THE MERMAID AS… QUEST

My name is Rob and I’m a writer. I’m crafting the tale of a mermaid and am waist-deep in research. The story is loosely-based on two mermaids, both of whom live in the Peak District.

The first one is real. A tiny, twisted, terrible ‘doll’ cobbled together from fish skin and hair. It’s on display at Buxton Museum. In times gone by, sailors would bring back trinkets like these, to delight and enthral. It still does.

The second is a myth. A rumour that has hung around for hundreds of years, like a bad smell. The myth is this: a mermaid lives in Blake Mere pool.

Blake Mere

Blake Mere is a pool of water, high in the Peaks. Legend has it that deep in its depths lurks a creature so ominous, that to this day, “no animal will drink from it, no bird will fly over”. It’s hokum of course, but one thing’s for sure, Blake Mere has a history. You can sum it up in three little words:

Bad. Things. Happened.

Murders mainly, like the time they drowned an innocent girl. A man called Joshua tried to chat her up, but she rejected him. To get revenge, he called her a witch. In those days, that got you killed. A bunch of locals, with inch-thick foreheads, chucked her in the pool but with her dying breath, she hissed a curse. Three days later, Josh was dead, his face clawed by a beast! It would make a good horror movie. You could call it Peaky Blinders.

The other rumour is that a sailor brought the mermaid back from his travels. He kept her in the pool and they both lived happily ever after, until the sailor died. The mermaid found herself trapped in a pool the size of a nostril and got really, reallybored. Who can blame her? So, to pass the time, she started killing passers-by. Was she evil, bored or hungry? We’ll never know, as none of it is true. Good stories though. Blake Mere is full of them.

I wanted to see the pool for myself. The only trouble was:

  • It’s in the middle-of-nowhere
  • I can’t drive
  • There’s a blizzard

I needed a guide. One with local knowledge, who wouldn’t think I was bonkers. “Excuse me Sir, I’m looking for a mermaid, I’d like to capture her spirit”.

To say I hit lucky with Gordon, is an understatement. Gordon is an environmentalist, storyteller and all-round great human being. He knows the Peaks like the back of his hand and the stories that seep from it.

I liked him immediately. This is why. On the dashboard of his car were some strands of dried-out seaweed, as delicate as thread and extraordinarily beautiful, white as bone and a pale sage green that glows in the light. Remnants of a place he once knew. Nature, place and history, all perfectly entwined.

Those little strands of seaweed were, and are, some of the most beautiful things that I have ever seen. I deliberately didn’ttake a photo as I wanted them their memory to live in my memory, too precious to bung on a disk.

Snowy Peaks

The car roared through the snow, up and up, into the Peaks. A salt-white blizzard peppered with dark, looming shadows. Big old hills, like sleeping giants and cold.Cold as death. We passed places where travellers would rest as they trekked through the endless rise and fall, black birds that felt like a warning, roads that faded into a white wall of snow.

DSC04793

At a crossroads, we stopped and did the last bit by foot. I skidded and slid down a snowy bank and… there it was. Blake Mere Pool. A silver diamond in a world of white.

Blake Mere Pool

I stayed as long as was safe and this is what I thought. This is a raw and barren place. So bright, it makes you squint. So cold, it’s like rats biting your face. You’d soon lose your fingers, way, mind… but there’s a savage beauty to it. A potency. A magic. It’s not a landscape at all, it’s an assault on the senses. You don’t look at it, you’re in it, feeling it claw at your bones till you’re no longer human, just a tiny speck in a blizzard, as fragile and worthless as a leaf in a storm.

I went there as a cynic and left it in awe.

It was magnificent.

I took out my old bottle and scooped up some water… brown water, blue fingers, white ice …then scurried back up the bank. Gordon was waiting, patiently, covered in snow like he’d been there for centuries. A good man. I owe him.

We drove back through the Peaks and the snow faded to dandruff. The little heater, on full blast, made the seaweed quiver, like it was scared and with good reason. We had just been to Blake Mere Pool.

Peak District Nov 2018

The liquid I took now lives on my desk, in an old vintage bottle. Nature, place and history, all perfectly entwined. As the inspiration for a story, it is where my journey begins…

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