Yesterday morning, John and I were reminiscing about the past year, including our visit to Cornwall, when my phone pinged to tell me I’d been mentioned on Twitter. By coincidence, the account @MemorialBench was tweeting the submission I’d made to them from Cape Cornwall, because the inscription seemed a good New Year sentiment to share. “Your life is not measured in years but in the friends you made and the memories you left.” It is, indeed, a lovely thought which I pass on to all the new blogging friends I made in 2014. I hope we continue to share memories in 2015. Happy New Year!
On our last afternoon, we took a different sort of coastal walk. No cliff-top paths and deserted coves this time – the walk from Penzance to Mousehole (say it mowzel) is paved all the way. We arrived in Penzance in time for lunch (the Assay House is very good), then had a quick look around before setting off along the promenade. Chapel Street is lined with Georgian buildings, including the weird-looking Egyptian House and the Union Hotel, the first place to receive news of Nelson’s death after the Battle of Trafalgar. Morrab Gardens are also worth a stroll.
A couple of miles along the prom is Newlyn, Britain’s busiest working fishing port. The statue commemorates more than twenty local men who have died fishing since 1980. On a lighter note, we liked the creative approach to hanging baskets!
After leaving Newlyn we passed some quirky scarecrows before coming to another sad memorial at the old Penlee Lifeboat Station. in 1981, the lifeboat Solomon Browne went from here in heavy seas to try to rescue the Union Star which was being driven onto rocks. Both ships were lost with all hands.
Mousehole is a much more picturesque harbour – less a busy port than a holiday destination – and reminded me a little of Crail in Fife. While there, we realised that we would be leaving the next day without having sampled two Cornish staples – a cream tea or an ice-cream. We were still full from lunch, but managed an ice-cream cone – this gull had its beady eye on us the whole time we were eating it and protested very loudly when we finished without dropping any.
After the ice-cream, we had to turn round and walk back to the car in Penzance. By now, the wind was blowing and it was starting to feel cool – that night, we awoke to a terrible storm. The weather had broken just as we were going home. We had been so lucky.
If you’ve enjoyed reading about Cornwall, I can recommend having a look at the Cornish posts of another travel blogger, abitofculture. As for me – I intend to go back!
Porthcurno is yet another beautiful (and steep) Cornish village. We spent a whole day there, first at the Minack Theatre, then taking a coastal walk, and finally visiting the Telegraph Museum.
Minack is an outdoor theatre set into the cliffside – if you suffer from vertigo, you would probably not enjoy a performance here. It was planned, financed and built (more or less by hand) by local woman Rowena Cade and just a few helpers. The first performance, in 1932, was lit by car headlights! Today, it’s a commercial operation – plays were over for the season, but the shop, café and visitor centre were still open and you could wander around most of the theatre. All the seats have the names of previous performances carved into them – you can just see Romeo and Juliet peeking out from behind my right knee.
Minack to Logan Rock
We decided to walk off the rather heavy Cornish pasty lunch we had at Minack and must have expended a fair few calories. The panorama below shows the entire walk – from Minack, it’s a steep climb down to Porthcurno beach and then back up again and along the clifftop to the rocky outcrop on the right. And back of course.
Amazingly, this tiny place has been a hub of global communications since the first undersea cables were laid here in 1870. Part of the museum is housed in a modern building, and part was in tunnels where the equipment was moved during the Second World War. This obviously appealed to the engineer – especially as he knew two of the experts in the museum’s video!
Just one more Cornish Chronicle to come!
Land’s End is the south-west tip of Great Britain and is reputed to be tacky. Having visited it’s equivalent in the north-east of Scotland, John O’Groats, I could well believe that and was willing to take the advice of our guidebook (Lonely Planet). This was: leave the car up the coast at Sennen Cove and follow our circular walk. That we did, and it was a very pleasant 6-7 miles.
We started at the harbour in Sennen Cove, then climbed steeply up onto Mayon Cliff as we walked towards Land’s End.
Land’s End itself was less tacky than I expected, though it had the same signpost as John O’Groats with the same invitation to spend megabucks having your picture taken with your home town on it. No chance! I snapped a quick pic anyway – looks like the last person to shell out lived in Harwich. The café was closed for the season, but the hotel did good coffee and we enjoyed sitting looking out over the sea, unable to believe this was 1st October.
From Land’s End, we carried on round the coast, descending to Nanjizal Bay where we climbed back up to the cliff tops. We then cut across farmland back to these pretty thatched cottages in Sennen Cove.
This was a lovely walk – good job, Lonely Planet! I think my opinion of Land’s End might have been worse in season though – it was pretty quiet when we were there.
