It seems I have traded the North Atlantic for the South Pacific, a world apart.
This ocean is different; bluer, warmer, stronger.
I have always longed to see the Pacfic ocean. I can now say I have swum in three of the worlds oceans, the others – the Southern and Arctic – are not quite so accessible but maybe one day.
Whoever named these vast expanses of water had poetry in their veins, I grew up with these words. The Atlantic is home to me; green, cold and wild. The Pacific is foreign, full of new things and where the power of the ocean is a way of life.
I suppose I will write of the new things here, when I get the chance.
When we started to drive, with teenage abandon, around the lanes that connect Polgooth, Sticker and St. Ewe a story started to trickle down into our hot-boxed Peugeot 106.
In between St. Ewe, Polgooth and Pengrugla there is a little triangle of woods, a copse really, that the road dog-legs around, which we called Nunnery woods. The local legend we nurtured states that if and when you see a silent, solemn Nun standing by the side of the road here, late at night, your death is close at hand.
I had always assumed the story was the result of skunk induced paranoia so as I happened to be driving past with my camera I thought on a whim I’d have a gander into this strange little wood. You can enter into the copse by jumping a hedge. I immediately set about looking for evidence of buildings, if there had been a Nunnery here there would be evidence of foundations at least.
Nothing. Just the usual refuse to be found in wooded sites less travelled. Plastic oil drums, strongbow bottles and tyres mainly. There are a few ditches – for drainage probably – but little else of interest. I left after half hour or so fairly disappointed and leaning to the conclusion that our story was groundless.
Nagged by feeling of incompletion I thought to dig a bit on the net and found that the investigation was not over.
I had no idea until I saw this map that the hill around this wood is actually, legitmately called ‘Nunnery Hill’. Perhaps our folklore had legs after all.
The only references I can find are this, which claims there was indeed a Nunnery NE of this point and a small paragraph in Samuel Drew’s (Cornwall’s only well-known Philosopher) 1824 ‘History of Cornwall, Vol. II‘ who comes to the solidly academic conclusion that since it’s called ‘Nunnery Hill’ there was probably, once, a Nunnery in the vicinity.
Lanhadron Farm nearby is in the Domesday book but there is no mention of a Nunnery. So, if there was one it was likely in existence between this time, 1086, and the dissolution of the monasteries in 1541. I would say the evidence points to something of note here, the name is clearly not new, the road takes a strange detour around the area and there is a local legend attached.
So the folk-memory of a lost nunnery has persisted in a place name and a ghost story for over 400 years. Without our teenage re-telling of a story – presumably passed to us from previous generations – I wouldn’t have found a little lost piece of history. Lovely. Hope you don’t see any Nuns though, should you visit.
A few days ago I was reading of Norilsk, an unimaginably oppressive, filthy, cold, dank industrial city high in the Arctic Circle. Once known for its Soviet Gulag labour camps (in which tens of thousands of prisoners died), it is now a hub of mineral mining. Nickel primarily but also palladium, cobalt, arsenic and coal. The average temperature in the winter months is -20 degrees C. The concentration of relentless and remorseless mining and smelting industries here mean that it is one of the most polluted places on earth, with an average life expectancy of roughly 60 years. The Norilsk people essentially dig out and process hazardous minerals from the arctic tundra and live out their spare time in an almost eternally dark, frozen, carcinogenic smog. It’s also closed to anyone but those who work here.
I read of this and all I could think of is how much I want to go there. I am thus starting to accept I am drawn to the dark places of the world.
I should probably state that I approach almost everything on the skeptical side of agnosticism and as I have no tangible first-hand evidence of anything ‘paranormal’ I am a non-believer. But, as I have said before, some places have different feelings to them, some raise your hairs, some have powerful and inescapable lore attached to them that stir the imagination, some are too old to comprehend fully and these are the areas I like to seek out.
Either way I give you the first in a mini-series – or as many as I can get in before I exit the Country in a few days, whatever.
