Survival Guide to the Summer Solstice at Stonehenge

Yes I am aware that Stonehenge is not in Cornwall. However firstly I had such a wonderful experience that I wanted to share it and secondly I could find out very little information about the proceedings before I went so I thought that anyone thinking of going another year might like to read my top tips!

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So this is it – the season has rolled round again and we are now heading towards Autumn and ultimately Winter. Not the best thought when we are all just getting used to the sun on our shoulders and the sand between our Cornish toes.

This solstice the beautiful weather meant that the longer days leading up to the 21st seemed even longer than usual. On the spur of the moment we decided to go and watch the sunrise over the stones of England’s most iconic ancient site.

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We drove up from Cornwall the day before and joined an estimated 13,000 people for this special event. English Heritage’s information about the arrangements had not been too clear but we knew we could park there over night. I had rung and spoken to one of their advisors who was very helpful but couldn’t really answer all my questions as he had never been to the event himself.

It was a really wonderful experience and I am so glad that I took the time and trouble to do it.

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The real highlight for me and something that I will always hold dear was being able to walk amongst and touch the stones, it was magical, especially leaning against them in the first light of the longest day and feeling the warmth coming from them from yesterdays sun. But this post is about the practicalities, as I said I found it really hard to get information, so here it is:

  • This is a free event. From 7pm solstice eve to 8am Solstice day there is no entrance charge to Stonehenge but if you bring a car/van you pay £15 to park overnight. (£5 for a motorbike.)
  • There are strict rules on entrance to the stones. No tents, no sleeping bags, no campfires, no drugs, no alcohol, no large bags and they do search you on the way into to the site. You can take blankets/yoga mat to sit on.
  • If you have a camper bring it, if you are in a car be prepared you have 3 choices: a) you can stay up all night, b) you can sleep on a blanket near to the stones or c) you can sleep in your car, (there is no camping/sleeping on the ground in the carpark).
  • The car park is very large but once its full its full.

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  • Do bring plenty of water, food and warm clothes (just in case). There is one drinking water stand pipe for everyone and it is a long way from the car park.
  • There are buses through the night Amesbury.
  • Don’t forget a torch, ear plugs (if you are planning on sleeping!), in car-chargers for phones etc or spare batteries and toilet paper, there are plenty of porta loos but with 13,000 people . . .
  • The stones are about 3/4 mile walk from the car park but there is disabled parking near the visitor centre and a small bus runs from there.
  • This was a really chilled event, everyone just happy to be there so alcohol wasn’t something I missed, however although there was a very strict policy for around the stones I did see people drinking in the car park so if you need a night cap have it there.

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  • There is limited food and hot drinks (some vegan & veggie) available from a handful of vans that stay open all night.
  • This felt a very safe event, there were police doing spot checks on cars arriving, bag checks and metal detectors and also a lot of security looking out for everyone and protecting the stones from over enthusiastic revellers.
  • Don’t be put of thinking you have to be a hippy or a druid. This event attracts a really diverse crowd, young and old, pagan and professional and I also saw lots of children. This is about celebrating life!
  • If you go with someone make a plan for when you loose each other – makes sure children have a mobile number written down or have an agreed meeting place.

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  • Above all don’t forget to set your alarm: we left our car at 3.50am and with the big crowd all trying to get through the security if took around 45mins to get into the stones.
  • Enjoy it! It really is a blessing to experience these magnificent stones at such a wonderful moment!

What to do in Cornwall when it rains!

It is safe to say that there are few places that I would rather be than Cornwall in the sunshine but what about those days when the heavens open? Here are my thoughts on what is best to do in Cornwall when its raining:

