Storm Laura and mud slides

When August normally comes around in a normal year the weather always turns and we say it always does this when the schools break up. Now, this is not a normal year and schools have barely functioned and yet, when officially schools should have broken up the weather still turned. After an early summer of balmy sunny days we have had to endure days of rain and winds including two official storms. A few sunny days that broke all temperature records were book ended by shit weather. They say Cornwall is full, everyone has come down on their holibobs and there isn’t a holiday cottage or camp site hook up for rent, but no one has had a week of sunshine except one exception, and even then not all week. The weather has created surf on the south coast of Cornwall, usually not noted for its waves and there’s been steady streams of people heading down the cliff with their boards. Yet the week of Storm Laura the RNLI on Whitsand alone saved 8 lives out of a total of 17 across the county. This week the red flag has been flying at the lifeguard hut meaning do not enter the water and that’s also because we have had mud slides. So last Wednesday we were sitting on the deck enjoying a window of sunshine and cloud watching the farmers ploughing the fields in front of us. The next day we had rain that was coming down at such an angle that it drove the newly ploughed soil off all the fields and either onto the road or into the valley stream that runs down the cliff and onto the beach at Freathy, culminating in a brown muddy sea and a blocked road.

These events have closed the beach at Sharrow – a popular destination, due to a car park right by the beach path, but now, as I write this, we have blue skies and a forecast of even less cloud and more sun tomorrow for the Bank Holiday weekend with a beach that can’t be accessed. Here, below is todays view from the chalet where you can see the newly ploughed fields that are sloping down at an angle.

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Walks in Isolation 2

 

 It’s been a long time, I suddenly felt bad about posting photos of the beach, being able to get out and have so much space around me; a guilt for being able to access these places. I didn’t want to be accused of saying I have it better than you but on the other hand I also know that people appreciated the images. So we’ve just been getting on with it and not shouting out about it, if it’s low tide we head onto the beach, at high tide we stay up on the cliffs or take circular walks from the cliff inland. We have been trying to find other pathways from the ordnance survey map but there are surprisingly few, we even rang the bell of a farmhouse to ask if we could walk up the path shown on the map to a reservoir. The farmer called it his ‘fishing lake’, [which a phone box, used as a ticket office, states would cost us £8] he was very nice but wasn’t going to let us. Nor did our neighbouring farm let us walk up the track that would have taken us to some woods alongside his fields. However we did find the way to the village of St John, which does take us diagonally across fields until you come to a stile and a wooded path that leads into the village. Perfect for a ‘normal’ Sunday lunchtime at a pub with a garden at the end of the walk – which there is, but the pub has decided not to open on the 4th.

the footpath into St John

 

We’ve also been walking on some of the other parts of the Bay, the paths on the cliff allow us to wander through the chalets at Treganhawke, Trenninow and Wiggle and the intriguing dip called Happy Valley that has a handful of chalets cheek by jowl on their own part of the cliff. These walks have been wonderful and have made us much more appreciative of where we live. Many of the chalets are weekend and holiday homes and so are shuttered up waiting for their owners to re-emerge out of lock down and by next week I imagine there will be a stream of people returning so I feel we’ve wandered at the right time.

Happy Valley

The bird song has been incredible, we have sky larks in the fields along with blackbirds, wrens and robins, but also stonechats and warblers on the cliff. We have had visits in the front field by pheasants, red grouse and a couple of fallow deer, we had our usual Spring neighbours, the lambs, who delight us with their games – running together across the field like some sort of sports day for sheep.

We’ve really enjoyed having our own patch of Cornwall to ourselves with our neighbours but come tomorrow it will be open again for everyone else so, maybe now I will less guilty about sharing posts.

The lifeguards are back at Sharrow and Tregantle beaches, sending us messages in the sand.

 

 

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Walks in Isolation

 

Taking onboard the one bit of exercise we can do each day during this pandemic we have chosen to walk along bits of the south west coast path that are accessible from our home. We have to walk through two fields to get to the SW coast path that runs along either a cliff path or the main road [Military Rd] and then we have a four mile stretch of coast path that we are bang in the middle of so, left or right we have options and we realise we are very lucky to have them.

When it’s low tide we tend to head to the beach and as the tide times change we then walk along the cliff tops so, within a week we change the route accordingly.