St. Denys Church. I’d heard a few stories about this place before I first explored it almost a decade ago. My own Mother – not known for her indulgence in such things – had to leave the graveyard due to an overwhelming fear. Others spoke of it quietly, that it was always colder than the surrounding area.
I remember feeling trepidation on my first approach. Even from a distance there is something about St. Denys church.
The first thing you will note is that it sits perched at the apex of a perfectly conical hill, looming above the surrounding area. The next is that crowning the top is a perfect ring of trees, surrounding Church building itself, leaving only the top of the buttressed tower visible from a distance. When you enter the churchyard through a rusted wrought iron gate indeed the light is diminished. The trees that crown the hill and surround the church all seem to reach inwards towards the granite tower and create a strange enclosed feeling. I’m not sure I’ve seen this before in any church. Usually trees are manipulated by prevailing winds. Lastly the radiating down from the churchyard is a lovely and ancient complex of fields enclosed by brittle granite dry-stone walls. The whole site is made all the more peculiar sitting as it does now amongst the white mountains of the Clay.
I first came here to try and find something and found absolutely nothing other than a feeling that it is a special place.
Which it most certainly is, St. Denys church is actually built directly within the remnants of a Hill Fort. This is rather rare. Glastonbury Tor is probably the most famous example of this overt Christianisation of pagan sites but whereas Glastonbury is warm and inviting, St. Denys is cold and aloof.
It is of course the overwhelming age of the site that gives St. Denys church its power. Hillfort earthworks have their origins to the Iron Age (600bc – 60AD) but just as Christian sites were oft sited on pagan hallowed ground, hill forts were often a new type of fortification on a more primitive hill-top defence system used right back to the Neolithic, 3000bc.So when you walk around the cool air of St. Denys churchyard, amongst the Rowan and the Yew you may well be walking around a somewhere that has been site of spiritual significance for 5000 years – possibly seeing the ritual sacrifice associated with the Celtic period. I think that amount of sedimented human life and belief in such a small, concentrated area is probably going to leave something in the air.
Time moves on and we get used to it. As our accustomed minds gradually and continually fill up with life find ourselves shocked when we take note to see an hour or a week has passed with not much to show other than an underlying sense of non-achievement.
The terminal feeling of helplessness at the passing of time is part of the human condition. The only way I can attempt to ameliorate this is to reflect and remember details – and remember that the hours are the same speed they always were.
A camera, a view on a bright, clear early Spring day. A sailing yacht at anchor, a flock of Oystercatchers and their ember-red feet. Life in the rockpools after a dull winter, fishing trawlers coming in.
Spring, clean and crisp. Views to Devon in the pure air, travels in Cornwall, as always. Coastal. A coastal time. Early swim.
Warmth in June. Lush and verdant. Humid walks amongst damp tall grasses, pollen and midges in the late afternoon sunlight.
Cold swims in the ocean, beach dust and tobacco smoke.
Mown grass and garden spiders in September, fattening in their careful webs. Craneflies and the roads quieten. Peaceful and warm.
Autumn was all change. Job, house, life. All of it. The most colourful Autumn for years.
And then the change to Winter.
And the impetus stutters and stalls in winter.
This winter has been far more beautiful than the last.Cornwall shines in the winter I think.
So resolutions and the like are made and it’s nearly February.
Just off the south side of the arterial A30 that cuts the Moor in two one can find Temple. A collection of farm houses and out of the way cottages, there is not much other than the small community that dwell here.
Temple Church is the prime attraction. You see, if you blunder across anywhere in England that has the name ‘Temple’ in it, you can guess, with some accuracy, that the area or buildings had something to do with the Knights Templar at some point. This solid, stolid little church is the only Templar site I know of in Cornwall, although no doubt other areas and buildings would have had connections to the group.
