Box Brownie: Lessons in Light

It’s been a little while since I posted anything about my rather lovely Kodak Box Brownie camera, if the truth be told I have been using my digital a lot more over this autumn and winter and part of the reason for that is the light, or lack of it!

I posted a little guide to the brownie’s features a while back and in that I spoke about how you to control the aperture on this camera (the amount of light you allow to enter the lens and hit the film).

dsc02321My Brownie only has 3 basic settings. The lever which has 3 different sized holes in it simply pulls up out of the body of the camera. When it is in a closed position, pushed right in, it is at it’s widest aperture (for use on cloudy days/winter).  One click out, the middle position, is for bright evening/morning light.  The third position, with the lever pulled right out, is for very bright sunshine/summertime . Continue reading

Alone on Strangles Beach

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.

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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

The Bucca

 

Winter, 1811

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

Cornwall’s Highest Cliff

 

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.

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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

Mystery: One Gallant Little Boat: 11,000 miles to Australia

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.

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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

Who Carved The Rocky Valley Amazing Mazes?

One of my most favourite walks takes me on a lovely loop from Trevalga along a stunning stretch of coastline up through Rocky Valley and back to Trevalga via Trethevy.  The Rocky Valley walk is quite famous in these parts and it’s close proximity to the surfing mecca of Newquay means that it gets plenty of footfall all year around.  I have only ever been there once when there was no one but me and a three-legged dog. (And that’s another story.)

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The valley gets all those visitors because it really is a magical place. When you descend from the cliff path into the valley itself the path then winds its way beside a stream gushing downhill towards the sea, it is lush and green and shady even on a hot day.

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Part way up the valley is the ruin of a mill and it is behind this roofless shell on the cool, damp rock face that you find the carvings.

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They are easy to miss but once you spot them I think they are fascinating.  I have traced their gentle curves many times with my eye and my finger, it feels like a game and a spell.  There is a plaque above which claims they date from the bronze age (probably) but in actual fact their origin is a complete mystery.

No one is really sure who carved them or when and there are several theories.  One idea is that they were in fact carved by a bored worker at the now abandoned mill. During the 18th century mazes such as these saw a bit of a revival, it is unclear why but the labyrinth pattern started to pop up all over the place, in architecture and in gardens and in other odd locations too.

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Above is a picture of me and a friend in the 1990s at the Troy Town maze on St Agnes island in the Isles of Scilly.  The seven ring maze pattern is not particular to these parts it is common throughout Europe and it has been said that they were built on sea shores to protect sailors by sending them fair winds.  The one on St Agnes dates from roughly 1790 which is also the date of other graffiti carved into the walls of the mill in Rocky Valley.

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It would be nice to known the Rocky Valley carvings real origins but I doubt there will ever be any certainty over their true date.  I do feel that the sign that is there now is a little misleading however and could perhaps do with a bit of an update to leave their provenience a more open to thought and perhaps our imagination.

For another rocky story try: Tregiffian Barrow & the Cup-marked Stone or The Raising of Logan Rock

What connects Cornwall, Ketchup & Charles De Gaulle?

I really don’t remember the last time that I visited Lands End, for me the famous point that so many travel to see has been turned into some kind of strange theme park, expensive and overcrowded.  I do however still love it’s sister headland, Cape Cornwall.

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In the summer it also has it’s fair share of visitors but the cliffs here seem to me to still retain all of their natural dignity and drama without the added “attractions” of an action hero King Arthur, Shaun the Sheep (weird I know, not sure why he’s there) and being over-charged for a photograph in front of a signpost.

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Joking aside this truly is a stunning stretch of coastline by anyone’s standards and it now belongs to the nation because of a rather unlikely benefactor.  In 1987 to celebrate their centenary year H J Heinz Co Ltd purchased Cape Cornwall and then generously gave it to the National Trust.

I have a suspicious feeling that their choice of purchase may have had something to do with the rather distinction (ketchup-bottle-shaped?) red chimney that can been seen from miles around in every direction!  It is what remains now of this headlands mining past and was built in 1864.  When the mining ended in 1883 the chimney was left in place to act as a day mark for shipping.

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And as for Charles De Gaulle . . . you are really wondering where I am going with this one aren’t you!! Well just off the coast of Cape Cornwall there are a couple of massive rocky islands known on the maps as The Brisons however I found out recently that they have another local name too . . .

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They are known as De Gaulle in the bathtub.  And if you look at their wonderful profile above I think you will agree it is a rather fitting description.

For more tales of the coast try: Langarrow: Cornwall’s Sodom & Gomorrah or Newlyn: The Last Port for the Mayflower

 

 

Rock Solid Love

I grew up in a household where farm work and animals came first above anything else.  Don’t misunderstand me, I am not complaining, I had a blessed childhood with a kind of freedom that sadly very few children experience today.  It taught me not only independence but also the

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Me and Dad, Lemon Quay car park c 1980

importance of hard work and responsibility.  However it did mean that we never went on family holidays and days out were very few and far between.

 

I was, and still am, a bit of a daddy’s girl and I hope that my father has had a strong influence on the person that I have become.  One thing that I know he did instil in me from a young age was an admiration for a good piece of granite.

