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The Key in the Cod at Heddons Mouth

I shall tell you a story that happened in this valley only a few generations ago.

Down by the sea, where this tale ends you will often see Seals rolling and playing in the surf, look closely at their eyes and you will see what you thought was only a myth.

Welcome to The Key in the Cod.

The sea is one mile from here and is a gentle walk on pretty good paths where the story ends.

Instructions

The first chapter happens just behind the Hunters Inn, go to the right where the public right of way passes the Inn then drops down behind to snake along the valley bottom. Just a note, I have created the 'zones' of this walk to be triggered on either path so if you dip over to the Western path, or keep on the Eastern that should be no problem.
 
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Chapter one

Chapter 1

Not far from this very spot stood a wild oak tree, generations of folk admired it and sheltered beneath it's branches and even when it died it was a mighty tree referred to locally as the Ghost Oak or the Ghost tree.

A young girl stopped beneath it after a wild storm had blown it down and she saw there amongst the upturned roots a box. It was tricky to remove but she managed it, but then she tried to open it and could not for it was locked, so she carried it home to her father to see if he could..

'Have you been to the ghost tree?' her father asked, 'why yes' she said and she wondered how he knew.

'Then perhaps you should go to see my brother at the harbour and tell him what you have found.'

The next morning this is just what she did, and oddly enough her uncle asked if she had found it by the Ghost Tree. 'Why yes' she said again, 'Do you have the key?'

'No, but you must come out fishing for today is the day.'
Follow the footpath down the valley
 
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Chapter two

Chapter 2

It was a bright morning as they set out to fish, dropped lines in the usual fashion and caught little all day until late on there came a pull on the line which was so strong it drew the boat sideways. The Uncle fought with the fish for the best part of the next hour with their little boat being pulled this way and that throughout, until at last he managed the beast of a fish into the bottom of the boat.

The girl watched as the fish which was almost as long as she was tall lay still for a moment then to her amazement spat out a long metal key! With a flick of the tail the fish jumped right out of the boat and was gone leaving behind both key and hook.

Back home the girl slipped the key into the boxes lock whilst her uncle and father watched on. It turned with a dull click and she went to open it. But before she lifted the lid she turned and asked, 'Tell me what is in the box father?'

With a long sigh he turned to his brother then back to his daughter and began.
Continue along the footpath down the valley.
 
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Chapter three

Chapter 3

The little girl looked into her fathers eyes and knew that the tale he was about to tell was true, so she sat back to listen.

Many years ago your grandfather, our father was a fisherman here, he would always prepare early in the lonely bay, but one day to his amazement he saw a young woman jumping from rock to rock not far from him. He was very taken by her for she was very beautiful with long dark hair and white skin, but what struck him most was the fact she had no clothes on! Well when he told us about her there was a twinkle in his eye and it was obvious she had had put a spell on him for from that moment on he would do anything to be with her.

Now love is a powerful thing and can make a man do both right and wrong, and our father became obsessed with finding this lady again, to the point where he combed the beach both day and night looking for her. He asked about but no one had seen her, and as time went on he felt like it had been but a vision, but then one day, when the tides were the same, he did see her, and this time walking back from town with a basket of provisions. The sun seemed to shine off her dark hair, and she moved with a slow sway unlike anyone he had ever met. So captivated was he, he barely managed to bid the lady good day as she passed him.

'Are you walking down the valley?' he asked 'Perhaps we could walk together if it is not too much of an imposition?'

Well when she agreed, he almost fainted for he had looked so hard to find her.

'But I must declare, that I already have a family and husband', she said 'If you would still like to walk with me a while that would be fine.'

Well married or not he would spend every moment of the day in her presence if that were possible so smitten was he. So they did walk together, and talked a while, and though he knew her to be taken he did not mind for she was wonderful. But as they walked he felt a little confused for they headed towards the cove down this valley where he knew no one lived, and her basket was of presents and neat foods for her children and family. Where was she going?

But before he could ask of this she bid him fare well and hoped they would walk together again sometime. This he hoped too, but as she went her way rather than go home himself, he secretly followed her to the cove, and watched as she placed her basket down and retrieved a small bundle from beneath a rocky ledge. She then took her own clothes off and put these new ones on and he saw her lift her basket and slip into the water with hardly a splash. Then she was gone beneath the waves and into the sea and not a trace of her left on land save the clothes she had hid beneath the rock.
Continue along the footpath down the valley.
 
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Chapter four

Chapter 4

Well it was obvious that she was a mermaid for what else could she be! He knew of many legends up and down the land about them, but these were folk tales, myths and legends, she was no fable, she was real, they had spoken together just moments before.

Well a month passed before he saw her again, but this time he knew which tides to wait for and had chance to watch her come out of the water and remove her tail (which was quite memorable), he had doubted his own memory but then here she was real and alive once more. He watched her from his secret view point fold the tail carefully then hide it behind the ledge and put on human clothes before taking her basket into town.

Now I have said that love is a powerful thing and the legends of nymphs driving men crazy and drawing them to their doom in the inky brine has been told many a time. Perhaps she did not know what effect she would have upon a mortal man, or perhaps she knew all too well and made good trades at the market because of it! Who knows, but the truth was that our father was besotted and in this state he sought out the clothing cache beneath the rock and stole her tail knowing that without it she would not be able to return to the sea.
Chapter five

But then not knowing what to do with it he thrust it in a small lockable chest, and buried it amongst the roots of a mighty Oak Tree. His hands felt hot and dirty from the digging and he had just dropped the last stone onto the chest in its secret place when he saw her coming back from market once again. He thrust the key into his apron and rinsed the soil from his hands in the stream and that is when she bid him well in a happy and cheery voice.

