Tuesday, 23 August 2016

Five Go To Kernow (Part Four)

Hello, thank you for dropping in.  It's lovely to see you.  This is the final instalment of my holiday adventures in Cornwall. 

On the south coast of Cornwall, westward beyond The Lizard Peninsular, just a few miles before the end of the land, the great granite cliffs sweep back to form a bay which has been counted among the ten most beautiful in the world.  I caught a fleeting glimpse of it once, more than thirty years ago, and have sometimes wondered whether my memory is true.  Was the sand really that shade of creamy white?  Was the water really that shade of blue?  I went to have another look this time, and I can confirm that my memory was not playing tricks on me.  This is Porthcurno -
 



 
If you click on this photograph to enlarge it and look very carefully at the right hand side, you may be able to see the steep steps hewn out of the granite which go up, up, up to the top of the western cliff.  Those steps were made by Miss Rowena Cade, who owned the headland, Minack Point, and her gardener, Billy Rawlings, in the 1950s and there are about ninety of them - she needed them so that she could carry sacks of sand up to the cliff top for her building project on the land at the top.  At the end of every day's labour she would go down to the beach, fill her sacks and carry them back up the ninety steps so that the sand was ready for work to begin the following day.  Once, she found twelve wooden beams washed up on the shore, each one fifteen feet long, and she carried them up those steps one by one!
 
Rowena and Billy began her building project in 1931 when she was thirty-eight years old and she worked on it for almost fifty years.  From 1953, she and Billy were assisted by Tom Angove, who she called "Builder's Mate" - he carried on for about thirty years after Billy died in 1966.  Three people, six hands, built this extraordinary place.  Sometimes, Rowena would become dissatisfied with what they had created, blow it up (literally) and start again!  Do you know what they built?  Have you been?  It's...an open-air theatre! 
 

The first production, Shakespeare's The Tempest, was held here in the summer of 1932 and there have been many since.  Its inaccessibility means that all scenery, props and costumes have to be passed down by human chain and we saw this happening while we were there -
 
 
On the day we visited there was a storyteller who assumed the role of Billy Rawlings and told how the theatre was built.  He was very good and held his audience in the palm of his hand as I watched from above - you can see him in the centre of this picture -
 
 
Rowena couldn't afford to build the theatre entirely of granite so she developed a way of casting in concrete, using an old screwdriver to inscribe designs into it before it set -
 

 
Every year, the turf is skimmed off the top of the seats, the compost within is renewed and fresh turf is laid on top - 
 
 
I first visited this unique place on a crisp, sunny February day and found it spellbinding.  That hasn't changed, but it's altogether a better day out now: there is a café (where we were able to purchase our obligatory daily ice cream), there is an excellent exhibition centre which tells the story of the theatre's creation, there are viewing galleries for those who find all the steps difficult and just over twenty years ago, subtropical gardens were carefully planted to ensure that there is something in flower during every month of the year.
 
 
This was another memorable day out for the Best Beloved, The Mathematician and me.  The sun shone (most of the time) on the theatre, the cliffs, the sand and the sea and the colours and my happiness were intense.  Do you remember that I said that the headland is called Minack Point?  Here is Minack Rock, its extremity -
 
 
Minack means "rocky place" in Cornish.  And the theatre, of course, is the Minack Theatre.
 
 
If you would like to know more about Rowena Cade and how she built the theatre, this is quite good.  I find her endlessly fascinating.
 
So that was the last day of our family adventure to Kernow.  In the first of these posts I said that Cornwall owed me Big Time due to some absolutely appalling weather encountered on previous visits.  Well, Cornwall, you have redeemed yourself, the debt is repaid, in a whole week we had only two hours of rain, while we were driving to see a friend, and for the rest of the time, we had glorious sunshine.  You showed us your best side and wowed us all.  I also explained in that post that my relationship with Cornwall is complicated.  Not any more, it isn't.  You have given me some fabulous family memories which I shall treasure forever. 
 
See you soon.
 
Love, Mrs Tiggywinkle x
 

13 comments:

  1. What an amazing woman to have to the vision to create such a thing. I can't even imagine how strong she must have been. What a great place to visit!

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    1. It's a really good outing, Lorrie. I think Rowena was amazing, too and I wish I could have met her. I imagine she was a bit of a taskmaster, though. x

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  2. I have only seen the theatre on TV but your photos have shown another perspective so thanks very much! Isn't it an amazing achievement, a really special place to go. x

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    1. Yes, very special, Karen. I can't think of anywhere else in the same vein. As they were setting up for a production the day we were there, they had closed off access to the stage and the lower level of seating so we couldn't get the close shots we would have liked. In hindsight, I am disappointed but I certainly wasn't on the day. It was a fab outing. x

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  3. Now that is an impressive place to visit, great photos.

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    1. Thank you! It is impressive, and such a surprise in a remote, lonely corner of Cornwall. x

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  4. Places like Minack are amazing. So good that you saw it on a sunny day. Glad you had a great family holiday, I have loved reading all your Cornish posts. B x

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    1. Thanks, Barbara. I know that I've been self-indulgent with the posts but it was SUCH a wonderful holiday and writing them has helped me to process why and given my children a kind of lasting record of it. I am glad you have enjoyed my ramblings. x

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  5. Cornwall is so beautiful! Thanks for sharing your adventure ♥

    summerdaisycottage.blogspot.com

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  6. I just loved reading about your holidays in Cornwall! I'm so glad for you and your family that the weather was at its best. What a great surprise to take your (grown up!) children to the island ... so beautiful in those aerial shots. Isn't that theater in a beautiful setting! Imagine seeing a live play there with the sound of the waves crashing into shore. I'm surprised you didn't stay for a performance. This trip will stay with you for a very long time indeed (as long as the memory of your pricey sandwich!).
    Wendy x

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    1. You've hit the nail on the head, Wendy: we wanted a holiday that we would all remember forever, as it may be the last we all take together for some years, and we certainly got it. Unfortunately, there was no performance at the theatre that evening, they were prepping two days in advance, or we would definitely have stayed. Apparently, audiences are sometimes distracted by dolphins leaping and dancing in the sea behind the stage! x

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  7. ohhh I LOVE the theater. I saw it .... ohh maybe 20 oder 25 years ago. Thank you for this memory :)
    Have a nice day
    gusta

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