Of Water Nymphs and Mermaids – Have You Heard of These UK Legends?

Fairy maidens inhabiting the oceans, rivers, springs, meadows, woods, and wells are collectively known as nymphs. Nymphs resemble humans in height and overall appearance, but they are known for their enchanting beauty and seductive charms. According to most legends, water nymphs are the most dangerous of the “sisterhood.” Many in the UK are surrounded by legends of water nymphs. Of late, I have been researching legends and myths surrounding the south central UK, but I have enjoyed reading many of those found elsewhere in England.

In all countries, “water” is the source of life, and, therefore, it holds a veneration in the world’s various cultures. Sources of water in each small village and thriving metropolis holds the potential for legends and traditions to find root. These are often extremely local, and therefore little known.

Loup Scar Burnsall:
Loup scar on the river Wharfe at Burnsall is a popular venue with climbers, and the river below is popular with canoeists.

With wells, the names alone suggest much. The memory of the mythical gods, satyrs, and nymphs of the ancient times lingers in a few, as in Thors-kil or Thors-well, in the parish of Burnsall; and in the almost universal declaration — by which not over-wise parents seek to deter children from playing in dangerous proximity to a well — that at the bottom, under the water, dwells a mysterious being, usually named Jenny Green-teeth or Peg-o’-the-Well, who will certainly drag into the water any child who approaches too near to it.

The tokens of medieval reverence for wells are abundant. The names of the saints to whom the wells were dedicated yet cling to them. “There is scarcely a well of consequence in the United Kingdom,” says the editor of Lancashire Folk-lore, “which has not been solemnly dedicated to some saint in the Roman calendar.”

Thus in Yorkshire one finds Our Lady’s Well or Lady Well; St. Helen’s Well; St. Margaret’s Well at Burnsall; St. Bridget’s Well near Ripon; St. Mungo’s Well at Copgrove; St. John’s Well at Beverley; St. Alkelda’s Well at Middleham, etc.

Thomas Hardy’s cottage

In Dorset, one may find a circular pool called Rushy Pond. It is a quarter mile southeast of Thomas Hardy’s cottage at Thorncombe Wood. Reportedly, unwary travelers are lured into the pond, never to seen again.

“I Said And Sang Her Excellence”
by Thomas Hardy

(Fickle Lover’s Song)

I said and sang her excellence:
They called it laud undue.
(Have your way, my heart, O!)
Yet what was homage far above
The plain deserts of my olden Love
Proved verity of my new.

“She moves a sylph in picture-land,
Where nothing frosts the air:”
(Have your way, my heart, O!)
“To all winged pipers overhead
She is known by shape and song,” I said,
Conscious of licence there.

I sang of her in a dim old hall
Dream-built too fancifully,
(Have your way, my heart, O!)
But lo, the ripe months chanced to lead
My feet to such a hall indeed,
Where stood the very She.

Strange, startling, was it then to learn
I had glanced down unborn time,
(Have your way, my heart, O!)
And prophesied, whereby I knew
That which the years had planned to do
In warranty of my rhyme.


Rushy Pond

Old Harry Rocks

At Old Harry Rocks at Studland in Dorset, there is a mystery of sorts. The water level never changes, whether by storms or droughts. Again, water nymphs are said to inhabit the pool and practice their magic within the pool’s depths.

Surprisingly, Staffordshire, which has no coastline, has the Legend of the Mermaid of Black Mere Pool. The small, remote, hilltop lake, around 50 metres wide, creates the perfect haunting site. Set on the craggy and barren southern edge of the Peak District, it is said that the dark, peat-stained waters of the pool are bottomless. Cattle refuse to drink from the water and birds never fly above it. A number of mysterious drownings are attributed to the waters, as well as one murder. In 1679, a woman pedlar was dumped into the pool by a local serial killer.

Tradition holds that the mermaid rises from the pool at midnight to lure unwary travellers to their deaths in the dark watery depths – but only single men, apparently. There are various legends concerning the origin of the mermaid. In one, a sailor from nearby Thorncliff fell in love with her and brought her back from sea, and in another she was originally a witch who transformed herself into a water nymph after been thrown into the pool during the Middle Ages.

Black Mere Pool


About Regina Jeffers

Regina Jeffers is the award-winning author of Austenesque, Regency and historical romantic suspense.
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2 Responses to Of Water Nymphs and Mermaids – Have You Heard of These UK Legends?

  1. bellastreet says:

    What a great post! I had not heard of some of these, or seen these places! Thanks for sharing!

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