I’m not going to go into reams of detail about the Templars – there really is a great deal of utter shit spoken about them – suffice to say they were an early fraternal order of Knights (wealthy, landed men who were trained to fight) started in the early 12th century, who grew pretty rapidly to hold a great deal of financial, political and military influence across Europe towards Jerusalem. They were a very early form of bank actually and their financial practices and habits of lending earned them a great deal of money and had a lasting influence. This was a time when Europe was largely working together under a fanatical religious imperialism to ‘reclaim’ what is now Israel plus parts of Syria, Lebanon and Jordan. I speak of The Crusades, of course. If this all seems a bit familiar then that’s probably because with a few different phrases, ideologies and name changes we can largely take the rhetoric of the crusades and apply them to the modern conflicts in the area. Nice to see we learn.
The Knights Templar were eradicated in the very early 14th century; dislodged, ousted and delegitimised through a fairly transparent but effective campaign of fear and disinformation led by the French King Philip IV and Pope Clement V with the last of the Grand Masters, Jacques de Molay, burned alive in Paris. That’s largely it for the real, historical Templars.
So why the fudge did they built a tiny Church in the Moors? Places like this were refuges and stopping points for pilgrims on their way to various places and pilgrims = money. Irish pilgrims to the Holy Land would often save themselves the perilous seas around the Cape of Cornwall and travel overland from Padstow to Fowey and then onto France. Hence this convenient moorland stopping point, a days hard walk from Camelford.
The Church passed to the Knights Hospitaller after the suppression of the Templars and led quite the life of intrigue and macabre detail afterwards. It remained with the Knights of St. John until the dissolution of all things Catholic and Papal under Mr. the VIII, upon which it somehow managed to retain a legal loophole through which the young and wildly impulsive couples of Cornwall could elope across the moors and marry each other without the need for banns or licence. This was ended in 1753 whereupon the church was left to crumble (which it did so upon a remarkably unfortunate vagrant sheltering inside, killing him). It was rebuilt by the great Cornish architect Silvanus Trevail – who later shot himself on a train to Bodmin, which is perhaps understandable – in 1883 after a community funding effort.
These days this isolated rural church doesn’t have many services and has somehow gained a reputation for the occult and magical rituals, perhaps due to the history, perhaps due to the occult in general having fascination with the Templars or perhaps due to its isolation.
There is certainly an unusual sense about Temple Church though, its interior is remarkably spartan. It has simple wooden chairs rather than ornate pews, it is also pleasingly entirely lit by candlelight and the altar is a very basic oak table with a dusty copy of the bible placed upon it. The walls are clean and whitewashed and lead to a bare slate floors and a relatively simple oak beam ceiling. The whole building feels like an empty scene – a set, strangely calm and serene.
As far as I would ever go is to say that places have feelings to them and Temple Church has a particular feeling. A lot has happened on this little patch after all. I have no idea about the details of the rituals undertaken here by witchy-folk, but generally speaking (I am a layman) ritual that takes place on overtly Christian land tends to be somewhat dark in nature – as it is meant to be intentionally blasphemous to Christianity. I don’t really care what happens here to be frank. People believe what they like, but certainly each thing that does happen here adds to the building’s intriguingly rich and often macabre history.
In a totally different vein to self-indulgent familial nostalgia I will be discussing an author in this post. An author of such titles as; ‘Stalin’s British Training, Breeding Concubines, Paedophiles at War‘ (2007) and ‘Hitler was a British Agent‘ (2005). I find this interesting.
I came across this guy researching an upcoming post on the Knights Templar (they built a church on the moor). If you have ever delved into this Medieval order then you might note that it is quite the fertile ground for conspiracists.
Greg Hallett is most definitely a conspiracy theorist. His main treatise is a five volume (!) epic based on the premise that the legitimate King of England is in fact a small Portuguese male named Marcos Manoel.
It is not really the content of dear Mr. Hallett’s oeuvre that interests me – although admittedly the Second World War could well have been a mystic simulacra conjured by Nazi Rosicrucians – it is more the sheer volume of his work.
