Ocean Magic: Doom Bar

Although the term “Doom Bar” might now be more widely associated with an amber ale brewed on the Cornish coast, the real Doom Bar was the site of a great and tragic heartbreak. A bar of sand, a bar of doom, kicked up in a furious storm, slicing Padstow Harbour in two and becoming the place of a hundred of shipwrecks.

As with most folklore, aspects of the story of Doom Bar have altered over time. The version I enjoy most tells of a young man, a Padstow local, who saved up his earnings as a sailor to purchase a new gun. He was immensely proud of it and wanted to shoot his first shot into something “worthy”. He went to the nearby Hawker’s Cove, on the hunt for a large seal he might take home as a trophy. However, as he approached the cove, he found it empty of seals, replaced by a beautiful woman perched upon a large boulder, singing a hypnotic melody as she stared out to sea.

Entranced by her, he approached and asked her name. She did not respond as she gazed into the deep pools of his eyes, peering into his soul and unravelling his desires. He felt at once as if he had always known her, and sure that he was in love. He immediately asked the woman whether she would do him the honour of becoming his wife. She told him that although she could sense they would have a happy life together, she could not accept his proposal, and continued to look wistfully at the gently lapping waves before her.

Enraged, the young man pulled out his gun and took a single shot at her. The bullet made contact, and as the woman screamed and fell from the rock, the young man realised that she was not a woman at all, but a mermaid. With her dying breath, she cursed Padstow Harbour with the bar of doom; a mighty storm that would dredge the silt from the ocean floor and redeposit it along the shore, causing a severe hazard for any boat trying to enter or leave the port.

She darkly promised that the Doom Bar would stretch from Hawker’s Cove to Trebetherick Bay, then she raised her arms and summoned a mighty ocean torrent before the young man’s eyes. The squall of bad weather lasted long into the night. The following morning, the harbour was littered with the wrecks of one hundred ships and their victims, and has ever since been known as the place where a mermaid was heartbroken.

In reality, Doom Bar has accounted for more than six hundred wrecks since records began early in the nineteenth century. However, the phenomenon originally occurred during the reign of Henry VIII in the sixteenth century, and is thought to be due to the high exposure of Padstow Harbour to the Atlantic Ocean, one of the more energetic estuaries on that shoreline.

Whichever theory you prefer, you probably have just cause to believe that the harbour is cursed, and it’s an undeniable truth that stories of love and betrayal are forever the most enduring of all.

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