Travelling out on your apple hunting quest you will inevitably come to a place many of us visit around this time of year – the coast. So as you are enjoying the sun and sand, we will explore who else may be enjoying the sea.
Around the world, particularly the British Isles, and most frequently in Cornwall we find mermaids. Many folk on meeting mermaids are captivated by their beautiful looks and voices, (not to mention their wish granting abilities). If you find one stranded be very kind, take them home to the sea and in future they might help you with warnings of storms and, if you are a fisherman, by improving your catch. Do not be tempted to steal her tail, get her to become human, mortal or your wife (mermaids often being the folk tale equivalent of mail-order brides): Resist the temptation as it will only bring you woe!
However beautiful they are, however well you try to treat them, your dry, cosy house is not their natural habitat and it will all end in salty tears if they stay too long. Resentment builds, and once they’ve escaped, as they inevitably do, it’s wisest to avoid the sea, move inland and definitely never, ever again, go out in a boat.
Further up on the northern coast there are similar creatures, rather than a tail to steal there is the seal-skin of the Selkie (well it’s colder, you’d want a fur coat too) who transform from seal to human when they hide their coat behind a rock. The stories are often similar to those of mermaids except in one classic tale: The Selkie Vow. Here our protagonist is a veteran seal hunter, one day out hunting he loses his knife in the biggest seal he’s ever seen as it escapes, bellowing in to the sea. Later he is visited by a well-dressed man offering a valuable commission for many seal skins. He offers to show the hunter where he can find the best seals. Trustingly, the hunter follows him to the top of a cliff where he is suddenly grabbed and whisked over the edge. The two plummet deep into the sea. The seal hunter is transformed into a seal himself and they swim down into sandy, air filled caves where the king of the selkies lies wounded. The hunter removes his damning knife, heals the wounds and solemnly swears to do the seal people harm no more. Later, returned to land (and his customary shape), he takes up a different craft, usually fishing, where-upon his nets are always full and he holds true to his Selkie Vow.
Now you may chose to avoid all this by heading further inland, but even here water courses can be treacherous as they are often frequented by Kelpies. Despite the similarity in name and also being shape shifters, they are a different kettle of fish all together, a horse of a different colour so to speak. Kelpies usually appear in the form of a fit young horse, frisky and fun, willing, nay even keen for you to get on their back and ride about. This is not through some desire to give you a pleasant trot around the heather and glens or take you on a magical journey, but the opener for a short and terrifying gallop into the nearest water deep enough to drown you!
So enjoy your holiday, but with the wildlife, both mythological and natural, the rules are the same: observe from a safe distance and leave them in peace in their natural habitat.
…here’s to living happily ever after, until the next adventure.
The Travelling Talesman http://www.thetravellingtalesman.co.uk