A Cornish Collection: Staying Close to Home

“The scene grew wilder as the train swept on; trees and hedges were left behind; there were no more cornfields, nor cottages with bright flower gardens; the end was approaching, the Land’s End; and soon there would be nothing, except the granite and stunted gorse, and the foaming waste of sea. It was like a beautiful woman growing old; South Devon was youth; Eastern Cornwall her early married life; then at Truro middle age; and so on into the desolation and decay of old age. Burrough wondered whether he too had left behind the trees and flowers; whether he too had passed through the flowering woods and the luxuriant lanes; whether he might be coming, in more senses than one, to the untrodden wastes; to end at length among the cruel rocks and the stormy sea.

It was a waste which was not all a waste. Upon the magnesian soil grew the flesh-coloured Cornish heather, which no art short of witchcraft could induce to grow east of Truro. In the villages down below, accustomed to the roar of the sea, were semi-tropical plants ; and the hydrangeas were bushes and the fuschias were trees. The wide sweeps of treeless land were still beautiful, and so was the air. It was the air after all that was the best. It was fresh and pure, and so soft that to breathe it into tender lungs made all the wide difference between pleasure and pain.

Respectable people had not breakfasted when Burrough reached Penzance. He found it difficult to believe that when the hands of the clock had last stood at half-past seven he had been in his cottage by the gorge, and had  no idea of setting out upon a pilgrimage.”

From ‘A Pixy in Petticoats’ by John Trevenna

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The Terminus (Penzance Station) by Stanhope Forbes

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Early in the 18th century Davies Gilbert, poet and hymn-writer of St Erth, created a set of verses from Cornish place names, to celebrate the euphony of the Cornish tongue:

Vel an drukya, Cracka Cudna
Truzemenhall, Chun, Crows an Wra
Banns Burnuhal Brane Bosfrancan
Treeve Trewhidden Try Trembah

Carn Kanidgiac Castle Skudiac
Beagle Tuben Amalvear
Amalibria Amel whidden
Skilliwaden Trink Polpeor

Pellalith Pellalla-wortha
Buzza vean Chyponds Boswase
Ventongimps Roskestal Raftra
Hendra Grancan Treen Bostraze

Treghnebbris Embla Bridgia
Menadarva Treveneage
Tregaminion Fouge Trevidgia
Gwarnick Trewey Reskajeage

Luggans Vellane-vrane Treglisson
Gear Noon-gumpus Helan-gove
Carnequidden Brea Bojouean
Dryn Chykembra Dowran Trove

Menagwithers Castle-cotha
Carnon-greeze Trevespan-vean
Praze-an-Beeble Men Trebarva
Bone Trengwainten Lethargwean

Stable-hobba Bal-as whidden
Tringy Trannack Try Trenear
Fraddam Crowles Gwallan Crankan
Drift Bojedna Cayle Trebear

Haltergantic Carnaliezy
Gumford Brunion Nancekeage
Reen Trevasken Mevagizzy
Killow Carbus Carn Tretheage

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Brett, John; St Ives Bay; Glasgow Museums; http://www.artuk.org/artworks/st-ives-bay-83317

St Ives Bay by John Brett

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“Behind the headland that cushions Navax point and Godrevy Point, and behind Godrevy lighthouse, which was Virginia Woolf’s eponymous lighthouse and stands sentinel on its own island of rock, and beyond the long arc of bone-coloured sand, fuzzy with sea spray, hemming the semicircular bay beyond us, St Ives shines in the far distance, white and glimmering, like Jerusalem by the sea. The sea which is frantic and chaotic, driven directly ont the sharp rocks below by a hard, solid wind, leaving the water shredded and annihilated, every part of this surface a fizzing, furious bright mass of bubbles and froth and spume and spray. Those white horses which have cantered across the steppes of the Atlantic now race each other neck and neck over the last few furlongs, galloping and rising towards the finishing line and hammering into the wall of the coast, vaporising in glittery rainbows of molecules and light.”

