Thursday, 21 July 2016

Mythical West Cornwall: Lands End & The Merry Maidens

You know those days that will last in your memory forever? Even without photographs? The sort of day where nature knows exactly what you need and provides two whimsy-enthusiasts with enough enchanting feats of fairytale-nature-wowness to fuel their idle dreams for a whole summer? Sunday was one of those days, a kind of day that I dream about when the skies are dreary and a kind of day that reminds me, in spite of the horribleness that is casting a shadow over the world, that there is beauty and serenity and a very real sort of magic. 
Sunday began at the far end of the island, the very end. 
        Where there is only wild, choppy waves and winds and a wuthered lighthouse perched steadfastly and stubbornly on its rock, the way it always has done decade upon decade. That lighthouse has seen all of the weathers, and that's more than I can say for me.

West Cornwall is one of my more relatively well explored Cornish Peninsula's as there is something about it that is utterly wild, untamed and unforgiving. Even in the most beautiful and idyllic of weathers, there is still something truly feral about this coastline, as if the neat, orderly and tidy habits of Somerset, Kent, Shropshire and the rest of  quintessential England haven't quite reached these parts or perhaps Cornwall (Kernow) is just too belligerent and stubborn to pay any attention. Like that one kid in school that was a punk rocker when everyone else was a prep. I think all of the Celtic nations have that rebellious quality about them and it's not surprising that they're all steeped in Myths, Legends and Lore. What is it about the far corners such as Cornwall, Wales, Scotland, Bretagne and islands like Ireland and Man that attract stories of fairy folk such as Selkies, Morvoren and Bucca? 
I can only come to the conclusions that the folk reared on the wilderness of storms and churning salt water are dreamers or simply that the stories are real and that maybe, just maybe, there was truly a fertile and pungent magic in the old country and that once, fairy folk might have existed alongside the moths and birds, as real chickens. 
I like to live in hope. 
       Or perhaps being a Celtic girl, I too am just a dreamer. 

As a side note, this is the post where I reveal my weakness as a photographer. The illusion that I am somehow infallible (Something I never claim to be) is dissolved and my reputation unravelled. The truth is, I have not yet figured out the secret to taking photographs on hot sunny days of 22 degrees when the sun is at it's highest in the sky and creating awful, weird white balances and shadows and hideously contrasted images. I still have a lot to learn. 

On this particularly sizzling day, Laura and I thought it would be fun to explore Landsend. I come here quite a lot because I love exploring the coast line around here and I know it's a real treat with rock formations and secret spots. Who better to share a day out with in such a place than someone who shares my obsession with folklore and Cornwall? 

A few weeks ago I was here with Dad and a distantly related great Aunt who was on holiday visiting (who truth be told is a tad on the batty side (tad being the understatement of the century)) and so after spending what felt like five hours but was probably actually twenty minutes helping her choose a themed Landsend tea towel and calendar in the tawdry gift shop, we found her a bench, a cup of tea and she allowed us a twenty minute break from her endless demands. Please, don't think we're horrible people who have no patience for frail old aunts - I have more patience for difficult people than the ordinary human, but this woman is the sort of old aunt that appears in young people's novels as a sideline antagonist, sort of like Ron's great Aunt Muriel in Harry Potter or a less rotund version of Aunt Marge and without bulldogs. 

Off the topic of batty aunts and back to the point, Dad and I were using our freedom to explore and find this rock that we knew to be around these parts and called the Enys Dodnan Arch. It sits beneath a large rock on an island known as 'The armed Knight'. We walked in apparently what was the wrong direction searching for this iconic sea arch and quickly our time ran out. 
Now, I'm the type of person that when I get an idea in my head for an interesting spot to find, I won't let it go and I'll obsess about it until it begins to leak into my dreams at night. Laura and I decided to add the Sea arch to our little map of explores for the day and I was pretty darn excited about it. 

 The rock formations down here are truly a visual treat. I just can't get over how the earth has managed to utterly blow my mind away yet again with something so incredible. You can forget clothes, toys, games and all of the material items that we clutter our lives with - dammit, these things matter. Yes, that's right... rocks matter! They are damn cooler than Pokemon go (although I confess, I did spend an hour wandering around Penzance looking for Dratinis the other day) 

To find the Enys Dodnan Sea Arch, you can park in the Landsend carpark (Cornish locals get free parking if you flash your proof of address!) and turn left following the coast path. It's actually around the next headland and requires a bit of a walk - not as close as all those touristy leaflets of landsend will have you think. 

