As much as I adore my home county of Kent there is another land which reserves a special corner of my heart just as it holds a special corner of the Country and that is of course Cornwall on the opposite side down in the far south-west of Britain.
Cornwall and Kent really couldn’t be more opposite. Not only is one far west and one far east the land in Cornwall is mostly untouched, sympathetically farmed where grazing or arable fields fit in with the landscape rather than making the land fit the farm as has been the case here in Kent for centuries. The pace of life in the West Country is slower, no one rushes anywhere and in fact you can go almost a day out on the moors and see perhaps only one or two folks walking between villages to the nearest convenience store or post office which could be miles…a beautiful contrast. I have an affinity for this place, for ‘A’ especially it is his ancestral homeland where both sides of his family originally hail from and he has many fond childhood memories of the West Country.
We try to get down to Cornwall every year, at least for a long weekend although now ‘A’s’ family is moving back toward their ancestral homeland I’m sure this will become much more often, this pleases me immensely of course!
We left on Friday morning. It was an unpleasant journey, lots of rubber neckers near Stonehenge hoping to catch a glimpse of the infamous structure caused queues and mile long tailbacks. Personally Stonehenge has little appeal since you can’t even get remotely close to the stones anymore, as impressive as they are. We finally arrived in Plymouth so ‘A’ could visit his grandparents, he said farewell and we laughed all the way to Bude, affectionately mimicking their broad yet sweet and comforting Devonshire accents. After more catch up’s and cups of tea with other in-laws we made our way down the Devon /Cornwall border listening to songs from ‘Glee’. Now our Holiday could begin, mobile phones switched off, no more distractions.
We arrived at Whitsand bay a little later than hoped; we missed what had become our traditional first day walk along the beach at sunset. Tired from driving nearly all day it was time to light the Hearth and make a quick brew before curling in to bed. Tomorrow…holiday officially begins tomorrow.
I woke up early the next morning, early enough to catch the dawn light as the sun rose above the South Cornish cliffs and cast its pastel light upon the sea below us. In Kent I find I must work much harder to engage the spirits and the land, in Cornwall I need merely turn a corner and the spirits seem to be there shouting, brazen and unafraid, untarnished by intensive agriculture and the comings and goings of western civilisation. The kettle whistled like a Banshee from inside our little hut, ’A’ was awake much earlier than usual and he made tea whilst I braved the outdoor shower…there really is nothing like the sensation of hot water and cold air to get you going in the morning, especially when followed by a short walk up the coast to a fabulous little Café serving an all day bargain full English breakfast!
After the clouds finally dissolved, the weather Gods smiled down upon us and for the first time in what felt like months I felt warm sun upon my skin, even the sun in Cornwall feels different! We set off up towards Tintagel or more specifically St Nectan’s Glen.
This was a place which has been on my ‘to do’ list for years now but I’ve never had the time to find it. This year was different and ye gods it was worth it! Once we parked the car we made our way on foot through a narrow unassuming alley between a few houses. A well dedicated to St Pirian (Patron Saint of Cornwall) was surprise number one. I have a real fondness for Holy wells and this one pushed all the right buttons. Someone had left a tiny bouquet of wild flowers at the mouth of the well and I collected some water, left Silver for St Pirian and we continued along the path only to find surprise number two. Set behind a typically Cornish slate wall a tiny one room chapel dedicated to St Pirian stood almost derelict amongst overgrown hawthorn and Ivy. The information dated this church originally to the 1400’s and inside was just…well…magical. I sat for a while, gazing softly upon the medieval looking altar whilst ’A’ explored. As we left, we noticed (or rather ‘A’ noticed as I seemed to have my face attached to the camera most of the time) little statues and figurines stuck in nooks and crannies….Dual faith I wonder?
We continued on our way winding down a steep valley street where all the houses are named after saints. We stepped into woodland where we were greeted by a myriad of beautiful ferns lining the path of a small brook. I thought that was beautiful in itself yet every step opened out into a more breath-taking scene than the last, no photograph can truly do the place justice, and neither should it for the magic of this place can and should only be experienced in the flesh. It surely isn’t of this world.
After about an hour walking against the flow of the brook (collecting one or two choice stones and stopping for one or two ciggy breaks on the way) we arrived at a small tea room, set seemingly up in the trees. A veranda overlooks the water beneath, which gushes into the woodland. This was a real piece of paradise, a haven where we recharged with coffee for ‘A’ and Earl Grey tea for me. The owners of the tea room kindly leant us some welly boots explaining that they have had some major storms recently and the water level is now over the steeping stones (some drought eh!?!) . She buzzed us through a high security gate and we walked down a steep flight of slate steps…high security gates and welly boots all seemed a little covert but it added to the excitement and mystery!
