We conjured a turtle on a Cornish beach last Sunday, and slates gathered on the beach were scales for its back. Five hours later, in the gloaming, I watched the incoming tide, the waves creeping, maybe one in three or one in four, a little closer, until they trickled into the ditch we’d dug around the turtle. The shell held out a little longer, maybe ten minutes, until a small wave sloshed gently over the top, and then the undermining was really underway. By the time I took my leave, reluctantly, ten minutes later, there was barely a hump to be seen, as the tide pushed further in.

Impermanence… I’ve also been walking the coast path, from Trevose Head to Morgan Porth, and back, the same terrain, yes, but different perspectives, as if two separate journeys. The coves bite deep, and the caves and sink-holes provide sounding-boards for the waves. The rocks break and twist, as the strata and lines of weakness, and all the vagaries of weather and climate over many millions of years, dictate. And yet it all seems so permanent. Even the flock of oyster-catchers, which piped on a rock platform far below: they were there both outward and inward, though inward the black-backed gulls had flown.

Looking down on Bedruthan Sands from the cliff top, the sand was fresh-swept – the tide bites the cliff, no soft or littered sand, and four girls were playing boule, and their cries just carried to me. The waves which had been a high surf were lapping low, or seemed to from my elevation, and all seemed … well, yes, permanent.  I didn’t want to walk on, and lose that sense of forever.

I found a grassy slope, and sat and looked out to see, blue under blue, aquamarine closer in, where it shallowed, and the rippling smoothness extended in a great curve around me. Another cliff, another cove – snorkellers were taking advantage of low tide and swimming out to a sandy beach.

Where the cliffs come down to Treyarnon beach there’s a steep gully which you can swim through at lowest tide. This, my imagination tells me, is what they do, what I could do, as the observer, every day, and yet – such moments, such times, are rare. The tide will rise, the mists sweep in, and the storms, and the winter …

Joy and a gentle melancholy combine, and a sense of peace, and fragility … that sense of living in the moment, and yet living forever.



Beneath a tamarisk tree on the Cornish coast

Reading Seamus Heaney’s Glanmore Sonnets, sitting beneath a tamarisk tree on the north Cornish coast.

…hankering after stone
That connived with the chisel, as if the grain
Remembered what the mallet tapped to know.

That ties in well with the landscape all about me, which has memories of many millennia stored within its rocks, ancient tracks, stone-hedged fields and sand dunes.

I love its blooms like saucers brimmed with meal,
Its berries a swart caviar of shot,
A buoyant spawn, a light bruised out of purple 

Might that change the way you look upon the elderflower forever, or might it just be, depending on your mood, overwritten and overblown?

The tamarisk was planted long ago, when houses were cottages, and the land was ploughed, and the season was the farmer’s all year round, and not just the holiday-maker’s summer months. The wind scurries the fronds, a Cornish blue beyond and above, but they’re so fine that their susurrations lose out to the ash tree, which with the freshness of youth is a sounding-board for the breeze.

The tamarisk branches move uneasily, they creak, and the ash sways. The ash is all deep shade, the tamarisk a light touch of sun. A gull squawks, and when the wind falls low, there’s the distant sound of a combine harvester, for fields still do run away inland, when you climb beyond the pitched roofs and white facades of the holiday homes.

Keeping sane amid the chaos

How (if you’re me!) to keep measured and sane amid the chaos.

For starters, two reminders from a Buddhist meditation handbook:

‘…one shouldn’t have a great deal of desire… one must be content, which means whatever one has is fine and right.’ ‘Whatever one has is fine and right.’ (My italics.)

‘The place where we stay should be free from a lot of activity and a large number of people… (we should reduce) our involvement in too many activities.’  Now there’s a challenge.

Then there’s something I’ve loved since childhood – watching cricket. I enjoyed England’s decisive and exuberant victory over Pakistan in the second test match that ended yesterday. Always good to head out to Lords or the Oval, or stand on the boundary at Cranham cricket club … (A friend reminds me of the joke – ‘God gave cricket to the English so that they should have some sort of idea of eternity ‘ – that was certainly true of the first test match. I was there.)