From Walking Away by Simon Armitage

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Visiting Lanyon Quoit by Joan Gillchrest

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Cornish Hevva Cake

It is said that a cliff-top lookout, known as a  huer would shout ‘Hevva!, Hevva!’ to alert fishing boats to the location of  pilchard shoals. And that Hevva cake was baked by the huers on their return to their homes, the cake being ready by the time the crews returned to land.

Makes 1 Thin Cake


200g plain flour
a pinch of salt
½ tsp ginger powder
½ tsp cinnamon powder
50g granulated sugar
100g salted butter (or lard)
100g currants
2-3 tbsp milk


Grease a large baking sheet and preheat the oven to 190C/170C(fan). Sift the flour into a large mixing bowl, adding the salt, spices and sugar. Tip in the butter and work the mixture together with your fingers until it resembles fine breadcrumbs. Incorporate the currants and bring the mixture together into a stiff dough with milk – 2 or 3 tbsp should be enough. Transfer the dough onto a well floured surface and roll out until little over 1cm in thickness. Move the rolled out cake onto the prepared baking sheet and score the top so as to resemble a fishing net.Bake for 25-30 minutes until golden brown, sprinkle with a little more sugar and serve warm.

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Porthgwarra by Ernest Proctor

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“I rode into Penzance and explored the town thoroughly … I found it a curious mixture of a place, the new gentility of the seaside town mellowing the ancient coarseness of the fishing port. The Metropole Hotel was part of the new gentility, a modern building that faced the sea and catered to visitors anxious to breathe the sea air in refined surroundings, but the town’s high street was far older than the esplanade and stood further inland to remind the visitor that a sea view had not always been considered desirable by the inhabitants. The mixture of old and new was emphasised, however by the new market house at the top of historical Market Jew Street and by the new public garden with their semi-tropical vegetation a stone’s throw from the narrow streets and cobbled alleys around the harbour. And beyond the harbour, reducing both the old and the new to insignificance, rose the fairy-tale castle of St Michael’s Mount …”

From ‘Penmarric’ by Susan Howatch

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“And to-night, ladies?” suggested the faithful Charles. “Wouldn’t you like to row round the Mount?—When you’ve had your tea, I’ll come back for you, and help you down to the shore—it’s rather rough, but nothing like what you have done, ma’am,” added he encouragingly. “And it will be bright moonlight, and the Mount will look so fine.”

So, the spirit of adventure conquering our weariness, we went. When I think how it looked next morning—the small, shallow bay, with its toy-castle in the centre, I am glad our first vision of it was under the glamour of moonlight, with the battlemented rock throwing dark shadows across the shimmering sea. In the mysterious beauty of that night row round the Mount, we could imagine anything; its earliest inhabitant, the giant Cormoran, killed by that “valiant Cornishman,” the illustrious Jack; the lovely St. Keyne, a king’s daughter, who came thither on pilgrimage; and, passing down from legend to history, Henry de la Pomeroy, who, being taken prisoner, caused himself to be bled to death in the Castle; Sir John Arundel, slain on the sands, and buried in the Chapel; Perkin Warbeck’s unfortunate wife, who took refuge at St. Michael’s shrine, but was dragged thence. And so on, and so on, through the centuries, to the family of St. Aubyn, who bought it in 1660, and have inhabited it ever since. “Very nice people,” we heard they were; who have received here the Queen, the Prince of Wales, and other royal personages. What a contrast to the legendary Cormoran!

Yet, looking up as we rowed under the gloomy rock, we could fancy his giant ghost sitting there, on the spot where he killed his wife, for bringing in her apron greenstone, instead of granite, to build the chapel with. Which being really built of greenstone the story must be true! What a pleasure it is to be able to believe anything!

Some of us could have stayed out half the night, floating along in the mild soft air and dreamy moonlight, which made even the commonplace little town look like a fairy scene, and exalted St. Michael’s Mount into a grand fortress, fit for its centuries of legendary lore—but others preferred going to bed.

