It was decided that our dog Reggie would be taken with us on a 3 mile circuitous walk within the Penwith peninsular of Cornwall. We drove to the car park above Porthcurno and followed a guide picked up from our lodgings. It was windy of course as this was Cornwall after all. It has wind a lot here as evidenced by trees standing shocked at their perpetual efforts to escape eastwards, their stubborn roots being their only thwart. We parked at the car park above Porthcurno beach and walked back up the road to find a lane opposite the telegraph museum. The museum is sited here as Porthcurno, ironically, was the spot where the first telegraph cables came ashore connecting Britain to India and the rest of the world. Ironic because today 142 years later you’d be hard pressed to get a phone signal and in some Cornish villages the ‘internet’ is regarded as an urban myth.
Artists impression of the first comms to come ashore via telegraph in 1870
We took a left along a footpath and came out past a stone cross on to open land. Just as I spotted the church of St Levan, the sky turned black – because of approaching rain – I’m not called Damien – and the stroll turned into an its about to pour down jog and then to a canter and we reached the church porch with convenient bench seats literally as the heavens opened.
So we sat and ate a Crunchie each waiting for it to go off but this didn’t seem likely so we thought we might as well carry on but not before having a look at the church. Stepping inside we found a bubbly lady addressing the Christmas decorations as tonight was St Levan’s big night – the annual carol service. We chatted and learned that they would be using real candles and Health and Safety be damned as the glow sticks from previous years just didn’t cut it.
She told us that her father was born, bred and died in Cornwall and only left the county once in his whole lifetime and that was to go one mile into the Devil’s county of Devon to Plymouth hospital when nearing the end of his life. We discussed the ongoing hippy influx to Penwith and the local lady explained that England is the shape of a Christmas stocking full of fruits and nuts with all the nuts always finding their way to the big toe.
As for the church it was thought that it, or more accurately the site, had pagan origins – don’t they all – as there is a stone outside that was said to have been venerated for its holy powers and fertility rites and St Levan himself decided to riven the pagan rock and then uttered the prophecy,
When the panniers astride,
A Pack Horse can ride,
Through St Levan’s Stone,
The World will be done.
Thing is, Christianity has been playing with me a bit of late. For example, when we were on the plane to India the man sat on the end seat of our row of three told us that he was a British born Pakistani Christian and said that if were ever travelling out of Gatwick again, to come and stay with him for free as he only lives 20 minutes from the airport and he has a large house. He said it was the Christian thing to do. When we were in India and stuck at a train station not having a clue what to do, what train to catch, where to go, an Indian youth who spoke perfect English helped us – at the station, on the train on what to do and how and even got us transport from our destination to the hotel and he thought it was the Christian thing to do. Later that night and two hundred miles further on a family took us in, made us tea whilst ringing around to find us a room, all to no avail, but not before arranging us transport. Their home was adorned with Jesus and Mary’s. The transport took us to one of the best and friendliest hotels we’ve ever stayed at where we were made very welcome and invited to meet the whole family and eat with them, which we did. They were Christians. None of these people wanted anything in return. Then later in the week, when we were in Cochin, we were hit by a horrendous storm whilst out walking and the first doorway to run into happened to be that of a church – in mid service. We went in with such a head turning bluster that we decided to sit down and wait the rain out which of course stopped about the same time that the service did.
All this Christian help in a predominantly Hindu country wasn’t lost on me and it was reminisced upon as we left the Cornish church of St Levan – at exactly the same time as the rain ceased. It was then that I quipped, ‘well maybe I’m Jesus’ and at that exact moment my foot slipped on a wet stone and for the first time in over 20 years I fell over with my elbow hitting the ground first followed by my arse which settled in a deep puddle. Arm in agony and bottom drenched I involuntarily looked up and shouted ‘WHAT?’
After this we traipsed over a headland to join the South West coast path and quickly got the dog onto his lead as cliffs were new to him and he kept jumping on to overhangs doing his best impression of the Lion King – which we know he’s never seen.
The path was muddy and I no longer trusted my boots but under the circumstances I tried not to curse at them. We soon came down into the coastal hamlet of Porthgwarra, pronounced Porthgwarra. It has a rock with a hole in it.
You can of course continue on the South West coast path and head to Lands End only 3 miles away but we turned around here and back tracked a few hundred yards before taking a right fork and passing St Levan’s Well. St Levan, it seems, was obviously a bit of a lad in these parts in his day as he had his own church, cracked huge rocks open whilst making up prophecies and has his own well – and a sacred one at that! But no matter how we tried, Reggie was not going to drink from its water. Reggie will drink from any vestibule or puddle, even from water that’s settled in concave cow pats, but he was simply having none of this, hind legs dug in and reverse lights on. I took this as a sign so I just bathed in it, meaning I splashed some water about my head rather than lolling around in it, in my altogether splashing and singing auld lang syne. It was much too cold.
We continued on walking just above Porth Chapel beach with its untrodden sand like freshly fallen snow and so we left it that way. We climbed up to the ridge to traverse the car park of the dramatic outdoor theatre that is Minack. The lady of St Levan’s Church had told us that hardly a show had been cancelled in 2012 despite it being the wettest year on record in England. Minack’s astounding setting is iced off by the view it affords of Porthcurno beach and I think you would have to trudge more than a few miles of coast path to find a better view.
Minack Theatre and Porthcurno
At this point the pathway down to the beach turned into what was nearly a scramble – very steep – and I was still wearing the same boots that had been the earlier victims of divine intervention. Reggie had run ahead to check out what the only other dog on the beach below was chasing after. Then I noticed that two large rocks on the beach were moving and that a man further down on the path had grabbed Reggie to stop him getting on to the beach and approaching these rocks because these rocks turned out to be huge grey seals having a snooze and seemingly the gent wasn’t worried about Reggie attacking the seals but the seals attacking Reggie. The man obviously was ignorant of Reggie’s fears. Reggie is a sheepdog and his dad was a farmer’s cow herder but the genes didn’t get passed down as Reggie is scared witless of sheep, cows, alighting Heron’s, hay bails that are covered in black plastic, scare crows, other dogs and definitely moving rocks. Reggie just ran for the sea and I was saluted by one of the photogenic seals.
Sadly further up the beach, a baby Dolphin lay. Thankfully at least it had been reported as it was tagged.
Back to the car to make our way back to St Ives. We stopped for refreshment at The Engine Inn in the hamlet of Cripplesease (which I thought aptly poetic).
This is one of those pubs that you would take visiting Americans to, if you had any, as it is so quintessentially English that it feels like it’s straight from a Hollywood set – just remember to stay on the road, keep clear of the moors, beware the moon lads…