Wednesday, 23 September 2015

Penzance to Zennor via Land's End

Monday 14 September 2015. It was supposed to be wet. Very wet. However we set off towards Land's End where we knew there were a few indoor attractions. Heavy rain dogged us on our way down, but by the time we reached Penzance it was bright and sunny and we pulled onto the car park near the harbour.

We climbed the hill to the main street and walked up and down it, getting soaked on our return walk. Well... I did... Miss Franny had gone into a book shop and sent me off to find what we had thought was a second hand bookshop. I much prefer these to shops only selling new books, but when I got to it the Heavens had opened and it turned out to be all new books anyway!

So we headed back towards the car park only for the sun to come out again. So we walked over the harbour bridge and then back up into the town. This archway turned out to lead to a private car park, so I took the photos from halfway down the road on the "public" side of the warning sign!

The famous Admiral Benbow Inn. He was born on the date that would become Miss Franny's birthday but he was much, much earlier, on 10 March 1653. He did indeed become an Admiral, survived some controversy regarding his house and some visiting Russian dignitaries and the breaking of his leg by chain shot during a battle. The tavern in Robert Louis Stevens' famous novel Treasure Island was the Admiral Benbow.

The pub in Penzance itself dates from the 1600s and is world famous. It contains a dining room with woodwork from a Portuguese man of war, a cannon and ship's figure head and there is a mysterious smuggler's tunnel, discovered in 2008 that had a spy hole so the smugglers could ensure it was ok to emerge from their hiding.

Just a few doors up the street, The Turk's Head however, claims to be the oldest pub in Penzance. It dates from the 1200s and was the first pub to be so named, following an invasion by Turks from Jerusalem in 1233. They must have had to dodge Crusaders every inch of the way...

It too has a smugglers' tunnel which goes all the way to the harbour. In the 19th century, Thomas Holloway, the son of the landlord, moved to London and founded the Royal Holloway College, for which I personally thank him as I gave a lecture there in July 2010!

We got wet again and this time headed back to the car in earnest. We went through a small shopping precinct, coming out onto the coast road at the top of a flight of steps, from where I took this photo of St Michael's Mount, seen in the distance. It is joined to the mainland at Marazion by a causeway that is completely covered at high tide. I remember my mother assuring us we had time to walk to and from the island in 1992. We got there all right but had to wade back, the task made more difficult as I was leaning on a crutch having torn my calf muscles falling down the stairs a few days previously...

We drove on to Land's End, passing signs to other places we had visited in the past. Lamorna with its nearby stone circle, The Merry Maidens. Another sign pointed the way to Chysauster, a ruined iron age village where the remains of round houses with courtyards and hearths can be seen. I'll never forget going in 1979 in fog and in wandering round the houses we lost ourselves and each other as the fog got thicker and thicker. Or visiting again in 1992 when we all turned to wave at a passing helicopter from the Scilly Isles and the pilot circled for another look as he must have thought we were trying to signal some sort of distress...

This is Longships Lighthouse at Land's End which is the westernmost point on the Cornish Coast. Everything here is the "First and Last". There is the First and Last hotel, the First and Last house, the First and Last pub and somewhere hard to find when you need them the most - the First and Last toilets in the land...

The famous signpost gives the distance to John O'Groats (a long walk...) and also to New York ( a wet one...) as well as giving the mileage to your own home town if you stump up to have a photo taken. We did this as a family group in 1996 when the mileage to Blackpool was given as 406. We didn't wait to see whether it had moved any during the intervening years as the misty line obliterating the horizon on the left of my photo is the line of an approaching rainstorm. I took Miss Franny's photo and then whisked her away, complaining she hadn't had chance to put her hair straight before I clicked the shutter. We got into the gift shop with mere seconds to spare before the wall of water hit.

We let the rain die down considerably before once again heading for the car. This now required jumping over several large puddles, but already they were on the job, as a wagon loaded with gravel came down the road, stopping for an operative to shovel gravel into the larger puddles in an attempt to level the ground and spare visitors' shoes.