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  1. Find yourself a cozy bolt-hole: there is always a spot to be had either in a café with a view or a warm pub by the fire. Order up the coffee and cake or maybe a gin or 3 and watch it all go on outside the window. Two of my personal favourites are Beerwolf in Falmouth which is a quirky Freehouse that also doubles as a book shop and Gylly Beach Café where the covered terrace, blankets and wall heaters mean that when the waves are raging outside you can just hunker down and watch the show. The Blue Bar in Porthtowan is another great choice with the added benefit of watching the surfers!
  2. Find an indoor adventure: why not take a step back in time and take a wander around Cornwall’s answer to Downton Abbey – Lanhydrock House. Or how about jumping abroad an old fashioned steam train at Bodmin and Wedford Railway – they even serve cream teas! If that sounds too sedate why not dive in to the Shipwreck Museum in Charlestown, there are countless interesting artefacts from about 150 wrecks and of course the harbour here has featured in the new series of Poldark.
  3. Have a gallery day: Why not take yourself to the beautiful (even in the rain) seaside town of St Ives! Not only have you got the outstanding Tate Museum, recently enlarged and refurbished but the whole town in bursting with artists and makers of all kinds. You can easily run between the drops as you go from studio to gallery to studio admiring their work.
  4. Shop til you drop: Cornwall’s capital Truro has transformed in the last few years, many big high street brands have found their way this far south. The centre is very compact with pretty cobbled streets and granite pavements all watched over by the impressive Cathedral. Don’t forget to check out the 2 covered markets too: Lemon Street Market and the Pannier Market with their eclectic range of shops. For more top tips try: Secret Trurorain 1
  5. Get Out There And Enjoy It!: I actually quite enjoy a walk in the rain as long as I have my wellies and my waterproofs! Whether it is feeling the salt spray on my face on a cliff top or avoiding the drips in a woodland as long as I have dry feet I can enjoy the filthy weather. So how about taking a look at the dramatic waterfalls at Kennall Vale Nature Reserve, they are at their best in the rain!rain 2
  6. Take a Cultural Hit: Museums used to be stuffy places but these days it is all about interaction and engagement – so go in and get involved! My favourite is the Royal Cornwall Museum where they have such a fabulous range of exhibits and visiting shows (there is even an Egyptian mummy!) but I also love the amazing treasures you can find in the smaller museums too such as the magical Museum of Witchcraft in Boscastle or the Wayside Folk Museum in Zennor.
  7. And last but not least if all else fails: Try the Other Coast: There is a local saying, if you don’t like the weather on one coast, try it on the other! It is an aphorism I stand by. Very often in my experience if its raining on the south coast its blue skies on the north and vice versa!rain 4

I hope you enjoyed my quick guide to soggy Kernow! Please feel free to check out other ideas on my blog, Cornwall really has so much to offer even if the weather is not ideal!

Take a Trip to Looe Island

It seems to me that there is nothing quite as romantic as living on your own private island. Looe Island lies just one mile off the Cornish coast but feels a world away from the hustle and bustle of the busy summer seaside towns nearby.  It is home to a breath-taking range of wildlife and 2 very lucky people!

The Moonraker boat takes us the short journey from Buller Quay in East Looe to the makeshift landing point on the white shingle beach of the island. As our small party of 8 people jumps ashore we are greeted by Claire Lewis and her partner Jon Ross.  The pair have been wardens on the island for 9 years, “When the job came up in 2008 we were the lucky ones who got it” Claire laughs as she gives us a quick guide to the “dos and don’t” of the island.

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These days access to Looe Island (also known as St George’s Island) is carefully managed for the benefit and protection of the wildlife there but it does have a long history of human habitation dating back to the Iron Age too. Looe Island was also once a site of Christian pilgrimage and then a haven for smugglers. In the 19th century the Finn family lived there and according to local legend survived on a diet of rabbits and rats.

Then in 1965 the island was bought by Babs and Evelyn Atkins.  These two remarkable sisters lived alone on the island into their 80s and wrote 2 books about it – We Bought an Island and Tales from a Cornish Island. After their deaths they donated it to the Cornwall Wildlife Trust to be cared for as a nature reserve.

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Looe Island is roughly 22 acres and only about a mile around but the diversity of the habitats – from grassland to sandy beaches, woodlands to coastal cliffs – makes it a unique haven for a wide range of wildlife.  Around 20 species of butterfly have been spotted, as well as bats, numerous woodland birds and, according to Claire, a plague of slugs and snails of near biblical proportions. The island database also records more than 100 individually named grey seals, some which return to the island year after year to breed. But it was the huge numbers of sea birds that really delighted me!

I have never seen so many Cormorants and Shags in one places! They were everywhere on the rocks and cliff-sides, preening themselves and drying their wings in the sunshine. The island also has the largest colony of Great Black-backed Gulls in Cornwall.

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From the shelter of the Bird Hide on the seaward side of the island we watched a bird that I am not sure I have ever seen before. The wildly acrobatic Fulmars, who wheeling about the sky and out across the sea before landing on their precipitous nesting sites high in the cliff face.

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But the absolute highlight for me was the Oystercatchers. These stocky little characters are black and white with red legs and bills and bright red eyes.  They nest on the ground, which makes them very vulnerable to predation, but on the island where (perhaps thanks to the Finn family but more likely CWT) there appears to be no mammals apart from the Herbridean sheep and the seals, they are thriving. Seeing a nest with two very well camouflaged chicks really was wonderful.

I already know that visiting Looe Island is going to be one of the highlights of my summer. It was very affordable (£7 return on the boat, £4 landing fee) and because of the limited access and restrictions on visitor numbers it feels very special to be there.

Claire and Jon saw us all safely back on the boat, there were no more visitors coming that day and as we sailed away, with them waving from the shore, I felt a pang of jealousy.

Landing on the island is very much dependent on the tides being just right – you can see a rough timetable here but this is often subject to change.

