Newlyn is our favourite harbour. It may be an Icelandic gull or a black redstart that draws us, but it is the turnstones at the harbourmaster’s office that enchant us, dashing about avoiding the comings and goings of vehicles instead of waves, as they monitor the sandwich situation within and without the office.
Seems to me that in recent years the fishing fleet is looking smarter and younger. But then, I find that’s true of most things!
But there are still old friends —
and ropes to trip over
potentially propelling me into the green depths and alarming the old seal lolling in the harbour waiting for the tide to rise high enough for him to snatch the discarded crabs.
The bright young boats are hung with clusters of fenders like boat-eggs, tended by fishermen.
Notice the threatening weather which reminds us of the rigours of their chosen occupation.
The best thing about visiting an active fishing port is the evening meal.
Yesterday was not the right time of the year for birdwatchers to visit the Scillies — too late for migrants and not enough wind for blown-in vagrants.
But yesterday was exactly the right day to travel to the Scilly Isles — not a breath of wind, brilliant winter sunshine and water like a millpond.
So catching the train to Penzance before dawn,
we piled onto the Scillonian III with lots of other followers of the weather forecast. The islands are about 30 miles from the tip of Cornwall.
Unlike many other ships. On our outward journey Bill regaled me with tales of Sir Cloudesley Shovell, a mate of Marlborough (his hero) who lost four ships on the rocks around the Scillies in 1707, with the loss of nearly 2000 sailors. This may have been due to the problems at the time in plotting longitude, though 80 years later it was rumoured to have been due to the Navy’s failure to listen to a seaman, native to the Islands, who told them they were heading for the rocks! He was hanged for trying to incite mutiny. This may or may not have been true or may be an early example of how we edit history according to our own prejudices!
Yesterday the islands looked tropical.
The beech was patrolled by a little platoon of ducks and one or two people were swimming without wet suits. We did see some birds:
As we head back along the south coast of Cornwall, the passengers all gather on the aft decks and despite an increasing chill, gaze as one at the mesmerising sunset. No one looking at their phone or scanning the sea for more dolphins — as man has done for ever, we watched the sun go down.
It may look like Cornwall but you can tell it’s not Cornwall because there aren’t any people, police, naval ships, radar installations, helicopters or motorcades. And no G7 demonstrators — a beach near my daughter’s Cornish home has been piled high with the undead bodies of middle aged ladies dressed as dead mermaids! All very artistic. No, this is Wales, this week at Cwm Tydu and I had no idea that this part was so beautiful.
One or two midges by the stream and butterflies in the meadow. Best of all (you may remember how long I hunted these last year) there are choughs! Spotted by chance and very active probing for ants on the grazed sward, just as they like it, courtesy of wild ponies.
Its a shame their bills and feet are so muddy, you can’t see how vibrantly red they are. Never mind — the news is good about these rare birds because the previous day we saw a chattering of them swooping above Bird Rock, north of Aberystwyth showing the splayed, finger-like feathers at the ends of their wings– seems their numbers may be on the up.
Mud is the order of the day — here one of the many house martins at Aberaeron harbour is collecting mud to build his house.
The common whitethroats are displaying.
Everywhere there is the hum of bumble bees making the most of this years blooming of the dog roses.
This one has so much pollen in her sacks it is a miracle that she can still fly — but then wild life is full of miracles.
A magic place, soon after dawn (which isn’t very early) on the Fowey estuary in January. Lapwings cluster on the sandbanks and the eerie calls of the curlew heralds the progress of the seasons.
Snow drops are under the bare oak in St Winnow’s churchyard, primroses blooming and campion in the hedgerow under the golden gorse. All in the cool moist air that reminds us of our amazing good fortune as family and friends in Australia (who used to tease us about our rain) suffer unimaginable heat and anxiety. They are living with the threat of loosing everything they hold dear in a biblical inferno.
I wish I could send them all a little while in the cool of St Winnow’s churchyard.
At home I spend many a happy hour musing on possible sites to land a helicopter –specifically an air ambulance — basically there is nowhere within two miles that is flat or not festooned with power lines or patrolled by ferocious cattle. The only flat place on the farm is where Alan has built an enormous bonfire which was too dangerous to light all summer and is now too wet!
