Living beside the sea means you have a long-term relationship with a wild, wonderful and mysterious entity.
You can never be sure what she will do next. As the recent Storm Imogen has proved you can never trust her and you must expect surprises, the occasional wet foot and salt-misted glasses.
I grew up fearing the open water more than loving it. Despite the obvious stereotype being Cornish doesn’t mean that you are born with gills and a surfboard under your arm.
I do love her though and I treat her with a respect I feel she deserves.
There is something restorative about being near the water. The Victorians agreed, they thought that the sea air and salt water was the cure for just about every ill and in the 19th century Penzance became the destination of choice of the discerning invalid. Consequently the town has a very large graveyard.
I am not a huge fan of that old habit of just sailing up to a place, sticking a flag in it and calling it whatever you liked – I mean lets face it Aotearoa is a far better name for New Zealand! But when I read that there was an island and a language named after a Cornishman, well, of course I had to find out more!
Our world no longer seems full of intrepid explorers but back in the 18th century they were all the rage. Samuel Wallis, born in Lanteglos by Camelford in 1728, was to become one.
His parents John Wallis and Sarah Barrett had married in the quiet moorland town of St Tudy not far from Bodmin in 1720. The couple had 3 sons and all were born at the family home of Fentonwoon (which means the spring on the downs in Cornish). A small estate, Fentonwoon had been owned by the family since the time of Elizabeth I.
As a minor landowner and therefore a gentleman John Wallis was able to provide the boys with a good education. Samuel like many young men of the era joined the Navy in 1744, no doubt looking for adventure. He fought in the wars with France, travelled to North America and
quickly rose through the ranks getting his first command in 1756. Ten years later, at the age of 38, Samuel was promoted again to command of the HMS Dolphin, a large 24 gun frigate. He was tasked by the Royal Navy with finding the fabled great southern continent and also with circumnavigating the globe. As a consequence he was to accidently discover Tahiti, provide Captain James Cook with vital information for his voyage, almost lose his ship and of course find the island that was to become Wallis Island.
HMS Dolphin set sail from Plymouth Sound with its companion ship, HMS Swallow, on the 22nd August 1766. The little fleet passing close to Lizard point before heading out into the open ocean. It wasn’t until 3 long months later that Wallis and his crew reached the Brazilian coast and eventually passing into the Pacific ocean in April 1767. Sometime during the journey through the Straits of Magellan Wallis’ ship lost contact with the Swallow but short of supplies they continued on without them.
HMS Dolphin reached Tahiti the following June and remained there for a month. Wallis did his best to be on good terms with the natives after a less than warm reception. But it seems his crew took international relations a step too far. If the accounts are true it is for me a pretty amusing interlude. We’re told that the crew, who had been a long time at sea, became overly friendly with the local ladies. They had discovered that iron was highly prized by the islanders and that the women would have sex with them if they were able to pay them with something metal. Unfortunately the crew pulled so many nails out of the body of the ship that she became structurally unstable. Wallis wisely decided that it was time to leave.
On the morning of 16th August 1767 the Dolphin again sighted land. Wallis wrote in his log that the island was “very pleasant in appearance, the whole seemed to be surrounded by reefs . . . As we sailed along the shore, which was covered in cocoa-nut trees, we saw a few huts and smoke. [I] sent out boats to sound and examine the coast”.
However the Dolphin only anchored there for a day, again it turned out that the natives weren’t pleased to see them and Wallis had to beat a hasty retreat. He records coyly that the crew named the island after him and idea which he admits he finds flattering.
The name however stuck, so much so that the island, which now has around 10,000 inhabitants, remained Wallis Island even under French control and the Polynesian language that the islanders speak became known as Wallisian!
So an adventurous Cornish man has a Polynesian island and a language named after him.
HMS Dolphin and Captain Wallis completed their circumnavigation of the globe with very little fanfare, arriving back in England in 1768. They had not found the fabled southern continent however they did enable James Cook to sail off into the sunset a few months later with a far greater knowledge of what lay out there in those vast, uncharted oceans.
For more interesting, irreverent, amusing and unusual Cornish people take a look at my page: Cornish Folk
For a long time I have had a strange fascination with Argal reservoir. I know that with so much natural beauty so near by this might seem a strange choice as one of my favourite places for a walk. But I go there often and for a number of reasons.
As I live within 10 minutes drive of this artificial lake it makes an ideal place for me to grab some fresh air and take a quick stroll. A perambulation of the water’s edge takes me roughly 40 mins and that’s with my camera!