Writing is considerable undertaking, indeed, a sodding enormous undertaking. Effort, time, commitment and sustained application of thought are needed to produce a meagre blog post. This gentleman has produced 15 books over a twelve year period, at a rough average of 300 pages each. 3600 pages. The standard average of words per page is about 250. 900 000 words.
I will also admit that if you are writing completely incomprehensible bollocks then this target might be easier to achieve. But I would still defy most authors to reach such a dizzying output. I fear I would Hemmingway my brains over my spartan room with quivering, RSI wracked fingers if I attempted it.
So clearly Hallett is gently prodded by feverish insanity. I am not the first to point out, with mildly envious tones, the frightening industry of the zealot, David Icke’s biblically proportioned unscripted lectures (or ramblings, whatever) have been met with raised eyebrows previously.
I realise as I write that it is not even the mighty output that really interests me. It is the thought processes, the mental pathways taken by the conspiracist. How are they so convinced in the veracity of their conclusions?
Surety is a strange thing to me, I am a Sociologist at heart. I cannot be convinced by any truth, no matter how convincingly it is espoused.
The mentality of Hallett and his ilk is fascinating, their truth is completely and comprehensively unconvincing to me, yet they are moved to write about it with deep conviction.
So my question would be where does the thought process differ from the religious evangelist, the ardent Marxist, the dogmatic atheist? Does it differ?
The concluding world view differs, greatly, of course. Some are more convincing, it would take a different mind (maybe) to conclude with a Reptilian World Order than with Reductionist Materialism, as the Scientist would (by that I mean a gross generalisation of some modern scientists with one famous, exemplary proselytiser settling in my mind) and perhaps one has more validity than the other.
Nonetheless the part, or process, of the brain that convinces itself of truth, of finding the truth, of that slightly superior discovery of enlightenment over others would remain the same would it not? Would it then be fair to label the titular author as insane as I did previously? Perhaps he just found his subjective truth.
It used to confuse me that this little village nestled in the lee of Rame Head and facing the beginnings of Devon from across Plymouth Sound is nominally divided into two. Cawsand and Kingsand. The actual reason is that the border of Devon and Cornwall once ran though the village until they changed it to line up with the Tamar River, benignly showing by way of a small, insignificant coastal village just how arbitrary and ridiculous such things can be.
My Dad, who grew up here, always just called it Cawsand and that would be why I do too. It would also be the reason I feel I know this place ridiculously well.
I have always found places and landscapes to be the most evocative things. The village of Cawsand holds a lot of memory of the nostalgic, happy and sunny kind and through anecdotes, shared memory and genetics it has become a geographical bond between my Dad and I. If Cawsand holds a great deal for me then it holds even more for him.
As a disclaimer, and because she consists one of the 5 people who read this, I do share a geographical bond with my Mother but it applies to Northfield in Birmingham. If you don’t know it then it is not quite as picturesque but perhaps more poetic. Another time for this and besides, Birminghamunbound does not quite have the same ring.
I walk here a fair bit these days. Living in the South East corner as I now do it’s a go to for an easy and meaningful stroll. I also have a strange relationship with the place. I can walk through it like it’s home yet I know no one and, equally, no one knows me which is kinda nice.
Only the oldest of the inhabitants, the Jagos or the Chapples, not yet pushed out by the steadily increasing number of holiday homes, would remember my family being here or indeed remember the stories of them. Stories as ingrained in my memory as if they were my own – which I suppose in a way, they are.
Stories of my second cousin, Nick – a swashbuckling, womanising Marlon Brando lookalike – dashing himself (non-fatally) on the rocks falling from the sea-wall after a daring sea rescue of a beloved parrot, who had perched itself atop a buoy in the bay. He was handed a rotten rope apparently. Possibly proffered by a cuckolded husband.
No doubt that some of the men would remember my Great Aunt Josie, the aforementioned cousin’s Mother who lived fast and cared little.
