Wednesday 29 June 2011

Cawsands Walk

This is one I did with Viv on one of the coldest days in January - or was it February. Twas b*** cold anyway but one I would love to do again in more clement weather.

I was intending to come to Kingsands and Cawsands for a holiday this March, but without Pip, it didn't seem right. However, Viv had been waxing lyrical about the two 17th century fishing villages, so I was looking forward to this walk, intrigued by the fact that Kingsands was once in Devon, with Cawsands in Cornwall. Ever one for useless detail, I also liked the idea that in days gone by, life for the smugglers of Kingsands and Cawsands was a constant battle with Customs: girls apparently took brandy into Plymouth under their petticoats.

Back to the present day, and minus petticoats, we took the A374 and followed signs to Millbrook, then headed into the picturesque village of Cawsands, where we parked in the car park in the middle of the village. From there, Mark, who ran the car park, gave us directions and a map, and we turned left up the street, past the village shop and turned right, past the Rising Sun Inn. Lost already, we got instructions from a friendly Welsh builder to go up the hill then turn right into Mount Edgcumbe Country Park.

Ahead lay Minadew Brakes, a wide grassy area with fabulous views stretching out over the huge expanse of Cawsand Bay, and Plymouth Sound further up. Fort Picklecombe could be seen ahead, and woods up on our left: this is a popular walk for walkers and dogs, who were both soon covered in the brick red mud typical of this area.

It was a raw grey winter's day, but beautiful nonetheless: a kestrel hovered overhead, and waves crashed angrily on the rocks to our right. But spring showed promise with daffodil buds shyly peeping out from walls of dried bracken and gorse flower the only colour on this scowling day. “Gorse in flower, kissing in season,” said Viv optimistically, though there was no one en route on which to try this out.

Heading for Maker church, we passed what might have been a quarry where huge trees hovered over us with bare roots like tortured arms, and branches like belly dancer's limbs; supple and bendy looking.

At the end of Minadew Brakes, we came to a kissing gate where we turned sharp right onto a lane which led in front of a large house and Hooe Lake on our right, then first left through an iron gate. Ahead of us were three paths – we should have taken the left hand path which leads straight to Maker Church, but we started off on the middle path – luckily two German walkers put us right and we found ourselves at the top of what looked like a grassy, incredibly steep canyon, which we had to cross.

Sliding down was one thing, but half way up the almost vertical bank opposite, I looked nervously back at Viv, who has a heart condition. She was puffing but was alive which was a bonus. Reaching the top, I looked back over Plymouth Sound and noted two Navy destroyers coming in. Rain clouds loomed on the horizon and above us, in the middle of miles of gracious parkland, a helicopter hovered: at any minute I expected machine guns to rain down on us, forcing us to flatten ourselves to the ground. But the helicopter moved on, and we continued our walk towards Maker Church that peeped out of the winter gloom like Rapunzel's tower.

Passing woods on our left, with dead branches waving ghostly grey fingers, we reached the top of the hill which must be one of the highest points of Cornwall – there is such a feeling of space here, looking out over Plymouth Sound, the River Tamar and Plymouth Docks, with Edgcumbe Park stretching magnificently in front of us. Behind us were fields and fields of emerald green with hardly a house in sight.

We decided to pay a quick visit to the church, the tower of which was used as a naval signal station, but it was locked so we turned our attention to Edgcumbe House and Park. Sir Richard Edgcumbe of Cotehele built the original house in his deer park in 1547-50. It was largely destroyed in the Plymouth blitz of 1941 but has now been restored and houses paintings by Sir Joshua Reynolds, Gerard Edema and William van der Velde, 16th century tapestries, Irish bronze age horns and 18th century Chinese and Plymouth porcelain. In the 18th century the family created formal gardens, temples, follies and woodlands with Californian Redwood trees sheltering a herd of wild fallow deer.

Setting off through the park once again, we headed along a path towards Harbour View Seat. The path disappeared and we were concerned that we would end up in Cremyll when we'd only got 6 hours of car parking time. Unable to find Harbour View Seat, we headed right, past the impressive Grotton Plantation on our left, and a herd of delicate deer gazing at us in the distance. “Is it rutting season?” said Viv, stumbling over the rough path. “No, I replied stoutly, “that's April isn't it?” I had no idea, but walked faster just in case.

The paths on our map bore no resemblance to the parkland we walked through, but we headed back towards the sea where Viv was determined to find Fort Picklecombe, which was hard enough to say when sober. We found ourselves on the seaward side of the canyon we traversed earlier, and a very steep path roughened by sliding hoof marks led us back to the iron gate near the road and we retraced our steps past Hooe Lake, with Kingsands and Cawsands nestled in the cliffs ahead of us.

“If we'd turned left, do you think we'd get to Fort Picklecombe?” said Viv hopefully. Seeing my frozen face, she added, “I don't want to do it today. Perhaps another time?”

From here we reached a sign saying Kingsand 1 mile and retraced our steps along the Minadew where we sat on a bench and ate the last of our sandwiches. This walk is full of beauty - the sheer size and scope of the parkland, the water and the woods – but wrap up warmly, for it is exposed on all sides.

We'll definitely come back to this forgotten area of Cornwall: we want to explore the villages, which boast several pubs and art galleries, as well as the many and varied walks. “Though we'd better get in training,” said Viv, sharing a biscuit with the dogs. “With the SAS.”

