The Black Bull of Mylor

The Black Bull is a spectral beast said to haunt the parish of Mylor in south Cornwall. The parish lies midway between Truro and Falmouth, alongside the river Fal, is bordered to the north and south by the Restronguet and Penryn creeks respectively and is, for at least half of its length, divided by the Mylor Creek. The Black Bull of Mylor is reported as being a large and thunderous beast, breathing fire and with glowing red eyes. It does then, in this respect, bear some similarities with the legendary black dogs of England, though, interestingly, the glowing eyes and fiery breath are, for the most part, notably absent from reports of black dogs in Cornwall.

Accounts of the bull seem to be derived from a single source; the most recent of these being that recounted by Paul White.1 A further copy exists in an unpublished typescript held at the Royal Institution of Cornwall.2

The accounts given in both the typescript and White's book recite the tale as given by an elderly inhabitant of the parish to W D Watson, and published by him in 19283, though both tend to give the impression that the words of the elderly lady are given verbatim. Watson's account is here given in full.

The following tale was told me by an old lady of Mylor when I was quite a small boy, about thirty years ago. It made such an impression on my mind that I still remember the details quite clearly, and I give it here, if not in her actual words, at least in the way she used to talk.

“When I was a little girl, I use to live down in one of the cottages beside the beach just below Porloe, with my mother and step-father, who was one of the coastguards. In they days there used to be a ship come from over to France every so-often for oysters, and the ship used to lay up in Mylor Creek. There were two coastguards kept, because there used to be a brave bit of smuggling carried on, on the quiet. Mother and me, and my step-father, lived in one of these two cottages, and the other coastguard and his wife lived in the other.
One night the two men were out on their rounds, and were intending to make their way towards Trefusis Point, so as to pass by the Big Zoon, when after they had passed the church stile they were suddenly brought to a stop―Away in the distance, coming towards them, they could hear a fearful roaring noise; then they could hear the gravel flying, and as the sound came nearer they could make out the form of a big black bull, tearing towards them with fire coming from his nostrils, and roaring something terrible!
They took and runned back towards the churchyard and got in behind the wall, and when the bull passed by they both fired their pistols right at him; but they might just so well have spit at him for all the use it was!―anyhow, they took on after the bull, and it kept running over the beach below Lawithick. At last we indoors could hear the noise. We two and the neighbour came out to see what was on, but we went back again pretty quick! The houses were shaking as the bull passed by, and he went away up the road with the men after him till after passing Well Ackett, and there they lost all sight and sound of him, and at last came back again.
The next day they sent round to the different parishes but nobody had lost a black bull, nor heard of one being lost!”

That is the tale as I heard it, and I have wondered many times since whether it did actually occur, or whether the old lady was telling me something that she had heard, and which had been handed down as a tradition. Especially did I wonder about this when I found a few years ago that the real name of the point of land where the bull appeared was "Tarra Point." "Tarra" is quite near enough to tarow, the Cornish word for "bull," to make one think there must be some connection. Then there is the Tarroo Ushtey, "Water Bull," of the Isle of Man, and the roaring "Kelpie" of Scotland. In the Island of Jersey, too, a tale is told of the "Bull of St. Clement's," which comes up out of the sea with fearful roarings. Altogether it appears likely that many generations of children in the Hundred of Kerrier have been terrified by tales of the Tarow Du, the Black Bull of the Parish of Mylor.4

Theo Brown also mentions the similarity between the Black Bull of Mylor and the Taroo Ushtey.5 He also mentions the account, related by Miss Courtney, of the ghost of a Jew, who hung himself from a tree at Jew's Lane Hill, near Godolphin in Cornwall, was buried beneath the road, and was subsequently witnessed in the area appearing as a bull and a fiery chariot.6
The colour of the bull is not stated, but the Black Bull of Mylor is not the only ghostly black bull in Cornwall. The following account, again taken from Old Cornwall, was first published in 1936, and is also referred to by Deane and Shaw.78

There is a stone on Hawk's Tor, that rocks [such rocks are, in Cornwall, called logan stones]. If the stone is touched at midnight, a black bull will appear.
There are two Hawk's Tors in the same district. One is near Kilmar [in the parish of North Hill], and the other near Temple New Bridge, on the Bodmin Road [in the parish of Blisland]. As an officer of the D.C.L.I. [Duke of Cornwall's Light Infantry], stationed at Bodmin, had also heard the black bull story, the tor concerned is probably that near Temple.9

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