ST DENNIS The Little Cake Bird

Granny Tredinnick lived with her little grandaughter Tamsin in a moorstone cottage with a thatched roof on Tregoss Moor. They were very poor. Granny span sheep's fleece into wool, which she sold to the wool merchant in St Columb, to earn the money to pay the rent and buy flour to bake bread.

Her spinning wheel whirred and whirred, round and round, and the balls of wool grew bigger and the pile of fleece grew smaller. As Granny Tredinnick grew older her old fingers|grew stiffer, and it was harder to spin, the piles of fleece stayed big, and the balls of wool were small, and Granny and Tamsin grew poorer.

“You won't hear me complain,” said Granny,” I've got the moorland air to breathe, I can hear the skylarks sing and when I feel sad the piskeys cheer me up.”

Piskeys are the Cornish fairy folk, and there was a grassy circle on Tregoss Moor that was a piskey ring where the little folk loved to dance. Tamsin and her granny had never seen the piskeys. They didn't look for them either. Piskeys are shy creatures, touchy as nesting birds, and Tamsin and her granny didn't want to frighten the fairy folk away. They had heard them though, as whenever Granny was feeling low the piskeys would gather by the window and laugh, and a piskey's laugh makes everything feel better.

It was a bad winter, cold and wet, and Granny's arthritis got very bad and her poor old fingers wouldn't bend and she couldn't spin. The piskeys were not much help, they didn't like the cold and wet and they disappeared. Then one day the rain stopped, the winter sun shone and the larks sang again. Even the joyful piskeys returned.

“Laugh like a piskey” said granny, and her old fingers began to bend again, and the spinning wheel whirred and whirred, round and round, and the balls of wool grew bigger and the pile of fleece grew smaller. The wool merchant paid them enough to pay the rent and buy the flour to make the bread, but there was no money left for Christmas.

“Granny, please, please can we have a Christmas cake with a little cake bird on the top like you had at Christmas when you were little,' pleaded Tamsin.

“Sorry maid, to make a cake you need sugar and dried fruit and butter and we have no money to buy them. You'll have to ask the piskeys to make you a dream cake.”

In our part of Cornwall at night the piskeys creep through the keyhole when the children are asleep. They creep onto the children's noses and order their dreams, sweet dreams.

“But you can't eat a dream cake and you can't hold a dream bird,” cried Tamsin, and she heard the piskeys laughing. Granny asked the piskeys to make a dream cake for the girl, but they ran away.

Christmas Eve dawned bitterly cold. The Old Sky Woman was plucking the feathers of her Christmas goose, they fell whirling thru the winter sky, making a snowstorm. Granny made a glowing fire of peat and furze branches gathered from the moor, banked it up to keep them warm in the freezing night. When Tamsin and Granny were fast asleep a tiny piskey crept in through the keyhole, followed by his friends. He leapt onto Tamsin's nose, climbed up it and sat on the bridge. Now was the time for magic.

“Dream little girl, dream you are awake and that you and your granny are sitting at a table with a snow white cloth, and in the middle of the table is the most delicious cake you can imagine, and on top of the cake is a tiny cake bird with it's wings spread out ready to fly.”

Tamsin did as she was told, she cried out in delight when she saw the cake and cake bird, and the piskeys turned somersaults on her patchwork quilt, they were so pleased their magic had worked.

Tamsin dreamt her Granny thought it was the best cake ever, and she cut a big slice for Tamsin and a big slice for herself. They saved the cake bird and left the crumbs for the piskeys.

“Dream little girl that your cake bird is alive and wants to fly and sing.” cried the piskeys, then they disappeared as it was nearly midnight.

As Tamsin held the cake bird in her hands, it became warm and feathery. It spread it's white wings and flew, singing, round the room then out the window and into into the night sky to join the angels singing in Christmas.


Retold by Sue Field

from Enys Tregarthen Legends and Tales of North Cornwall