OS Map 201 Plymouth and Launceston
Length: Approx 3.5 miles
Time: 2 hours
Grade: - some very steep hills, can be extremely muddy.
Refreshments: Rising Sun Inn and Cross Keys -
and plenty of other pubs
Mount Edgcumbe House and Garden – 01752 822236
A passenger ferry operates between Cawsands and Kingsands and the Barbican in Plymouth.
Whitsand Bay, the longest sandy beach in England, is nearby.
Parking in Cawsands: £1 for 6 hours at time of walking.
Public Toilets next to car park in Cawsands.
Galleries -

Wednesday 22 June 2011

The Big Sing

I apologise for yet another post about singing, but I have to tell you about The Big Sing. Next week I promise I won't even MENTION singing....

Last night being the summer solstice, the Suitcase Singers and Claire’s other two choirs headed off to Watergate Bay on the North Coast of Cornwall for the Big Sing. A midsummer’s evening of music, art and dance. Given the weather recently we were prepared for the worst with brollies, thermals, scarves and all manner of warm keeping stuff, but we got there at 6.30 to brilliant sunshine on a clear beach miles long, albeit with a stiff onshore breeze.

We all laid down picnic rugs, opened bottles and stood and chatted while we did a quick warm up, then the first dancers did a wonderful dance barefooted on the sand. This was followed by several other choirs, then us. Standing on the stage there, looking out over a sea of rapt friends, with the sea crashing behind them, was an incredibly moving experience. We all shared picnics, drank rather too much wine in our case – it’s strange how it seems to go down very quickly on a beach – and had to retire to the bar to wait for our taxi. 8 of us shared a lift home and sang, to the bemusement of the taxi driver, all the way back.

MollieDog went to stay with my friend Sheila, round the corner, as I knew I would be late back, and as I have to go to Truro this afternoon, she is keeping Molls until I get back which is very kind. Though it is Very Quiet without my little girl.

I’m somewhat short on sleep now so forgive me if this doesn’t make much sense. There was an incredibly pagan, earthy, Celtic feeling over that, the longest night. And sharing it with some of my dearest friends as well as a whole beachful of singers, made it one of the most memorable nights for a long time.

Wednesday 15 June 2011

Telephone Singing

My Bill Bryson week ended up struggling back by train in a heatwave. This I do not recommend, particularly with one hot dog and a very heavy case (how had it got so heavy overnight, pray?) and having to change trains three times. I was extremely hot and bothered by the time we reached Falmouth and desperate to get home.

Unusually for Cornwall, it was even hot in the evenings: living by the sea tends to mean cool breezes after about 6pm, but when I finally got home it was warm enough to sit outside my local in shorts and a t shirt.

The following evening was our gig in Flushing, part of Flushing Arts Week. We sang for an hour in their church, which has the most incredible acoustics, as well as stained glass windows, and then trotted down the road to the Standard pub. The service here left a lot to be desired, but we finally managed to get drinks and sat outside (how often can you do that in this country?) with the river on our right, the boats bobbing up and down, and a family of swans parading up the slipway.

As Mum’s foot was playing up again and she was stuck in Devon, I said I’d ring her so she could hear us singing down the phone. I mentioned this to Claire, our musical director, who said straight away, “What would she like to hear?”

“Something cheerful,” I replied.

So we settled on “Freedom Train” and I rang Mum, got her ready, sitting the other end of the phone on her sofa.

Claire made sure she’d got the audience’s attention and announced, “This number is for Sue’s Mum!” and we began to sing.

There really is something very special about singing outside, by water. I was hoping that some of that would come across, albeit down the phone, but you never know, so I held my breath when the number had finished.

Mum was a bit quiet, but finally said, “I was so touched and moved. It made my day!”

Which made a magical night even better.

Tuesday 7 June 2011

Bill Bryson and train lag

If it’s possible to have jetlag from trains, by last Friday I had it, having spent nearly every day on a train journey. Though I suppose that would be train lag.

Molls and I took the train up to see mum in Devon on the Tuesday and spent Wednesday with her, thankfully nowhere near a train. On Thursday I got the 8.30 am train to Paddington and apart from a points failure at Reading, the journey was uneventful. Except, of course, that I was on a rather Tight Schedule and it meant we were 15 minutes late arriving at Paddington.

I therefore had 19 minutes before I was due to meet Bill.

“How long will it take to get to Langham Place?” I said as I threw myself into the taxi.

“Should be about 20 minutes, ma’am,” said the cab driver. (I can only assume he called me Ma’am because I was wearing my Smart (Wedding) Jacket. Normally people call me ‘love’.)

“I’m interviewing Bill Bryson at 12,” I said. “Can you get me there for then?”

“I’ll see what I can do,” he said, and pressed his foot on the gas.

14 minutes later we arrived at the hotel, I shot up in the lift to the top floor, hurtled out of the lift and told the maitre d’ who I was meeting. “He isn’t here,” he said helpfully.

I stared at him, muttering silent expletives and looked around. No Bill. Or no one that looked like Bill, but then I’d never met him before. What did he look like in the flesh? I was just pulling my phone out to ring Polly from Transworld, when she and Bill stepped out of the lift. Phew….

From then on it was fine. He’s a lovely man to interview – very self effacing and ironic. Taller than I expected, and quieter. The sort of voice you could listen to a lot. Very intelligent in an interesting way. Of course we all know about his sense of humour. And he came out with some great one liners – such as, “I wouldn’t like to talk to me!”

All too soon it was over and we said our goodbyes. I hurried into the Ladies and sampled their posh hand cream, made use of their mouthwash (?!) and relished a glimpse of How the Other Half Live. Aren’t I lucky, I thought, to do this for a job. (Not so much fun at the moment as most freelancers I know, including myself, are having rather a Lean Time, but still.)

It was good to go to London, it was a privilege to meet Bill, and apart from a hellish train journey back home, last week was good for me.

Those are the sort of interviews I love doing. Need to try and rustle up a few more….