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.
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 →
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 →
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.
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 →
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.
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. Continue reading →
Tales of lost worlds and underwater cities are the stuff of our fantasy, myth and imagination. The legends of Atlantis and Avalon have become a part of our psyche and ingrained in our culture.
Since I was quite young I have been told the stories of the magical land of Lyonesse that is said to have vanished into the ocean somewhere between Lands End and the Isles of Scilly.
Recently I bought a box of old books about Cornwall at auction. (Books are a bit of a weakness of mine, in my house the age of the book is most definitely not over.) Inside one of the volumes were a number of old newspaper cuttings that the previous owner had clearly felt needed keeping. The picture below was one of them and it sparked my interest straight away. I have no idea of the date of the cutting or which newspaper it came from.
This was a story I had heard somewhere before.
On further investigation the story was always the same, the books all told me that 1000 years ago there was a great and wealthy city somewhere on the coast between Crantock and Perranporth.
But unlike the Shangri-La existence we imagine in Avalon Langarrow was a city of vice and excess, the inhabitants were work-shy and selfish. And just like a Cornish Gomorrah, God decided to punish them for their evil ways (Genesis 19:24). For 3 days and 3 nights a vicious storm raged along the coast. It covered everyone and everything in a thick layer of sand. Langarrow was no more.
Between Crantock and Perranporth there is a huge area of rolling dunes, walking along that part of the coast the sand undulates in great mountains for as far as you can see. It makes for tough going on a hot day.
Any evidence of this so called great city is hard to see but it was said to have had 7 large churches and legend has it that on a stormy night you can still hear their buried bells toll.
There is the ancient Christian chapel known as St Piran’s Oratory close to Perranporth. This unusual place can be found out in the dunes, struggling to stay above the sand. Whether this buried church has any connection to Langarrow isn’t clear but it is an interesting place to visit.
Sadly however it no longer looks like this early photograph, it has now been surrounded by an ugly concrete shell “for it’s protection”.
Whether Langarrow truly existed, whether it was a great city full of riches or just a tiny hamlet of farming folk doesn’t really matter to me. The story is enough. And it gives me an excuse to get out and walk along this wonderful coastline looking for a church tower sticking up out the sand.
We all know a little of the story of the Mayflower. Every schoolchild is told something of that famous fleet of ships that sailed to America in the last days of the summer of 1620. And in the US I am sure that many would hope to perhaps trace their roots back to those 102 intrepid travellers who journeyed to
the new world and became part of our human history.
The history books tell us that the fleet of 11 ships left from Plymouth, in Devon, England, and against great adversity crossed the vast, wild Atlantic ocean in a journey that took 66 days. When they reached their new home they named the colony New Plymouth in honour of their point of departure.
But there is a small, insignificant part of that famous story that the history books leave out.
It’s not really important in the grand scheme of things, it really adds nothing to the tale other than connecting my small part of the world to that great adventure.
You see Plymouth may not actually be the final port-of-call from which the Mayflower and the Pilgrims set sail. After her departure from Plymouth she was unexpectedly forced to make one final stop before heading for the Americas. It is thought that she dropped anchor one last time at a tiny port in Cornwall called Newlyn.
Newlyn was and is a small fishing community on the southern side of Mounts Bay not far from Penzance. It is one of the last places in Cornwall to maintain a fishing fleet of any size and many of the crabs, lobsters and fish served in Cornwall’s popular sea food restaurants comes from this little harbour. But Newlyn is hardly a well-known place and, apart from one small plaque high up on the wall of a house, it’s connection to the Mayflower is almost entirely forgotten.
When the Pilgrims left Plymouth as well as stocking up with the necessary dry goods the Mayflower had taken on barrels of fresh water. But their journey had hardly begun before they realised that this water was contaminated. Fearing cholera it became vital that they find a new supply and, according to the research of historian Bill Best Harris, finding themselves just off Mounts Bay, the Mayflower decided to stop at Newlyn.
The Old Quay which still stands at Newlyn is said to be of Medieval construction and there is little doubt this is where the Mayflower would have moored up while they took on the clean water that they desperately needed. I can’t tell you whether any of the Pilgrims came ashore to stretch their legs or how long the Mayflower remained in port. In all likelihood the transaction would have been completed as swiftly as possible so that they could catch up with the rest of the fleet.
But, as the actual departure point at Plymouth was destroyed long ago, when you walk on that rough old quay at Newlyn it is possible that it is the last place that these pioneers touched ‘home’ soil before heading off to become the stuff of history!
Just a little side note, while researching this story I visited the Mayflower steps in Plymouth which are so named in commemoration of the ships departure. While there I took a photograph of this wonderful Health and Safety notice.
And although I realise these are not the original steps it still tickled my childish sense of humour to think of those brave people setting out on an journey filled with so many unknown dangers passing a sign warning them of slippery steps and how to stay safe at sea. Some times the past is another planet!
The last time I visited the beautiful St Michael’s Mount, just off the coast of Cornwall, there was a steady stream of tourists crossing the tidal causeway ahead of me. I have walked this cobbled path many times in rain and shine, it’s a place that is different in every season and in every light. On this day it was the colour of the seaweed that stuck me, such an eye-popping green and lashings of it everywhere!
