Captivating Cornwall: The ‘other England’
As I approached the Devon-Cornwall Border, I remembered an old Cornish superstition, “To cross the River Tamur without the blessing of the Peskies is to invite a ruined holiday.”
Having had experience with the Leprechauns of the Emerald Isle and the Menehunes of Hawaii, I was not about to tempt fate by ignoring the warning.
Silently asking, “Please, King and Queen of the Peskies, may I enter your domain?” Not seeing any bolts of lightning or hearing any claps of thunder, I assumed the answer to be positive.
Most cultures have the legends of the little people, Leprechauns, Menehunes and others. But Cornwall is blessed with two families – the Peskies and the Tommyknockers. The Peskies rule the surface and the Tommyknockers live in the mines.
The Peskies play jokes on the big people, tying shoe laces together, changing directional signs and generally causing mild confusion. Bramble berries not harvested by September are left on the vine for the Peskies.
The Tommyknockers, believed to be ghosts of miners, are in mines wherever Cornish Miners are located. They like to steal the miners’ lunch pails, misplace their tools and play practical jokes. However, when a miner hears a Tommyknocker tapping on the wall, he gets out, for he knows a cave-in or other disaster is about to happen. Most miners, Cornish or otherwise, believe in leaving bits of food in the mines for the Tommyknockers.
Crossing the River Tamur, I entered Cornwall, the tail of England. Effectively dividing Cornwall from Devon and the rest of England, the River Tamur makes a natural boundary as the River Po detaches Italy from the rest of Europe.
Aloof, fiercely proud, yet a part of the British Commonwealth, any Cornishman will tell you that when you enter Cornwall you enter a different country, separate and distinct from the rest of England. They are telling the truth; Cornwall is different, exciting and fascinating.
Slowly sweeping around a long curve, I saw the wide expanse of Fowey Estuary. Across the bay is the old town of Fowey with its steep, sloping streets and a muddle of houses with gray slate roofs, that seem to precariously hang on the hillside, clustering around the ancient St. Finbarrus Church.
In the air is the odor of tidal water, rusted chain and the smell of tar and rope. Ocean going ships and fishing boats were coming and going around the point to the open seas. All traces have been removed, but many American servicemen will remember the harbor as the departure point for their rendezvous on the beaches of Normandy.
Later, arriving in Truro, I was met by my good friends, David and Bronwen Trewren. They made my stay even more delightful.
Truro, “The Cathedral City,” is now considered the capital of Cornwall. Situated at the head of the Truro River where the Kenwyn and Allen Rivers become one, it’s origin is lost in antiquity. The merchant’s Guild of St. Nicolas was established about 1250. A long lost seal of Truro dated circa 1100 was recently discovered.
With three lofty spires, the Truro Cathedral, the first built in England since St. Paul’s in London, easily dominates downtown Truro. Although of recent vintage, construction was started in 1880, the cathedral is built on the site and encompasses the ancient St. Mary’s Church. Dedicated in 1880 by the Prince of Wales and the Duke of Cornwall, later King Edward VII, it was rededicated in 1980 by his great grandson, the Prince of Wales and Duke of Cornwall, Prince Charles.
With a tongue-in-cheek sense of humor, one shop is named, “Granny wouldn’t like it.” I think my Gran would have liked it. Where else could she have found such way-out stylish clothes?
No one should visit Cornwall without sampling two of their gastronomic delights – saffron bread and the famous Cornish pastie.
Saffron bread is a truly fruited cake made with dried currants, preserved oranges and lemon peel flavored with saffron. Formerly, it was for special occasions such as weddings, honeymoons, anniversaries and Christmas; it is now available in most sweet shops anytime.
The other – an everyday staple in Cornwall and becoming popular in America – is the Cornish Pastie. Referring again, to Webster, it defines a pastie as origin British (don’t tell a Cornishman that) a meat pie. That’s what it is, a big meat pie filled with chunks of beef, potatoes, spices, delicately seasoned and wrapped in a flaky pastry shell and baked to a golden brown and – oh wow – so good.
During the mid 1800s the decline of the tin and copper mines caused many Cornish people to migrate. Fortunately, gold had been discovered in California and hard rock miners were in demand. Thousands came to the gold country to establish new homes. The migration continued until the beginning of World War II and the closure of many mines.
Although I have been to Cornwall several times, it is, in respect to the vast distances in America, a tiny place. But whether you spend a few days or a few weeks in Cornwall, I’ll bet you a pint of Spingo at the Blue Anchor, you won’t discover it all.
I hated to leave but before I recrossed the River Tamur, silently I said, “Thank you King and Queen of all Peskies for a wonderful visit. May I come again soon?”
Bill Ward is a retired Air Force officer and lives in Cedar Ridge.
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