A sometime work colleague and collaborator Dr Phil Smith, aka Crab Man, is a man of words and walking. He has a site called Mythogeography and creates walks, interventions, papers, books and much more about the joy of walking sideways, i.e seeing things differently, and he has recently written something on walking in the time of a pandemic. In normal times we wouldn’t pay particular attention to other people and would move amongst them without worrying about social distancing, but now we have to think through our spacing before and as we go. Smith says you have to ‘become a choreographer of your own dance’. When the sun comes out people head to parks and beaches, places that cater for large crowds, yet we are told to only walk close to where we live, meaning don’t get in your car to go somewhere to exercise. Smith says ‘look for small treasures in the margins…respect every space and place as beyond the usual…wherever you walk, walk with your own story’ look for details, walk with new eyes and look beyond that which you would normally see.

Walking close to where you live for us means a stretch in East Cornwall called the Rame Peninsula, which includes a four mile stretch on a beach called Whitsand Bay, so early last week when it was low tide during the day we headed down for our exercise, and it is exercise, particularly on the way back heading up the steep cliffs that have footpaths and steps cut into them.

As the week went on we had to adapt and one day set off to our right as we got to Military road, within a few yards we find a gate with a sign saying Sharrow, which is the next beach along to us. Here the path along the top of the cliffs is only wide enough for one person, so if you met someone coming in the other direction you would have to move to one side to allow someone to pass, however normally this would still be in incredibly close range to the other person so during a pandemic you have to know where there are places that can accommodate space along the route. Driving down our back lane every day, we are used to the places that allow two cars to pass, if we meet another car we know which vehicle is closer to these places, and most drivers do, as it is a lane that is only really used by the people who live on/off it. Therefore as we walk this narrow clifftop path we assume that the only people we will meet are also people who live close by and therefore know the geography of its terrain.

We did meet someone speaking on their phone to a relative, perched by a bench picking wild herbs, she had a bag full. We tried to choreograph our own dance but it was more of a shimmy past holding our scarves over our mouths, and that was it. We carried on and took a left at Sharrow towards the lifeguards hut because we know that underneath, hidden away is Sharrow’s Grot, a cave carved into the cliff in the eighteenth century, an extreme place to self isolate, originally for sheltering from rough seas and weather.

A couple of days later we headed in the same direction but this time we intended to walk all the way along to Tregantle, the beach that everyone stops at when they head over from Plymouth. The road side is always busy on a sunny day, vehicles cheek by jowl on the grass verges, in the summer holidays traffic wardens ticket anyone whose tyres are trespassing onto the tarmac of the road; a rotten end to a day at the beach. There is a car park a stones throw away and sometimes when the cars and camper vans are either side of the road the double decker bus can have trouble getting through but it seems to be part of the ritual of surfing at Tregantle, that you park up, change and put on wetsuits on the verge.

Today the verges are clear and the bus has no trouble getting through, in fact it’s a pretty clear ride on almost traffic free roads. We get to Tregantle without seeing anyone, no choreography needed, but we see ‘treasures in the margins’  in the gorse, violets and thrift that are starting to colour the cliffs, the earth repeating its annual renewal as we, as a species, retreat.

More information about Sharrow’s Grot and it’s origin is here https://heritagerecords.nationaltrust.org.uk/HBSMR/MonRecord.aspx?uid=MNA101425

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Cornish Isolation

 

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It sounds biblical but after the floods comes the plague and just like everywhere else we are being told to stay indoors. The decree comes on the Spring equinox and as it does there is a change and we head into a period of dry weather when we are itching to get outside.  Yet living here, on a Cornish cliff, is at the best of times isolated and we often walk on the beach and only see a smattering of dog walkers always well away from the two meters apart we should be. We headed down to the beach a couple of days ago and had it to ourselves, yet yesterday on Sunday there were many vehicles parked up by the popular beach at Tregantle, a video of which made the national news. The local vibe is changing too, the Cornish are asking second homers not to return to their holiday homes or bring their caravans down. Cornwall, according to one newspaper report showing how many cases there are around the country, hasn’t any cases and yet we know reported numbers are not realistic. Still we have a lot less than other urban areas, so an inviting place for many to hide themselves away, with a sea view.

The pull of Whitsand Bay is a coast without all the usual seaside public spaces, it’s just four miles of beach accessed by cliff paths. One brilliant restaurant [now closed] and a cliff top cafe, which is now selling take out coffees and breakfast butties.