A  L i t t l e   A b o u t    L a n d s e n d    

According to findings on the Landsend site, we have learned that people have been visiting and living at Landsend for around ten thousand years or more which is incredible. The place absolutely resonates ancient history. It's earliest recorded name is 'Penwith Steort' a combination of the Cornish and Old English languages (In fact, West Cornwall's 6th Form college is named Penwith College which is pretty cool!). It means something along the lines of 'Extreme end' or 'Extreme end of the tail' and that dates back to 997 BC or so the findings say. More recently (1500 BC LOL) the place was known as Penn an Wlas (more familiar to us Cornishy's) which means in relatively 'modern' Cornish, 'End of the Land'. 
There are over 130 shipwrecks to be found off this coast and from the cliff you can see in the distance  the Longships lighthouse and on a clear day, you can even spot St.Mary's, the largest of the Scilly Isles. 
Now, there is a really cool legend about  a land named Lyonesse which is fabled to live beneath the waves between Landsend and Scilly. I learned about this around three weeks ago during a theatrical storytelling of 'The Salt Road' by Knee High Theatre at the local An Gof event. I have seen countless boats and houses named Lyonesse and had no idea about it and now I am blown away with dreams of such a place. 
Some legends say that Lyonesse was the land of King Arthur and it was also notably the home to the  well-known stories of Tristan and Iseult. The chilling tale goes that the entire land was sunk beneath the waves during one stormy night and now, all that is left is Landsend and Scilly. I'm going to save the full story of Lyonesse for another day however as I believe it deserves it's own feature. 

Getting to Landsend is really easy if you have you're own transport - I say easy, are you good with narrow country lanes? I think there's also a few busses that come to the tourist centre from Penzance, especially during the peak of summer. Along this bit of coastline you can ramble on foot to Nanjizal sea cave and plunge pool (I am yet to get here on a day where the tide is out!)

Spot the seabirds spying fish from the rocks 

We noticed that a mysterious cloud of seafog began to roll in. The scorching hot sunlight gave away to a cool mist and no matter how hard we tried, we just couldn't do the scene any justice on camera. The harsh truth is that I was trying to shoot photos at 4 in the afternoon in stark harsh sunlight and I sadly have not yet discovered the secret to coping in such conditions.

 Behold my nature bandage! Along the coast path, Laura and I found our way blocked by a forest of  rather ferocious stinging nettles. Be quickly backtracked and realised that we had wandered through the early parts of their lair without realising and it resulted in a few stings of the ankle and elbow. Not to fear! We knew our countryside wisdom and sought our some dock leafs (which was easier said than done). No matter how much dock leaf I rubbed on my ankle, the moment I took it away the stinging came back so I made a bandage out of a dock leaf and some long grass and it worked. The dock leaf soothed the sting so all was good again and we adventured on.

Below, spot the tippy-top of Longships lighthouse poking out from beneath the mist! This was such an ethereal experience - somehow, whenever I go out with Laura, we end up experiencing some incredible feat of weather. Last time, we found ourselves inside a cloud.

We made our way to Porthcurno, eager to get in the ocean before it became too cold. The tide was in and the sea was the deepest blue and the fog had vanished. We chatted until it became late and decided it was probably time to head home... that is until we got distracted whilst driving through St.Buryan and decided impulsively to visit the Merry Maidens standing stones, it was after all a spectacular sunset!

The Merry Maidens standing stones are little known and easily overlooked. Tucked away in a field visible from the road just outside of the pokey village of St. Buryan, these enchanting remnants of a Celtic time gone by are well worth a visit - especially at sunset.
                   We truly hadn't planned to visit them, and the fact that we caught them at sunset was the luck of the Irish. There is a curious little local tale that comes with the standing stones that dates back to ancient times.