'Will you be walking my way.' she asked, and his heart fluttered, 'Of course,' he replied and they talked of the market and the brilliant day and the way birds spiral on the wing and how fabulous the rain feels on a summers day. They talked like lovers, which was strange for that is what he wanted more than anything but he knew she was already married and with children of her own.

At last they came to the point where she said fair well by kissing him on the cheek, a custom he was not familiar with but approved never the less.

'If there is ever anything I can help you with, I live not far from here,' and he pointed over the way. But before she turned to go she took out a little corn dolly made from unusual grasses that looked like they were harvested from the bottom of the ocean. The doll had a beautiful spiral tail like a fish, these were what she traded at market with, then she turned and left him. He watched her amble away with her strange swaying motion and all the while the key sat in his apron, not far from his thoughts.
Continue along the footpath down the valley.
 
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Chapter six

Chapter 5

That evening a storm began to roll in, and the evening drew in dark and fast, she had gone and searched for her tail everywhere but it was nowhere to be found. Distraught and beside herself she eventually found herself at his hut seeking shelter. She could not tell him why she could not go home, she could not tell him that her tail had been stolen away, and without it she could not return to the water or her family. Though she was very uncomfortable coming to him in this late hour she respected him for not prying as to the reason.

The storm that raged down by the Mouth seemed connected with her despair, for it rolled on for days whilst she searched for her tail, in foxes holes and badgers dens thinking perhaps they had stolen it to eat but to no avail. The weeks passed into months, and he fed her and clothed her, and she mourned her family but could do nothing, for without her tail she would always be trapped in human form. Slowly the seas calmed in time which seemed mirrored with her mood until she became reconciled to the fact that her tail was gone.

Every day he tended to her and nursed her and showed only kindness whilst the key lay buried in his apron pocket. Until finally a year had passed and they had fallen into a routine that was quite like husband and wife, and pressure was put on the couple to marry for to live together without the lords consent was not regular in these parts.

A second year passed and he did not pressure her, but the community did, and finally she consented to marriage, well he was over the moon. But he knew there was one last thing he must do before the wedding day.
Continue along the footpath down the valley.
 
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Chapter seven

End

All rights reserved Chris Jelley

Storywalks have been created primarily with support from Toy Ahoy Minehead and Number Seven Dulverton. With additional funds from Creative Pathways Professional Development Project funded by Somerset County Council CIDF and also LARC funding (Local Action for Rural Communities)
Chapter eight

Chapter 6

He pushed out his little boat into the sea to go fishing as he normally did, but this time when far out in the fishing grounds he looked into the inky depths and then took the key from his apron and dropped it into the brine never to be seen again.

So a wedding was had and it was a fine affair with love in both their hearts for he had enchanted her with his own magic. But as they walked home they passed beneath the Oak Tree who's leaves had withered and died, and the bark turning white perhaps from a casket hidden in the roots.

In the following years two strong boys came, for she had learned to love her new husband and his kindness. The boys grew into men but little did they know of their mothers true home or the story which had brought their parents together, until one dark winters night when a cold hard frost froze even the seaweed on the rocks their mother had not returned home.

The boys set out to search for her, 'Go down by Heddons Mouth boys, for I fear that's where she'll be on this cold night' the father had said, and that's exactly where she was found white with fever as if she had been wild swimming. They nursed her best they could but some illness was a foot that did not seem human, and in her fever she talked of her children of the ocean and her long lost husband pining beneath the waves. The two boys watched her fade away over the next few weeks, and then buried her in the graveyard in the family plot, where they would lay their father only one month later.
Chapter nine

'But before our father passed away' said the Uncle, 'and joined again with his love in heaven he told us this tale, and we did not believe him for he seemed to fade so quickly after loosing her.'

'One day,' he said, 'the box will return from where I hid it beneath the Ghost Tree, and when it does you should retrieve the key from the ocean and then you will see. I know that I did wrong to steel her tail, but she gave me joy in life, and two strong sons.

I always think of the family she left behind, and am sad for their loss, for they lost their mother long before you did. But she never forgot them for she wove corn dollies with mermaids tails on their birthdays and tucked them in rock pools at low tide. When the waters rose her family would collect them, I would often see the seals rolling in the surf calling to her to join them'

The Uncle then said to the girl,'But the proof of all this will be inside that casket, for you saw the fish bring forth the key, and you found the casket beneath the Ghost Oak, and you will now open the lid and we'll see what's inside and settle this tale for truth.'

So the little girl held onto the box lid and wondered if any of this could possibly be true, then she opened it and there was indeed a fishes tail garment large enough to wear. She pulled it from the box and it glimmered like fishes tails do only brighter. It hung like fine chain mail and seemed a supple as ever even after being locked away for so long.

'What am I to do with this?' she asked

'I think you should visit our blood relations' said her father.
Chapter ten

But before she did, she wove three corn dollies like her father had taught her, and he said they were the finest ever made, she then took them to the beach to visit her distant relations. Some say she took so well to the water that she made her home there, and often visited her uncle whilst he fished in his little boat. Others say the tail did not fit and she was half drowned trying to cross into the water world. Rescued by seals and then beached on land she left the valley returning to leave corn dollies with mermaids tails all along the valley down to Heddons Mouth.

If you search you may find weavings of many materials, some were made by her and her family from both side of the water, others by walkers like yourself wanting to become part of this tail and add to the enigma. Some braids of grass are simple, others knotted on dollies, some ribbons, some from weeds others from sheep wool and sea kale, but all have a thread of hair from the maker twisted in amongst the knot. When your fingers start weaving, perhaps you should leave a little of yourself here too.

Thanks for walking 'The Key in the Cod' I love to hear feedback so send me an email through the website, www.storywalks.info and tell every one about these storywalks.
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