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?

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

Argal – my unlikely haven

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.

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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

Those Ruined Places: Westmoor

Bodmin Moor feels like a place with secrets and stories to tell.  Perhaps it’s the wildness, the wide open spaces and the distance that makes the visitor feel that this is a place that you will never really know completely or quite understand.  I do know that it is under my skin.  If I didn’t live so far away I would be out on that moor as often as possible.

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It is a characteristic of every moorland that there are hidden features, places that are often lost in the landscape. Places that can only be seen from a particular hilltop or when you walk a particular path.

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The ancient enclosure on Westmoor near Leskernick hill is one such place.  The tumbling walls are only visible from a particular point as the path traverses the old tin streaming works near the base of the hill.  The first time I saw it, it was the tree that caught my eye, it is just about the only tree for as far as the eye can see.  I just had to walk over and pay a visit.

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That time and every time I have visited there since the wild moorland ponies are already there or have arrived to graze.  The grass within the old walls is much finer and greener than the rest of the moor, presumably due to human activity and I assume they come to take advantage of this sweeter meal.

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It is also a very sheltered spot, calm and out of the wind.  Close by there is a steam flowing and a spring bubbling up from the damp ground.  I am almost certain that there was once a building there too.  In on corner of the enclosure there are smaller walls and what looks like paving slabs.  There are also larger pieces of granite there that may have been doorposts or part of a fireplace in another life.

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Whatever the weather it is such a peaceful place, I have never met anyone else there apart from the ponies and sheep.  And that twisted old tree festooned in lichen and moss provides a lovely bit of company and shelter from the sun or the rain.

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This part of the moor is perhaps the most isolated that I have ever visited, it doesn’t have the sites like Rough Tor or Brown Willy, there is no Cheesewring or Hurlers to draw visitors.  But I will come here again and again if only to listen to the constant chorus of the Skylarks as they rise and dip and dive above the windblown grasses.

For more moor tales try: Those Ruined Places: Garrow Tor’s Lost Village or The Singular Mr Daniel Gumb & his house of rocks

For more hidden places try my page dedicated to Forgotten Places

 

 

Thoughts of Carwynnen Quoit

Carwynnen quoit has fallen more than once.  It’s giant stones have been raised up again and again, the first time 5000 years ago, then again in the 19th century and the last time in 2014.  Yes, unfortunately it has taken me this long to get around to visiting but the twisting back roads led me to a impressive monument.

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I had wanted to be there a couple of years ago when the cap stone had been lifted into place but that happened at a time when the work I was doing didn’t afford me the kind of freedom that I have now.  I understand from people who were there that it was a magical moment. Apparently everyone surged forward to place their hands on the stones, almost like a blessing for them and for the quoit.

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Sketch of the quoit from 1823

This summer I have been working with a wonderful group of like-minded people who are as enthusiastic and passionate about ancient places as I am (maybe even more so).  We have been spending our days together uncovering two almost forgotten stone circles and a stone row out on the wilds of Bodmin Moor but more of that on another occasion I promise.  I choose to mention it now because one of the subjects we talked of while on our knees in the rain cutting turf was how wonderful it would be to see those stones upright again.  However since my visit to Carwynnen I have to say I have been having my doubts.

Don’t misunderstand me, I am sure that every possible care was taken with this sites reconstruction and it is wonderful to see this ancient monument on it’s feet again so to speak but strangely somehow it felt wrong to me.  Like something was out of place, not quite as it should be.  The stones looked new, too clean, too upright – as if they had just been built – which of course I guess they kind of have.

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Perhaps that is how the ancient people saw them, all clean, fresh and straight and I am just judging this place by all the other sites I love so much where everything is just a bit sunken and wonky. But it does raise a question for me – when they fall do we just leave them?

I guess the answer is a complex one.  Some would argue that these are just old pieces of stone with no intrinsic worth, why should we pay to preserve and protect them?  I am not one of those people, to many, including myself, they do mean something.

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I believe that anything that links us to our roots and to the world we live in should be treasured.  But can we go too far with restoration and how do we know we are getting it right?  Each historical sketch of Carwynnen looks different from the next and different again from the stones as they stand today.

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So if we can’t get it right should we leave well alone, rather than make a misrepresentation of the past?  I don’t know the answer. But I would appreciate others thoughts if you wish to share.

There was a big part of me that looked at the fallen stones of those circles on Bodmin Moor and wished I could see them as my ancestors did but of course I never really will and perhaps I am just not meant to.

For more stoney tales try: The Raising of Logan Rock or When is a Stone Circle not a stone circle?

