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.

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As I nodded off it got me thinking how much blue really does feature in our culture in Cornwall. There’s Cornishware, inspired by the blue sky and the white-crested waves of our coast, there’s Cornish Blue cheese – in my humble opinion the best blue cheese out there, then there’s the traditional navy blue fisherman’s jumpers (post to follow) and, bear with me as the tenuous links continue, there’s the Blue anchor in Helston and the Blue Bar at Porthtowan!

All jesting aside artists have been draw to our coastline for generations because of the quality of the light. From the 19th century onwards they came to paint the landscape and particularly the coast. Artist colonies, who’s influence is still seen to this day, sprang up in St Ives and Newlyn.  I have heard it said that there is something unique about the light reflecting back the blue of the sea and the blue of the sky. And I find myself agreeing, there is something truly magical, a perfect kind of alchemy, that you only find on the Cornish coast. Whether you are an artist, a photographer and a stop-and-gazer like myself revel in the blue. I am looking forward to a summer of Cornish Blue days! Fingers crossed!!!

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On another note, don’t forget that it is Open Studios week this week, get out there and visited our amazing craftspeople in their studios, see them at work and pick up a bargain straight from the maker!

For more posts about the coasts try: Shipwrecked or Cornwall’s Highest Cliff or What connects Cornwall, Ketchup & Charles De Gaulle?

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

 

 

 

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