Mauve and slate; emerald and russet; cinnamon and straw – and the silvery blue of the sea.
Just before Christmas, we travelled to the North coast of Cornwall – to the Penwith Moors. Oh if I could describe to you what I felt, as the car wove its way Northwards from Penzance, rounding every curve to reveal a landscape more wild, more remarkable, more beautiful than I ever could have imagined. My heart swelled in my chest. Even in the dreary light of December, the heavy mist blowing in from the coast, the rain coming down – I had never seen anything that struck me so powerfully. The land seemed to move with a logic of its own, captivating and dizzying. The road slipped and turned through the hills – climbing and then falling and then climbing again – everything falling away to the ocean on one side in steep cliffs curtained in fog – on the other side the high moor stretching out in its tawny palette of coppers, purples and golds – sinking down into the emerald patchwork of farmland blanketing the valleys. I could see immediately why D.H. Lawrence said it was the very best place he had been.
You can hardly walk five feet there, before you are standing before some great ancient monument. The land is as saturated in legends and stories as it is in the forgotten mine shafts lost in the scrub. Stone circles, standing stones and quoits (a capstone supported by three smaller stones as you see picture 5 – Chun Quoit) speckle the moorland along with the remains of neolithic hill forts slowly sinking into the brambles, gorse and bracken. The Men-an-Tol (Cornish for “the hole stone”) stands in the middle of a farmer’s field with a neatly mowed circle of turf round it – the muddied boot prints to either side of the stone demonstrating that the ancient tradition of passing through for ensuring fertility, good health and luck have not been forgotten. Just up the way the remnant stone chimney of the Ding Dong Mine is silhouetted against the horizon – the deep cavern beside it unfathomable in the shadowy light. Then, just a little ways up the muddy track – the Boskednan Stone Circle (picture 2) – known also as Nine Maidens – curious as there were originally 19 stones, of which only 6 are still standing today – rise out of the golden stalks of grass in the boggy ground. Where the nine comes from is as mysterious as the stone circle itself.
We stayed the night at the Gurnard’s Head Inn, named for the rocky headland projecting out into the Atlantic just beyond it. That night a storm raged along the coast, and we nestled up next the fire in the pub, drinking wine and festively gorging ourselves after our long walk. We slept with the rain pounding against the windows and the wind howling – the nearest lights twinkling far away on the horizon. I felt I’d slipped out of the known world, into some enchanted place, and very much expected to wake the next morning and find it had all been a dream.
It feels that way now, as I remember it. The sort that you wake from with such a sense of security and warmth that you spend the rest of the day clinging to that fading fragment of it – and it is nearly enough to get you by.