Bodrifty…past and present together

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Back in the early nineteenth century, Thomas Hood wrote the sonnet Silence, in which he compared silence in its more literal definition:

There is a silence where hath been no sound,
There is a silence where no sound may be,
…clouds and cloudy shadows wander free,
That never spoke….

with a different kind of silence, a silence of loss and passing that attaches itself to places where humans have worked and lived out their days, but which are now deserted:

…in green ruins…where Man hath been,
Though the dun fox, or wild hyena, calls,
And owls, that flit continually between,
Shriek to the echo, and the low winds moan,
There the true Silence is, self-conscious and alone.

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Before you start wondering if you’ve strayed into the wrong blog, I do have a point here.

Roundhouse at Bodrifty, Penwith (photo: Amanda Scott)
Roundhouse at Bodrifty, Penwith (photo: Amanda Scott)

I went to visit Bodrifty, an ancient, and well-known, Iron Age village on the Penwith Moors in the west of Cornwall. Excavated in the 1950s, all that remains now are the low rocky walls, overgrown by grasses and heathland plants, of eight roundhouses that once would have been thatched, inhabited by families who farmed the surrounding land. If you passed it by without straying from the track, you would only see a rock-strewn heath landscape. But stop and walk through it, and the circles of the houses take shape.

The lives of these people, over two thousand years ago, would have been very different from our own. Both simpler and much, very much, harder. Even so, although they might not have had our knowledge or technology, they had the same intelligence, the same ability to observe and interpret and appreciate their world. And now they are gone. What would once have been a lively, active settlement is deserted, and all that is left is stones, and some pottery shards in the Royal Cornwall Museum in Truro.

Heath-spotted Orchid (photo: Amanda Scott)
Heath-spotted Orchid (photo: Amanda Scott)

So I do understand, and indeed feel myself, that there can be a kind of wistfulness, even a sadness, to the places that we humans have left behind. And yet…

…I’m not sure that, in my heart, I completely agree with Thomas Hood. As I walked through the remains of these people’s homes, I found myself enjoying the march of nature. Foxgloves, stitchwort, heath-spotted orchids, clovers, trefoils, tormentil, heathers, pignut and bedstraw, the call of a cuckoo in the distance, a kestrel hovering overhead, black crows soaring across the fields, wrens chattering in the gorse bushes, scurryings in the undergrowth (a lizard, a vole?)…

What I did not find in this place was any separation from the people that lived here, no loss of impact of lives once lived, whether endured or enjoyed. Not because my life is like theirs, nor because I recognise them as my ancestors (I’m a northerner by descent, so my own roots will more likely be Norse), but because what I found here, at Bodrifty, was continuity. Because this place was teeming with life. Not human life but, nonetheless, life in all its messy, vibrant, glorious existence.

Bedstraw (photo: Amanda Scott)
Bedstraw (photo: Amanda Scott)

I think that one of our problems, as humans, is that all too often we perceive ourselves as separate from the world of nature. This is the blessing, but also the curse, of self-consciousness. We obsess about our own immediate past, when we should be relishing the present and mindful of the future.

Bodrifty is alive and breathing, not  a dead or historic place. So, humans may not be in charge of Bodrifty any more, but we can still be visitors who can enjoy, watch and appreciate and, indeed, be part of the pageant of life that struts its course through this particular corner of our beloved Cornwall.

If you would like to visit, and live for a while, this corner of Cornwall yourselves, I’d encourage you to do so. The map reference is SW 445354 – find out more here. And let me know what you think of it.

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Basking Sharks

Ever since moving to Cornwall, I’ve been itching to see a Basking Shark. I even fell over and hurt myself on the coast path once because I was concentrating more on hopefully gazing out to sea than on where my feet were going. Basking Sharks are in My Cornish Ark (see my earlier post), and deservedly so for such an amazing big fish.

basking sharks at porthcurno
Basking Sharks at Porthcurno (Photo: Candiche)

And now, at long last, I’ve seen one! And not from the top of the cliff, but from a boat, really close. I was with a group of students from Exeter University’s Cornwall Campus – they’d been working on an end-of-term project considering the challenges in balancing growth and conservation – and we were all really excited, as none of us had seen one of these magnificent creatures ‘in the flesh’ before. At one point the shark was swimming slowly towards us giving us a clear view of its wide-open plankton-filtering mouth. Incredible!

A basking shark filter feeding.
A Basking Shark filter feeding (photo: Wikipedia)

Basking Sharks (Cetorhinus maximus) are the largest fish in the seas round our coastline, visiting us in spring and summer, and can reach up to 12 m in length. They might be big, but they are harmless, feeding as they do on plankton. They are also still somewhat mysterious, and we are only just beginning to understand their life history better. A protected species since the late 1990s, this would appear to have resulted in an increase in numbers compared to when they were hunted commercially for meat and oil in the twentieth century. Recent research confirms this, highlighting the seas of the South West coast of Britain as one of three Basking Shark ‘hotspots’.

Taking a wildlife boat trip out of either Penzance or Falmouth will give you a reasonable chance of seeing one at the right time of year. I took my trip with AK Wildlife Cruises from Falmouth Docks – you can follow them on Facebook for lots of information on sightings and comments from the knowledgeable team.

You can find out more about Basking Shark biology and conservation from The Shark Trust or the Marine Conservation Society. But do get on a boat and go looking!