So we landed, and retired. Not however without taking a long look out of the window upon the bay, which now, at high tide, was one sheet of rippling moon-lit water, with the grim old Mount, full of glimmering lights like eyes, sitting silent in the midst of the silent sea.”

From An Unsentimental Journey through Cornwall, by Dinah Maria Craik

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I Can Just Hear a Robin Above the Roar of the Stream. Cot Valley. February 2015.

Kurt Jackson

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“The Towans, as the sandhills or dunes on the north-east side of St. Ives Bay are called—that barren place mentioned in the last chapter where a horde of fugitive thrushes found snails enough to save them from starving—is a curiously attractive bit of country. It is plainly visible from St. Ives, looking east over the water—a stretch of yellow sands where the Hayle River empties itself in the Bay, and, behind it, a grey-green desert of hummocky or hilly earth, where the hills are like huge broken waves in “fluctuation fixed.” And in a sense they are waves, formed of sand which the ocean brings out of its depths and exposes at low water, to be swept up by the everlasting winds and heaped in hills along the sea-front; and no sooner are the hills built than the wind unbuilds them again, carrying the yellow dust further inland to build other hills and yet others, burying the green farm-lands and houses and entire villages in their desolating progress. This, they say, was the state of things no longer ago than the eighteenth century, when some wise person discovered or remembered that Nature herself has a remedy for this evil, a means of staying the wind-blown sands in their march. The common sea rush, Psomma arenaria, the long coarse grass which grows on the sand by the sea, was introduced—the roots or seed, I do not know which; and it grew and spread, and in a little while took complete possession of all that desolate strip of land, clothing the deep hollows and wave-like hills to their summits with its pale, sere-looking, grey-green tussocks. As you walk there, when the wind blows from the sea, the fine, dry, invisible particles rain on your face and sting your eyes; but all this travelling sand comes from the beach and can do no harm, for where it falls it must lie and serve as food for the conquering sea rush. If you examine the earth you will find it bound down with a matting of tough roots and rootlets, and that in the spaces between the tussocks the decaying rush has formed a thin mould and is covered with mosses and lichens, and in many places with a turf as on the chalk downs.”

From ‘The Land’s End’ by W H Hudson

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French Crabbers (in Newlyn Harbour) by Harold Harvey 

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“Cornwall is very primeval: great, black, jutting cliffs and rocks, like the original darkness, and a pale sea breaking in, like dawn.

It is like the beginning of the world, wonderful…”

D. H. Lawrence

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15 thoughts on “A Cornish Collection: Staying Close to Home

  1. Another lovely collection, Jane. That passage from the Simon Armitage is beautiful. I always enjoy listening to him whenever he pops up on the radio but I don’t think I’ve ever read any of his books – must remedy that at some point.


  2. What can I say that hasn’t already been said! That is a lovely collection, with some beautiful paintings (I love the station), and some interesting text – the poem made of place names is interesting. And heva cake sounds nice – presumably that’s a Cornish speciality? Some of the shops here in Plympton sell saffron buns, which I thought were Cornish, but this is Devon, so I’m trying to find out more about them.


    1. Saffron cake and saffron buns are definitely Cornish, but I can understand that as they are very popular here they might be found across the Tamar too. Hevva cake has travelled less because it’s a more subtle pleasure, and the name is often read as heavy cake which doesn’t give the best of impressions.

      The station is in my hometown and it looked much the same when I was a child. Since then though the roof has been replaced, and because it was put on too low trains can’t come right into the station and travellers have to walk out to the very end of the platform to board.

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  3. Lovely post Jane! Cornwall is a place that seems to inspire great descriptive writing and you’ve found some wonderful examples. Thank you – brightened my evening!


    1. You’re very welcome – I have a lovely time putting collection posts together. Cornwall inspires a lot of writing, much of it mediocre but there are some literary gems from people who take the time and trouble to understand the place.

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