Cornish fog is a capricious entity. It
descends and disappears without warning. One minute the sky is crystalline
and then fog swathes and surrounds the landscape on the turn of the tide.
It's diverse and ranges from a soft, misty mizzle to a weightless, wet
blanket that drips and drenches. The mild maritime climate is a trade-off
against cold weather as westerly winds suck up vapour from the warm sea
and then deposits moisture-laden air onto the land as rain or fog...quite
often both at the same time!
Recently, I visited a friend up at Longdowns; a
linear vilage, straggling along the County's high, inland spine. As
I drove from my village, it was a clear evening and the stars twinkled
around the sphere of giant dish shaped aerials of the Earth Station
on Goonhilly Downs. We had a lovely evening, talking as only women
can and catching up with each others news and gossip and around 11pm,
it was time to leave for home. We opened the door; a fog had descended,
so thick, it was impossible to see across the road.
I'm uneasy driving on my own in fog during daylight,
but at night, I'm willing to admit to an acute bout of the heebie-jeebies!
There was very little traffic and any hope of tailgating other cars in
the dimmed reflection of sodium lights evaporated as the visibility was
reduced to a few feet. The familiar was unrecognisable; had I passed
the pub? The Post Office? I decided to take the back lanes, cross country,
as it would be safer at that time of night as few vehicles used the narrow
road with its twists and turns. The fog hung above the granite hedges
creating the semblance of a tunnel which at least had definition.
I reached the village of Garras. Not far
to go now; the fog was less dense and I could pick out diffused lights
in the cosy homes. Tall trees edge the road around the ancient gates
into the Trelowarren estate giving no indication of the weather conditions
ahead as the road bends and opens to the sweep of the moor. The aerials
of the Earth Station, somewhere to my right, were wrapped in a grimy
shroud. A grey void of moisture-drenched fog, twisted and shape-shifted
into supernatural, phantoms draping and caressing the contorted gorse
It was what my family call a 'headless horseman'
night... and I couldn't shake off the account of a story, probably
apocryphal, I'd heard about the gibbet that hung at the cross roads
at Traboe. Local folklore has it, that in 1820, a villager, William
Hancock, riding his horse across the downs from Helston Market, was
attacked by three thieves, shot and later died from his wounds. The
moor was, and still is, a bleak, desolate place and back then, vagrants
lived in hovels around the Neolithic standing stone at Dry Tree. The
murderers were captured, tried and hung . Maybe, one of the assailants
corpses was left dangling in a gibbet at the crossroad?
I was making myself more scared every second. Never
had a mile of road seemed so long. My only visual reference were blurred
cats eyes in the middle of the road; if I drove into the ditch I wouldn't
be found until morning. I tried talking to myself and thinking nice thoughts,
but the only words that infiltrated my head was a jumble of bastardised
Latin. 'Inspirito Incantatum, inspirito incantatum', It repeated over
and over again. I couldn't blame it on Harry Potter as I haven't read
the books! What did it mean? A spell? A curse? My heart was pounding
as I imagined, for no sensible reason, a grisly, severed hand moving
around on the back seat. I'd read somewhere that the hand of a thief
was hacked from the corpse, post mortem, and pickled to exhibit as a
warning. What if the Traboe cadaver had been dismembered....
I had never been more thankful to see
the dismal flourescent lights of the local garage and I took the turn
towards home. What was that smell? The last thing I remember were cold,
boney fingers raking through my hair.
PS. Of course, that last sentence isn't true! But,
living in Cornwall, we're closer to the elements and imaginative minds
play twisted tricks on dark foggy nights...
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