It may sound like we are not taking the advice we are given about staying indoors but we are holed up in the chalet and take a daily walk around the fields that we can see around us. We wash our hands religiously and I’ve even made homemade hand sanitiser. I found a bottle of surgical spirit in the cupboard and checked a recipe online; 3 parts spirit to 1 part aloe vera gel [we have SO much of that… no, I am being serious] and add a few drops of whatever essential oil you favour. It works, although I added more aloe vera gel, we decanted it into small jars and keep one in the car.

I love the way everyone is staying connected online, I’ve just done a work out via Zoom, I have a handful of WhatsApp groups to stay in touch with family and friends and I am listening to podcasts, including one by acting students at Plymouth Uni, who have lost their final graduation show and the podcast highlights other graduates in the same position. I sometimes think I listen just to hear their voices.

Hopefully this blog will also be a way of staying touch, many friends around the world receive this and others who I do not know, but whether a close friend or stranger, stay safe and I will update next month.

 

Cabin Envy [isolated]

We can’t travel… but we can dream. This is Elk Forest retreat in Elk California, set inside a red wood forest and also close to the Pacific ocean @elkcaliforniaforestretreat on instagram.

 

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Leap Year

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As we wait for yet another storm to arrive [don’t you think it’s weird how they like to arrive at weekends] a Happy Birthday to all those celebrating their birthdays today. My grandmother’s birthday was on the 28th and for 3 years out of 4 she must have shared it with all those who only saw their birth date once every four years.

Last week there was a singular sunny day and it just changed everything, the mood and the hope that Spring may be on its way. I stopped and took a photograph of the daffodil fields, which have been hives of industrial picking over the past weeks. People wrapped up for all weather bending over and picking the buds to bunch and take to be sold. I wonder what the difference will be next year? It’s unskilled labour yet very hard, back breaking work.

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Performance

Next week I am performing a show I made almost 7 years ago! A performance about the Plymouth Synagogue, which has a unique history of its own, and because the Theatre Royal in Plymouth are showing a play called Amsterdam, which has Jewish themes I am performing four times in the front of house to compliment the in house show. https://theatreroyal.com/whats-on/coffee-with-vera

If you are in Plymouth, come along, it’s free and there will be tea & Kit Kats

  • Friday 6th March @ 2.30pm and 5pm
  • Saturday 7th March @ 12noon and 5pm
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January 31st 2020

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one of the few dry days this month!

It’s been a month of wet – ferocious downpours and foggy days with sea frets that hang in the air. Occasionally there has been some dry sunny winter days sharing wonderful sunsets with us. Our neighbours, the sheep, have been in the field through all weathers and will soon be lambing. To bring a little sunshine into the dark month I made some marmalade, I can’t remember where I first came across the recipe but instead of spending hours slicing the rind into slithers I boil the fruit and then stick it into a processor. The resulting gloop gets added to sugar and it becomes liquid gold that cools to a marvellously set marmalade. Pretty much a pound of gloop to a pound of sugar and the juice and zest of a lemon.

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Tonight I will not be celebrating Brexit day by ‘Drinking Rum with Expats’ with Sh!t Theatre at the Drum at the Theatre Royal Plymouth. It feels very appropriate.

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The most flooded town

 

There’s been a lot of flooding this autumn and early winter but if I were to ask which area/place is the most flooded, where would you say? South Yorkshire? Somerset? areas which have both been beset with burst rivers in the last couple of years, or what about Hebden Bridge [my old home] that’s been badly flooded at least three times that I know of. Would it surprise you to know that the most flooded town is Looe in South Cornwall, it regularly floods 4-8 times a year. The harbour town, known for its fishing, where all the Cornish chefs come for the daily catch, is a typical Cornish coastal town with tiny streets that lead down to a harbour, the walls of which can be covered by a high Spring tide. And with increasing bad weather and winds the Environment agency reckon Looe could be flooded up to 14 times in 2020. Yet Government flood funding is allocated to areas that are more densely populated and only limited funds arrive in Looe putting pressure on local councils and private business to make up the money. For a shocking look at numbers read this article 

When I look out of my window across Whitsand Bay I can see Looe across on the other side [see the view above]. In the morning when the sun rises in the east the rays catch the glass in the windows of the houses and the light twinkles then, as night falls, the lights go on and start to shine across the bay, which is rather magical.

There hasn’t been that much sun, we have had constant rain for the last few weeks with maybe one dry day dotted about and the forecast up to Christmas is heavy rain. The fields are saturated and there are rivers running down the roads into over full drainage. Whilst on the other side of the world they are seeing the hottest days and out of control bush fires.