More coastal walking to come!
The Penwith peninsula is as rich in prehistory as it is in industrial archaeology. We spent a morning walking round Mên-an-tol and Nine Maidens, also visiting Lanyon Quoit and Malden a short drive away.
Mên-an-tol means “stone of the hole” in Cornish. It consists of two menhirs (monumental stones) on either side of a hollow stone. Crawling through it was said to be a cure for infertility and rickets, according to my Lonely Planet guidebook. We stayed firmly on our feet.
Nine Maidens stone circle was a short walk away. Maedn is another (older) Cornish word for stone, so the name has nothing to do with young women.
Quoits (known elsewhere as dolmens) are three or more uprights topped by a capstone and built on top of a chamber tomb. This capstone weighs 13.5 tonnes, and in the 18th century a man on horseback could have sheltered underneath. A storm in 1815 blew the quoit down and damaged it, but the version rebuilt nine years later is still big enough to stand under.
Madron Chapel and Holy Well
Madron’s Holy Well was a sacred site for pre-Roman Celts. It still is, judging by all the offerings and prayers hanging on the tree. The nearby chapel ruins date “only” from the early Middle Ages.
After an enjoyable pootle round ancient sites, in the next instalment, we go back to the coast.
Tin mining was once West Cornwall’s major industry, and ruined engine houses are still a common sight. We visited four of them – Levant and Geevor have an entrance fee, the others are free.
Levant Mine is built right on the coast and its tunnels used to extend a mile under the sea. As well as the ruins, you can see the 1840 beam engine, restored and operated by volunteers. It’s the only Cornish mine engine still worked by steam, and obviously had a strong appeal for the engineer in our party. Levant is also known for its man-engine, a rod-and-platform arrangement which transported the miners up and down the shaft saving them hours climbing ladders. On 20 October, 1919 (95 years ago today) the rod collapsed, killing 31 men in the shaft. It was moving to read survivors’ accounts, and to walk along the tunnel leading to the man-engine where all those miners trod before us. It’s pictured below – to me, it looks more like a passage in a castle or monastery.
A mile along the coastal path from Levant is Botallack Mine, so we visited both on the same afternoon. Botallack is unstaffed, but you can pick up a self-guided trail – be prepared for a steep descent if you decide to go down to Crowns engine houses perched at the base of the cliffs. Once again, I’m reminded of castles.
A short walk in the other direction from Levant lies Geevor – though we came back a different day to visit this one. It was one of the last mines in Cornwall to close (1990) and has been lovingly restored as a museum. In some parts, it felt as if the miners had just left with plenty of evidence of the, eventually futile, struggle to keep Geevor open. Once again, the engineer enjoyed playing with the machinery! I was impressed that the three large compressors (from 1922, 1929 and 1951) were all built in Glasgow. You could also go underground here, into some early 19th century tunnels – not for the claustrophobic. Nice café for lunch too!
We passed many other deserted ruins, but only at Ding Dong were we on foot (it was en route during a circular walk between prehistoric sites). This is reputed to be Cornwall’s oldest mine – official records date back to the 17th century but legend has it that the mine was worked over 2000 years ago and visited by Jesus and Joseph of Arimathea. Other than my Lonely Planet guidebook I know of no source for that! Lets agree it’s very old anyway.
Coming next – that prehistoric walk.
Once upon a time, a little boy from Glasgow went on holiday to Cornwall with his Mum, Dad and two younger siblings. They stayed in a cottage at Cape Cornwall which had a gate right onto the beach! The little boy had a lovely time and looked back on many happy memories, but he didn’t visit Cornwall again for nearly 50 years, when he returned with his wife, determined to track the cottage down…
Ok, enough of that – I’m sure it’s not hard to guess who I’m talking about! And actually, the cottage wasn’t that hard to track down – there was only one it could have been, though it has been upgraded since the 60s (no surprise there) with double glazing and a sun-porch:
Cape Cornwall is a rocky headland jutting out into the sea, topped by an abandoned chimney stack, the remains of Cape Cornwall Mine which closed in 1875. (This area has many such ruined mines – more on those in the next post.) On the chimney is a plaque noting that Cape Cornwall was “purchased for the nation by HJ Heinz Co Ltd to mark their centenary year. Presented to the National Trust 25 March 1987.” Think about that next time you have beans on toast for tea!
Below the Cape is the rocky beach of Priest’s Cove with its swimming pool as fondly remembered by John from his childhood holiday (but renovated in 2000). Just around from the cove is a lookout post for National Coastwatch – there was an exercise going on the day we were there so we weren’t able to go into the building.
