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Facts (and fiction) about Cornish dogs

A wodhes’ta kewsel Kernewik?

Try reading this out loud. If your dog gives a friendly bark, then you can be confident they’re from Cornwall. ‘Do you speak Cornish?’ is just one of the many useful phrases found in Anne Cakebread’s book, Teach Your Dog Cornish. Other commands will encourage your dog (or ‘ki’) to sit, go to the toilet, or even ask for a pasty!

Now you understand each other a little better, it’s time to dig deeper into the unique culture of Cornish ki.

Celebrity dogs

Today, Cornwall is home to some seriously talented pooches. Until his death in 2015, Bilbo worked with the lifeguards at Sennen Cove, patrolling the beach on the back of a quad bike, ready to dive in when duty called. During his career, the remarkable 14 stone Newfoundland helped save the lives of three swimmers.

If you’re in Port Isaac during the filming of the long running ITV series Doc Martin, you might be lucky enough to spot one of the real stars of the show – not Martin Clunes, but his dogs played by Dodger and Widget. The irascible Doc hates dogs in the series, but Clunes is a softy in real life, and reportedly refused to shout at the dogs when in character, choosing to mime his displeasure instead.

Royal pets

Cornwall’s very own Duchess, Camilla, is a famous lover of dogs and owns two Jack Russell rescue dogs: Bluebell and Seth. But they aren’t the first dogs with a royal connection to the county.

In the 16th century, Queen Elizabeth is said to have been sent a gift of two Pekingnese from the emperor of China. The small, pug-nosed pets were more valuable than gold and gems to the Chinese, so this precious cargo was transported by sea in the care of a Princess. Unfortunately, they were attacked by pirates en route, and later suffered a mutiny in which the Princess and the Queen’s Pekingnese were thrown overboard.

They washed up near Land’s End and were discovered by a local, who found the Princess and one of the dogs already dead. Having seen them buried on the beach, the surviving dog eventually wagged his last and was laid to rest on top of the grave that had been planted with daisies. If you come across a mound of daisies near a rocky inlet on the south coast, take care. The ghost of the Pekingnese is thought to protect the grave still, and has the most fearsome bite!

Legends of the moor

Our relationship with dogs is deeply embedded within Cornish folklore. There are tales of a phantom dog at Linkinhorne near Bodmin Moor, an apparition said to stalk the road to Stoke Climsland in search of its long lost owner.  More sinister are Dando’s Dogs, or the Devil’s Dandy Dogs, believed to be part of the ‘Wild Hunt’ on the Moor. Dando was a drunk old priest who preferred hunting to praying. During a Sunday ‘kill’, having finished his own supply, Dando accepted a drink from a stranger on horseback. ‘I’ll gallop to Hell for more,’ he exclaimed and the Priest was whisked to hell leaving his hounds roaming Bodmin forever more.

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