Posts Tagged ‘Cornwall’

If you are a lover of dogs or drive an unnecessarily large vehicle, you may want to skip this post in case it causes offence.

You have been warned.

Now, you’re probably wondering to what that word in the title refers. It’s an invented word which became part of my family’s vocabulary since the time I was really quite small. It is a word coined by one eccentric uncle who, while out walking with us as he frequently did on a weekend, would shout out periodically, ‘Mind the Oomjar!’ warning us of unmentionable messes smeared across footpaths left by animals who know no better.

Don’t get me wrong: I like dogs. Some of them I’d even say are cute but I don’t want one. I’m quite happy to join dog-walking friends just so long as I have nothing to do with their accompanying plastic bags. We don’t have the time or the type of lifestyle that would be fair to a furry addition to the family. Shoving a dog in kennels every time we decided to have some time away wouldn’t be kind – it compares to packing your kids off to boarding school at the first opportunity. Why bother to have them in the first place?

It’s the dog owners I have issue with. Or at least some of them. Having just spent the most glorious weekend on the Camel Estuary in North Cornwall, it became apparent very early on that this is a dog’s paradise. Every other person we seemed to encounter had at least one canine in tow, often with an uncomfortably human name. Since when did it ever sound right to name a dog ‘Stan’ or ‘Jonathan?’ Perhaps their children are called Rex and Rover (or even Satan), I don’t know, but to me, there is a blurring of nomenclature here which just sounds weird.

Dog owners arrogantly assume that everyone else will be as besotted with their pooches as they are. So while you’re sitting on your picnic rug on beautiful golden sands, whiling away hours minding your own business and trying to enjoy the scenery, the peace is invariably shattered by the frenzied yapping of a small dog or the louder, gruffer barking of a larger variety followed by the braying tones of an over indulgent owner. A sea-drenched spaniel will probably come bounding over and shake itself all over you while its owner will become terribly offended if you shoo their pet away. They’ll make jokey excuses like ‘Oh, he’s just playing!’ and ‘Oops, sorry: Hector, bad boy, come here!’ which simply aren’t good enough, frankly. I can’t remember ever letting my toddler wipe his jammy little fingers over a complete stranger.

Talking of toddlers – I can illustrate here how barmy some Brits are about their dogs. We witnessed, on a short ferry ride across the river Camel, a young couple with a pushchair containing a dear little boy push a pacifier in his mouth while they proceeded to take photographs of each other with their dog; of the dog and selfies with the dog. The child was completely ignored. What’s that all about?

I don’t care how intelligent or obedient dog owners think their pets are, they can’t read. (The dogs, that is, not the owners – although the jury is out on that one, actually). So when confronted with a large sign at the start of the wonderful coastal path walk that says in large letters ‘No Dog Fouling’ – who in the name of the National Trust is this directed at? We undertook a walk of around five miles along a fantastically beautiful stretch of the South West Path but instead of being able to walk, head up and enjoy all that nature has to offer, we were constantly looking at our feet to watch out for the Oomjar. Where are all the responsible plastic bag wielding dog owners then? And before anyone tries to tell me that it was probably fox – I do know the difference – I live in the country.


The South West Coastal Path along the Camel Estuary. Good job you can’t view this in Smell-o-Vision.

Dog owners are also very quick to tell you that their animal would never hurt anyone. I’m sorry, but that’s ridiculous. They might be the most docile of pets but they are still unpredictable animals. Owners do not have complete control over their pet’s actions and while I’m happy to believe that a dog won’t bite me, you can’t say for definite that a large excitable one won’t bound up to a toddler, put his paws up and knock the child off his feet potentially causing damage, can you? Dogs can hurt – albeit indirectly – as I know two people who have broken their ankles while out dog walking.

So enough of Oomjar for a minute and on to vehicles: large ones. I drive a small hatchback, perfectly adequate for my needs yet last week while attempting to park at our local station before boarding the London train I was almost thwarted because the station commuter car park is littered with four wheel drive monstrosities or huge people-carriers. These cars are too wide for the current parking bays so those of us with ordinary cars are finding it increasingly difficult to acquire a space. Why are these cars being used just to leave in a car park all day? Why do folk have these vehicles in the first place – do any of them actually use their four wheel drives properly? Have they ever actually been off-road? (No; only in the wretched station car park).

