St Neot lived in a quiet valley; a valley with a branch of the river Fowey running through it. The valley is a short step from the source of the Looe River, so St Neot’s story joins our Looe Valley tales. In this secluded place the powerful thinking that fed St Neot’s faith flourished.
St Neot is said to have been a man of very small stature, perhaps no taller than fifteen inches in height, but a man of huge intellectual insight. He was a philosopher: he possessed an extensive knowledge and understanding. It is said he had a small body and a massive soul. He lived in a hermitage, with a holy well nearby. Every day he would stand immersed to his neck in the waters of the holy well, chanting the psalms from beginning to end. As he chanted, he aspired to water his intellect and grow his faith ever stronger. Four stories illustrate the miracles St Neot could perform with his faith.
One day St Neot was standing in the well chanting his psalms when a hunter came and frightened him. St Neot, not liking the hunter one bit and not wanting his anger to spoil the sanctity of his prayer, hauled himself out of the water as fast as he could and ran, leaving one of his shoes behind him. An exhausted fox crept to the well to drink after many hours of running from the hunter. As he drank a shoe popped up in the water and, not wanting to pause to nudge it away, the fox drank the shoe. When he had finished drinking, the fox fell into a deep sleep bought on by the unaccustomed tranquillity about him. Barry, St Neot’s manservant was sent to fetch the lost shoe and finding the laces hanging from the mouth of the sleeping fox, he pulled the shoe from its stomach. Pop!
A lovely bright day blessed the valley and St Neot drank the beauty of the sunlight all about him. From the woods a doe ran to drink from the well, her body quivered with fear and she drank in short nervous gulps. As St Neot watched the doe, he heard the baying of hounds and in an instant they were running from the wood with looks of murder in their red angry eyes. St Neot gazed back at the hounds and from within he commanded them to fall back away from the doe: the hounds were sent flying back into the woods. In their wake a huntsman sprang from the trees, his arrow ready and aimed at the pretty doe’s heart. Seeing his hounds spread out before him, stilled by the saint’s gaze, the huntsman promptly gave up hunting and gave St Neot his hunter’s horn to hang in the church. The huntsman became a monk in nearby St. Petroc’s Abbey.
St Neot had not been long in his pious routine of chanting each day in the well when an angel came and gave St Neot the gift of everlasting food. The angel slipped three fine fish into the well and advised the Saint to take just ONE FISH A DAY to eat for his supper. Each morning when St Neot went to the well to chant the psalms, he found three fish swimming as the morning before.
Now, there came a time when St Neot was becoming quite elderly and he was kept in his bed with flu. Not wanting his master to go without fish and thinking he might need extra nourishment to help him get well, Barry took two fish from the well. One he boiled and one he baked and he set them proudly before his master. St Neot felt overcome with a rage like never before, as Barry had disobeyed the angels command to take ONE FISH A DAY. Controlling his anger Neot took himself away from Barry and sought the council of the angel. The angel soothed St Neot and set out a plan of action. St Neot was to take the two fish to the well and place them in the water. With the miracle of an angel’s touch the fish swam with a life lost and St Neot had his fish once more.
St Neot became abbot of a nearby monastery. One night a gang of thieves stole the oxen from the abbey farm just as they were needed for ploughing the seed furrows. St. Neot could not let the monks go hungry for a year just because of the callousness of thieves, so he called into the woods in the hope the wild stags might heed him in his hour of need. And sure enough all the wild stags emerged from the forest, dropped their necks in to the abbot’s yokes, and pulled the plough across the fields. Each night St Neot released the stags to the forest and thanked them for their hard work and each morning the stags voluntarily returned . News of the miraculous happenings at the monastery reached the ears of the thieves who returned the oxen to the Abbey in awe of St. Neot’s miracle. In penitence the thieves became devout. As the oxen had returned the stags were released from their duties. Yet from that day on, each stag bore a white ring or yoke round its neck and these yoked stags lived a charmed life, free from hunters and blessed with plentiful food.
So when you are travelling down the Glyn Valley to Trago’s, and go past the St Neot turning look out for a glimpse of a white yoked stag in the woods, or a silvery fish , ONE FISH, mind, in the river.
retold by Anna Chorlton
Source -'The Drolls, Traditions & Superstitions of Old Cornwall' aka 'Popular Romances of the West of England', Robert Hunt
- Looe Valley