The roads took a turn for the narrower of the species... Headlights on against the darkening skies, we approached bends warily and headed for Zennor - a village with several tales to tell. We shall come there in due course, but first we came unexpectedly against the sight of an old tin mine at the side of the road.

Unless someone thinks there's money to be gained, these things don't always carry labels to tell the casual visitor where they are. I think this is Pendeen Mill - to find this out I followed the road we had driven on the satellite view of Google Maps at a high enough resolution to spot the mills.

This is an engine house and - as does this example - they were usually to be found in pairs. The steam engines contained in these buildings were amongst the first steam engines in use. One would be used to pump water from the mine whilst the other would lift the ore up from the working levels. Some of these mines stretched for miles, even extending well out under the sea. Dangerous and scary places.

The final approach to Zennor took us down a road so narrow that the hedges brushed against both side mirrors of the car at the same time! We parked next to this old chapel which is now used as a cafe and we went in for a pot of tea.

The village pub is the Tinner's Arms. It dates back to 1271 when it was built to give the builders of the nearby church somewhere to stay.

So despite the name and the little sculpture of a tin miner on the wall, it would have been better labelled the Masons Arms... It now makes a point of not having any juke box, fruit machines and available mobile phone signal. Not the place to take your teenagers then, a decision no doubt that the locals will thank you for... Poor teenagers - why do they attract so much dislike when we were (or will be) one ourselves for seven whole years?

Opposite the pub is the very church those masons worked on before heading reluctantly back to the brand new public house. How they must have been frustrated, not being able to contact their wives to say they were finished for the day, wandering round with their hands in the air, trying to find a signal...

This is the only church in the land - nay the world - to be dedicated to St Senara. As with many of the very early Cornish saints (the first church on this site to be dedicated to her is said to have been 6th century) there are several versions of the saint's story, some more fantastic than others.

In one version she plays the part of a Irish princess, a cross between Perseus's mother, Danae and Snow White - for her father the king orders his pregnant daughter killed. The knight thus ordered, cannot bring himself to do the deed and instead (this is better???) persuades her to get into a barrel, nails down the lid and rolls it off a cliff into the sea (remember my St Piran tale the other day at Perranporth?). She ends up at Cornwall, at this church and falls in love with a chorister who loves her in return. In other versions she is born a mermaid. Well look... it was a long time ago, ok? The details get muddied in time...

The church of course does have another (or perhaps the same...) mermaid story. This is the one where a mermaid falls in love with the voice of a chorister, Matthew Trewhella, and comes up to the church presumably moving something like a sea lion but without the ball on her nose... She entices the young man down to the sea and lives with him happily ever after for the next five minutes when she suddenly finds he can't breathe and has drowned... "Sing, you ungrateful sod!" she exclaims indignantly, "do you know how exhausting it was getting up those steps into the church?"

A piscina. These small bowls can often be found in the aisle of churches. They were used for washing the communion vessels.

There are two fonts here. The one that the Normans used was found buried in the garden of the vicarage and was set up in the church once again in 1960. The one in use though is this one, a mere stripling of modernity, dating from the 1200s or 1300s.

From around a hundred years later is this ancient carving of a mermaid on a bench end. Is it St Senara, or did this carving prompt the legend of the mermaid who came to woo the unfortunate Matthew Trewhella? Arthur Mee in the Cornwall entry to his King's England series of guide books, says that the Puritans are to blame for the obliterating of her face and bare breasts. The face certainly bears signs of violence, the breasts less so. I wonder how much of them were left by the time of the Puritans, after 300+ years of furtive fondling by the village's teenaged boys - who after all had no juke boxes, fruit machines or phone signal...

We left the church, admiring still more ancient Celtic crosses in the churchyard and made our way back to the Chapel car park. I looked for one other old stone with a tale to tell and found it against the side of a wall in a small gravelled space. Today there was no sign to tell visitors that it was anything other than a stone with a hole in it.

It was the village's plague stone. The hole in the centre creates a basin that would have been filled with vinegar and at times of plague or cholera etc. any money passing between villagers and outsiders would be disinfected by dipping it in the vinegar.

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