So it won’t be a happy Christmas for many people but if you can stay dry and warm then consider yourself one of the lucky ones.

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Cabin Envy

Fancy this Shepherd’s Hut for Christmas? Well you can have it because it’s available at Acorn Farm in Devon. A woodland camp, Acorn Farm has log burners and hot water bottles to keep you toasty and no wifi, so you can hide away from the world outside, and lets face it who wouldn’t want to do that!

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Down but not out

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At the beginning of November we had storms with winds reaching a record 100mph in Cornwall, I reckon it was a good 80mph up here on the cliff. After a really bad night of gale force wind, the next morning it took me a while to notice, but as I gazed out over the fields I noticed there was something different… and it took me a while to realise what it was. The wind had blown down our Torbay palm, keeled straight over taking some roots with it.

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After talking to people who are far more knowledgable we lifted it up, put it back in its hole, earthed it up again, secured that with stones and then staked it with temporary stakes and rope – mainly driftwood!  So far it has not budged.

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We will wait and see….

Cabin Envy

Here is Inshriach bothy which, in this case, is a bothy built partly for an artist residency. Built by The Bothy Project  and now popping up all over Scotland they announce an annual artist residency around September time and the lucky recipients get to stay in one and make work. You can also book Inshriach bothy during the summer via Canopy and Stars

 

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Apples & surf

October was all about apples, in between the incredibly heavy bursts of rain I managed to shake enough apples from our allotment tree to take along to the first Apple Festival in our local village. In the past we have travelled up the river Tamar to Bere Ferres that has a history of market gardening, especially daffodils and apples, which in the past would be taken up to London by train. This year however we decided to stay local and support this new venture and I’m so glad we did.

It was very busy, with different apple themed stalls, two lots of opportunities to press your apples, food, morris dancing, male voice choirs and, of course with it being held in the pub garden, there was ample local cider and beers.

We pressed our apples with the press belonging to the couple behind Rame Head Apple Juice,

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We cut them up and put them into the press above and turned the wheel, easy.. and produced three bottles of unpasteurised apple juice.

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We were really lucky with the weather because the rain gods decided to stop for a break that weekend, as they did last weekend too. The sun was beating down and the beach was full of families holidaying over the half term, the previous days winds and rain had produced waves worthy of the north coast and the coast road was full of camper vans and surfers changing before the precarious cliff walk down to the beach.

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Yet the rains returned on the Monday and have stayed all week…

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Bird song

Wheatear by Graham Parry 

I’ve been noting all the various birds in and around the fields. We are placed higher up than on the cliff and lower fields and we tend not to have the bird song that you notice when you head down to the cliff. In the morning if you want to catch the snail mail before the collection you have to walk through the fields first thing to the postbox and you can catch the dawn chorus in the field which has many trees. Our field doesn’t have trees, only hedgerows and we get birds that are mainly ground dwellers including two Wheatears. We have been wondering what they were for a while; the binoculars came out and we filled in an RSPB identifier as best we could, but to no avail, until our neighbour told me they were Wheatears, and sure enough they tick all the boxes. The photo above is by Graham Parry I am afraid I couldn’t do justice.

Since the spring we’ve had a large amount of swallows around, they seem to spend their days sitting on the wires above the back lane side by side with the resident buzzard and their evenings swooping around the chalets. They are still here but will soon be gone. During the last month in the garden we’ve also seen eight house sparrows together in a row on the fence with three robins and a wren.

But the one thing I haven’t heard with such regularity this year is the skylark; when we moved here in 2011 we could hear them all through the summer and we played the game of who could spot it above us first. This year, apart from in early summer, their song has declined and I read in this week’s ‘State of Nature’ report that ‘41% of species have decreased in abundance,‘. Intensification of farming and pollution from fertiliser is one of the reasons but here, in these fields, in front of our chalet, the land is left for life stock to graze and so not overly farmed at all … which only makes it worse.

Photo by Theo Moye 

Bodmin Performance

Next Saturday I am heading down the road to Bodmin to perform The Secret Listener at the Regimental Museum in the afternoon and the Old Library in the evening. A show about a voluntary interceptor who listened in to German radio frequencies during WW2 and, at the Regimental Museum, there is a Spy HQ exhibition that tells you more about the secret world of morse code, so there’s an additional ‘extra’ if you like, alongside the performance.

The Secret Listener 2pm at Bodmin’s Regimental Museum and 7.30pm at the Old Library tickets from intoBodmin 

 

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