Despite lashings of rain, resulting in severe flooding in a Cornish pocket around Lostwithiel on the previous day, I found myself driving down to Rinsey Green on the Cornish coast west of Helston, to spend a few days with Liz, Briony and Dan. This short spell will cross the date at which the year turns since the untimely death of my nephew Max. Liz decided to mark the interlude by spending time off her own territory, and with some company.
Arriving at the cottage mid-morning, Dan and I were welcomed to a cosy cottage, nicely warm with all requisites and basics to provide creature comforts. The cottage is set back from the cliff frontage and there are houses between us and the sea, but seated in the bathroom upstairs, as I find myself from time to time, I am able to gaze through a picture window across the roofs westwards over the wide bay, towards Marazion and Penzance beyond.
After lunch we drive to the inland village of St Erth where a woodcarver has his studio. Liz has an appointment to pick up a mobile wooden barn owl. It has a body with articulated wings, and may be suspended from the ceiling and gently pulled downwards to simulate flight.
She first saw these in 2001 when we made an extended family pilgrimage to Porthleven to celebrate my father’s 80th birthday. Returning to Porthleven earlier in the week she had tracked the carver down and placed an order; her owl is ready for collection.
Andy uses pyrography to work plumage patterns onto the surface of the wooden owl. He then wraps Liz’s owl and offers to demonstrate pyrography – a Grecian word meaning ‘fire writing’ which is an old art form known originally as ‘poker work’. Using rather crude and rudimentary tools in the late 18th century, a Devonshire man worked pyrographic scenes on wood and published a book on the technique in 1811.
Having travelled west from Rinsey we continue on and up onto the Land’s End peninsula to visit Porthcurno, a beach to which I return whenever I can. We stand on the windswept, rain-spattered beach gazing out at the rollers and the three surfers who are working the sea. The waves approaching the shore are more or less parallel, then they glance off the short headland on the eastern margin of the cove and continue their passage perpendicular to the shoreline. The surfers wait for that second phase of the waves to ride across the bay, in front of those of us who are standing on the high water berm watching.
We came to Porthcurno in 2001 and there was an exceptional, low spring tide. As the tide turned that afternoon lots of the little while surf clams, Spisula solida, whose shells litter the shore, popped up from the sands to greet the incoming sea. The clams feel the rise of the water; perhaps they surface involuntarily. Later on that trip, Dan and Emma cooked their famous paella for about 19 of us, and our bucket of bivalves was a welcome ingredient.
Friday dawns and Liz and Briony must inevitably revisit their memories of that morning when Max died. He is, as the saying goes, with us in spirit. Soberly we ready our breakfasts and prepare for the day.
We are going to Trevarno Garden near Helston. It is hardly the season to view a garden but this one has special extras such as The National Gardening and Toy Museums, and quirkily, a Soap Museum alongside a Herbal Workshop where they make soaps and other skincare products to sell. Add to these attractions the free-range peacocks, guinea fowl, exotic pheasants and, in a paddock at the top of the grounds a small herd of reindeer, and you have the makings of a day out.
On Saturday we visited the Tate in St Ives and enjoyed the Peter Lanyon Exhibition. Look at the website and you can pull up the virtual gallery. There’s no better place for us to eat Cornish crab or grilled sardines for lunch than in the Tate Cafe overlooking the old town and Porthmeor Beach, and afterwards, whilst Briony who is nursing a cold, and Dan return to the cottage, Liz and I continue to Shang-ri La bearing a coffee and walnut cake, favourite of Stella and Rose. In the most agreeable surroundings of their cottage we converse over a range of topics then drive back to the cottage where Briony and Dan cook supper.
On Sunday our Cornish interlude comes to an end and we return to our respective homes in Dorset.