Beautiful #Cornwall

Cornwall has long been my bolt hole from the world, where I come to switch off. I find myself back here for the second time in a week, spending this glorious Easter weekend with family.

One of my favourite pastimes here is walking the coast. There is a particular stretch I must have walked a hundred times over the years, between Portreath and Godrevy. Since my family moved to Illogan, I have turned it into a round walk, from the top of Park Bottom, through Tehidy Woods to the coast, past Hell’s Mouth and on to Godrevy Point, then back to Portreath.

I’ve yet to to do the full round walk on this trip, and might not, but I have made the trip to Godrevy and Hell’s Mouth a couple of times. Here are some photos from my walks over the last couple of weeks, including the seals basking on the beach. I’ve also thrown in a few of Holywell Bay that I only discovered, shamefully, last week.

Cornwall has also inspired a lot of writing, too. This is a piece from a few years ago that was inspired by a walk very similar to those I have enjoyed these past weeks.

A Cornish Walk

They sold ale here long ago, 

To miners and travellers,

This ancient kiddleywink

Maintaining a vigil over

The crossroad hedges.

I take a winding lane past

A slope of straggle-eared

Wheat, through a dark

Cathedral tunnel of oak,

Beech and elm, past the

Mining way where weary

Cousin Jacks once walked,

Dreaming of New World

Lives an ocean’s sail away.

On, then, down Green Lane,

Where golden corn meets

Blue water meets bluer sky,

To the cliffs that loom

Above the sand and rocks

That story-boarded my

Childhood adventures of

Wreckers and pirates,

And above the tunnels from

Caves to twisty cottages

Cradled in the granite.

On to the moor, high

Above the beaches

Where revenue men

Fought smugglers for kegs

Of rum and gin, and crates

Of tea and tobacco from

Magical lands, where shaggy

Ponies chew the grass and

Watch those passing by

With lazy curiosity.

Further on, sheep, beyond

The dips and climbs that

Drain lungs and legs

And test the heart, 

Smile furtively, before

Shuffling slowly cross the 

Meadow, a late August’s

Morning sun beating down

On wool-laden backs.

And by the crumbling path’s

Edge, a scent of low tide,

Of salt-crusted grass and

Fresh sea breezes, lifts

Me out of my thoughts

And causes me to smile:

Pleasure in such simplicity.

By the roadside Café  I

Pause, tea and frozen

Orange to slake a thirst, and

I think back on the years

I have walked these paths,

The company kept from 

Time to time, though,

Ruefully, I acknowledge,

More often alone than not.

And as I strike out on the

Final miles, I pass the vicious

Maw where once a foundered

Trawler’s bell tolled its haunting

Requiem for those that

Drowned one stormy night,

But, where rust and waves

Have silenced even that

Lonely memorial, all that

Remains are the memories

Of those of us that knew.

Through fields of cattle and

Over stiles, and on and on,

I climb the final headland

Until a gleaming jewel, 

The island lighthouse, presents

My exhausted journey’s end. 

Satisfied, I make my rest and

Wonder: why this walk, year

After year? Why this stretch

Of coast above all others?

Why the peace from so much

Toil? Is it just the promise of

The sea’s refreshing churn?

No matter why, I smile, and

Close my eyes to dream a while.

A cliff-side Secret Garden in magical #Cornwall

This past Tuesday, along with assorted family, I had the privilege of seeing The Secret Garden at the Minack Theatre.

For those who don’t know it, the Minack (from the Cornish meynek meaning ‘rocky place’) must be one of the most dramatic performance venues in the United Kingdom, perhaps the world. Built on a rocky outcrop at Porthcurno, the theatre sits on top of granite cliffs with a sweeping view of the Atlantic, its stage open to the elements. Constructed rock by rock by Rowena Cade and her gardener to accommodate local village players, the theatre’s first performance was The Tempest in 1932.

I realised the last time I had been was 1995, to see The Questors perform Denise Deegan’s Daisy Pulls It Off. On that occasion, we sat there with black bin bags on our head eating a huge Spanish omelette made by our friend Victor, who spoke very little English. Quite what he made of these barely audible schoolgirls pranking each other in the rain, we never found out, but it was surely a very English summer experience.

By contrast, this visit was in stunning sunshine, the kind of April day that teases with the possibility of long hot summer days to come. The site has been considerably developed over the last couple of decades, with a little complex of shops and a cafe. If they were there twenty-four years ago, I certainly don’t recall them.

