The Mermaid’s Pool
The Mermaid’s Pool is a small pool on the side of Kinder Scout, Derbyshire, which is said to be inhabited by a beautiful mermaid. A 19th century account describes how she rises to the surface on Midsummer’s Day, and lures men to their deaths with her seductive singing. A poem illustrates this by relating how a shepherd boy fell in love with her, and, at her bidding, jumped into the pool to be with her, never to be seen again.
But other accounts describe her as benevolent, and say that she will grant eternal life on those who see her swimming in the pool, and that she can be found doing so every year at midnight on Easter Eve.
The pool is said to be salty due to its being connected to the Atlantic Ocean by a subterranean passage.
There is a certain mountain in the Peak, at whose foot lies a pool, from which a maiden is said to rise on Midsummer’s Eve, and by her singing lure men to destruction. The Water of this pool is salt and bitter, for it is said to be connected with the far distant Atlantic.
Where many a mountain reaches to the clouds,
That rest their billowy fleeces on its head.
And roll adown its rugged, storm-rent side.
At the foot of such a mountain in this land
There lies a pool, dark and mysterious,
Shadowed by blackened rocks, and sedges drear,
In which no reedy warbler builds its nest ;
No heather nods its bells unmusical
Around its banks, no sombre-coated bee
Hums over it a busy melody ;
No speckled trout or dark-backed umber there
Wake the still waters with the circling leaps ;
No chattering grouse drops in the doubtful wave
Feathers that float like tiny argosies ;
Nor furry-footed coney stops to drink
Its waters salt as those their watch that keep
Over the doomed towns of Palestine.
With solemn awe the lonely shepherd treads
Passed the weird margin of the mountain tarn,
Fearing the sprite that dwells within its depths,
And rot, and ague, and a thousand ills
He thinks such fearsome folk are wont to give
To those that trespass on their sovereignty.
But one ther was a sprightly lad and tall,
And gifted with a face in which for mastery
Action and thought seemed always combating,
Who always felt attracted to the pool,
And sat for many hours plumbing its depth
With anxious eyes ; but nought saw he therein
Save the reflection of his comely face.
Warning he had full oft from wiser men
To meddle not in such a dangerous quest,
Nor seek for death where death was surely found:
For ’tis believed that on a certain eve
When summer fruits are ripe, and in the sky
The stars can scarcely light their shining lamps,
And the soft air is strangely musical
With the faint soft hum of fairy merriment,
A maiden, strangely fair, but strangely formed,
Rises from out the pool, and by her songs
And heavenly beauty lures to shameful death
The luckless wight who hears her melodies.
But youth is curious, and the shepherd lad
Longed with intense desire to see the maid.
He dreamt of her by night, her white arms seemed
To lock him in a clinging, fond embrace ;
She haunted him by day as moodily
He watched beside the pool, and seemed to see
In each reflected cloud her drapery.
At last the night arrived, the sun just dipped
His rosy fingers in the pathless sea,
Leaving the world not dark, but hardly light ;
The waning stars scarce marked the azure sky,
And zephyrs gentle cooled the heated earth:
’Twas just the hour when night and morning meet,
When, watching still, the boy sat eagerly,
On a huge stone that darkened all the pool ;
When suddenly the wave gleamed fitfully
With sudden light, as in the tropic seas
The lambent waves shine with phosphoric glare,
And brighter grew the water, and the air
Was filled with music ravishingly sweet.
With open mouth and eager starting eyes
The youth stood gazing at these mysteries,
And saw from out the troubles waves arise
A maiden, clothed alone in loveliness ;
Her golden hair fell o’er her shoulders white,
And curled in amorous ringlets round her breasts ;
Her eyes were melting into love, her lips
Had made the very roses envious ;
Withal a voice so full, and yet so clear,
So tender, made for loving dialogues.
