If you look closely, you may notice waves breaking where you wouldn’t expect. This is the Doom Bar: a bank of sand that has become legendary.
On a calm day it may seem like an innocent sand bank, with waves gently breaking. On a stormy day it protects the estuary from the forces of the Atlantic. But the Doom Bar has become legendary over the centuries.
This landmark has presented a hazard to sailors for hundreds of years and has caused countless shipwrecks. Sail-powered ships rounding Stepper Point would lose the wind and drift away from the channel, running aground on the sandbank.
Cornish folklore gave the “Doom Bar” its name. Legend tells the story of the Mermaid of Padstow, who fell in love with a local man that she tried to lure beneath the waves. As he escaped by shooting her, the mermaid’s last action was to curse the harbour with the ‘bar of doom’, from Hawkers Cove to Trebetherick Bay. As a result of the curse, a huge and terrible gale blew up. When it subsided, a sand bar was revealed: one that would ultimately be covered with the wrecks of ships and the bodies of drowned men.
Another version, written by Enys Tregarthan in 1906, tells a different tale. In this, a local man named Tristram Bird purchased a new gun. Wanting to shoot something worthy of his new purchase, he went hunting for seals at Hawker’s Cove. Instead, he found a beautiful young woman sitting on a rock, brushing her hair. Entranced by her beauty, he asked her to marry him. When she refused, he shot her in retaliation, only realising afterwards that she was a mermaid.
“The wailing cry is sometimes heard on the Doombar after a fearful gale and loss of life on that fateful bar, like a woman bewailing the dead”.
Throughout the years, the Doom Bar has inspired poetry, plays and songs. Poet Laureate Sir John Betjeman wrote in 1969 that the mermaid met a local man and fell in love him. Unable to live without him, she tried to lure him beneath the waves. He escaped by shooting her, but her final act was to throw a handful of sand towards Padstow – from this, the sand bank grew.
The ballad The Mermaid of Padstow tells the similar story of a local named Tom Yeo, who shot a mermaid after mistaking her for a seal.
More recently, the Doom Bar has given its name to the popular local ale, which is created nearby in Rock by Sharps Brewery.
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