I was in familiar territory cycling back to the trigpoint at the start of walk 100. Having lived on a farm below Carn Marth just outside Redruth back in 2013 whilst studying a fine art degree at Falmouth, it felt like coming home.
A SKETCHY START
My brother Matt and good friend Adrian (Ade) looked a bit sheepish when I arrived having dropped them off in my car half hour earlier. Having left them with loose instructions to take photos from the top of the trigpoint, I was surprised to see all the gear where I had left it on the corner of the road… they had tried to do the photos but aborted the operation when confronted by a local landowner…
OH DEAR 1
Next thing a very animated and angry woman with her hoodied son jump out of their car and confront us (sorry no pics, I thought it wise not to include them here and destroy the 10 second timelapse gopro frames that was quietly recording the intense double octave expletives).
OH DEAR 2
It turns out that the field one has to go through to get to the trigpoint is owned by this woman we had deeply offended and no amount of calm measured explanation by myself assuaged her vociferous anger. I accepted full responsibility for our trespassing misdemeanor, whilst apologising profusely and trying to explain that we had no idea who owned the land. I then made the big mistake of saying ‘it was dark last week when we were there’ – at the end of walk 99 having a discreet blue moon party and dancing to a youtube recording of the waterboys – oopsies hmm (yes I didn’t give those details)
OH DEAR 3
That particular comment had the effect of pouring petrol on an already blazing fire… Suffice to say that amongst threatening to take our addresses, taking our pictures on her phone, talk of ‘miscreants chopping horse heads off for fun’ (?) and ‘peoples strange obsession with trigpoints’, this conversation was not going to end with HMQueen’s English niceties, and so finally the woman and her son got into their small car, dramatically wheel spun and burnt rubber in front of us and screeched off up the road, about 50m to their house.
OH DEAR 4
Well, we were of course in the wrong, having crossed an electric fence and essentially trespassed to get to the trigpoint so I will write to the woman to apologise – I don’t want to offend anyone in doing this project; that is definitely not my intention.
WHEAL PEEVOR: PAST INDUSTRY
The area around the trigpoint was once important for mining, and being called Wheal Peevor, I couldn’t help saying we had whealy peeved off the locals 🙂
Joking aside, these 3 mines (above and below) are amongst the best known mining remains in Cornwall, and quite unique for the way they preserve what was formerly a common and typical arrangement of engine houses – one building to pump water out, a second to winch material up and out of the mine, and a third to operate the powerful stamps which would crush the ore rich rock into manageable material for processing.
Between 1872 and 1889 Wheel Peevor mined 3280 tonnes of black tin, 5 tonnes of 4% copper ore, and 7 and 12 tonnes of pyrite and arseonpyrite (All figures sourced from The Metalliferous Mining Region of South West England, Volume One, HMSO, Dines 1956)
Easily mined cheap minerals from the far east (East & South East Asia) finally put Wheel Peevor out of business, but not before it was named ‘the big surprise of Cornish mining’ as it was still profitable till 1889, 20 yrs after others were beginning to go out of business. In common with many other Cornish mines, Wheel Peevor briefly opened for Wolfram (Tungsten) extraction which was used for munitions and other military uses during the first world war.
GREAT PLACE TO VISIT
£800K has been spent on restoring the aforementioned buildings and developing Wheel Peevor for recreation, and the 5ha site was opened in 2008 to the public after years of post industrial neglect. Being tucked away from the busy centre of Redruth, Wheel Peevor is a hidden gem for biking, walking and exploring Cornwall’s heritage. Just please ask permission if you have a strange obsession to go and visit the trigpoint 😉
We walked on leaving the incident and the mines behind us and I hid my bike beside the A30 cutting to pick up later.
At the A30 underpass Ade disappeared whilst I found a suitable sized road sign of the symbolic engine house for the artboard, a fitting icon central to Cornish identity.
I showed Matt how to use the zoom sound recorder and he went off to record Ade who had started to sing away at the top of his voice in the amazing acoustic of the A30 underpass.
