The Joys of Cornwall

Derelict mine building at Wheal Coates3

Old tin mines stand tall

Telling stories of the past

On Cornish coastline

I recently spent another lovely week in Cornwall. I wanted to be near the sea while still being near Truro for my hubby’s regular dialysis sessions, so I opted for a cottage in St Agnes. St Agnes is a beautiful, unspoilt little town on the North Cornwall coast. It is full of fascinating relics from the days when tin and copper mining was the main industry. It seemed strange to me to see derelict tin mines visible from behind houses and forming the boundary walls of gardens. In fact tin is still produced in St Agnes at the Blue Hills Mine, the only place in the UK that still produces it. St Agnes is an area of outstanding natural beauty and it has been designated a World Heritage Site. I can certainly see why. I just loved the rugged land and seascapes. Even in our state of unfitness we were able to walk some of the coastal path. This leads to sights that can never be appreciated from the road. One of these is Wheal Coates Mine. It is truly amazing when seen from a distance with its three shafts and its spectacular position on the side of the cliffs. In fact the mine goes all the way down to the sea and at high tide you can hear the waves crashing against rocks through a grid in the ruins. It was possible to get into this mine via a large cave at a nearby beach. There is a local legend that says Wheal Coates is haunted by the spirits of the miners who died there. I expect the eerie sounds of the sea account for the legends.
I’ve always been interested in industrial buildings. I guess this is mainly due to my father’s influence as he was a steel man from the age of 13 and he developed in me a passion for ships, bridges and buildings. The other reason could be because of where I grew up. I lived in the Felling, a shipbuilding and mining area in the North of England. I skipped past the railway station and shipyard every day on my way to school and there was a derelict engine house complete with winding gear at the end of our street of 2 up and 2 down back to back miners’ cottages. These were our adventure playgrounds. Children were never allowed to play on the grass or ride bikes in the municipal parks in those days! Parks were for floral displays and grown-ups to walk in and the park warden was fierce.
Being a traditional and romantic sort of person I regret that industrialisation almost destroyed the crafts of blacksmiths, weavers, spinners, millers and grinders. But I find there is great beauty to be found in the derelict buildings, in the machinery that drove the mines and the mills, and in the engines that turned their wheels and moved their goods

Around St Agnes there are beaches, bays and coves with caves where wreckers and smugglers, no doubt, once hid their treasures. We visited a pub reminiscent of Jamaica Inn. The pub is called the Driftwood and it has a fascinating history. It is a 17th century building which in its time has been a warehouse for the tin mines, a ships’ chandlery, and a sail maker’s loft, before becoming a characterful old pub. It is built of Cornish stone and slate and ship’s timbers and spares. Behind one of the fireplaces in the pub there is a tunnel which was uncovered during restoration. It is said that this was the secret escape route for the wreckers and smugglers of the area as it leads all the way to the beach.

The cottage we stayed in was perfect and my joy was complete when my daughter came to stay for a couple of days with my adorable grandson. He just loved the sea and sand, the horses in the paddock and the trampoline in the garden. We took him to Lappa Valley Railway, which is kiddie heaven in my book. Built on the site of yet another ruined mine, there are castles and treehouses and adventure equipment to satisfy any age. There are also 12 steam engines giving rides on trains which Stanley really loved. There is also a boating lake, café, shop and everything you could want for a fun day out. I loved it.
Sadly it will be another year before I can go away again due to the shortage of holiday dialysis spaces around the country. But until then I have my photos to remind me of the fun we had and the beauty of Cornwall. Enjoy!