We heard it long before we saw it. As we turned the corner I literally felt my breath catch and stop. Water roared from somewhere hidden off to my left but what lay before me was a place nothing short of stunning! We waded into the water walking against the flow towards the source of the thunderous sound, round the corner and there it was…roaring, gushing torrents…
We were speechless…..!
We went our separate ways then for a while. ‘A’ knows me well enough to know when I need quiet time so he left me perched upon a rock whilst he went off and explored. Surrounded by various devotional offerings and little man-made piles of flat stones, water trickled past my feet over pebbles of all shapes and sizes, the light of the sun danced through branches bursting with green as they swayed in the breeze high above. The light reflected and twinkled on the water and caught my eye and I found myself drifting off into a twilyte sleep. “Make offerings of silver and swim”….I knew what needed to be done and fortunately we had the entire glen to ourselves! The clothes came off and armed with a few silver 10 pence pieces I waded back into the freezing water stark naked towards the rushing waterfall and tossed the humble offering toward the eroded circle of rock. Missed! “Try Again!” Second time lucky? Missed again the coin bounced off the edge of the hole. Third time was indeed the charm and I proceeded to plunge myself into the torrent. ‘A’ didn’t flinch (he’s used to me!)
The blast of the cold water was like lightning through my head and down my spine but once I emerged I felt strangely warm and seemed to dry off quickly. I returned to dry land and got dressed. I was rewarded with a visit from a very tame little chap…who remarkably ate a few biscuit crumbs from my hand until tourists descended upon us. He followed us all the way out of the glen. I can only describe the place as best as words will allow but honestly, words are insufficient and photos are quite inadequate! Can I live here please?!
We went for lunch in a little fishing village back on the south coast called Polperro, a very quaint little place where tourism and traditional Cornish fishing families seem to cohabit quite amicably. After something to eat we sat and watched the boats and I treated myself to a little bottle of Cornish Mead (just to compare with my homemade you understand, plus I liked the bottle it came in!!) The little harbour was joyous and buzzing with activity and I thought of my Grandfather who worked in a place just like this back home once upon a time. I do love the sea!
We journeyed back to our little hut upon the cliffs, grabbing something for dinner en route. We had a quick restorative cuppa then set off down the treacherous cliff path to the beach. The sun was starting to set and the tide was retreating…perfect for beach combing. I collected enough small round polished pebbles to make a rune set, some interesting drift wood, some washed up fishing rope and sea water…one man’s rubbish really is another man’s treasure and the sea dumps a surprising amount of ‘treasure’ as the tide rolls back!
Later we cooked dinner and watched the sunset, opened a bottle of wine and watched the stars come out all from the fabulous outdoor bath (and yes the water is hot!!) Bliss! I managed to squeeze in a snifter of the Cornish Mead I had bought earlier at Polperro…it blew my head off and was so sweet and rich it tasted more like a honey liqueur…delicious and heady and I clearly have a ways to go with my home-made Mead to get it to this standard!!
We lit the log burner and nestled into a pile of cushions on the floor reading books and chatting. The hut has no mains power so all you can do is talk, think and scry the flames of that charming little hearth. Reality faded…time slowed to a standstill…a moment became an hour, an hour became a lifetime…
The next day we had a little lie in before attempting breakfast up at the Cliff side Café. We visited The Lost Gardens of Heligan which we thought would be of interest to us amateur gardeners and me an amateur home herbalist. In fact we were actually disappointed, the landscaping and pictures of the gardens before and after restoration were pretty impressive however there really wasn’t much to see. Except of course the vegetable and herb garden. Beautiful neat rows of thriving fruit, vegetables and herbs pleased me and the scent of chocolate mint and pineapple sage was new and exciting. A little more information of some of the more obscure plants would have been useful for the layman, but still it was worth a visit and the gift shop was its one redeeming feature (I can be such a tourist!) They had a great selection of horticultural books and herbal goodies. I purchased packets of Borage, Mullien and Woad seed, some empty tea bags ready to be filled with my own concoctions and a bargain Mushroom field guide.