I have now crisscrossed the A30 artery of Cornwall 7 times, and each time I have tried to document it in some way, being struck by its scale, importance, even its brutal beauty, but perhaps most importantly its existential value. I walk into the tunnel’s sharply contrasted shadow and glare to the sound of long reverberating voices mingling with crescendoing vrooms and shhooms. 🙂 x x x It seems my walking buddies are getting into this place immersion thing…
Ade was improvising with his voice under the drone of the main traffic above with the occasional passing below of bemused drivers – quite a sight to behold so early in the morning – me in the middle of the road drawing, Matt recording and Ade singing away. It was a beautiful moment and the intensity of the upset woman melted into the warmth of sound and light.
Of course I couldn’t resist getting the violin out, discovering Ade singing roughly in the key of A-flat major some simple but moving phrases with plenty of space round the edges to enjoy the echoing decay. The somewhat subjective analysis of Ernst Pauer’s acclaimed 1876 theory of musical key characteristics state that A flat major is:
“…full of feeling, and replete with dreamy expression.”
…which certainly seemed to fit this moment nicely.
Some of these musical sketches will go into a Cornish symphony of existence – watch this space for a big mash-up of sounds, words, interviews and music ‘out of place’, carefully and sensitively edited to reflect the complex layering of 21st Cornwall life.
I wanted to walk through some post-industrial areas of Redruth; and so roughly knowing through my own landscape business that today the Cardrew Way Industrial estate is where most Central and West Cornwall large scale things are made or distributed through, decided to walk right through the middle.
Lorries, wide quiet roads, security fences, large warehouse buildings and tightly cut grass verges are the visual pallete of this pragmatic and utilitarian urbanscape and I stop to draw and also rub some chainlink fencing, a ubiquitous divider of these places.
One commercial property agent describes: ‘The combined conurbation of Redruth, Pool and Camborne is the largest in Cornwall, and this business estate is one of the County’s principle industrial centres’.
In this walking stretch I also find most of the found objects seen next to the artboard* which were appropriately industrial and somehow too spoke of the place – a broken drill bit, an extending drill arm, a wheel weight, mild steel fragments, a tin lid, a large metal washer. These things all exist and from an archeological and forensic point of view are evidence of life and society.
A footpath (above) neatly followed the railway beside close knit urban estate terraced housing with tiny fenced gardens, perfectly complimenting the landscape and reminding us of where we all grew up, in suburban East London.
I sent the boys off to the railway bridge to try and record the sound of a train coming into Redruth and all about me I drew the grey terraced housing with a bit more space around them.
KNOW YOUR PLACE
Matt was chuffed to have recorded a train going past whilst sitting on the bridge steps and we all had a break under the vivid blue sky overlooking Redruth. The monotone cerebral graffiti on the railway bridge was an eclectic and insightful mix of ideas: anti-Christian, anti satanic, satanic, spiritual, left wing political, teenage fantasy, motivational sayings, socialist and humanist profundities, a real flavour of a youthful and slightly playful zeitgeist, a mash up of post-postmodern angst, meanings and searchings. And my favourite from these musings, in large letters above all the other scribblings:
K N O W Y O U R P L A C E
Of course, I liked this because this whole project has been about place, but to write this, what was running through the persons mind?
Know your place in life?
Know your place in society and ‘class’?
Know your places’ surroundings?
Perhaps all of these. I reflected that the ambiguity of the statement is healthy, I think.
Interestingly there has been a programme on BBC 2 by a presenter called Simon Reeves about Cornwall, told from the point of view of Cornish locals struggling to make ends meet. I don’t personally have a tv license and havent seen it but from the many comments people have been making the programme sounds like it is trying to re-address the narative in favour of hard realities and not just about beautiful good times living the dream Cornwall, something I have been trying to do all along. Here’s a link
LOWENA, SMALLHOLDING FARM
We needed a loo break and it was just the right nudge I needed to slightly adjust the walking route to take us up to Sandy Lane near Mount Ambrose, and up to Lowena (Cornish for ‘Joy’) or Channel View farm as it is written on the OS map. On the way up through another small housing estate we met two older women whom I said hello to and asked for directions, hoping to start a conversation. Both sent us in the wrong direction, or the directions you would take in a car (I roughly knew where to go) but the first woman (below) replied these words to the question ‘What it is like living here?’ :
‘People are lovely – I can call on any of the neighbors at any time if I want anything … and I think there’s only one way for the future – and that’s up!’