Cornwall here I Come

I am so thrilled to be going back to Cornwall for a holiday this year. A holiday and travel in general is a rare treat since my hubby started dialysis some years ago. We can only go to an area with a hospital that offers holiday dialysis ~ and has a vacant week. Twice we have been fortunate enough to get holidays in Dorset and I have written about those before.
Last year we travelled to Truro where the general hospital also offers holiday dialysis. Having never explored Cornwall I had great plans of all the places I wanted to see. But my hopes were firmly dashed when the car broke down before we even got to our hotel!
There’s only one thing to do in those circumstances I find ~ write a poem ~ so here it is…

I came for cool, clean, salty air
For cloudless skies and seagulls
I came for peace, tranquillity,
For time to think of only me

I came to stop, to rest, to think
To wander country lanes
I came to taste delicious meals
And sparkling wines to drink

I came this county to explore
Its hillsides, gardens and seashore
‘Til my car broke down it was going so well ~
Now I’m confined to my hotel!

I did manage to visit some tin mines,  the Lost Gardens of Heligan and the Minack Theatre once my car was fixed, and you can see photos of them by clicking their links.

Here are some photos I didn’t manage to post…

Tin and China Clay Mines in Cornwall

This post is for Alice who wanted to see my photos of mines in Cornwall.

I was very excited to see the remains of mines scattering the skyline during our recent holiday in Cornwall.

I’ve always been interested in industrial buildings.  I guess this is mainly due to my father’s influence as he was a steel man from the age of 13 and he developed in me a passion for ships, bridges and buildings.  The other reason could be because of where I grew up.  I lived in the Felling, a shipbuilding and mining area in the North of England.  I skipped past the railway station and shipyard every day on my way to school and there was a derelict engine house complete with winding gear at the end of our street of 2 up and 2 down back to back miners’ cottages.  These were our adventure playgrounds.  Children were never allowed to play on the grass or ride bikes in the municipal parks in those days!  Parks were for floral displays and grown ups to walk in and the park warden was fierce.

Being a traditional and romantic sort of person I accept that industrialisation almost wiped out the jobs for blacksmiths, weavers, spinners, millers and grinders. But I find there is great beauty in the  machinery that drove the mines and  the mills, and in the engines that turned their wheels and moved their goods.

The Redruth and Camborne area was the central tin and copper mining district of Cornwall.   The area is now part of the Cornish Mining World Heritage Site and has made the most of it’s heritage by opening up the old tramways and railways as trails for walking, biking or horse-riding.  Along the trails there are the remains of the historic mines.  And along the way there are spectacular views of the coast or  gorgeous countryside.  I was amazed to learn that Gwennap and the mines around it was once the richest copper producing area in the world.

One or two of the mines are now restored.  For example Geevor Tin Mine, Gwennap Pit and King Edward Mine are open as visitor attractions but we avoided those preferring to walk around and discover the remains of derelict mines.

We did however visit Wheal Martyn.  This place is amazing being almost a complete Victorian China Clay works.  Thousands of people made their living here in its day.  It is brilliantly preserved with its huge waterwheel, tools, machinery, vintage vehicles, pits and tunnels all in working order.  Walking round, it feels as if the workers have just left their labours for the day.

There is still a great china clay industry in Cornwall but it is not just used for ceramics now.  Mostly it is used in the production of paper, cosmetics and toothpaste, as well as in the farming, building, medical and chemical industries.

Lost Gardens of Heligan

Original George V postbox at Lost Gardens of Heligan. Original George V postbox at Lost Gardens of Heligan.

Seeing this old post box at Heligan reminded me that the prompt word for haiku-heights this week is  “time”.  The postbox is from the first world war period and is marked with the plain G R indicating it was from the time of King George V, who reigned for 26 years from 6 May 1910 to 20 January 1936.   It seemed fitting to link it with the sad fate of the gardeners who worked on the gardens

Garden abandoned

Young men posted like letters

To fight at the front

I recently wrote about the mysterious Church of Ampney St Mary which had been covered in ivy and lost for years until it was rediscovered in 1913.

Today I visited an equally mysterious garden in Cornwall which had been lost in undergrowth and weed for over 75 years until it was rediscovered quite by accident in  1990.  Heligan had been the seat of the Tremayne family since the 16th Century and was surrounded by fabulous gardens which had been designed and added to by successive members of the family.  At the beginning of the 20th century there were 22 full time gardeners looking after the estate.  But in 1914 when war broke out they all had to go away to fight.  Before leaving one of the gardeners scratched a puzzling message into a wall saying, “Don’t come here to sleep or slumber…”.  Under the message were the names of the workers and the date August 1914.

