For Lesley and Daisy
Mary, Mary quite contrary
How does your garden grow?
With silver bells and cockle shells
And pretty maids all in a row
An Old English Nursery Rhyme
St Just is awry with a mesh of small lanes
tiny gardens filled with lilies and campions
Sea pinks, carnations, sun gorging kittens.
The two squares of the town are a neat higgle piggle
Of The King’s Head, The Wellington, and The Commercial
The tiny Norman Church has a fat stumpy spire
Chalked signs on the street say ‘traditional fayre’
The local butcher and bakers sell Homity pies
Cornish pasties, and quiches with spice.
The up-market cafes and tiny galleries
Overflow with art and pretty postcards
cushions and lampshades, pictures of animals.
Our first morning, we walked to Cornwall Cove
Hedgerows bloomed with sunshine unearthed
and Bluebells, Spleenwort, Thrift, Birdsfoot Trefoil.
The sea was green, the sky shifting blue
sea gulls swooped and shouted shrill
Blackbirds and sparrows cooed and billed
Delight flooded my heart with scent and good will.
Around every cove, we found artists poised, full of passion
But their acrylics and oils failed the ocean:
Itself, a majestic movement, alive with ripple and strength
Serene sea horses murmuring yet also lurking and
Waiting to rear, flicking white flecks of warning
But despite this glory, all is not well, in particular, for one individual.
If the galleries could frame the bug that my companion suffers
That has her coughing and rasping, spitting phlegm, a hacking
Cough she screams across cliff tops, a cry even the sea gulls spurn
That would be art – of a different kind, but surely interesting all the same.
The next day, at Bottallack Mine, where I wandered alone,
(My companion nursing herself at home,) I found
the cliffs saturated with tin mine shafts: shifts of human ingenuity
coppered with poverty, restored lovingly by the National Trust.
Round, tall, brick chimneys stand on every outcrop
of black granite rock – a homage to the mining industry.
According to signs, you must stick to the path
or you may fall in and die – like the 50 miners
in the Wheal Owles Shaft, drowned because of a daft
miscalculation made in nineteenth century
which misjudged the metallic pull of the earth.
We visited Eden that afternoon. Another secret, bubbly world
Crammed with vast, invisible, natural eco systems
blowing smoke rings of oxygen. These systems are so vast, we cannot feel them
until we enter the Rainforest biome where Turmeric, Pak Choi
Aubergine grew alongside Weeping Figs, Holy Basil and Miracle fruit.
The next day, I walk the Cot Valley along the Porth Naven path
It Is luscious with exotic plants, broad and tall, round and green
Jagged and spiky. I don’t know their names.
The cliff and cove are smothered in colour, harsh
Opaque, sharp, bright, blinding, stark
Now, its time to pay homage to the the English NHS.
My friend has seen a doctor free of charge and got an
Antibiotic! On top of her bug, she is now suffering shock.
I, meanwhile, continue to follow the holy grail
of the public footpath, carefully maintained
By the National Trust with precision and pride.
I believe, the black and white arrows are the true arteries
and veins of the English countryside.
Halfway up Herman Head, I come across a woman
Standing still, reading a book. She is waiting for
Cornish Choughs to return. It seems they are gone
For half an hour to feed. Out to lunch.
They look like giant crows, with red beaks,
And talons that resemble toes, so I’m told.
I double back across the cliff to the Priest’s Cove
The white Count house is a tiered wedding cake.
It stands proud, abreast a nest of terraces and glass.
Below, small fishing boats and lengths of colourful rope
are coiled on Sea Pinks and naval wort
pretty as a picture against a stone wall.
That afternoon, in St Ives, I see a couple on the beach
Breaking up. They seem particularly intense, not touching
but walking, heads close, oblivious to the Springers and Spaniels
the buckets and spades, the playing children, the watchful parents.
A fast flowing, sea breeze drives fleeting shadows and shapes
over the rippled sands but they don’t notice any of this.
Such a Lowry scene, I think to myself
As I scoff my scone and jam, laded with Cornish cream.
Early next morning, I sit on a stone seat, on the path
to Sennan Cove, staring at a peacock’s tail of blues and greens.
I hear the wash of wave against the rock
Surf splashing a creamy white, calm and quiet until
Bunty from Kent bounds upon the scene, sniffing me,
Joyous to jump and play with anybody. And then comes Sasha
And Jakie, Tomo and Paul. Dogs are popular in Cornwall.
An hour later, at lunch, at the Cove, scrubbed black mussels
float in cream and white wine. I split them open to reveal
the yellow slime of fish. Delicious. A glass of Cornish cider, a bowl
Of chips. Then a snooze on Sennan Beach, in the sand dunes.
Next onto Porth Curno and a cliff top drama
Sculpted into the granite and local wild flowers.
Terraces of grass, carved concrete, a stage
With an ocean curtain. A perfect setting for Shakespeare
Ali Baba and Forty Thieves and, I read, A Perfect World.
On our last day, my companion is on the mend
So we go to St Michael’s Mont, Marazione, an off shore island
Near Penzance. In Cornish, it means ‘hoar rock in woodland’.
Not surprising, as the Baron owner sired 13 illegitimate children.
We take the boat as the causeway is drowned
Our small boat rides crests, surfs, dips and dives. I’m surprised
I land In-tact and alive.
To reach the castle it is a steep climb.
The Baron of Aubyn bought his castle from Monks
Due to his aforementioned sexual pranks
he lost his title, but later morphed into a Lord
who did colonial battle in the Sudan.
From the pictures and weapons, it looked a hell of a battle, blood and
Guts, feathers and helmets strewn all over the land
Which was why, when he returned, he lived in a magical castle
Of turrets and terraces, winding staircases, secret passages,
on an island and sniffed snuff from boxes made of tortoise shell, red lacquer
porcelain and created beautiful gardens of cacti and oxeye, palm
rhododendron, cobbles and stone, blue sky and green ocean
Heathers and grasses and white fluffy clouds, silver bells and cockle shells
pretty maids all in a row.
West Cornwall is beautiful.