So ignoring the directions a little bit we carried on up the track over Sandy lane to the farm. This is the place where I lived for a year (below), and where this whole project started…
The views from the front of the house are stunning NW towards Carn Brea, further to Godrevy and out to St Ives, and it brought back memories of spreading all the OS maps of west Cornwall out in the front room beside a roaring fire and working out how many trigpoints there were, and whether it was feasible to walk between them all.
Mark Selwood (above), owner of the smallholding, met us in the old farm yard in his walking boots. This smallholding looks after sheep, goats, dogs, chickens, geese, horses, grazing and hay fields and a vegetable garden which enables the Selwoods to be about 95% self sufficient with the exception of grains. There is also the youngest Selwood son and daughter running their businesses of Jack Selwood joinery and Alice Selwood Textile design and others living on the land. The Selwood family moved here in the early 2000’s from Birmingham and brought up their 4 children on the farm.
Round the back, Mark’s wife Jo (below, also with Bridget) can always be found on the veg patch beavering away on her own or with helpers, and she is always generous with life advice, gardening tips and spare plants.
I asked a few questions about what Cornwall and Redruth meant to Jo,
After the classic one liner joke ‘The best thing about Redruth is getting out of it’ Jo went onto say:
‘Its kind of Gods place, for us, where He led us, freedom, the beaches, and the lovely… rain (!?!) … and the sunshine, out in the elements’
Bridget then answered my question ‘What do you think is the future for Cornwall?
‘Well these days, you don’t know what it going to happen tomorrow… people can just change the laws, just like that…
Jo also replied:
‘I’m loving lockdown because I don’t have to think about tomorrow… I don’t look ahead that far… I’m very much present and living in the moment’
And went on to say:
‘… Folk in Cornwall are fantastically grounded people and generally not chasing after material things, and I think that’s an important thing’
REDRUTH TOWN CENTRE
I was so glad we visited the farm. We then walked into town via Sandy lane and a fortuitous dome mirror 3 Gommo’s II selfie moment thanks to Adrian Wright.
Down the old main road (East end through to Fore Street) to visit the sculptures I already knew of and to have some lunch. Along the way past mining labourer cottages, tarmac started to look like engine houses, and we met a woman who described the stone crushing wheel I was rubbing and told us of her experience of going down into a working mine.
Along the main pedestrianised street lies interesting old buildings and shop facades, a steep hill that people labour walking up and down everyday, and today’s particular interest, a crazy artist with his 2 sidekicks walking, sketching, rubbing and interviewing whoever is up for talking.
The first sculpture we came across is David Annand’s 2008 ‘Tin miner’. It left a striking impression on us at the top of Fore street, the miner leaning into the bracing wind with mining pick in one hand and a tin ingot in the other, candles around his neck and on his funny bowler hat.
Next up were the endearing ‘Tinners hounds’, David Kemp’s 2009 genius doggy creatures, made from bronze casting the original boots worn by Cornish miners into animated and joyful characters seen in little groups all the way along the high street. Some of these loveable hounds have won the hearts of the locals and are regularly adorned with knitted hats, scarves and remembrance poppies, and some are stroked so much that they have polished shiny heads and noses.
David Kemp the sculptor says the sculptures are:
“Relics of a vast underground workforce that rarely saw the light of day, each of the hounds fed up to three and a half families. Released from their subterranean labours, they now wander looking for a proper job”.
I draw them on the artboard as well as the steady stream of people walking up and down the high street.
ASHLEY FROM PENZANCE
As I am drawing and waiting for the boys to finish lunch, I meet the friendly Ashley Ellis, head chef of the Regal cinema and restaurant who is inquisitive about what I am doing in the middle of the street.