W Durnsford
W Guy
William Robins
R Barron
Chaeles Dyer
Charles Ball
Albert Rowe
W Rose
3 Paynters – initials illegible
Leonard Warne
D Hocking
Percy Carhart
Others were illegible

16 of the 22 gardeners were killed in the war and the fortunes of the Tremayne family home were altered for ever.  During the First World War Britain suffered a terrible decline in its social and economic structures.  Many large estates were broken up including Heligan.  The house itself was rented out and the gardens became overgrown through neglect until they all but disappeared.

That could have been the end of the story but John Willis, who is a descendent of the Tremayne family who lived in the area visited Heligan with some friends.  While exploring he found a tiny room buried under fallen masonry and there on a wall he found the gardener’s sad message.  It captured his imagination and along with his friends he decided to restore the gardens to their former glory in memory, not of the great people who had owned the estate, but of the great gardeners who had worked on it.

And so the amazing restoration of the Lost Gardens of Heligan began.  It is an ongoing project but the gardens today were magnificent.  My favourite bits are the Crystal Grotto, the flower garden and the jungle.  My favourite plant was the tree fern.  But the whole place is enchanting, atmospheric, mysterious and inspirational.  I  saw lots of wildlife and half expected to see fairies dancing in the woods!

Do enjoy the photos I took today in the flower garden and take a look at the website for the Lost Gardens of Heligan.

All the world’s a stage

As I drove around the park area of Cheltenham today I noticed a road called Rowena Cade Avenue. I wondered how many residents of our lovely town know who she was, so I thought I would blog about her connection with the town and her amazing legacy. As this year is the centenary of the start of WW1 I thought this was appropriate.  Rowena spent her formative years living in Cheltenham where her uncle was Head of the Junior school at Cheltenham College.  Rowena herself went to Cheltenham Ladies College for a while. Rowena lived with her father James, and her mother, in a house called Ellerslie, which backed onto Pittville Pump Rooms. When the First World War started she was given the heartbreaking job of selecting and breaking in horses to be sent to the front.  Readers may have seen the play or film of Michael Morpurgo’s book,  War Horse.  This perfectly illustrates the horrors those poor horses were sent to.

After the war Rowena’s father had died and the rest of her family had dispersed, so she moved to Cornwall.  It was here she developed her talent for designing and making costume, putting on shows, and ultimately developing the unique and iconic Minack Theatre.  The theatre was entirely planned and financed in the 1920s and 30s by this inspirational woman, Rowena Cade.  The Minack was her passion and she literally worked on it until she died at almost 90 years of age.

We visited the Minack Theatre while we were on holiday in Cornwall. The weather was spectacularly good which made the setting all the more wondrous.  The stage is made of stone set against a backdrop of the cliffs and sea.  There is a stone balcony, stone pillars, stone boxes and all the terraced seating is tiered into the cliff face and made of stone.  Many of the seats have the year carved into them as well as the title of plays performed in that year.  The first play to be performed there was The Tempest in 1932.   There is a seat with 1939 carved into it and the next one says “Break for the war”!  Some of the stone seats have huge cockle shells carved into them.

Around the theatre is a spectacular garden with plants from all around the globe.  The plants were chosen by Rowena to withstand the salty winds coming off the sea, as well as the very wet winters and often hot, dry summers.

Minack theatre is open all year round to visitors.  If you are lucky and you visit between in spring or summer months you may see a play, concert or opera.  You would be advised to take a cushion and have something warm to wear as the seats are solid stone and it can get very cold.

While we were there, the performance was the Marriage of Figaro.  This year there is surely something for everyone, including:

Pygmalion, Tosca, Far From the Madding Crowd, The Producers, Oh What A Lovely War, A Midsummer Night’s Dream.  The full programme can be found on the website

I took lots of photos as the weather was so good.  I hope they give you an insight into the wonderful achievements of Rowena Cade.