Anyway, as everyone knows, no one ever gets around to being sure that they are ill enough to call an ambulance in the morning. We have our lunch at 3pm and it’s dark by 4 — the Welsh Air Ambulance doesn’t fly after dark which is as well with all the mountains and the above hazards.
We’ve been in Lostwithiel in Cornwall — on the Fowey River. There was a colossal roar the other day — so tantalizingly loud that Pedro and I had to go and investigate!
50 yards from the house we found the source of the row — a Cornwall Air Ambulance –come to pick someone up from the adjacent medical centre.
Here they are being loaded:
See –it’s already dusk, but note how wonderfully flat it is.
Then it started to roar again and the rotor blades which were drooping started to rotate faster and faster and got flatter and flatter and louder and louder until one thought it couldn’t try any harder — but it did and, as Pedro sank to the ground and covered his ears, it lifted lightly up and turned to face us.
It flew directly at us (must have seen the camera) then rose up in an aerial pirouette —
When you meet someone for the first time, it seems to me, that you can nearly always find something that you have in common — places you have lived, people you have known, views, tastes, maybe you have the same sense of humour — we humans like to do this, to forge bonds with new people.
I have just met Madrun and she is a remarkable woman. She’s been dead 1500 years.
Whatever you call her, Madrun or Materiana, this woman must have learned a thing or two from the turbulent power struggles that raged around her in her early life. She was born a princess, eldest daughter of Gwerthefyr Fendigaid (Vortimer the Blessed), the 5th century warrior king of Gwent who opposed the Saxon invaders from Germany who were allied with his father. He temporarily overthrew his father and took power but eventually is said to have been poisoned by his Saxon stepmother (that’s a recurrent theme!) On his father’s death, his daughter, Madrun, succeeded from her grandfather and rulled with her husband Ynyr (descended from Roman emperor Magnus Maximus). (Thankyou, David Nash Ford for this information from Early British Kingdoms)
The details of her life are obscure but we know she was Christian and that, like many of her contemporaries she travelled to Ynes Enlli (Bardsey Island — at the tip of the Llyn peninsula in North Wales) as a pilgrim.
On the way she and her servant Annun stayed a night at Trawsfynydd. I have visited this area — infact I blogged about the visit and the spooky nature of the place.(Off the Straight and Narrow)
Madrun found it spooky too. She and Annun both dreamed a dream of founding a nunnery there, which they did –the church there still bears Madrun’s name.
Yesterday we were at Tintagel, Cornwall, in a magnificent gale, shouting greetings to fellow walkers with excited wind-tousled dogs. We watched the huge swell and the breakers hitting the offshore islands and sending spray 60 feet into the air.
As we drove away we caught sight of a small church on the cliff and we were drawn to look. Here it is — St Materiana’s (that’s the same Madrun — she ended her days in Cornwall)
Relatively modern –rebuilt in 12th century! But there’s been a church here since the 6th century — I bet you Madrun’s buried here — look at the view.
I’ve done a lot of pointing in my time — that’s the hacking out of old mortar from ancient masonry and replacing it with fresh, new, lime mortar. I like doing it — it’s very relaxing and, if you are not alone, you can chat in a particularly unguarded way, with your mind half on the methodical job in hand.
But look at this chap!
Not so relaxed!
You can’t see his little pick in the photo but I could hear it. And he didn’t stop there, above the 700 year old octagonal lantern of the parish church of St Bartholomew, in Lostwithiel, Cornwall.
I don’t know how he got his rope to the top of the tower but here he is higher:
hacking at the mortar of the church, the body of which was built in the heyday of the town in the twelfth century when it was one of the most important ports in Britain — before the river silted up with the waste from streaming tin on the hills which, ironically, was the source of the town’s wealth.
It is no longer the capital of Cornwall — but a very picturesque and quiet village in which to enjoy a cream tea and watch the twenty-first century go by.
2 of the remaining arches –used to be 8 — see the silt!