And, then, she sang—sang of undying love
That waited them within her coral groves
Beneath the deep blue sea, and all the bliss
That mortals made immortal could enjoy,
Who lived with her in sweet community.
She sang, and stretching out her rounded arms,
She bade him leap and take her for his own—
With one wild cry he leapt, and with a splash
That roused the timid moorhen from her nest,
Sank ’neath the darkling wave for evermore.
Near Downfall, a short walk from the Old Oak Wood, not far from Hayfield, is the Mermaid’s Pool. There is a local tradition that a beautiful nymph lives in the side of the Scout, who comes to bathe daily in the Mermaid’s Pool, and that the man who has the good fortune to see her whilst bathing will become immortal.
The old folk of Hayfield, moreover, have a long story about a man who, some time in the last century, went from Hayfield over the Scout, and was lucky enough to meet this mountain nymph, by whom he was conducted to a cavern hard by. Tradition adds that she was pleased with this humble mortal, and that he lingered there for some time, when she conferred upon him the precious gift of immortality.
One Easter Eve, at twelve o’clock, when Easter Day is coming in, if you look steadfastly into the pool, you will see a mermaid.
On Kinder Scout,* in the High Peak of Derbyshire, is a pool called “the Mermaid’s Pool.” It is said that people visit the pool on Easter-eve at midnight, when the mermaid appears and tries to allure her visitors into the water. It is said that several persons have lost their lives in this way, for if the visitor refuses to comply with her request she drags him under the water.
* “Scout” is the O. N. skúti, a cave formed by jutting rocks, M. E. scoute, a rock. Grimm mentions the “M. H. G. kunder, creature, being, thing, also quaint thing, prodigy.” Teut. Myth. (Stallybrass), p. 1408. The prodigy in this case may have been the mermaid.
The tradition of the Mermaid visiting the pool on Easter Eve, and of the sure immortality awaiting him who sees her bathing, is now counted as foolishness by the people of Hayfield, but there was at least one stalwart old man who fully believed therein a century ago. This was Aaron Ashton one of Hayfield’s minor celebrities who died in 1835 at the good old age of a hundred and four. He recollected being taken to Manchester as a child to see the rebels of the ’45 ; he served for nearly thirty years in the army, and was wounded at Bunker’s Hill in America by the same shot which killed Major Shuttleworth of Hathersage. When he came back home to Hayfield he never missed going up to the Mermaid’s Pool on Easter Eve in the hope of seeing the Mermaid. It is not said whether he claimed to have been successful, but he must have wondered, as the years passed over his head and found him still living, whether he had not caught at least a fleeting glimpse of her unknown to himself.
Derbyshire’s most famous mermaid can be seen at midnight, just as Easter Sunday begins each year, or so local legend has it. They say that if you stand at Mermaid’s Pool near Kinder reservoir, at the appointed hour and stare intently into the water, you will see the mermaid swimming.
Most certainly, this dark pool has an unearthly look about it, even on the brightest summer’s day. There is alleged to be some mystical connection with the Atlantic Ocean and that no fish can survive its salty waters. Indeed, no animal will pause to slake its thirst from the water. The Mermaid’s Pool is undoubtedly a place with an indefinable atmosphere.
It is a place that has inspired people to put pen to paper and record its existence in lyrical style. Mrs Humphrey Ward used the legend of the Mermaid’s Pool in her novel, “David Grieve”, and Henry Kirke wrote a ballad in which he tells of a shepherd boy who became infatuated with the mermaid who, according to Kirke’s version of the tale, was a siren, promising men immortality, but instead luring them to their deaths.
The popular legend claims that anyone who sees the mermaid on Easter Eve will either enjoy the secret of eternal life – or will lose their lives that very night. One regular visitor to her pool on Easter Eve was one Aaron Ashton, a retired soldier who came from Hayfield, three miles away. As far as we know, Aaron never saw the mermaid, but as he lived to the ripe old age of 104, dying in 1835, then perhaps he did brush her presence.
