sun setting beyond the Old Man of Storr on the Isle of Skye

Tour Leader Tales: Legendary UK and Ireland Historical Sites

The UK & Ireland
woman with sunglasses on with a beach background

Katherine Conlon

Creative Copywriter for Back-Roads Touring

23rd February 2021

Myths and magical locations

From the legends of King Arthur, Robin Hood, and St George and the dragon, to tales of mysterious creatures like leprechauns, fairies and mermaids, the age-old lands of the United Kingdom and Ireland are steeped in local lore.

We asked our knowledgeable Tour Leaders to share some of their favourite myths, and the historical sites they’re connected to, which are featured on their tours – from one legend to another!


Curious creatures in Cornwall

a wood carving of the Mermaid of Zennor on a chair in a Cornish church

Wild coastlines and sprawling moors, historic fishing villages and ancient citadels; the bewitching Cornish landscape has inspired countless folk tales. From the mystical sites of Arthurian legend, like the striking hilltop ruins of Tintagel Castle, to chilling sightings of the Beast of Bodmin Moor, Cornwall is England’s mythological heartland.

The county’s stunning coastal setting not only provides the freshest seafood from fishing ports like Padstow and Port Isaac, but has also sparked folklore about the ethereal creatures found in these same waters. Mermaids have a special significance in this part of the world; as far back as the fifth century they were said to have lured fishermen to the rocks of the majestic St Michael’s Mount. They’re also the focus of Back-Roads Touring Tour Leader Jeremy’s favourite Cornish tale:

“The ancient granite church of St Senara stands proudly in the tiny village of Zennor, on the rugged Cornish coast midway between St Ives and Land’s End. The present church dates from the twelfth century but stands on the site of a sixth-century chapel. Within the church sits a medieval chair with an ornate carving on one side that depicts the legend of ‘The Mermaid of Zennor’.

The legend tells us that the churchwarden’s son, Matthew Trewhella, was a member of the church choir known for his beautiful singing voice. A mermaid named Morveren heard his pure voice from the sea below the church, and one Sunday she came to the church to listen. She was smitten by Matthew and lured him into the sea at Pendour Cove. Matthew was never seen again, but on warm summer evenings you can hear their voices joined in song from beneath the Atlantic waves”.

Jeremy takes guests to visit the Mermaid of Zennor on our celebrated Corners of Cornwall tour.

Giant's Causeway, Northern Ireland

Ignite your imagination in Ireland

Storytelling is an important part of Irish tradition, proved by the many and varied folk tales this distinctive region is home to. Back-Roads Touring The Emerald Isle tour uncovers Irish mythology ranging from the Giant's Causeway in Northern Ireland (said to have been crafted by the heroic giant Finn McCool) to Blarney Castle near Cork (where kissing the Blarney Stone is said to reward you with the 'gift of the gab').

Our Irish Tour Leader Pat likes to share a story at each location we visit, including the legend of the Children of Lir. The story goes that once there was a king called Lir, who lived with his wife and four beautiful children. After Lir’s wife died, he married a woman called Aoife, who possessed magical powers. Aoife became intensely jealous of Lir’s children, and so turned them into swans for 900 years (as you do). Thankfully things didn’t work out for her; Lir banished Aoife as soon as he found out about her trickery. But there was no way to reverse the spell on the children, who remained swans for the next nine centuries. You can visit the statue of the Children of Lir in Dublin’s Garden of Remembrance.

view of Llanddwyn Island, North Wales, with a cross monument

Wonders and wizardry in Wales

Ancient Welsh legends abound in tales of magic and mystery, including dragons, druids and princesses. Our The Wonders of Wales tour features a steam train ride through the spectacular Snowdonia National Park in North Wales – home to legends of Merlin, giants and phantom hounds. We recommend a visit to the nearby Conwy Castle; built by the English King Edward I the medieval fortress is renowned for its dark tales of long-past days.

Our Tour Leader Jeremy chooses the story of the Welsh patron saint of lovers as his favourite legend, set on the serene Llanddwyn Island:

“One of my favourite places holds the legend of a princess and a saint. The idyllic Llanddwyn Island sits on the south west tip of Anglesey in North Wales. Accessible on foot only at low tide, its name is derived from Dwynwen, a beautiful fifth-century princess, one of the 24 daughters of King Brychan. She fell in love with Prince Maelon but her father had promised her to another man.

Dwynwen was heartbroken and never married, instead seeking God’s help to become the patron saint for lovers and sick animals. She founded a church on the island, the ruins of which still exist. Dwynwen died on January 25th, 645, which is St Dwynwen’s Day in Wales, and is celebrated by the affirmation of love and friendship”.

the Five Sisters of Kintail mountain range, Scotland, with mist above and the end of a rainbow

Surreal scenery in the Scottish Highlands

Something just rippled across the tranquil waters of the loch. But did you catch what it was? Northern Scotland’s wild and rugged landscapes ripen the imagination, and its folklore has centred on the dramatic mountains and enigmatic lakes that inhabit the land.

From the enduring tale of the Loch Ness Monster, to the kelpies (horse-like water spirits), selkies (seal folk) and fairies of the enchanting Isle of Skye, our A Scottish Journey tour explores the stories and secrets behind the breathtaking scenery.

Our Scottish Tour Leader Rob shares a cautionary tale from this tour:

“A special viewpoint is the Five Sisters of Kintail, a stunning mountain range on Scotland’s west coast. The five mountains are, as legend tells us, five beautiful sisters who were turned to stone by the Grey Magician of Coire Dhnnaid to retain their good looks as they waited for their suitors, five Irish princes, to arrive. They are still waiting!”

Ready to discover more myths and legends of the British Isles? See all our UK and Ireland tours here - with dates now available to reserve for 2022.