And moving out beyond the cricket field – out further into the wild, and the wilderness, into the countryside, to the coast, to the mountains:

(‘What would the world be, once bereft /Of wet and of wildness? Let them be left…’)

walk (or run) in the meadows and beech woods

head off down to Cornwall and walk around Penwith from St Ives, via Zennor and Land’s End and Porthcurno, to Penzance (carrying a tent and heavy rucksack in the hot sun a small downside, likewise the heat exhaustion!)

puzzle over the wild flowers (betony abundant in Cornwall – a small sense of triumph identifying it!)

listen or watch, or maybe both…

– two buzzards wheeling above me on the coast path near Treryn Dinas just east of Porthcurno, piping much of the time, occasionally they come together and there’s a scurry of wings, and they resume their circling. The following morning, 7.30, I’ve struck camp, and I’m on my way, light rain, grey out to sea, and they’re back there, ahead of me, still slowly circling

– the owl which I disturbed in the woods later that morning – it took off maybe only two or three feet away from me, a vast and silent presence, and a powerful absence, disappearing into the light at the end of the green tunnel behind me

– the sound of a soprano, yes, a soprano, from the Britten opera being performed at the Minack theatre a mile away, it was 9pm, and I was tucked away in my tent, trying to sleep…

– a yellow snail (a ‘white-lipped banded snail’), and a red-winged fly – the small and surprising things, which puzzle, and take the mind down from the high and inflated places to the simple and beautiful

– and back in the Cotswolds, a lesser spotted woodpecker now a regular visitor to the bird feeder and the birdbath in the garden, and the goldfinches

– and the long warm summer evenings, the stillness, and the small party which headed out onto the common at midnight to look for glow-worms

There is hope for the world yet.


Cornwall in the rain

Back to walking after four weeks, this time with heavy winter boots, the better to trudge through Cornish coastpath mud. To Falmouth from Truro, by a two-coach train which is as inconspicuous as a railway can be, leastways the stations, all away from the main town. The giveaway is the viaduct.

Clouds look heavy, and threaten, but the wind’s blowing from the north. I follow the rain remnants out to sea, and I’m taken by surprise when cloud suddenly rides lower from the hills behind, and the rain is torrential, but brief, and there’s a tunnel under the viaduct to shelter me, then a little later, just as it deluges again, a beach cafe, no inside, but canvas outside, and just enough shelter for me, a cappuccino and a flapjack. Though the flapjack does get a little soggy. And then at Maenporth, another deluge, and another cafe, empty, but an awning outside is enough – and this time a hot dog and cup of tea. Two real dogs, black, bedraggled and thirsty, arrive while I’m there.

Inbetween times, Gyllyngvase. One place where the Cornish name (Gilenvas) is so much simpler. And beyond Swanpool  I climb away from the road and through woodland, now a threadbare canopy, all transferred beneath, but better the oak leaf carpet than the mud and the muddy pools that lie beyond. But I love the big skies and the sea stretching south and west reflecting a watery sun, which I’m amazed is there at all. No blue sky, so the further landscape is all shades of grey and silver and winter brown, but close to it’s a rich green, and there’s a variety of ferns, including bracken, and tucked below the bushes a few campion still flower, and there’s a late – or early – violet or two as well.  A bramble carries one or two flowers, and the gorse is abundant yellow in places. All beneath that grey sky.

And it’s the 28th day of November.

Beyond lie three headlands, each one stretching further south, the third the Lizard. Tempting, but too far.. much too far to walk this day. First there’s the Helston river to cross, a ferry in summer, an additional ten-mile trek via Gweek in winter.

Advent Sunday tomorrow and I’m singing out loud an Advent hymn – O come o come Emmanuel –  with its lovely cadences and a special history – the tune has been sung in one form of another for maybe 1200 years. I pass a memorial, to a girl who died aged 20 a few years ago. ‘Now in God’s safe hands,’ I think it read.

We imagine a better world when we look out west beyond the sea, beyond the horizon. There lies paradise, and the safe hands of God. West is finis terrae.

But there’s another memorial, above Swanpool, to the Home Guard, who watched through WW2 for ‘a thousand days’ in case of the Germans landed. A memorial to war. There’s been a fort at Pendennis Castle since the time of Henry VIII. Now no-one watches, and there are only concrete bases where the gun emplacements once were.

I look out to sea with a sense of eternity, beyond war, as others have done, almost forever. For ten thousand times ten thousand days. When you walk alone, and I hardly met a soul, that sense is almost palpable.

(Ten thousand x the thousand years I wrote first. 100 million years BC. That would mean dinosaurs and not homo sapiens or homo habilis, or whatever. Not certain they had an ‘sense of eternity’. But who knows?)