Although it is very well used by dog-walkers, fishermen and runners I always find it a Continue reading →
Strangles is a pretty ominous name for anything. And it appears that this darkly beautiful beach, on arguably the most dramatic part of Cornwall’s northern coast, gets it’s name for equally ominous reasons. The dangerous currents and jagged rocks that surround Strangles make this a particularly treacherous part of our coastline.
There is a much repeated local adage about the ruthless nature of this stretch of water:
“From Pentire Point to Hartland Light,
A watery grave by day or by night”
and Strangles beach lies right inside this danger zone, not far from the more picturesquely named Crackington Haven. Continue reading →
A gull’s wing tip topped the wave and just for a moment the air currents caught hold of its white feathers and the bird swung in the air, weightless as thistle-down. The sea twisted, turned and undulated but the stark unmoving line of the horizon didn’t alter. It was empty, a deep blue ribbon floating between an ocean of silver and a grey sky. There was not a shadow to be seen beneath the surface of the lulling waves and other than the gull not a single living thing above. The clouds stretched out over the water, still, in the last of the fading winter light.
Closer to the shore she watched, the sea spray was dancing up like a haze on the breeze. Moisture thrown up by the insistent waves butting time after time against the rocks below the cliff. The wet settled like a shining dust on her lashes and hair. The red woollen shawl she clawed around her with rough tired hands had a feather-like dusting of salty droplets on it and a wintery chill was setting in her bones. Time to leave. Continue reading →
The romantically named Atlantic Highway which runs along the length of Cornwall’s north coast is, I believe, one of the best drives in the county. The road, otherwise known as the A39, links Falmouth in Cornwall to Bath in Somerset. The route takes in some stunning scenery as it hugs the coast and heads for the heights of Exmoor. It is a little ambition of mine to drive the entire length in one long hot summer’s day (perhaps spotting frequently for ice cream and photographs.
But today is not that day and I turn off the Atlantic Highway on to quieter roads soon after the little harbour of Boscastle. Continue reading →
I don’t believe I really have anything in common with Tracey Emin, apart perhaps from the fact that we are both female. She is bold and brash, deep thinking and highly artistic and of course seems to simply thrive on controversy. I admire anyone who feels able to throw open their lives and their souls for other people’s entertainment and scrutiny but really that’s not my style. Tracey Emin, however, did something in early 2016 that fascinates me. I find it both amusing and moving in equal measure.
So what did she do that has stuck with me nearly 12 months later? Well how do I put this? . . . Tracey Emin married a rock. Continue reading →
Lets face it most of the decisions you make in the pub are at best misguided and at worst dangerous. We have all read or heard about some crazy misadventure and thought to ourselves that decision was definately made after several pints of Spingo!? I have to admit that was my first thought when I read about the voyage of Captain Richard Nicholls and his six crew.
One day in the middle of the winter of 1854 they set sail in their 37ft fishing boat called Mystery. As they left the safety of the small harbour of Newlyn their next stop was to be the coast of Australia. A treacherous journey of roughly 11,000 miles. . . Through some of the world’s roughest seas. . . In a small fishing boat. . . Somebody pass the rum! Continue reading →
On the last day of 2016 I thought I would Reblog my first ever post on here. One of the highlights of my year has been creating and writing this blog, so to all those who read, comment and follow I truly appreciate it! Wishing you all a happy and healthy 2017!
My mother is always reminding me that lichen is a sign of clean air. So now every time I see a tree or boulder which is green with the bushy little parasite her words come back to me. I stick out my chin and take in a deep lung full of the good stuff.
Towards the further most tip of Butney Bank, where on a cold winter’s day the thick fonds of the ferns are the colour of orchre, there is an ancient oak tree. It’s isolation, out on the strip of land in the middle of a tidal creek, means that it has grown into a perfect and rather splendid dome. The whole of this tree, from the tips of it’s bare canopy to the thick roots pushing into the muddy ground, is bright green.
The matty coating of the lichen is soft and fuzzy, negating its barks true purpose…
December is the time of the year when our days are at their shortest and darkest. When it seems that our little world is more night than day. But the Winter Solstice, 21st December, marks the turning of the year – the return of the sun! Celebrations marking this returning of light and warmth have been part of our culture for thousands of years.
Penzance’s Montol is a revival of those ancient celebrations. It is a modern version of a festival which was once held annually in the town until it feel out of favour in the 1930s. There are some festivities in Cornwall that still retain a true flavour of their pagan roots, such as the rather madcap Padstow Obby Oss. The Montol is another, it holds on to an ancient, much darker remembrance of our ancestor’s beliefs. Continue reading →