Jessica Swale’s adaptation of the Frances Hodgson Burnett classic is a superbly paced and good-humoured romp, the energy of the cast, young and old, matched by wonderful, inventive puppetry. Although manipulated by humans, the animals, particularly the fox, are beguiling and the movements uncannily lifelike.

This was the first performance. The younger cast members divide into two teams, Foxglove and Bluebell, for different shows and it was Foxglove for the premiere. Perhaps the standout performance for me was Alina Hulse, whose portrayal of Martha, one of the nurses, was simply superb. She had all the assured presence of an actor twice her age – learning after the show that she was just twelve (my sister, who is an artist and also involved in Cornish theatre knew a number of the cast and the puppet makers). Credit, too, to Juliet Colclough (Mary Lennox), Roisin Bermingham (Dickon) and Harry Ladd-Carr (Colin Craven), for drawing us into the magic of The Secret Garden.

Seeing shows like this takes me back to the 1980s and Basildon’s Towngate Theatre and the shows we did with the English National Opera and the Basildon Youth Theatre.

Perhaps I should have stuck with acting.

Reasons why my sister is an ultra-cool and talented artist #fb

My sis

So Ellie tends to hide her light under a bushel. However, we who know realise that she is an ultra-cool and talented artist whose work is fresh and exciting. I know you think I might say that, as she is my sister, but siblings are not always the kindest critics. I don’t have a good record to be honest. I was apparently interrupted by the neighbour attempting to place my brother (equally talented and ultra-cool) on the bonfire.

This was a long time ago.

Not recently. Anyway…

Most of her stuff is not online at the moment as she is still reworking her online gallery. However, I have decided to embarrass her on my blog by showing the world (well, those who read this) how talented she is.

One of her early commissions was to work on The Compton Skyline Project in Brighton. It was a fantastic and ambitious piece of community art, installed on the roofs of houses and engaging local people in its conceptualisation and production. As well as painting, she is a dab-hand at sculpting and installations, working with both the Eden Project and Truro’s City of Lights Festival and Parade.

Ellie's installation of “Angel Gabriel” in Truro Cathedral, City of Lights 2007 - unattributed

Some parts of the country truly understand the arts and our broad impact on our quality of life. Ellie has worked with Arts for Health Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly where she and her friend Tom put on a workshop for disabled children to explore their creativity (take a look at page 12).

She has also been a part of the creative team at Wildworks, the Cornish theatre company with a reputation for challenging and innovative theatre. Wildworks specialises in working with the landscape and reworking mythical stories in a way that makes them relevant to the here and now. Recently, Wildworks put on the sensational show The Beautiful Journey. Have a look at the reviews. It’s a tremendous vote of confidence in her talents for her to be credited as a member of the team alongside her great friend, collaborator and house-mate, the equally talented and ultra-cool Myriddin Wannell (more on him another time!).

To give you a better idea of what fuels her creative imagination, probably best to read about Ellie in her own words:

“I was born in Essex and studied Art and Design at Wimbledon School of Art and followed this with a degree at Falmouth College of Arts where I gained a BA Hons in Fine Art.

Having grown up overlooking the Thames Estuary and it’s industrial and post-industrial landscape – oil refineries, anonymous edifices, scrub land and muddy-brown waters – it is of no surprise that when I moved to the other end of the country I landed at the heart of Cornwall’s contemporary mining landscape. Currently, I’m fascinated by these industrial yet ghostly and sombre places.

Most of my work is predominantly within the realms of drawing and painting, where I’m driven equally by the exploration of materials and the language of mark-making.”

Derelict tower at Coal House Fort, part of the landscape that inspired Ellie's early work

In 2008 a series of Ellie’s work on the china clay pits around Truro and St Austell was displayed on the King Harry Ferry, Feock, at the height of the holiday season (August) in an exhibition entitled Embark 2008. The online journal for Cornish artists, has one of the pictures she exhibited online.

So what is she doing today?

She just emailed me with details of her latest project. She is working on The Enchanted Palace, with the likes of Vivienne Westwood and Echo Morgan – very, very exciting for a young artist!

If anyone wants to see what else she has been up to, have a look at her CV. If you want to acquire a piece of her work or are interested in engaging her talents, drop me a line and I will put you in touch if you can’t track her down on the web!

Good luck Ellie – you’re  totally great.

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