When my feet touched the rocky island shore I quickly began to wind my way up the old Pilgrims Path, weaving in and out of the flock of visitors puffing up to the castle. I had a different destination, the Giant’s Heart.
This stone heart suffers the undignified fate of being trampled under the soles of innumerable walking boots on a daily basis. It is the ultimate down-trodden heart and legend has it it belonged to Cormoran the Giant.
Cormoran built the huge stone castle that sits atop St Michael’s Mount but unfortunately he made nuisance of himself by waded ashore to the mainland every night and snatching livestock from local farms for his supper.
Local villagers got really fed up and offered a reward in return for someone slaying the giant. A local boy called Jack took up the challenge and he crept over to the island and dug a large giant-catching pit. Hardly a mastermind of a plan. But it was surprisingly effective. When Cormoran awoke from his sleep he saw Jack on his island and charged at him. Blinded by sunlight the giant didn’t see the pit that Jack had dug and promptly fell into it and disappeared.
All that was left of Cormoran was his stone heart . . .
and legend has it that if you stand still and listen hard you’re still able to hear the pounding beat of the giant’s unhappy heart.
I have a little stone heart that my other half gave me, it is always in the glove box of my car. It is fascinating how we humans find patterns in the world about us, we see faces everywhere and animals in the clouds. We search out meaning, we find the stories and hold on to seemingly worthless things as if they are some powerful symbol or charm.
The stone heart is another kind of the talisman. So next time you climb the Mount at Penzance take a moment to stop and listen for the beating of a giant’s heart.
Trencrom offers one of the finest views in Cornwall. This ancient Iron Age Hill Fort gives you a 360 degree panorama of the Penwith. It is one of the few places from which you can see both the north and the south coast at the same time.
St Ives bay on one side . . . (above)
. . . and Mount’s Bay on the other. Can you spot the shadow of St Michael’s Mount?
The fort itself is now just a higgledy-piggledy pile of low rocky walls and huge natural outcrops covered at this time of year with wild flowers. But you can still make out its ancient fortress shape and there are two obvious gateways in to the enclosure which highlight man’s early influence on this landscape.
For anyone who has read some of my previous blogs you will know that whenever I am somewhere like this my imagination starts working overtime and I always find myself wondering about the people who have stood where I am standing and what that place meant to them.
Most of the early travel writers that produced guides to Cornwall, the kind of books I love and collect, waxed lyrical about the views from Trencrom. They weren’t wrong and I wonder how much the scene that I see today has changed, not too much I imagine. Although Robert Hunt seemed to think he could see the hills of St Austell (50 miles away) from here, he clearly had better eyesight than I do!
Trencrom, also known as Trecrobbin meaning the round town in Cornish, is roughly 500m above sea level and as well as being a fortress it is also meant to have been the home of giants. Those giants according to legend buried a golden treasure here so in the past this hill has been the site of some furious digging!
But one aspect of this beautiful place is often overlooked however, the land was in fact given to the National Trust so that it would be a memorial to the men and women of Cornwall who gave their lives in the two World Wars.
I have been to Trencrom many times before but on that day last week, looking for some peace and quiet, it was the first time that I noticed the weather-worn memorial plaque hidden in the shadow of a huge boulder. And it gave me all the perspective I needed.
Trencrom isn’t difficult to find, it is just a few miles from St Ives, take the road for Halsetown and turn off left when you see a signpost for Cripplesease. In less than a mile there is a narrow gateway on the right-hand-side of the road to a little car park. From here it is a short, but steep and uneven climb, to the fort. (TR27 6NP)
When my grandmother became too old and confused to live on her own she announced that she was going to move to the Methodist home in Falmouth. We tried to persuade her to come and live at the farm with us but she was, as she had always been, determined.
Falmouth was the town where she had spent most of her childhood and married life and so I always felt that, even when she had lost all sense of whether I was her sister, mother, daughter or granddaughter, she still knew that she was somewhere where the air and the light was familiar.
Her bedroom window looked out on to Arwenak Avenue and when she first moved to the home she would walk up and down this shady, flat path and sit on a bench watching people bustle passed. She told me then that the old people of Falmouth had a different name for this road. They called it the Rope Walk.
The picture on the right was taken by Francis Firth in the 19th century, the one of the left was taken by me last week.
I believe the first record of the ground being used for rope making was in 1737 when Mr Thomas Deeble was leasing the ground from Arwenak Manor for that purpose at a cost of £5 per year. The famous Packet ships ensured a constant supply of traffic coming to the then busy harbour. Numerous tradesmen provided for the needs of the crew and the ships themselves. There were sail-makers and fresh water suppliers, carpenters and coopers. Rope making however required a long straight piece of land so that the separate stands could be twisted together, first by hand and then later by machine. The avenue was ideal for the purpose.
When my grandmother finally passed away in her 90s we were of course incredibly sad to lose her but in many ways as her dementia had advanced she had felt lost to us for a long time before she actually passed away. But the one thing that remained with her almost to the end were her memories of the old people and places of Falmouth. As the years have gone by I have gradually missed her more and more, for her advice and wisdom that I didn’t realise I valued so much at the time and for the immediate connection that she provided with those moments and people from the past.
As silly as it may sound Carry On films, fish-fingers and the Rope Walk in Falmouth will always remind me of her.
For another post about family and the importance of home try: Hireth