It also happened to be dark moon so we headed back a little earlier to give me time for my usual observations. The Moors rolled past as we headed East across Cornwall listening to the Soundtrack from ‘The Davinci Code’. Feeling inspired by a recent In The Chimehours blog I decided to make the most of my location and venture down to the sea. As the sun began to set I made my way down the familiar (yet still ever so treacherous) cliff path. A descent into the underworld perhaps…at least that’s how it felt as I followed the sun. I had the entire beach to myself and after a little walk along the receding tide line I found a good spot nestled in a small cave. I unloaded my back pack, stripped off t-shirt and shoes and walked slowly towards the sea, The Sangreal Prayer resounded loudly in my head and I repeated the blessing as I waded knee-deep into the waves. I gasped as the first few drops of salty water hit the tips of my toes, it was far too cold to strip off and take the plunge but I washed hands and face none the less. Back at my chosen spot I grasped a piece of washed up fishing rope and whirled it round and round just like a Bullroarer from Cornish Craft, conjuring spirits of Land, Sea and Sky (when in Rome!) and the sound of the waves lulled me into a time between time. The sun vanished behind the far western shore and the steep cliff behind me grew dark and imposing. I swayed gently with the winds, in time with the waves. Here in the underworld a vast cauldron bubbled and, just like the oceans were the source of all life on earth, here I sat on the cauldron’s brim where birth, life, death endlessly circulate and recycle. Cup and Bread were blessed, the communion shared and offerings poured into the white salty foam. The Land of Kernow responded to simplicity in a way I have never experienced before in Kent…The Cornish Coast taught me something that I will keep with me always. I lingered here for a while before I ascended back up the perilous path to middle earth where a steaming hot bath and hot brew awaited. It was the clearest night we had experienced and I got neck ache from looking up to the starry skies… the perfect reflection of earlier experiences down beside the twinkling sea.
Our last day is always bitter-sweet! We hit the road Kent bound but pre planned a stop off at Glastonbury on the way. We ended up being there most of the day in fact. First port of call was the Chalice Well (also known as the red spring due to its rich Iron content). We strolled up through the gardens starting with the lower pool surrounded by flower beds bursting with spring flowers and made our way up to the bathing pool. When I reached the Lions Head drinking fountain I filled my bottle and drank long deep glugs of the metallic tasting yet incredibly refreshing cool water. I wondered if the garden designers knew anything of Kabbalah because the way the pools are organised scream middle pillar to me!
I filled two demi johns full of the crystal waters ready for some special home-brew. We visited the White spring also which I had never seen before. Despite the congregation of naked and semi naked hippies running around the place, the well is truly awe-inspiring. In fact it surpassed my expectations and I would say I now prefer it to the red. The white springs are more masculine, an altar to Ol’ Hornie has been erected within and here I sat as the Calcite rich waters roared around the old pump house from their source beneath the Tor. I gathered some…perhaps I’ll mix a little red with white! It was refreshing to feel a little maleness in what has become an overly feminine Glastonbury for a change.
We hit the shops, did the usual thing…spent a fortune on herbs and essential oils. ‘A’ treated himself to his favourite ‘Green Man’ oil from Starchild and carried my bags for me (chivalry lives!) whilst I chatted herbs with some of the local shop owners, I fondled knives and Bolines, cooed over candles and incense and of course we laughed at the usual day-to-day circus that is Glastonbury town centre.
Our holiday finished with a climb up the Tor, we go straight up due to time restrictions and in fact I don’t see many people taking the spiral path at all these days. The wind up there was ferocious, nearly blowing me over on several occasions, Crows battled the oncoming gusts but some were tame enough to come and enjoy the scenery with me. I collected a little soil, then a few locals began some ‘ritual’ and we left before we were roped into anything that might require velvet, or excessive silver crystal jewellery. Quietly we made our way to the car…miserable as 2 little boys with 2 broken toys!
Before we knew it we were Home. As we whizzed down the M26 the North Downs rose ahead, I let out a deep sigh from behind the steering wheel… It’s good to be home, but parting Cornwall is such sweet sorrow!
For where you rest shall the homeland be,
A piece of Cornwall forever
In the time when you were young Mother,
Before you left for this land,
Did our boats lie down on the golden sand?
Do the Gulls scream here Mother like they do in the other land?
Is the sky so big
Is the grass so green?
And did father love us like you did before you were gone.
And is he with you now to hold your hand,
To lead you into love in that golden land?
I hope so Mother, back to the Homeland.
The Homeland by Clies Stevens