For more tales of the coast try: The Raising of Logan Rock or Crantock’s hidden rock carvings & a name for a mystery lady or Langarrow: Cornwall’s Sodom & Gomorrah

 

Tornado in Bodmin

There is nothing quite like a steam train! And there is no steam train quite like the Tornado! So when I had the chance to climb abroad I didn’t need to be asked twice.

The Tornado is the first steam train to be built in the UK since the 1960s, it was completed in 2009 with all new parts (apart from 3 bits) and so it actually testament to some really awesome old school British engineering.

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She arrived in Cornwall a few days ago and since then has been causing a real stir not only with rail enthusiasts but amongst the general public too. After today I can see why! Lets face it everyone loves the romance of a steam train!

The sights, smells and sounds feel like a step back in time. Memories of a bygone era. And as one excited passenger told me today people develop an real affection for a steam train, almost as if they were a living, breathing things, in a way that they don’t for the more modern trains.

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As we trundled along the track of the Bodmin and Wenford Railway today I have to admit I agreed with him. As I leant out the window, a trail of steam above me, wind in my face and soot in my eyes, I was wonderful to hear the Tornado puffing along.

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And in my head I think I heard her saying “I think I can, I think I can, I think I can, I know I can” like the Little Engine that Could in my story book of my childhood!

 

My Guide to Open Studios

Once a year makers all over the county open up their studios to the public. Its a rare and precious opportunity to seeing all kinds of craftspeople – potters, jewellers and painters at work and buy straight from them.

DSC03775I try and fill my life with what makes me happy – my friends, walking, writing, photography and learning something new. I want to spend my time doing as much of what I love as possible and I have to admit not having the responsibility of children allows me to do that freely!

Art (beautiful things) is also one of my loves.

Today I visited the Open Studios event at the Krowji Creative Space in Redruth.

For years I have seen the bright orange O’s in the hedgerows, not really realising what it signifies (that there is a maker nearby you can visit) but I learnt that at Krowji you visit about 50 craftspeople all in one place, without the hassle and extra cost of driving about the countryside.

I have to say I have had a really wonderful day. So many beautiful and inventive things to see it is really hard to pick which ones to talk about but these are my highlights! I particularly enjoyed the bright and bold screenprints of Paul Bawden especially when he let me have a good myself! So much fun and such a lovely man!

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I was also particularly stuck by the oil paintings of Jon Doran! His use of light is amazing! I couldn’t stop looking at his pictures. Stunning!

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And then I stumbled upon the delightful work of Clare Summerton. She produces art inspired by the Cornish landscape (and feathers!) and is working on a project creating pieces responding to a significant location.  You suggest the location and receive a small piece of art in return, if you would like to get involved you can just email her, find her information here.

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The whimsical animal etchings of Esther Connon made me wish I had a lot more money to spend! Her gorgeous pictures tell funny and heartwarming stories and she produces wonderful little handmade books too such as Florence Flies Away, Night Night Lily and Little Things With Wings. I would have loved to have had one of her prints but sadly being a student means I only came home with this card below entitled “Hello”.

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I did manage to part with a few pounds at Sinead O’Connor Silver! She and her daughter produce really stylish, modern jewellery, some enamelled and I bought myself these individually crafted stacking rings. (£5 each or 4 for £15).

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Art doesn’t have to break the bank especially when you can buy it without the middle man, right from the hands that made it! And it was also so wonderful to see all these people who are usual hidden away but create such a beautiful world for us all! Thank you Krowji and all the makers who opened their doors today!

Open Studios runs from 27th May – 4th June. Go out there and celebrate our wonderful craftspeople! And fill your life with beautiful things!

Cornish Blues

Of course the traditional colours of Cornwall are black and gold (or black and white like the St Pirans flag) but there is another colour that I know resonates through our landscape. Blue.

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As I was falling to sleep last night I was thinking back over my day. It had been a glorious May day, more like the height of summer really and I had spent it taking photographs on Gwithian beach.  The sea had be ever-changing shades of deep navy blue, emerald green and turquoise and the sky, well it was just the most wonderful shade of . . . how to describe it . . . well. . . it was Cornish blue. Continue reading

Randigal Rhymes

In the back of Joseph Thomas’ book of poems entitled “Randigal Rhymes” you will find, along with a list of Cornish proverbs and charm for toothache, a glossary of Cornish words.  The first one that you should look up of course is randigal and you will find that it means “a rigmarole, a nonsensical story”.

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Joseph Thomas spent his life listening.  He listened to the stories of fishwives and tin-miners, circus performers and princes, old men and school children and what he heard inspired his writing.

Joseph almost certainly didn’t write with any expectation of publication, indeed we can only read his poems now because they were printed by subscription by his friends after his death. My copy of his book was printed in 1895 and is rather battered and bruised but you can find reprints of “Randigal Rhymes and a Glossary of Cornish Words” here.

