Syntagma Digital
Editor, John Evans

Saturday Ramble: It’s that time of year to start thinking about Cornwall


This is the time in the calendar when one starts thinking about places to go in spring and summer. My favourite spots are mostly in Cornwall, which is conveniently just across the River Tamar from the present abode.

If you’ve ever asked where former Archbishops of Canterbury go when they hang up their surplices? … or which Cornish fishing village provided the name for David Cameron’s newborn daughter? … and what town is the setting for a popular television medical comedy, renamed as Port When? … the answer is Port Isaac on the north coast of Cornwall.

Rowan Williams, former head of the Church of England, now donates his time to the exquisite St Endellion church, just outside Port Isaac as a prebend. It is his favourite church in the UK, he says. “The mixture of rock and space always gives me the feeling of sea light, of something wide, ungraspable; very much a north Cornwall feeling, opening out to a deep and broad horizon.”

David Cameron’s daughter, was born in nearby Truro Hospital when the family were on holiday. They named her Nancy Endellion after the saint.

And the TV series filmed in Port Isaac is, of course, ITV’s Doc Martin, featuring the ever-popular Martin Clunes.

As a fellow Cornwall addict I have schoolday memories of my family holidaying in nearby St Issey. Our cottage was surrounded by huge red cows, native to Cornwall and Devon — a striking sight in the morning.

North Cornwall is something of a well-kept secret for aficionados of the nation county. And there are many. You should take some books with you if you go. Two authors who almost define Cornwall in their writings are Denys Val Baker and the more sober author of the Minack Chronicles, Derek Tangye, alas both gone to Greater Cornwall in the sky.

Denys wrote in the 1950s through the 70s, and was a full-time professional author, by which I mean he was always broke.

Nevertheless, he managed to buy an enormous old tramp steamer, MVS Sanu, and, with no sailing experience whatever, took his large brood of wild children and long-suffering wife, Jess, on incredibly dangerous voyages. He was on the rocks more times than Jack Daniels.

Denys lived in Penzance, Land’s End and St. Ives in Cornwall, and was usually seeking some means of financing his next outrageous project. He was an adventurer in the grand English tradition, although always amusingly shambolic.

In the old days, when libraries were libraries, you could find his books on the shelves. These days they’re not so easy to come by, although Amazon has a good listing of second-hand titles, mostly at premium prices. Denys would have been proud. If you want a really good humorous read, do seek them out.

His character never allowed a moment to pass without doing something absolutely beyond the pale. When I lived in Penzance, we occupied a house across the road from his, although he had been dead for a decade. There was no blue plaque on his house, which is a pity, although everyone remembered him in the library, where he did most of his research.

Denys loved Cornwall with a passion and moved permanently to St. Ives in 1948, after a journalistic career in Fleet Street, launching a magazine, The Cornish Review in 1949. In 1959 he published the much appreciated Britain’s Art Colony by the Sea describing the community based around St. Ives.

Derek Tangye, a cat and donkey lover, also came to Cornwall from London after the war. If you’re into daffodil growing, and domestic animals, he’s worth a shot. But Cornwall is always the star.

In case you ask, I’ve not been hired by the Cornwall Tourist Office, just passing on a few tips for the discerning.

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