Ashley Ellis (below) grew up in Gulval, Penzance but moved inland to Redruth 3 years ago now up the road to Camborne. Ashley said that Penzance has gone down hill in the last 10 years, with an ‘end of the line’ mentality and increasing problems of homelessness, drugs and alcohol abuse. Ashley thinks Redruth and Camborne however, are really nice places to be, with friendly people, a strong sense of community and significantly cheaper places to rent and buy compared to the coast. Ashley thinks the future for Cornwall is strong, having historically had the mining and fishing industries, now tourism as he sees it is the way forward, and although things have been tight due to Covid, Cornwall has that spirit and beaches that no other place has…
In Redruth Ashley said he felt like he could say hi to anyone walking along the street no problem which he just couldn’t do anywhere else and that Redruth really has this openness in abundance. ‘Cornwall just has too much going for it’ to think about leaving and he and his 2 sisters have all been determined to stay in the county despite lower wages.
The intriguing ruins of the old chapel of St Rumon and its cross now remain preserved for public enjoyment since 2000 when the gardens were opened after being a former library, cinema and druids hall in the 20th Century. You might have noticed these roofless arch windows sitting in traffic queueing by the station viaduct and the junction with West end:
For a brief life of St Rumon the celtic saint who also founded Cornish churches at St Ruan Major and St Ruan Minor (walk 6) click here, and for a really neat potted history of Redruth click here for a link to the town council’s informative and not too long summary which can be easily walked through in an hour or so.
STAR SHOE REPAIRS, ‘RAD’RUTH
George Skinner has lived in Redruth all his life, and Star shoe repairs sitting under the railway viaduct painted in bright blue is the family business passed onto him by his uncle, who in turn took it over from the Star business of a successful London franchise.
Inside the shop, George (below) described himself as ‘an old fashioned cobbler’ and went on to talk about business, life and the future as he saw it:
‘Its been a difficult year due to Covid because I haven’t been open, a lot of my customers are elderly, they buy better quality shoes and have them repaired – a lot of people don’t have their shoes repaired because they buy cheap fashion stuff – its driven by media and the things they see – pop stars and footballers who have everything new all the time- the latest ‘in’ thing – they say they are green but they are not really green, they might recycle but every time the new phone comes out they’ve got to have the new phone , and the same with what you wear- everything’s designer label , its just the way things are going, you cant go back in time, its like a river , if it doesn’t move it stagnates, so you have to move forward – so I sell things we never used to sell like keys that we never used to do, the world is completely different nothing seems to be for ever now, years ago prices used to stay the same, if you were in a job and you were ok at it you were in it for life… not today… if we don’t have to deal so much with Europe or we have to pay more to deal with Europe things will cost more and value things more and not think I’m going to buy a cheap pair of shoes, I’m going to buy a decent pair of shoes look after them and then they will come to me for business! and they don’t polish neither – my uncle back in the 80’s used to sit for I don’t know how many hours polishing and used to sell boxes and boxes of polish every week but now I don’t sell a box of polish a month! – people just don’t polish their shoes… or they buy shoes with so many different colours they cant get the polish for it! people have some very very different colours these days! Doctor Martens in pink! – with some of them have painted flowers on them – I mean they used to do that in the 60’s – do it yourself – now you buy them like that!
So George, what’s it like living in Redruth?
‘Its brilliant! I know no different – I hear people outside Redruth run it down sometimes , but Redruth is a great little town – I love it. And you’ve got people like Ross Williams who is trying to like improve the whole area, he’s bought the old county school (developed into Krowji artist and craft studios) he’s not a politician, he’s a business man but he’s a really really good business man – he’s not just interested in the money, he’s interested in the area and doing the area up for other people , making the place better , he’s improved it, I mean he’s done the old county school – he’s made it into somewhere where artists and people who make things can rent rooms cheap to do their thing. He gets stuck in as well – when we had the pasty festival or whatever in town, he’d be there doing all the work… he’s not scared to get his hands dirty
George, what do you think the future is for Redruth?