Ah, I know – they must be owned and carelessly parked by the same unthinking types that let their animals leave their Oomjar all over the place. You’d need a big car for children and dogs, wouldn’t you? But only at the weekend when they all head off for Cornwall to ruin the place for the rest of us.

Any invented words still in use in your family?








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Our latest sojourn west during the extended Christmas break reminded me of other recent visits to Cornwall, in summer, when the days are long and the light is sharp. Although Cornwall is beautiful at any time of year, early summer’s my favourite – before the hoards of holiday makers descend, blocking the roads with their caravans and filling the cafés up with their blotchy sun-burned skin.

St Ives

St Ives

Go west as far as St Ives – the quintessence of a West Country seaside resort; a perfect picture postcard of a place.

Stroll along typically narrow, Cornish cobbled streets, hear the constant cry of gulls as they wheel overhead; breathe in the salt air, rub shoulders with weather-beaten locals and wander around the harbour to marvel at the latest bounty coming in from the sea on little fishing boats or just spend time lazing on miles of glorious sandy beaches. Do all the things you would do at the seaside.

However, there’s another side to St Ives. The town is well known for being a place that entices artists to stay and enjoy the clarity of light for which it is famous. There’s the Tate Art Gallery right on Porthmeor Beach, housing ever changing exhibitions. The Leach Pottery, a museum dedicated to the work of Bernard Leach, (founding father of the renowned Cornish potters), is well worth a visit and can be found at Higher Stennack, a steep walk to the top of the town.

But to find the most magical of places you must get past the plethora of Olde tea Shoppes selling cream teas; get past the fudge shops, the shops selling surfing equipment, the bead shops, the shops selling crystals and polished fossils, the upmarket casual fashion shops, the bucket, spade and sun cream shops and wind your way around the backstreets until you find yourself in front of a curved, high stone wall and an unprepossessing door. It’s not easy to find, even with the help of the brown tourist signs which are all a bit skew-whiff – but perseverance will be rewarded, especially if, like me, you are a fan of 20th century sculpture.

For this is the site of Trewyn Studio – the home of the English sculptor, Barbara Hepworth – the place where she created some of her most seminal works and ultimately, the place where she died tragically in a fire in 1975. Originally from Yorkshire, Hepworth was one of several artists who settled in St Ives  during the 1940’s. She bought Trewyn in 1949 and remained there all her life. According to her final wishes the place is now a museum showcasing her works and is managed by Tate St Ives.

The museum houses a useful timeline documenting her life and work and then upstairs in a light and airy room, are models, plaster casts and miniatures of some of her larger pieces. Step through another door at the top of the stairs and you are outside in her wonderful walled garden.

Step out into the garden

Step out into the garden

There are many of her larger works here in bronze, stone and wood – resplendent amongst the foliage – one form complementing the other.



To one side of the garden is her studio, left almost untouched – as if she was but a breath away. Her tools are out on the bench;

The studio - as it must always have been

The studio – as it must always have been

her coats hang on hooks;


paint pots, ancient tins of glue and varnish line the shelves.


Trewyn is an inspiring place and one I have returned to – always in sunshine. I’d like to see it in wet weather too as raindrops would provide another dimension to her sculptures – some of them, especially the bronzes, invite the addition of water.



Hepworth’s ‘Dual Form’ outside the Guildhall in St Ives

Years ago, when I worked just off London’s g-jackson-winged-figure-sculpture-john-lewis-store-oxford-street-london-by-barbara-hepworth[1] Oxford Street,  I used to walk past a Hepworth sculpture every day. Mounted on the wall on the corner of the John Lewis department store, her piece entitled ‘Winged Figure’ stands poised, like the Phoenix rising from the ashes. The John Lewis store had to be rebuilt after the war on its current site where, according to baffled business analysts in our current economic climate, business is booming.

I like to think that the commissioning in 1961,  by the John Lewis Partnership, of Hepworth’s prophetic sculpture has had something to do with it.

