BLACK MERE POOL, STAFFORDSHIRE
Black Mere Pool, home to one of the only inland mermaids in Britain, sits in a windblown bowl on a ridge between Leek to and Buxton, not far off the A53.
Its waters are dark and peat-stained. Cattle refuse to drink there, the stories go, and birds will not fly over it. They say it’s level never changes, even in drought, and it’s surface never freezes.
We stop in Esso to ask directions. ‘It’s bottomless,’ you know,’ says a guy on the forecourt, the red and white banner of the petrol station bright in the day’s grey. ‘They think it’s a u- bend: it goes down at Black Mere, and comes up elsewhere. A fire engine pumped it once during a moorland fire, and the water level did not lower.’
Out to the west, this part of the Peak District has a greater emptiness than the others, and folk tales rear out of the howling waste like landforms in fog: migrating, mutating, never quite knowable. Black Mere, still and black with peat hags and sumps around it’s edges, fishes up more tales than most.
In medieval times a young local man, Joshua Linnett, had a young girl branded as a witch and drowned her in this pool. As she floundered she cursed her accuser and said he’d suffer the same fate. Three days later he was found floating face down, his face torn by talons.
In another story the mermaid was brought here by a sailor from nearby Thorncliff, who fell in love and brought her back from the sea.
Whatever the origin of this creature, she is said to live here, half-fish, half-human, rising at midnight to lure single men to her and then drown them in it’s appalling depths.
We arrive in a big wind to meet her, shouldering the car door open. The wind snatches papers from the back seat, swirling them away, then swipes at our legs with the bitterness of the damned.
We change and hope across the peat hags, semi-naked. Colin steps on into an unstable bit of bog and is quickly swallowed, his downward progress leg halted only by the impact of his groin on firmer ground. He pulls his leg out, like a cold filthy ham.
We get in, exchanging one concentration of partly decomposed plant with another. It stops short of being actually wretched. The water is chilling and I swim across it’s depths with gasping alarm. On the journey back, Colin duckdives, in search of the mermaid and her underwater lair, - his flesh quickly unseeabledisappearing.
He emerges with the news that the unknowable depths are six feet – either that or he hit a ledge.
We retire for lunch at the Mermaid Inn down the road, - Colin sad that he didn’t get hijacked by a watery siren, and determined to return alone, in the apogee of darkness, when supernatural forces are at their most powerful, and magic creatures haunt the night.
Swum by: Kate Rew, Colin Hill