I think the people who are interested in the area, they want to make it work, I can’t see any reason why Redruth can’t be great like it used to be in the mining era – you’ve got so much going on here, so much history, it could be a really good place… we used to be a really prosperous town, I mean Redruth is ‘red river’ where it got its name from [the red colour reflecting the rich mineral resources flushed in to the river from mining operations] We used to be a prosperous town, not that long ago really, back 60 years ago when my uncle was a boy and there was market day on a Friday, the town used to be packed – you couldn’t go up that town [street] I mean you had trouble walking up there, I used to remember all the farmer coming in on the Friday and getting all the boots in and doing all those boots, and different villages had different markets on different days didn’t they? so market day was a busy day, now there’s a car park up there [in the old market meeting place]… they don’t do that anymore….
I think Redruth could be a really good place – I mean I think they could do with having lass traffic wardens around and more free car parking like at Chasewater, you go there, its free to park, I think we should have a free car park – I think that would bring more people into the town…part of the problem is people come from further away and they all want to drive – my customers come from all over Cornwall these days… and they all have cars … and its no good saying take public transport on a bus as you could easily spend a morning on that!’
So finally George, what about the rivalry with Camborne?
Ah! well! -We are the best and that’s it! there’s no doubt about it – we play rugby and they try! they do their best, they cant help that, that’s just the way it is… they’s cant help it!
I left the shop to both of us laughing out loud, having enjoyed George’s easy going and positive outlook.
UP TO CARN BREA
I really wanted to go up to Carn Brea to let Ade and Matt experience the views from up there, also we literally ran past not stopping back in 2015 on walk 24 – click here for that epic walk. On the way up to Carn Brea village I spotted G A S on the road manhole cover, remembering that George mentioned 18th C engineer William Murdoch, pioneer of gas lighting, making Redruth the first town in the world to have gas lighting, I just had to have that G A S rubbing. It was also next to some very cool Cornish gold and black (classic Cornish colours) scaffolding.
The Basset monument at the top of Carn Brea was the last significant planned visit of the day, and with the light already beginning to cast long shadows, and a few friends waiting for the champagne finish up at Carn Marth, I began to one final time feel the pressure of completing the walk before sunset, something I have felt pretty much every single walk!
Carn Brea hill, strikingly visible from miles around, is the site of a Neolithic tor settlement which was established as early as 3400 BC. There is evidence of some activity during the Iron age but the early Medieval period in 1389 saw a chapel built on the site, thought to be dedicated to St Michael. In 1700 the current castle was raised as a hunting lodge for the Basset family of Tehidy and this building still stands today (belwos), run as a Lebanese restaurant. The west wing of the castle is literally built on top of the weathering granite pillow stones (below) and inside the cramped but cosy spaces and staircases are full of stone age and character.
The Carn Brea monument was erected in 1836 by public subscription and questions to this day shroud the monument in a somewhat shady and controversial light. It is roughly inscribed:
THE COUNTY OF CORNWALL
TO THE MEMORY OF
LORD DE DUNSTAVILLE
A D 1836
A quick look at the facts of the Carn Brea monument and some of the musings on the well documented mine exploration forum reveal question marks over Francis ‘Lord de Dunstaville’ Basset as a person, his behaviour and his character (of course judged by todays standards); his political power mongering, general unpopularity as an influential person; his perceived disregard of the miners poverty and his complicit role in the Redruth food riots; his failure to financially support a local hospital for the miners…
Whilst Basset did received the Baron title peerage for rallying 600 miners support against a Franco-Spanish invasion (arguably protecting his own interests) and is known to have supported the abolition of slavery abroad, in Cornwall, by controlling the mines and poor mining workforce families, Francis Basset appeared to essentially inflict slavery upon his fellow human underground, the fate of which he was in control of. He died without a male heir and his barony passed to his sole daughter who never married.
The Carn Brea monument, ‘erected by public subscription’ (?), is unlikely to have been supported by destitute miners who could barely feed their families, some saying their presence at the laying of the foundation stone ceremony was under coercion, and it is misleading to suggest that the whole county of Cornwall raised the funds as it is widely known that the project was managed by the local freemasonry ‘club’ with Bassett not known to have provided any significant funds for the construction costs.
