There is something about the landscape of St Agnes that invites larger than life tales. Here, a most unpleasant giant mistreats his wife and moons after a local saint. Boy did he pick the wrong woman to mess with.
Once upon a time, many years ago in the lands to the far west, where the sun sets on sea monsters and fairies, there lived a vicious giant. The name of this foul tempered giant was Bolster and he lived in a village near the sea. The local people were so fed up with his behaviour that they built an enormous wall to keep him out but of course it didn’t work because invariably walls don’t work and because Bolster was so huge that he just laughed at their efforts and stepped over it. In fact Bolster was so tall that in one stride he could step from the beacon above the village to the hill at Carn Brae some six miles away.
As Bolster roamed the land he would go out of his way to stamp on the crops in the fields. He would kick over hedges so that the cows and sheep would wander out and the poor herders would have to spend days trying to gather them all back in. He would stride out into the sea and grab the tails of grampus and throw them out to sea which is why you don’t see them in Cornwall any more. They were so fed up of his ways that they all swam off and vowed not to return until the sun set in the east.
When he wasn’t terrorising the local population and wildlife he was making life miserable for his wife. If he was bored he would tell her to carry rocks all the way up from the beach and surrounding fields, to the top of the nearby hill. This poor woman not only suffered from Bolster’s constant harrying but also from the fact that she was often unnamed, only being referred to as Bolster’s wife, twice unlucky therefore. In fact her name was Gonetta and whilst she was also a giant she wasn’t any where near as tall or as strong as Bolster and she would struggle every day to drag these stone to the top of the hill.
One day, bored with setting fire to the local heather, Bolster came to see how his wife was doing. As he arrived he was furious to see she was sat down and was laughing and chatting with another woman. As he strode over ready to drag her by her hair back to the beach he looked at the other woman and was struck dumb. He had never seen such beauty and was entranced. However this is not a tale where love conquers all. Bolster’s heart was not softened, he did not mend his ways. Instead he began to pester Agnes, for that was this beauty’s name. He continued to beat his wife, torment the villagers and terrorise the livestock but now he also mooned after Agnes, following her everywhere, and giving her no peace. She told him to leave her alone nicely, she told him at the top of her voice, she pleaded with him. She told him she might like him more if he changed his behaviour. Nothing worked. He would bang on he windows in the night so that he could see her face, he would drag her out of church so that he could talk to her and when she sat down to eat, he would take her food for himself so that she didn’t get fat. In every way that he could be annoying, he was. Agnes was beside herself and also pretty hungry. Not only was she fed up with how he treated her she could see that his attentions to her were as nothing to his behaviour of others. Poor Gonetta and the long suffering villagers, not to mention the creatures of the fields and seas.
Finally Bolster removed Agnes’s shoes saying that if she didn’t have shoes she wouldn’t be able to walk and he would always be able to find her in her home when ever he wanted to see her. Agnes, however, was not going to be stopped by such a mean move and spent the next day walking around the area as usual, helping those that needed it. The villagers she met pitied her and bravely offered her their footwear but she knew if she said yes he would simply come and stamp on their homes with them in it. That night, as Agnes went to sleep with bruised and bloodied feet, she decided to put an end to Bolster and his horrible ways.
Agnes had long lived in the area and knew it very well and realised that she knew something that Bolster didn’t. The following morning she told everyone to meet her on the cliffs above the beach and when Bolster came hunting her out she called up to him.
“Bolster. I have decided to set you a challenge. If you compete this challenge, as these villagers are my witnesses, I shall be your wife.” It mattered not to Bolster that he already had one wife. “However, if you accept this challenge and fail, then you must leave this land and walk to the west, into the sea and never return. Again the villagers will witness your promise.” Now a promise in front of witnesses was a solemn thing so Bolster thought about it. One thing that Bolster wasn’t, was particularly clever and this made him cross when he thought people were trying to trick him.
“Do you think I’m stupid, woman? I won’t make a promise if I don’t know the terms of the deal!”
Agnes looked deflated. “Very well, you are too clever for me. This is the wager. Do you see this hole here” and she pointed to a small hole in the ground by her feet. “My challenge is that you fill this hole with your blood.”
Now Bolster laughed really loudly and to celebrate he caught two passing coughs that were flying past and tore their wings off. “This is an easy challenge. I accept.” Agnes quickly recovered her from own deflated demeanour. “In front of witnesses?” She had been having second thoughts about her plan but as she looked on the corpses of the two birds her kind heart stiffened.
“In front of witnesses I solemnly pledge.” In his mind he knew he would win this bet but he also knew that if he didn’t that he had no intention of leaving the village. What he didn’t know was that Agnes also knew this.
Kneeling down in front of the hole, Bolster took out his knife and cut his forearm and as the blood poured out he held it over the hole and watched, with everyone else, as it poured into the small hole. After a few second Bolster was surprised and a little alarmed to see that the little hole was not yet full, the grass around it remained green. However, he couldn’t let the villagers see he was concerned, so he continued to brag about how easy this was and how he would make them all pay for doubting his ability. Minutes passed and still the hole hadn’t filled and now Bolster was finding himself a little light headed and so he lay down along side the hole, with his arm over it. He was certain that any second now the little hole would be full and then he would make Agnes his wife.
What Bolster didn’t know but Agnes did, was that this hole went all the way down to the cliffs on the beach below. Bolster’s blood was pouring down the hole, over the rocks and flowing out into the great ocean beyond.
After a few more minutes Bolster stopped bragging and after a few minutes more he stopped breathing as well, as the last drop of his blood flowed out and into the sea below.
When the villagers realised that their torment had finally come to an end they threw a great party. Gonetta skipped across the hills and carried nearby villagers over the fields to also join in the celebrations and Agnes danced until dawn in her lovely soft shoes.
If you want to walk between Bolster’s foot steps and see if you can spot his blood flowing down to the sea, follow the trail in Walks in Mid Cornwall by Liz Hurley. To be published Spring 2019.