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“Go west, young man, go west. There is health in the country and room away from our crowds…” Horace Greeley

 “If you ever plan to motor west,
Travel my way, take the highway that is best.” Bobby Troup

After our weather-turbulent Christmas we were pleased to get away for a few days to blow away the cobwebs, taking advice from both the above quotations. We headed to Cornwall, the most south-westerly county of the United Kingdom, where the jaggedly ragged land stretches into the Atlantic, fashioned over time by crashing coastal attrition. Cornwall –  land of Arthurian legend, of piskies and sprites  and of that famous snack once a staple of  Cornish tin miners – the Cornish pasty.


North Cornish coast

Because the traffic reports were so horrendous we abandoned our favourite route – that of the trusty old A303 (part of the original artery to the west country from London, passing as it does by Stonehenge and so steeped in folklore along its course there is even a book written about it), and plumped for keeping to the longer and infinitely more boring motorway network.


Narrow entrance to Boscastle Harbour


Boscastle harbour snapped on my phone – hence the colouring!

However, this paid off and we were in north Cornwall within four and a half hours, driving along its wild coastline, past Boscastle (the site of terrible flooding a few years ago), the salt spray and spume mixing with bracing fresh air as we left the car and battled with the elements to stretch our legs along the cliff path at Port Isaac (now overly popular since the filming of the TV series, Doc Martin).


Boats in Padstow harbour

We based ourselves in Padstow, a small but lively fishing port, nestling next to the river Camel and home to the burgeoning empire of celebrity chef and travel presenter, Rick Stein, whose seafood restaurant with rooms is a delight if anything sea related tempts your palate. He has several food emporia in the town – a deli, a bistro, a café and a gift shop and while locals may regard it as overkill, his presence has ensured a steady stream of tourists which has helped other businesses to flourish.

As Cornwall is a long and narrow county, it is easy to hop from north to south coast with relative ease when the weather changes suddenly, so altering geographical location can be a distinct advantage.  As things were looking inclement, we drove down to the Eden Project, near St Austell. Opened in 2001 and the brainchild of Tim Smit, the Eden Project is the largest collection of indoor rainforest plants in the world and is billed as a top eco visitor attraction. We’ve been meaning to check it out for years.

Turning up on spec though, is not to be recommended. It wasn’t particularly busy, which from our point of view is a good thing but it cost us a fortune to get in. Apparently our tickets are valid for re-entry for one year but booking online is a much more economic way to have a day out.

The plants are housed in massive ‘biomes’ – huge domes resembling the chrysalis of some enormous science-fiction horror insect. We wended our way through a humid jungle path interspersed with display boards informing us of the various species and their uses around the world. After the jungle biome, there is the Mediterranean biome where a lone flamenco guitarist attempts to create some atmosphere.

Now, taking into account that it was just after Christmas and that everywhere always looks a little like the aftermath of Armageddon, I can’t help having a little moan. I know this is a charity and I know that much of the work here is done by volunteers, but to be honest, it looked a bit tired to me. Considering there is so much in the press these days about students needing to volunteer to get at least a toe in our ever shrinking job market I reckon they could advertise for a few more of them to tidy the place up and repaint the information boards; do a bit of weeding. Although we found it interesting, I can’t see us rushing back to make more use of our very pricey annual ticket.

Back on the north coast again, the weather cleared to that extraordinary light for which Cornwall is famous and we set off for a long trek up the cliff path at Padstow and down onto the wide stretches of golden sand washed clean by the stormy waves of the previous few days.


Padstow beach alongside the river Camel estuary

There is nothing like a breath of sea air to restore wellbeing  after festive over indulgence and we left Cornwall feeling refreshed and ready to tackle anything that the New Year celebrations might bring. We returned on the A303 and stopped off to see the new visitor’s centre at Stonehenge. It was packed; there were queues. We didn’t wait, having been fortunate in our youth to see the stones close up. Nowadays you have to take a shuttle bus and view the stones from behind a fence on a tarmac path; but that’s progress, I guess.

As we drove homeward memories of that Cornish light kept re-entering my mind and I thought back to previous trips westward, during summer months, to St Ives, an artist’s colony where we discovered something truly magical.

But I‘ll leave that till my next post – Barbara’s Hidden Studio.

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