifted and disappeared. The moon shone down on the Harbour wall and the fishermen raised their flasks of ‘old medicinal’ rum and shrub in a toast:
“To the Hudol, One and All.
Their wives stood on the harbour side with folded arms:
“Where have you been all this time?”
“We were lost in the mist and saved by a Hudol.” They all shouted.
“Moonshine and ‘moonraking’ more likely!” Said their wives.
They did not believe a word of it.
Later Sam remembered the seashell and fixed it into the cottage wall. Between the Kiddlywink and Hellman’s Nook: Is it still there if you look? Perhaps it is?
And just remember, if you ever meet a Hudol, Be careful what you wish for! Things don’t always turn out the way you expect.
The Hudol of Porth Wrickle. This story began as a question: What is a Hudol? Answer: I don’t know!
Nor did any of the family back to Sam Burroughs and beyond. The Hudol is a creature difficult to define, except by what it is not. It was associated with a small inlet beyond Hoodney or Hookney Cove, the second beach at Portwrinkle. It is based on a childhood anecdote about what you might see if you looked into the Basin Pool or Looking Glass Pool, left among the rocks by the receding tide. There you may make a wish and see your fate, or if you are lucky see a Hudol looking back at you.
As to what it looks like, there are few hints; slightly doggy like an innocent seal pup with a face somewhere between Miss Marilyn Munroe and Miss Piggy. A Hudol is neither a mermaid, for it has two fishy tails; nor a seal maiden, for it does not wear a furry coat; nor a siren, for although it has the siren’s enchanting voice it does not have a feathery body resembling a seagull. For those who care to take a look, a glamourous set of lady-Hudols may be seen captured in carved form, holding up a basin and fountain, not far from the Orangery at Mount Edgcumbe. When the Hudol walks on land it has two pretty webbed or cloven feet, which it tries to conceal by wearing socks. It is certainly not a Morrigan; a sea or water fairy. The Hudol would seem therefore to be a close cousin of the famous Hooper of Sennen, from further west, as described in Bottrell and Hunt. Perhaps the Hudol with the Hudolling Horn in the illustration explains the mournful but hypnotic effect of these creatures’ irresistible calls.
Huddollygook is the name for the small cove, or cleft, before you reach Britten Cove at Portwrinkle. Or under its older name Porth Wrickle; which is a fishing village on the south Cornish coast, west of Rame Head. It can be found below Crafthole, or at the bottom of Donkey Lane and the old farm of Trewrickle, which stands on the cliffs above. There are seals to be found in the more inaccessible coves and gullies of the Skerries, but whether they are in any way related to Hudols remains to be proven.
Local fishermen were still known as Wrickle men well into the twentieth century. The ‘Wishing Pool’ or ‘Mirror Pool’ is still there, among the inshore rocks, just across from the two marble Menawens, or White Stones. These are sometimes almost covered by the movement of the sand and pebbles of Hoodney Cove. You can see the Brawn, beyond the cadderware or Flat Rock, from the counter-quay of the old harbour.
The oldest surviving cottage in the village is probably that of Thomas Helman the smuggler, hence Smugglers Cottage, (Helman’s Nook in this story and in the ‘Tales of Finny the Smuggler’ and ‘The Skerrish Monster’). There was another cottage beside Smugglers and beyond that the remains of the ‘wink’ or kiddleywink, once an illegal store and gin shop. The smuggling along this stretch of coast, from Cawsand to Looe and Polperro, was mostly financed by Zephania Job of Polperro and Cawsand; the smugglers’ own banker. Smugglers Cottage, with its hidey holes for contraband, is still occupied by descendants of the Pengelly family, who like the Andrews, Landreys, Lobbs, Trevans, Giddys, Burroughs, Daveys, Collins, Wes’lick, Dawe, Davey, Bishop and Norris families were all members of the old ‘Poor Man’s Endeavour’ and ‘Union’ seine fishing cooperatives in the nineteenth century.
For those unable to visit the locations there is a fascinating film melodrama from 1912, available on the BFI website: ‘A Tragedy on the Cornish Coast’ directed by the notorious Sidney Webber Northcote, with some location footage of the original fish cellars, the harbour, the cottages and the Coastguard Station. This includes the participation of some local fisherfolk and Coastguards, so if you are a local you might spot an ancestor in the background. It features the tragic love affair of a local Fishermaid with a visiting artist, and the terrible revenge of her jealous fisherman lover. Northcote, a bit of a fraudster, made two other Cornish films before the law and his creditors finally caught up with him in the Channel Islands.
Smuggler’s Cottage: The house of Thomas Helman as it is today
Robert Burroughs was born and grew up in southeast Cornwall. He returned to Cornwall some twenty years ago after an academic career in European Studies and History. His interest in European folklore inspired him to return to his roots and collect examples of local folklore, including his own family’s legends, japes and jokes. Other tales and anecdotes come from oral history projects sponsored by the Cornish Audio Visual Archive and the Institute of Cornish Studies. They may provide some insight into the Ertach Kernow or Cornish Heritage of ‘Cornwall’s Forgotten Corner’: The Drolls of old Wivelshire.