The Doom Bar

The Doom Bar for Concert Band – Matt Smith

Am currently editing the score for Doom Bar which is a piece I wrote a while ago now and it has some really interesting myth and legend behind it. The Doom Bar is a sand spit at the mouth of the Camel Estuary near Padstow in Cornwall. Many ships have been wrecked there which has in turn led to legends being created. Here are some of them shamelessly lifted from the Wiki page about the Bar along with a photo taken from the walk out to St George’s Well and Harbour Cove:

According to local folklore, the Doom Bar was created by the Mermaid of Padstow as a dying curse after being shot. In 1906, Enys Tregarthen wrote that a Padstow local, Tristram Bird, bought a new gun and wanted to shoot something worthy of it. He went hunting seals at Hawker’s Cove but found a young woman sitting on a rock brushing her hair. Entranced by her beauty, he offered to marry her and when she refused he shot her in retaliation, only realising afterwards that she was a mermaid. As she died she cursed the harbour with a “bar of doom”, from Hawker’s Cove to Trebetherick Bay. A terrible gale blew up that night and when it finally subsided there was the sandbar, “covered with wrecks of ships and bodies of drowned men”.[55]

The ballad, The Mermaid of Padstow,[56] tells a similar story of a local named Tom Yeo, who shot the mermaid mistaking her for a seal.[57] John Betjeman, who was well-acquainted with the area, wrote in 1969 that the mermaid met a local man and fell in love with him. When she could no longer bear living without him, she tried to lure him beneath the waves but he escaped by shooting her. In her rage she threw a handful of sand towards Padstow, around which the sandbank grew.[58] In other versions of the tale, the mermaid sings from the rocks and a youth shoots at her with a crossbow,[59] or a greedy man shoots her with a longbow.[60] Mermaids were believed to sing to their victims so that they could lure adulterers to their death.

The mermaid legend extends beyond the creation of the Doom Bar. In 1939 Samuel Williamson declared there are mermaids comparable to Sirens who lie in the shallow waters and draw in ships to be wrecked.[61] In addition, “the distressful cry of a woman bewailing her dead” is said to be heard after a storm where lives are lost on the sandbar.[55]

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