Perhaps these reasons are why the words rudely chiselled into the South face of the monument seem to have been executed with a lack of skill, as if a feeble afterthought, some of the rounded carved letters carelessly out of scale with the others, and as if there was little will or motivation to do this task with any sense of pride or belief…
Scratch below the surface, and history is not as it seems or not as some hope us to believe… thank goodness things have changed today?
For a further discussion critiquing the public sculptures mentioned in this blog click here for a short chapter (page 12 and 13) of my BA dissertation on a Cornish spirit of place
The sun was setting and we were still 4 miles off the trigpoint. I then reacted as I do and went too far ahead and whilst I was having a great chat with a 50yrs resident half wondering where the boys were, my phone rings and we struggle to re-rendezvous, wasting 10 minutes of sunlight … I’m now sweating as I run to meet the guys and we join the great flat lode, a route I walked in the opposite direction back in2016 on walk no. 25
Its exactly like last time when I finished the first 24 walks in 2015, a litttle bit strained and sweaty lol- the thought that people are waiting for me and I am late is just terrifying in my people pleasing world! In my haste I leave my phone on a gate as I rub the words ‘copper’ onto the artboard, the last thing I add to the artboard reportage. Fortunately Ade spots the phone when they pass by the same spot and picks it up for me.
On the way up to Carn Marth I bump into Brill and Fidget, local legends of the land and the community, who walk with me the last stretch, truth is I actually rush on after 5 minutes and Ade and Matt are not far behind. Its 4:51pm.
The sun has set and we’re not there yet. Its getting dark and the air is dank and its uphill uphill all the way to the fading light. Then I spot a certain familiar 4 x 4 vehicle and in the distance, a man in boots and a paramo, cheekily perched atop the concrete trigpoint with 2 other silhouettes, one instantly recognisable, and never late.
Its Roger Wyatt, Phil Ball and James Miller my good and faithful friends.
Yay! we finished! I’m finished! (walking)
Lets get the champagne. A lovely Rose Brut from the Camel Valley vineyard we cycled to yesterday, and highly recommended, as is the neat wine tasting ‘flight’ you can buy for sampling their 4 sparkling and 3 still wines, just be careful when you cycle back to Padstow or Wadebridge along the bike trail 🙂 (pic 3 below is from the vineyard itself)
As I have come to learn to accept, these walks barely scrape the surface of the layers of life and history that continue to express themselves through the people and the fabric of the places they inhabit.
Especially to Adrian Wright and Matt Guyver who put up with my walking art practice on walks 99 and 100 (Ade also on walk 83), never complaining once and entering fully into all the fun! I love you guys so much.
And just to say with 3 sets of photos and films to edit, I lost track of who took which picture, suffice to say Matt and Ade’s pictures (better than mine) feature heavily in this massive blog endeavour which took two days to put together.
SO, BIG PHOTO CREDITS TO BOTH MATT GUYVER & ADRIAN WRIGHT
And, to all these lovely people who came along to some or one of the walks or just sweetly met me at the end – that was so nice too:
Mark and Jo Selwood (Walk 5 Goonhilly)
Francesca Casey (walk 93)
Noah Ball (walk 81)
Caitlin Lord (walk 81)
James Miller (walk 57)
Roger Wyatt & family
Alan and Kay Guyver (walk 99)
Darren Ray (walk 9)
Rob Selwood (walk 24)
Doug (walk 1)
And to the countless named people I had the pleasure and priviledge of talking to and recording as I tried to engage with the people and the places walked through. THANK YOU
I cleaned my boots of Cornish soil one last time:
I will post progress on a multi media immersive exhibition…
There’s so much material to boil down –
Now for the big edit:
- Soil out of place
- Sounds out of place
- Music out of place
- Words out of place
- Lines out of place
- Pictures out of place
TO BE CONTINUED…
Thanks for reading
PS: ‘Heaven is a place nearby’
PPS: ‘Know your place’
PPPS: Be blessed