Friday, July 11, 2014

Day 7: Woolf's Footsteps in Cornwall

Days 7 Exploring Cornwall— Following Woolf’s Footsteps
(Sunday, June 29)

Lying in bed with my feet propped up on several pillows, a scotch by my side, watching Misommer Murders and trying to absorb, process, recover from two days of exploring Cornwall: days spent hurdling up and down country lanes so narrow the smaller of two approaching cars has to back up until there is an indentation deep enough in one side of the hedgerow that the two cars can carefully inch past each other, trying not to lock side view mirrors in the process. In Cornwall, the hedgerows are often stone walls, overgrown now with great masses of Queen Anne's lace, foxglove, and ferns.

The roads are curves and dips so packed and stacked I had to resort to Dramamine to keep from getting car sick. But then we'd break out of the low roads onto hill tops with spectacular panoramas over the green checkered landscaped, peppered with the solitary towers of tin mines and the occasional dolman or iron age stone fort.

Yesterday (Sunday) I rented a car and driver to take me and a couple of other volunteers hunting for places Woolf walked to or visited in her many trips to Cornwall. (we loved the name, Nippy Cab)

 Our driver, Barry, quickly got into the hunting spirit. We left Ednovean house (near Marizion), went thru Penzance and took the B3311 north towards St. Ives in search first of  Castle Dinas and Tren Comb — two frequent destinations for Leslie Stephen’s long Sunday walks when Virginia was a child.  Once we got up into the hills, there were tremendous views over the whole expanse of West Cornwall.  

St. Michael's Mount off in the distance

Our first destination was Castle-an-Dinas, which Woolf mentions visiting in her 1905 account of a trip to Cornwall with Vanessa, Adrain, and Thoby (PA 295).  I’d googled mapped it, but wasn’t prepared to find that access was cut off due to the site having been turned into a quarry — the same fate as met Virginia’s country house, Asham, in East Sussex.

We drove around and were able to get only glimpses of the castle ruins.

(A google search through images produces some wonderful arial views of the entire roman fort:

Apparently there is a footpath which we never located.  We did, however, like Virginia, find some friendly local farmers.
Went to Castle Garden Plantation, where we bought some local produce, met the prize bull Pretty Boy, and enjoyed the spectacular view over the hills, rendered oddly surrealistic by the huge wind turbines which preside over the landscape like alien watchers from some H.G. Wells science fiction novel.

Then we were off for Trencrom, a frequent destination for Sunday walks with Leslie Stephens, fairly near Castle-an-Dinas, like it more oo less midway between St. Ives and Penzance. (the Stephen children also called it "Trick Robbin" MOB 115 or 123)

After seeing a couple of signs pointing towards Trencomb we began to circle in by asking local people for more precise directions.  One woman helpfully told us it was "just down the hill there, past the green house on the left; you'll see a bit of a parking place and a trail. " Following her directions, we did indeed find a small parking lot and a gate leading up a trail-- though we were a tad confused at the lack of signs.  Knowing enough about country rules to lock the gate securely behind us, we ventured up a path strewn with an inordinate amount of sheep fewmets leading towards an intriguing rampart of old stones.

 Entering the semicircular rampart, we saw several mysteriously geometrical triangular stones, set in a roughly triangular configuration.  I'd just had time to snap a couple of pictures and we'd begun to speculate on local Wiccan practices when there was a flurry of whistling and shouting...  from the sheep farmer in whose field we were inadvertently tresspassing.
The man was grumpy, and not inclined to believe that we had actually closed the gate behind us, but seemed eventually to realize it had been an honest mistake on our part.  He escorted us out with all due speed, not at all willing to answer my question about the geometrical arrangements: "Don't know nuthin about it."   I will admit that the site was so weird that I had a very vivid dream that night about being kidnapped by villagers..


After several more miles of driving up and down vale (no other green houses sighted) we pulled over by another field, topped by an interesting pile of stones.  This time we found a friendly farmer who informed us the pile was indeed Trencomb, and that we were welcome to cut across his field to get to the stile that led up the hill.

While Dana ran ahead, Nancy and I walked at a more sedate pace.  Unfortunately, we lost sight of Dana and couldn't find the stile.  But as we walked to the highest point of the field we were greeted by an utterly spectacular view of the Godrevy lighthouse and the vast stretch of beach at Hayle.   It was so breath-taking, I said "Ah, now I understand," referring to understanding why this was a favorite walk of the Alpinist Leslie Stephen.  Dana, working her way up thru a corridor of rock several hundred yards away, says she heard me perfectly and took it as an omen to go all the way to the top.
Here's a close-up of the lighthouse

Re-perambulating the field, we found the stile, hidden in a patch of blackberry vines.  

The steps were nearly 18 inches high  -- too much of a pull for my titanium knees and weak quads, so we had to be content with looking upwards towards the top, where you can clearly see the "Loggan" (balanced) rock Woolf refers to in "A Sketch of the Past"  (The most famous Logan Rock in Cornwall is down on the Lizard Peninsula and can be seen from the Minack Theater )



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