 

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

Our Cornish Honey Harvest

Bees are fascinating creatures and what they give us (a little unwillingly!) is one of the world’s most delicious natural gifts.  But like so many foods these days we as consumers know little about how it gets to our toast.  I could tell you all about how many bees it takes to make a teaspoon of honey or how a bee likes to do the rumba and the jive but you can find all that and so much more on the internet.

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My mother’s hives

I thought I would let you in on our Honey Harvest.

My mother has been keeping bees for about 35 years.  It is safe to say that she knows what she is doing.  And yes it’s true, she does talk to her bees.

She only has 2 hives at the moment and has, in recent years, struggled like never before to keep them healthy due to foreign diseases and the heavy use of chemicals on crops close to us.  ( We are not an organic farm but we do believe that spraying should be kept to the absolute minimum and protecting the soil is a farmers duty.)

A few days ago she went down into the orchard and, much to the bees consternation, stole away their honey (she was stung on the bottom in a revenge attack).  But eighteen fat sticky frames ended up in our dairy with the bees angrily buzzing outside the windows hoping to get in to steal it back.

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We always feel a little mean on the day she takes it away from the hive but her bees are cared for all the year round, she feeds them sugar syrup when the weather is poor and will make sure they make it though even the coldest winters.

So how do you get at your golden crop?  First is the wax capping which the bees use to seal in the honey is cut away from the frames.

Then the opened frames are put into an extractor and spun. (Sometimes with the help of a kitten or two.)

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This is not hi-tech equipment, centrifugal force throws the honey from the cells to run down inside the barrel and it is collected in the bottom.

This golden gloop is then strained through muslin to get rid of any little bits of remaining wax or twigs and leaves that have found their way into the overall stickiness!  And then it is poured into sterile jars so that it is ready for your toast!

Every last drop is precious.

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Golden Yumminess!

The jars are then go into our dairy store-cupboard which my industrious mother keeps stocked with all kinds of jams, chutneys and marmalades.

But once a year the shelves groan under the weight of a fresh harvest of honey- 31lbs this year!- and I am reminded how lucky I am to have grown up and still live in the countryside.

For other family tales try: My Grumpy Grandpa & his Shires or Rock Solid Love

 

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

 

 

Those Ruined Places: Garrow Tor’s Lost Village

At the beginning of the year I wrote about the Cornish word Hireth, meaning a longer for somewhere, and I discussed how many people can feel a deep affliation or connection to a place.  For me Bodmin Moor with its wide skies, open space and jutting horizons is one of those places.

Canon Elliott-Binns’ 1955 book Medieval Cornwall contains this description – “The hills . . .  are very rugged, having been scored by the torrents of innumerable winters, and ravaged by the rays of summer suns . . . These wild tracts, stretching lonely and inhospitably beneath vast spaces of sky seem to have changed but little since first the eye of man fell upon their bewildering undulations.”

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The Canon makes the moor sound slightly grim and unpleasant which it is I guess on a cold rainy day but it is also so much more.  Garrow Tor in particular speaks to me.   I think often about the walking there, memories flit through my minds-eye. The rustle of the grass against my legs, the summer heat rising from the granite or the trickle of the De Lank river, the only sound apart from the wind. I even wrote a short story about it.

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But in this post I have a different story that I want to tell about the ruin of a cottage and a village that has vanished under the turf.  A cottage carefully built beside a slow running steam, with a hearth and a tidy garden wall and now it’s a cottage with no name and no roof.

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There was once a little medieval moorland village here, known I believe as simply Garrow (sometimes Garrah).  From the 13th to the 15th centuries the community thrived but by 1841 it had been reduced to just one farmstead occupied by shepherd Thomas Green, his wife Elizabeth and their 6 sons.

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When my cottage was finally abandoned I am not really sure.  The state of it’s decay indicates that it was a fair while ago.  There is no sign of glass in the windows and nettles grow out of the fireplace.

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No one has tended this garden for many years, although the sheep seem to love the richer grass that you find around old habitations.  I find other peoples memories in what remains – an old metal gate hanging still attached to its granite post, the view from a window of the horizon, the sound of the wind in the leaves of those beech trees planted for shelter and shade.

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Bridge made of solid granite crossing the river to the cottage

The stone bridge, the weedy hearth and those stunted beech trees are all that remain of the last owners hard existence out on this moor.  Their cottage’s shell still stands, but only just, beneath the looming shadows of Cornwall’s highest hills – Brown Willy and Rough Tor.  Still one of my favourite places to be.

For more ruined places try: Those Ruined places: Merther or Those Ruined Places : The Vacant Farm

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