16 January 2017

Cornwall: Magnificent Mevagissey

I know it’s no longer fashionable to use alliteration when composing a title for a blog / article / whatever but I couldn’t help myself. Mevagissey is another of Cornwall’s magical, captivating, picturesque, charming and quaint old fishing villages, and it really was magnificent.

Mevagissey is named after two saints, St Meva (or Mevan) and St Issey, who were, apparently, Irish saints who brought Christianity to the tribes of Cornwall, but human occupation in this place goes back much further. Bronze age arrows have been found locally, and the Romans had a camp, named Colonia, at nearby Chapel Point.

The traditional industry is, of course, fishing, with large quantities of sardines and pilchards appearing in regular seasonal shoals along much of this coast. Several of the historic buildings around the walled harbour relate to the fishing industry, and would have housed barrel makers, sail makers and boat repairers, as well as net lofts and basket weavers. According to a sign in the village, in its heyday the pilchard fishermen landed between 12 and 15 thousand tonnes per annum – that’s a lot of fish! At that time, there were up to 30 large fishing boats operating out of Mevagissey but nowadays both the number and size of the vessels are much smaller.

The sign also explained why the narrow streets of Cornish fishing villages like Mevagissey meander circuitously around the harbour, rather than being in any kind of grid pattern. In the 18th century Mevagissey was notorious for being a smugglers’ lair, with brandy, gin, tea, silks and fine lace, as well as tobacco, all passing quietly through, and the suggestion is that the town’s streets were deliberately ‘designed to impede the efforts of the enforcement officers’. Sneaky!

We meandered with the streets, walked up the hill for a panoramic view, walked out along both sides of the enclosing harbour walls, had the obligatory Cornish pasties for our lunch (backs to the wall again so as to deter the gull pasty thieves), and mooched around the gifty shops (still hunting for that elusive present for our cottage owners – great excuse, eh?). It was all simply splendid!

I’ll round off our visit with a couple of pub signs. The 16th-century Ship Inn sports a glorious sailing ship and it has a fabulous story of a resident ghost, a former landlady who protects the inn from flooding. And the Fountain Inn is even older – the building dates from the 15th century, though wasn’t always a pub. The interior still contains evidence of its use for pilchard processing in the 18th and 19th centuries. We visited neither of these places but both definitely sound like they’re worth a visit ... or six! Obviously, I’ll need to go back one day.

15 January 2017

Cornwall: The signs of Tintagel

After spending time in Newquay and Padstow, we were racing against time on Boxing Day to reach Tintagel before the light failed: I was hoping for a stunning sunset-over-the-ruins photo but you’ll have to settle for this rather uninspiring sunset over the local parish church instead. You see the days are short in Britain in winter and, because of that, tourist attractions often close earlier, so Tintagel Castle was closed by the time we arrived.

Since we were there, we did have a meander around Tintagel village, partly because we wanted to buy a present for the folks who had very kindly lent us their cottage for the week. Unfortunately, the shops had already shut as well. However, there were some mighty fine signs scattered around, so here’s a rather different look at Tintagel.

This place will forever be associated with King Arthur so, of course, there is a pub called King Arthur’s Arms. We didn’t venture in but it seems from their website that the publican has a sense of humour:

Jerome George Dangar is your host and is a native of Tintagel, he was born and brought up in Tintagel.
Jerome's father, Terry Jerome Dangar, was born and brought up in King Arthur’s Arms.
It is interesting to note that the historical notes of Tintagel record that John Dangar (who died in 1578 ) had two grandsons who both had sons called Jerome and from that time to this there has been Jerome Dangar in every generation except one!
Since names such as Zias, Rychabb and Jease were also chosen by previous Dangars, Jerome had a lucky escape.

Not surprisingly given the number of tourists that flock to this place, this small town boasts more than one pub. Just up the road we found the Tintagel Arms Hotel. The building dates from 1750 and was originally a private home. It has a very attractive pub sign, showcasing the ruins we didn’t get to see.

Another of the many hotels was The Wootons. It has a very minimalist website which tells nothing of the hotel’s history, nor does it explain the sign, which appears to show a crow looking over the ruins. Perhaps Wooton was the name of a previous owner. It’s an ancient surname, dating from Anglo-Saxons times, if not earlier. It’s a combination of the old English words wudu meaning wood and tun meaning settlement or enclosure, so the very first Wooton lived in a town by a wood, which I imagine would apply to 90% of the population in Anglo-Saxon times.

What a shame the Tintagel Toy Museum and Collectors Shop wasn't open – I imagine I might have spent rather a lot of time there and perhaps a little money as well. It is, apparently, a family-run business which, as well as being a model and general collectors’ shop, also houses Cornwall only toy museum, including ‘The Geoff Cann Collection’ of toys dating from the 1920s to the 1980s. I was certainly very impressed with the wonderful collection of old signs afixed to the building’s exterior.

We conclude our tour of Tintagel’s signs with these two rather bizarre offerings. I confess to knowing nothing at all about Spriggans until that day in Tintagel. I knew Cornwall was a magical place but I had no idea it was populated with faeries of all different kinds:

The more ill-tempered cousin of the piskie or browney, Spriggans were especially spiteful to those who offended them. Reputed to be the security force of the faerie society, they stood ready to measure out justice to those who would harm their otherworldly brethren. Some of the punishments believed to have been doled out by the Spriggans were storms sent to blight crops, and the leaving of changelings in place of stolen mortal children. They were most often found in old castle ruins and barrows, guarding buried treasure. Spriggans are described in literature as grotesque, with wizened features and crooked skinny bodies. Though small, they were purported to have the defensive ability to expand themselves to gigantic proportions.

14 January 2017

Cardiff art: Nereid

Nereid is one of over 200 public artworks to be found in Cardiff, and I think it’s one of the more beautiful. Sculpted in bronze and standing on a base that may be polished granite, she’s an impressive piece that is around 183cm tall, on a base that’s 152cm tall.

Nereids are the sea nymphs of Greek mythology, companions of Poseidon, god of the ocean waves, and helpers of those sailors and fishermen who get caught in dangerous storms (they assisted Jason and the Argonauts in their search for the Golden Fleece).

Tradition tells that there were 50 Nereids, all daughters of Nereus and Doris, but more than 50 have been named in the ancient works of Homer, Hesiod and the like, so, like all mythology, the story is a little flexible.

This particular Nereid has no name. She balances on a wave, above a shoal of fish, and gazes at a seabird that has alighted on her outstretched left hand. She’s the work of British sculptor and Fellow of the Royal British Society of Sculptors, Nathan David, who has a long and impressive list of work to his credit, both public commissions and private work, in Britain and around the world.

I find some of his work rather solid and static but, as in this animated Nereid, he excels at depicting movement. One of his most well-known works is a life-size bronze of ballerina Dame Margot Fonteyn, which can be found at her birthplace in Reigate, Surrey.