Walking out in to the silence of Bodmin moor when the sky is bright blue and the air is still there is a kind of rare peacefulness for me. The whisper of the breeze though the dried grasses and the buzz of various flying beasties seems so loud in that vast open space. Tricked by the recent wonderful weather I can almost imagine myself living out there in the still isolation. I have forgotten the wild winter winds that you can barely stand up in and the horizontal hail stinging your cheeks.
Daniel Gumb must have loved it too because in the 18th century he made this moor his home, in fact in a way he became more a part of it, and it of him, than most can boast. He was a stone-cutter by trade and built his very own house out of the giant slabs of stone that litter this ancient landscape. While he was alive no one paid much mind to the strange stonemason living out on the moor but after his death his house became famous, a bit of a tourist attraction for the Victorian day-tripper as the picture below illustrates:
It may surprise you to know that Daniel Gumb was not out there alone, he and his wife Florence had 6 children in their strange little stone house. There is a description of it in Cornish Characters and Strange Events by S Baring-Gould published in 1908. It says that while Gumb was hewing blocks of granite on the moors near to the famous Cheesewring he discovered an immense slab – “this it struck him might be made the roof of a habitation”. He apparently excavated under the slab and built up walls to support it, the house had a chimney, lime-cement walls and was “sufficiently commodious” for Gumb, his wife and their 6 children. According to a description from 1802 it was like an artificial cavern of roughly 12 feet (4m ish) square.
I have to admit looking at it today it is hard to imagine it as it is described by Baring-Gould. But for me the location is hard to beat! The wonderfully odd rock formation known as the Cheesewrings rises up just behind and empty moorland stretches out beyond the front door for as far as you can see.
Daniel Gumb was no fool. He had another motive for his choice of back garden other than convenience for the commute to work. He was a mathematician and a star gazer. The roof of his house served as his observatory and the moors offered clear skies and peace and quiet for his calculations.
He even carved diagrams with his chisel into the rocks lying about his home. Maths is not my strongest suit but my reading tells me that they are something to do with the problems of the Greek mathematician Euclid . . . Gumb also carved his name and the date, 1735, beside what was his front door.
Daniel Gumb died in 1776 at the age of 73 and his name has since disappeared into the moorland mist. Hundreds of people come and visit this piece of the moor every year but they come to see the Cheesewrings. Many pairs of walking boots stomp right passed this fascinating man’s front door without realising it. I wonder what he would have made of it all.
Visiting Daniel Gumb’s house is easiest if you park at the car park in the village of Minions and walk from there, it’s an interesting walk which passes the Hurlers stone circles. I have been told that the location of the house has changed and that it was moved from its original location when the neighbouring quarry expanded. I am not sure how true that is but feel it needs a mention.
For more tales of Bodmin moor try: Remembering the Murder of Charlotte Dymond