Oh and this lady, who happens to be my Grandmother, who was not like her Sister in personality but very much admired, as my Dad was assured by an old gent in a cravat a few years ago. She died when I was young. I have an image of her outside our house in Pentewan late in her life. She had a large turquoise ring on tanned, liver-spotted, elegantly shaped hands and a creaky, multi-layered voice.
I only really remember Betty and Lou from the village itself. None of my family lived there during my lifetime. Old even when I was a boy, they lived behind the sturdy purply-pink Sea Wall at the far end of the village on the Kingsand side. You had to climb a ladder to their patio which overlooked the bay from behind the defenses, I remember being sharply reprimanded by Lou for some reason or another, who was a formidable man. I remember too their Westhighland Terrier and the admiring tones my Dad and my Uncle spoke – and speak – of them in general. Lou died years ago and Betty now lives in an old folks home in Torpoint.
Past Betty and Lou’s there is a large expanse of ragged purple rocks, reaching down to the sound and within these rocks I gained a weirdly lingering love of rockpools. Indeed the aptly named ‘longpool’ – you can’t miss it – contains a good many hours of my childhood.
Further on from longpool, beside the now derelict fishing stores there is a deep steep-sided cove conveniently large enough for a small cutter, evidence of Cawsand’s history of smuggling. Local lore states, this inlet will collect up any body drowned in the bay after the sixth day and is so named ‘Dead Man’s Cove’. I never swam here.
Beyond this is a little stretch which is the only place in Cornwall I have ever seen the classic wooden seaside huts of the English variety. I think they were taken by one of the succession of storms in the Winter of 2014. Either way they are gone and in their place now are temporary tent-like dwellings that are seemingly dismantled for the Winter.
Along from here you will find the small grainy beach of Sandways and from there, across the purple and red geology (the same as to be found in Talland Bay), the large, imposing crescent of Picklecombe Fort – now converted into a strange and exclusive residential area.
This area, surrounding the seriously important naval port of Plymouth is littered with Napoleonic Forts and Battery emplacements, some in use still such as the MoD’s Tregantle near Freathy, others now residential like Picklecomb and the dominating Cawsand Fort above the village. Some are abandoned entirely like Bovisand across the Sound.
It is at Sandways I contracted a genetic disorder.
English Cowry shells are small, ridged and fingerpad-pink. Found at certain specific, mainly east facing, beaches and they are devilishly hard to spot.
There are two types, Dottys and Nots. Representing the Trivia Monacha and Trivia Arctica respectively. Who ever taxonomically named these little beasts was not without a sense of irony, because despite looking a hell of a lot like Cowries (some might say, fucking identical), apparently they are not ‘true’ Cowries.
As any forager of small, rare things will know, once you find one you ‘get your eye in’ and no doubt more will present themselves but often it is a short window. It’s a good indicator of your own personality to note how much time you allow the inevitable obsession of finding more take hold.
I’m not entirely sure what it is about scouring a beach for the elusive Cowry but it’s oddly and powerfully addictive. It is also primarily passed down through families. My Grandmother taught my Dad and my Uncle and they taught me. These poor people have also been moved to write about it. As have these. It was thanks to these chaps I found out a few years back that our family wasn’t entirely anomalous.
There is something to talk about here with this affliction. Humans seem to have a deep psychological attachment to this peculiar little shell – something about the shape perhaps (one can see why they were considered a fertility symbol), or the scarcity. Neolithic humans – the same who were busy building stone circles – have been found buried with these particular Cowries. Also, interestingly, the Cowry (probably including the Trivia species of Northwest Europe) has been, and still is, in use as a form of currency. In fact this was a global currency, something that transcended culture, language and history, far older and more universal than coinage. The only other thing I can think of that has had enjoyed such a widespread level of status, covetousness and fame as an object of tradeable value would be Gold. Which also possesses a weird primordial allure.
Admittedly though, I am no expert on the global history of currency nor Cowries for that matter. I just look for them on beaches. A habit – along with nicotine addiction and a penchant for indolence – picked up from Cawsand and thus from my Father.