Those days off I mentioned were never spent on the beach making sandcastles.  They were spent on the Penwith or the heights of Bodmin moor or Dartmoor tramping through undergrowth looking for ancient pieces of stone.  It is a tradition that you may have noticed I still enjoy as often as life allows!

In the summer of 1999 my father and I spent a whole day together driving around the west of the county looking at big rocks.

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My father standing with an outlying stone near Boscawen-un, 1999

We admired their size and shape, marvelled at their probable weight and puzzled over how ancient man had moved them and raised them up.  You see my father had a plan.

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At Mulfra Quoit

 

He wanted his own standing stone.

 

 

Our farm is a hill and the highest point affords beautiful views across the valley and the tidal creek below, it was the ideal spot for our very own monolith.

He took himself to the local granite quarry and spent hours walking around looking at the available stones.  He wanted a piece of granite that was as natural in shape as possible with no obvious signs that it had been split by drilling or handled by machinery.  Like ancient man all those thousands of years ago I am sure he had a particular piece of stone in mind.

I am sure the workmen thought he was balmy but perhaps that is where I also get my own nonchalance with regards to looking silly myself.  He found his perfect stone and had it delivered to the farm.

The pit was dug and with the help of todays modern mechanised assistance our standing stone was raised to mark the year 2000.

We have never really spoken about it, my father is a man of few words, but I think he really enjoys the idea of something so lasting, so solid and unmoving marking his time on the land he loves so much.  And so do I.

For more family stories try: My Grumpy Grandpa & his Shires or maybe My Grandmother & Rope Walk, Falmouth

 

Rogers Tower no folly!

I went on a really wonderful walk the other day.  The sun was shining, I was all alone and there was so much history along the way that I am hard pressed to decide which part should be the subject of this piece of writing.  In the end I came to the conclusion that the conclusion or end of the walk should be the focus point of my tale.  Folly? (Sorry!)

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This is Rogers Tower.  And it has often called a folly.  The dictionary definition of a folly is “a costly, ornamental building with no practical purpose”.  I admit have to concede that Rogers Tower probably does fulfil that brief.  But was Mr Rogers foolish to build a little playhouse here for his family to picnic beside on a sunny day?  I would say certainly not!

The tower was built in 1798 by one of the Roger’s family from Treassowe manor below the hill on which it stands which is also known as Tonkin Downs.  It is uncertain which member of the family was responsible but the most likely candidate would be John Rogers (1750-1832) who it has been said had the money and the wit to undertake such a plan.

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The tower stands high above Mount’s Bay commanding immense views across the countryside in all directions and out to sea.  It is a Folly but it is also wonderful!  There is only one downside to this view.  The land between the tower and the village of Castle Gate is part of a giant granite quarry and for more than 100 years machinery has been gobbling up the hill side. (A large explosion went off while I was balanced precariously on the top of the OS trig point taking a picture! I nearly fell backwards into the ferns.)

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There is only one downside to where John Roger’s built his tower.  He built it on the outer ring of the ancient Iron Age hillfort that covers the top of the hill but to be fair I doubt he had to get planning permission and what is valuable to us now was in many ways just a pile of rocks to them then.

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St Michael’s Mount and beyond
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There is a hillfort in these ferns I promise!

As I said there is so much history in this small place that I think I will have to return to it again for another walk and post!  You have been warned!

For more high places and hillforts try: A Fort with a View or perhaps Zennor Quoit: Take a walk with me

 

 

Those Ruined Places : The Vacant Farm

I have always loved the mystery that a ruined place creates.  They are on one hand like a blank page on which I can jot down any story that my imagination likes and then on the other they of course already have a real history to discover.  Real characters and real events.  The past halted in time by decay.

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On high ground known as Tonkin Downs, close to Castle-an-dinas, there is the remains of an old farmhouse.  It has no roof, it is now open to the elements and it’s glassless windows stare blank-eyed out across Mount’s Bay.  It is all that remains of all it’s past owners planning as they sat beside the fireplace that once glowed with hot coals.

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This building has stood empty since 1953 when its last family left, driven out by the blasting noise from the near-by quarry.  As I stand at the empty thresh-hold I wonder if they still locked the front door when they left for that last time.

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On the surface this would have been a wonderful place to live.  The views are breath-taking and even now with the quarry’s activity still rumbling you are surrounded by space and birdsong.  But even before the arrival of the earth-shaking quarry I expect that a life farming here would have been particularly tough, especially in the winter.  The ground is poor, only cleared relatively recently by the hopeful James Hosking in 1813, and there is very little between this farm and the harsh elements.

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The last people to live at Castle-an-dinas Farm were the Wooldridge family, before them was William and Christine Pearce and their 4 children and before them William Martin and his family.  Generations of hands that pushed open the yard gate, rubbed their chilblains in front of the Rayburn or pressed fresh white plaster to the walls.  Until finally they are all gone.

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The ghostly sadness of an empty home jostles oddly with my enjoyment of poking about someone else’s house and day-dreaming the forgotten life of this shell of a cottage.

For more atmospheric places to visit try: Those Ruined places: Merther