T h e    M e r r y    M a i d e n s     S t o n e   C i r c l e 

Hundreds of years ago, back in a time where the old people praised a mixture of gods of sun and sky,  the God of the Christians was newly arriving in the talk and chatter of the far, salty reaches of the island. The people were warned that the Sunday was a sacred day for it was the day of the Sabbath and it was prohibited to sing and dance and be merry. The young and foolish of the villager's daughters dismissed the warnings and laughed. They loved to dance and so on the eve of the Saturday, they danced unreservedly and rebelliously across the fields that overlooked West Cornwall and Penn an Wlas with wild abandon. The sun fell and the moon rose and stars began to appear and glimmer like gems and precious stones in the sky. The witching hour passed and yet the dancers danced on, the musicians played on.
They had disrespected the God, and he was angry. They had flouted the rules of the Sabbath so carelessly that as a punishment, they nineteen maidens were turned to stone.
To this day, the maidens stand petrified in their dance, nineteen standing stones upon a field with a view of the surrounding lands. A few fields away, the Pipers who played for them stand also as stone figures, doomed to watch the moon rise and fall until the tides rise so high that the land falls beneath them, like the condemned forgotten land of Lyonesse.

-This version of the tale is only based on the local legend and has been reappropriated every so slightly by myself. 

            If you feel so inclined to visit these lonely stone maidens, the Sat Nav will take you there easily and there is a little parking spot just at the foot of the field. They are well sign posted as a historic landmark and stand between 1.2 metres and 1.4 meters high on the road between Newlyn and Landsend.
We were fortunate enough to enjoy the site to ourselves and had the most enchanting evening dancing among the stones barefoot (it was even a Sunday!) imagining what the old celtic people would have gotten up to here (rubbing their stomachs against the stones in hopes of fertility and dancing naked around them came up as suggested activities.) Then we did what lovers of photography do most, and that was take advantage of the light and run around snapping each other posing as mythical fairies (Because we aren't grown women who have jobs and pay bills or anything... ahem O.o)

*portraits of me by Laura Darroch-Lassey* of Eggshell days

We tore ourselves away from the stones as the light faded into a pale dusky lavender colour and headed back to Penzance to find the road home. As we came up over the hill to Newlyn however, we were blown away by the most magical and mysterious view of St.Michaels mount that I have ever seen. The castle and village were shrouded in the fog that had earlier enveloped Landsend and the sky was changing from pale pinks to purples to forget-me-not bluey hues before our eyes. Laura and I nearly exploded with excitement and there were lots of high pitched noises coming from me. We parked up, jumped out and raced to the nearest seawall to capture the moment. 

I regretted not having a tripod with me and did my best with makeshift stones however it didn't really do the trick. The most important thing was the experience and capturing the moment just to prove it was real, to remind us of this incredible day for the rest of our lives. 

So Sunday truly was an incredibly perfect day. We were so fortunate to stumble from incredible experience to incredible experience, soothing our souls and filling our dreams. 
West Cornwall truly is a special place, and I'm already planning my next adventure around these parts... a trip to the Jubilee art deco Lido! 



  1. These photos are truly gorgeous babs! You're so talented!

  2. Fantastic post for a fantastic day!I get the biggest smile whenever I think about it and I have a feeling it might be just what I needed to get over my 'bloggers block'.

    Also, I love that the information about free parking for Cornish locals is in bold font. "GOSH DARN IT DAD, I AM RIGHT!" ;)

    - Laura

  3. Hello! I don't see the flaws in your photos you mention! They are beautiful as they always seem to be to me! I love your natural bandage! I had a sting on my hand the other week and I couldn't find any dock leaves and it stung all the way back!

  4. These pictures make my spirit fly away! So pretty and mystical! You're really talented!

  5. Perfect days indeed! I always learn so much about rocks and old tales on here, and for that I am thankful you are here to tell stories to those who listen ;-) also I laughed reading about you faerie ladies who don't have to pay bills or anything. In an ideal world eh? hahah!

    Cherie | sinonym

  6. Stunning as always. Such a magical post x

  7. Wowowowowowow this post is beautiful. The light in the sunset photos is incredible, the blue of the sea can only be seen to be believed. Cornwall is spectacular! Alice xxx

  8. Very impressive blog.Keep up the good work.
    sea salt

  9. Oh my goodness, this is too beautiful. Your photographs are completely stunning! My boyfriend and I are off exploring West Cornwall next week and having discovered your blog I could not be more excited. Hopefully the weather will hold out for us and we can have as perfect a time as you did on this day!
    Lx | Lightly We Go


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