open the curtains

and take a look out the window if you want to know what the weather's like


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The Trouble with Ruins

2016-09-02-14-glastonbury

Glastonbury Abbey – the Abbey House from the ruins of St Mary’s Chapel

Rain was spotting as we descended from the summit of Glastonbury Tor. By the time we got back into the town it was raining properly, presenting the conundrum of where to eat lunch. I suggested we had for the abbey, much to the protestation of Cee who was convinced they wouldn’t let us eat sandwiches inside the abbey despite my attempts to persuade her that it would be more ruins than anything else. The trouble with ruins is, though, that there’s not much shelter from the rain. Continue reading


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Lost Mine Found

entrance to Tate St Ives [c] J Hughes 2008

Standing inside the amphitheatrical atrium of Tate St Ives feels like being inside the heart of a giant seashell. The entrance path whorls up concentrically from the waterfront.  Look up – here’s a siphon hole to the sky.  Framed by the clean Art Deco lines is the expanse of Porthmeor Beach, devoid of tourists, a smattering of surfers catching the last warmth of the autumnal Atlantic waves.  Listen – here’s the sea sound reverberated, amplified, almost abstracted to the resonant shush of a conch held to the ear.  Today I am a hermit crab, scuttling around in this shell that’s far too big for me, scavenging on the dead meat of art and place. Continue reading


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Mind the Gaps: Notes from an Irish Island

2011.05.07 Aran (7)

It’s St Patrick’s Day today – not something I celebrate having absolutely no Irish connection whatsoever, but it made me think about Ireland and the only time I’ve ever been there, which in turn made me dig out the notebook I made during that visit. I spent a windswept and hilarious ten days with my MA team wandering around Dublin and Galway and the largest of the Aran Islands off Galway Bay, eating cheese and biscuits, free-wheeling our bikes down empty Aran roads, making a campfire made from a pallet we had to stamp on and throw rocks at to get it into small enough pieces, and scribbling who-knows-what in our fieldbooks in the guise of practising writing nature and place. Here’s a little snippet from mine. It’s a bit random but that’s the whole point of a notebook…

My overwhelming first impression of Araínn, Inishmore, Inis Mór, this largest of the Aran Islands off the west coast of Galway is the colour grey. I used to associated grey with all the negative things in life: Bracknell Town Centre and School, our head-to-toe concrete colour uniforms, the 1970s concrete architecture of the town, dank concrete underpasses, tower blocks, roundabouts and kerbs… Cornwall taught me a different sort of grey: granite, slate and raincloud, the sea under a lowering sky. Inis Mór is grey in both the Cornish sense and totally differently grey. Continue reading


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Proper Cornish Bird Ar’ee?

chough3

(c) Nigel Blake

Up and out of the shelter of the dunes at Holywell the wind was sweeping Kelsey Head under a pearly sky. But when is it ever not windy in Cornwall?
Windswept, rugged, remote… words of such over-applied cliché that almost cease to have any significance either inland or on the coast in this neck of the woods. Cee and I were talking about ravens as we walked. They like that sort of thing – windswept, rugged, remote – last time we’d seen one had been at the top of a Cumbrian mountain. We wondered if we’d see any here, tumbling and cronking over the cliff-tops.
“What I’d really like to see is a chough”.
I pointed out that we’d come to the wrong side of the coast: since their self-initiated reintroduction to Cornwall in 2001 the iconic birds had taken up residence on the Lizard peninsula, which is as far south as you’ll get either in Cornwall or mainland Britain. Next time, we decided, we’d head over that way and see if we could spot any.

We walked into the wind and around the headland, the sea churning below us. Ahead was a smattering of jackdaws picking about in the grass. Two of them were larger than the rest of the group.
“What are those bigger ones there – could they be ravens?”
“No they’re not” I replied, “but look what they are…”
It was like we’d conjured them up, these two magical birds trying to disguise themselves amongst their smaller corvid cousins, unmistakable in their red stockings like they’d just stepped out of our imaginations or a book of heraldic beasts. We watched in near-disbelief until, aware of our scrutiny, or bored with their pickings, they flew off, flicking their fingered wings, a strange cazooing call that neither Cee nor I were expecting them to utter. Continue reading


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Retrospective: 2014 in 14

This seemed to work quite well last year so here’s this year’s shot at a little recap of 2014 in 14 sentences with 14 photos I’ve taken during the course of the year. If you click on the first image you can read the text alongside the pictures as you scroll through if you prefer.

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Coastlining 5: Fowey – Par

Date: 12th April 2014         Distance walked: 6 miles         Height climbed: 1119 feet

2014.04.12  (11) Fowey

12th April 1931. A wife is brutally murdered by her husband in the beach cottage at Polridmouth Cove, on the wooded headland just west of the Fowey estuary. Her body is dumped in a boat which the murderer then sinks in the bay. Her death is passed off as a tragic accident until just over a year later, when a shipwreck nearby causes the discovery of her concealed body.

12th April 1951. The only person apart from the now-deceased murderer to know the truth – or his version of it – about what happened that night twenty years ago is his second wife. But there are ghosts afoot. The truth, and there are as many versions of that as there are people to perceive, or to narrate it, has become entwined with this landscape, the stories are now as much a part of the place as its wooded headland, the beach with the cottage, the grey slate pools in the cove.

12th April 2014. I’d just started reading a follow-up novel to Daphne du Maurier’s Rebecca and found myself taking the coast path out of Fowey – with its streets that wind around the contours of the nook in the river estuary, its artisanal boutiques, its nice houses, its sailboats moored in the estuary – and out towards the coves of Readymoney and Polridmouth on the same date as the serious action happens in the original work of fiction, and on which the events are returned to in the sequel. Continue reading


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False Lights

A Tale of Salvaging History from the Wreck of Cultural Myth

picture credit: BBC’s ‘Jamaica Inn’ (2014) fictional wreckers on location at Holywell Bay

Despite having lived in Cornwall for a while now I am still intrigued by the romanticism suggested by its rugged coastline and find myself drawn to the fantastic stories that accompany it. Here is a landscape that lends itself to adventure. To someone raised on a literary diet that began, pre-school, with Captain Pugwash, leading on – via Swallows and Amazons – to Daphne du Maurier’s gothic coastal romances involving shipwrecks, plunder and bodice-ripping encounters with pirates, every cove is a smugglers’ haven, every cliff path a desire line worn in through years of wreckers wreaking mischief with their lanterns on stormy nights. Barrels and caskets stacked in a sea cave above high water mark. Brandy for the Parson, ’baccy for the Clerk. Curtains drawn over the lighted windows of a nearby village. What the eye doesn’t see the heart doesn’t grieve over: so watch the wall my darling…  Continue reading