The Mermaid’s Pool near Kinder Reservoir is a lonely and desolate place. No fish live in it, no animals will drink from it, and no birds nest near it. But it is the haunt of one wonderful creature.
If you are a young man in search of financial gain, you might decide to go to the pool at the stroke of midnight, just as Easter Sunday begins. If you do, you will see there a mermaid swimming. Not only will you be struck by her great beauty, you will also enjoy good fortune for the following twelve months.
The poet Henry Kirke described the mermaid thus:
And curled in amorous ringlets round her breasts;
Her eyes were melting into love, her lips
Made the very roses envious;
Withal a voice so full, and yet so clear,
So tender, made for loving dialogues.’
However your good fortune will only be in money or goods. You will never again be lucky in love, because you will have fallen in love with the mermaid on first sight. Although you may search for a human bride for the whole of your life, you will never find a mortal girl to match the mermaid you once saw in the pool on Kinder Scout. This inability to fall in love with a real girl is the price you must pay for your good luck in worldly wealth. Indeed, the youth in Henry Kirke’s poem is so infatuated with the mermaid he first met on Easter Eve, that he returns to the pool and throws himself into its depths, in an attempt to be reunited with her again.
The first appearance in print of the legend is Henry Kirke’s poem. In the introductory paragraph he writes that the mermaid is supposed to appear on Midsummer’s Eve, and she is described as being dangerous, using her beauty to lure men to their deaths. While the poem is presumably an invention of Henry Kirke rather than an oral legend he set down, it can be assumed that it was written as a reflection of local belief.
Some confusion appears with Robert Charles Hope’s two accounts, which, though they refer to the same place, are at odds with each other. In the Hayfield one he describes her as a mountain nymph who lives in a cave on Kinder Scout, who bathes in the pool rather than inhabiting it, and who promises immortality to those she favours. But in the Chapel-en-le-Frith one he describes her as a mermaid who can be seen in the pool at midnight on Easter Eve, as Easter Day commences. It may be that whoever told him the second version felt that it would be better to associate it with Chapel-en-le-Frith, since that is a larger and better-known town than Hayfield, and Hope thought that two different Mermaid Pools were being described. Whatever the reason, it resulted in the contradictory versions. All other versions describe her unequivocally as a mermaid, and make no reference to her living anywhere other than in the depths of the pool.
Hope also describes her as appearing on Easter Eve rather than Midsummer Eve, as Kirke does. Since later descriptions all refer to Easter it may be that Kirke made a mistake, or it may be that there was originally another version.
Another obvious inconsistency is that she is described variously as being a siren who draws her victims to their deaths, and a benevolent creature who can grant immortality. They may be divergent forms, or it may be that the two had different origins which became blurred together.
With regard to the extraordinarily long-lived Aaron Ashton, by the way, we can find this obituary in The Gentleman’s Magazine, 1835:
It is a not uncommon motif for pools inhabited by mermaids to be connected by subterranean passages to either rivers, the sea, or other pools. Rostherne Mere is likewise supposed to be connected with the Mersey and thus to the Atlantic, while Blake Mere and Doxey Pool are said to be connected to each other.
Another thing that the Mermaid Pool shares with Rostherne Mere is Easter Day: in the case of Rostherne it is when the mermaid can be heard singing; in the case of the Mermaid Pool the mermaid can be seen at midnight at the start of Easter Sunday. The power the mermaid has to bestow immortality on those who see her is unusual: normally seeing a mermaid is unlucky, if not fatal; certainly to men who fall in love with her. It’s faintly possible that the granting of eternal life and the viewing on Easter Sunday are deliberately included in an attempt to Christianise the legend, or at least to reconcile the two.
This is also an illustration of the damage that can be done by typing a single letter incorrectly. In the book Sea Enchantress: The Tale of the Mermaid and her Kin the authors say that the nymph took the man to a ‘tavern’ nearby.