We spent all morning at the Cape, finishing with a sandwich and a cup of tea from the mobile café, which we ate sitting on a wall and enjoying the sun – still not believing our luck with the wonderful, autumn weather. Then it was off to visit some of those mines I was talking about…
A monastery, a fortress, a port and a family home – St Michael’s Mount has been, or is, all of these. The Archangel St Michael (allegedly) appeared to fisherman there in 495, but the church on top of the hill “only” dates from Norman times when St Michael’s Mount was granted to the abbey of Mont St Michel in France. Today, the castle is still home to the St Aubyn family but it belongs to the National Trust. (Hooray! Our National Trust for Scotland membership got us in free.) At high-tide, you need to cross by boat but at low-tide you can use the causeway, which is what we did.
Once on the island, it’s a steep climb up the cobbled path to the castle. You arrive at the West Door, a Tudor replacement for an older entrance, which is flanked by a “recent” water tank from 1784. We were tickled that it was carefully dated 29th September – we were visiting on that exact date 230 years later!
Once inside, the most spectacular room is Chevy Chase, which was originally the refectory for the priory. The name has nothing to do with the comedian and actor, but refers to the 17th-century plaster frieze of hunting scenes that runs around the entire room. (There is an old ballad called Chevy Chase about hunting in the Cheviot Hills.) As well as the friezes, there are coats of arms and decorative glass to admire.
The building, shown below, on the South Terrace looks like a church, but is actually an 18th century suite known as the Blue Drawing Rooms. The gardens weren’t open when we visited, but if you hung far enough out over the wall of the Terrace, you could get a good view of them.
On the other side of the Blue Drawing Rooms is the North Terrace and church, a simple medieval chapel which is still used for Sunday services in the summer. The views from this terrace were down to the harbour, causeway and gun batteries.
The island has a couple of cafés – one as you start to walk up to the castle, and one in the village (the cottages round the harbour are home to about 30 islanders), so we finished up with a nice cup of tea, having discovered earlier in the day that the Godolphin Hotel in Marazion (at the mainland end of the causeway) does a very good lunch. Another great day out in Cornwall, with spectacularly good weather for the time of year. Would our luck hold for the whole week? More to follow…..
St Ives became a centre for the arts in the 1920s and 30s when influential painters and sculptors moved in. Barbara Hepworth, one of the leading abstract sculptors of the 20th century, had a studio there which, following her death in a fire in 1975, has been preserved as a museum. The garden contains some of her most famous sculptures:
Just outside Penzance is Tremenheere Sculpture Garden, which opened in 2012. If the Hepworth is more sculpture than garden, this is more garden than sculpture, but no less beautiful for that. It also boasts a very fine café (the Lime Tree) and hosts activities and events. We were there at least two hours, and spent most time at James Turrell’s Tewlwolow Kernow (Twilight in Cornwall), a domed chamber from which you can observe the sky.
There was plenty more art to see:
Until the 13th century, this land was owned by the monks of St Michael’s Mount which you can see out in the bay from the top end of the gardens. There’ll be more about that in my next post. And, of course, the sub-tropical plants themselves were lovely:
So, two very different sculpture gardens, but both well worth a visit. And this has been my 200th post on this blog!
In 2012 and 2013, our autumn holidays were dictated by the touring schedule of Mr Leonard Cohen (Berlin and Dublin respectively). As he had the audacity to miss a year (well, he is 80) we had to make our own arrangements for 2014. We decided to go to Cornwall, the extreme south-west tip of England, which I, to my shame, had never visited, and which John had only visited as a young child. In fact, we spent a whole week exploring the extreme south-west of the extreme south-west, not straying far from the Penwith Peninsula, that crooked finger that juts out from St Ives (where we stayed) to Land’s End.
St Ives has a maze of narrow alleys and lanes, often with peculiar names, tumbling steeply down to its beautiful harbour and three sandy beaches. This does mean that wherever you are staying, there are a lot of hills to climb! Originally a pilchard harbour, these days it is more of an arts centre – although we were disappointed to find that Tate St Ives closed for two weeks for rehanging as soon as we arrived. We did manage to visit its roof-top café for coffee with a view, which compensated a bit. (Barbara Hepworth’s studio was open, but that will feature in a later post.) As you can see from the gallery below, despite being the end of September / beginning of October, the weather was glorious.
Our base in St Ives was The Nook, a comfortable guest-house with friendly staff and good breakfasts. The room was quite small (though with plenty drawer and wardrobe space), but that didn’t matter as we were out and about so much. Cornish Chronicles to be continued soon…..