Joseph Thomas wrote because he loved it and because he seemed to want to record the comedy, beauty and whimsy of his world.

He was born near Mullion Cove, a picturesque fishing village on the Lizard in July 1840.  His father John was a local land steward and Joseph followed in his footsteps obtaining a position as an agent for the St Aubyn family on St Michael’s Mount. He and his wife Mary spent their lives in this quiet coastal community but Joseph absorbed everything that surrounded him.

 

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This poem, somewhat similar to the Old Lady who Swallowed a Fly, goes someway to imaginatively explain where the Lizard peninsula gets its name.

 

Most of the material for his poems comes from overheard snatches of conversation or superstitions and reminiscences that were told to him and he wrote them down in idle moments to amuse his friends.

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But there is an art and a beauty to his writing, his love for the county and his people, even when he is poking fun at it all, shines through.

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For those without a copy of the book to help with translation:

  • Shiner: an occasional sweetheart
  • Bosy: smart, conceited
  • Prinky: attentive to dress, natty
  • Coxey: saucy
  • Murfles: freckles
  • Fligs: fancy clothes
  • Slocked: enticed
  • Slawterpooch: an ungainly, slovenly person

His love of stories and people was unfortunately a contributing factor in his death.  At a fair in Penzance during the winter of 1894 he spent the day talking to the visiting entertainers as well as watching the usual crowd of miners and farmers going about their business.  Sadly that day he caught a chill which turned to pneumonia and he died shortly after.

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Joseph was buried on St Michael’s Mount in the private graveyard, so I am sure he is kept entertained by the conversations he can overhear these days as the crowds of visitors from all over the world go by.

For most stories like this one try Cornish Folk or St Michael’s Mount try: A Giant’s Heart

 

 

 

To the Stripple Stones

Whatever the time of year I love the moors. Whether it is in the depths of winter when the air is sharp with cold, one of those days the wind tugs at you and takes your breath away or at the height of a bright blue-skied summers day. Then its a very different place, you can hear the heat coming from the stones and the grass cracks under your feet.

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Watching the cloud shadows moving across those wide empty spaces, that is where I feel really at peace.  But of course these are not really empty spaces and each time I visit I find another new reason to go back.

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Cornish Saffron

For most people Saffron is a captivating and expensive spice which conjures up images of mysterious distant lands but for hundreds of years to the Cornish it has been a more homely than exotic ingredient.

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It is a story of much conjecture and hot debate as to when saffron first arrived in Cornwall.  There are stories of Phoenician and Roman traders from more than 2000 years ago but the more likely answer is a little later than that.  In the 14th century Cornwall had a healthy trade in tin with its Spanish neighbours, who in turn had trade routes across the globe, one theory is that saffron first arrived through them.

And this fantastic aromatic spice made its way into our Cornish cooking.  Saffron buns and saffron cake are an integral part of any cakey tea (well they always have been in my house anyway!) just as much as clotted cream.  And there is even evidence that saffron was cultivated in a few select places in Cornwall for a while – there are records of saffron fields in Launcells near Bude, Fowey, Penryn, Feock and Gerrans. Eat your heart our Saffron Walden!

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Growing and harvesting saffron is what makes it the most expensive spice in the world, it is very labour intensive.  Saffron is in fact the dried red stigma of the autumn flowering purple Crocus Sativus.  Each flower has to be hand picked and the three delicate stigma removed.  It takes roughly 200 flowers to produce just 1 gram of saffron.  But the result is a versatile spice with a unique flavour.

The name saffron comes from the Arabic word za’faran meaning yellow which gives a clue to its other use as a dye.  Saffron also has medicinal properties and known to have a similar narcotic effect to opium.  During the 18th and 19th centuries it was used in various opioid preparations, such a laudanum, for pain relief.

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Saffron went out of fashion in cooking in England but it continued to remain a firm favourite here in Cornwall. As a child I remember posting saffron cakes to various Cornish relations across the country because here was the only place you could find it.

Recently however it has seen a bit of a revival with chefs both down here and in other parts of the country increasingly putting it on their menus and a small holding in Norfolk has even begun growing the precious crop.  So maybe one day saffron will grow again in the county that has taken this delicious spice from ancient Persia into its culture and its heart.

Read more on Cornish culture here: Cornish Folk

The Propped Stone of Leskernick Hill

The connections between ancient man, the stones structures they built and the natural rulers of the skies – the sun and the moon – are overwhelming.  It seems to me impossible to understand what mattered to our ancestors without taking into account the struggle they faced with the elements and their battle to understand their often hostile world.

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On the top of Leskernick hill hidden in a little visited part of Bodmin Moor lies a simple yet wonderfully intriguing pile of stones.  This stone construction pre-dates all the others that surrounded it and there are many!   Close by you can find the remains of numerous hut circles, a stone row and 2 stone circles. Continue reading