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Coverack to Lowland Point – a wildflower walk in the sunshine

Heading east from Coverack on SW Coast Path

The weather has been so beautiful recently, and at long last the wildflowers are in full bloom along the Cornish coast, giving us a spectacular display. On Sunday, I decided to head off for Coverack on the east coast of The Lizard, and made my way from there along the South West Coast Path up to Lowland Point.

Coverack from the east (photo: Amanda Scott)
Coverack from the east (photo: Amanda Scott)

Coverack itself is of course a lovely coastal village and working harbour, with a very active community – see their website here for lots of information and details of events. However, this time I didn’t linger there, although after parking the car, fairly early with just me and two or three dog walkers about, I did spend a moment or two simply enjoying the salty, seaweedy smell and the sounds of the sea.

Speckled Wood butterfly - posing nicely for me on the path out of Coverack (photo: Amanda Scott)
Speckled Wood butterfly – posing nicely for me on the path out of Coverack (photo: Amanda Scott)

As you set off east out of the village, first of all along a narrow lane through houses and then a gravel track, the path is gently wooded. There is a bench fairly early on, generously provided by a nearby house owner: I didn’t need to rest, but walkers who have put more miles in must love to sit and relish the sea view ! It was good to see butterflies flitting about, warming their wings in the early sunlight: I spotted this Speckled Wood, and also saw a Wall butterfly and a few Common Blues and Green-veined Whites.

The South West Coast Path then turns right down a descending rocky path. This had very much an ‘edge of the wood’ feel to it: Beech and Ivy arch overhead creating a woven ceiling to the path, a Woodpigeon gazed at me before diving into the trees, a stream chattered away to the right…but glimpses of the sea and the constant rush of waves beneath the woodland birdsong were a reminder that the coast was very near.

And then the wood ends and the view opens out.

Sparkling sea (photo: Amanda Scott)
Sparkling sea (photo: Amanda Scott)
Heading east from Coverack on SW Coast Path
The cliff drops down to the beach near to Lowland Point, and Thrift and other clifftop flowers grow at the beach edge (photo: Amanda Scott)

The way to Lowland Point is about 1.5 miles long from Coverack: it is straight and clear,  beginning along higher cliffs but ending much lower, first passing alongside low sandy crumbly cliffs (a raised beach in geological terms) and finally dropping down to the same level as the pebbly beach, before rising slightly again at Lowland Point – it is easy to see how this headland gets its name. The landscape round here, as well as being lovely in the ‘here and now’, is also full of history, with archaeological sites from the prehistoric era, the remains of mediaeval field systems, and some Romano-British saltworks (Trebarveth) right at the edge of the cliffs. I failed to find the latter – very frustratingly as I must have walked right past it – and I’ll have to go back for another look!

Thrift and Kidney Vetch (photo: Amanda Scott)
Thrift and Kidney Vetch (photo: Amanda Scott)

But the real stars of the day were the flowers. Milkwort, Thrift, Kidney Vetch, Foxgloves finally out, together with Sea Campion, Red Campion, Yellow Irises just starting to bloom alongside Cuckooflower and Ragged Robin in the boggier patches, Bluebells, Tormentil…I could go on and on and on…Instead, I’ve added a species list of what I found at the end of this post (which is probably only a small proportion of what was there…).

Coverack from the wildflower meadow on the coastal path (photo: Amanda Scott)
Coverack from the wildflower meadow on the coastal path (photo: Amanda Scott)

One of my favourite places was a beautiful wildflower meadow, to the left of the path approximately midway between Coverack and Lowland Point. I carefully walked through it: many of the plants were up to waist height and more. This was the first place and time this year I had seen Foxgloves properly out, looking fresh and pink.

Common Milkwort (photo: Amanda Scott)
Common Milkwort: this small delicate flower was abundant in both the woods and on the cliffs (photo: Amanda Scott)
English Stonecrop was just beginning to flower on rocks at the cliff edge (photo: Amanda Scott)
English Stonecrop was just beginning to flower on rocks at the cliff edge (photo: Amanda Scott)

A lovely walk, beautiful scenery, sea, cliffs, geology, archaeology, rich flora, insects and other fauna – what a wonderful way to spend a Sunday morning! Mine was a ‘there and back again’ walk as I was loathe to leave the cliff top flowers and sea view, but there are circular walks in the area – see this one for example.

PLANT SPECIES LIST:

Thrift (photo: Amanda Scott)
Thrift (photo: Amanda Scott)

Beech
Bluebell
Bracken
Bugle
Cock’s-foot
Common Dog Violet
Common Milkwort
Common Sorrel
Creeping Buttercup
Cuckooflower
English Stonecrop
European Gorse
Foxglove
Greater Plantain
Greater Stitchwort

Kidney Vetch (photo: Amanda Scott)
Bird’s-foot Trefoil (photo: Amanda Scott)

Hazel
Herb Robert
Honeysuckle
Ivy
Kidney Vetch
Lesser Spearwort
Lesser Stitchwort
Meadow Buttercup
Navelwort
Pignut
Ragged Robin
Red Campion
Ribwort Plantain
Round-leaved Crowfoot
Sea Campion
Sweet Vernal Grass
Three-cornered Leek
Thrift
Tormentil
Wild Clematis
Yellow Iris

Sea Campion