Celebrate life, past, present, coming

Featured image: It took a child for me to notice this gum collection bin at St Erth train station. Passing by us, he told his mother about its purpose to prevent harm to birds.

Cornwall Cogitation 8/186 Saturday 23 February 2019   What better way to celebrate life, past, present and dawning than by a winter walk through a world bounding toward spring.

Call it a life-affirming act, this stepping out of our secure winter slumber into the fragile, unfolding, beauty bursting around us.

First off, a shout out to the children and youth who on February 15 walked out of classes on school climate strike. More than 10,000 young people missed school in a nationwide protest concerning the lack of action by politicians to tackle the growing ecological crisis posed by climate change.

A letter signed by 223 academics (The Guardian 14 February) supported the planned walkout, quoting Nelson Mandela: “Our children are our greatest treasure. They are our future. Those who abuse them tear at the fabric of our society and weaken our nation.”  The signatories said, “Human planetary abuse is, in a very real sense, child neglect.”


A walk through Morrab Gardens

On Tuesday we walked through sub-tropical Morrab Gardens in Penzance on the way to see a photographic exhibition at Penlee House Gallery & Museum.

The green and blossoming bushes and trees and blooming flowers in Morrab Gardens reflect an unseasonably warmer winter than usual in this most south-westerly part of Cornwall. Morrab Gardens opened to the public in 1889. It covers about three acres.

That’s a Monkey Puzzle tree, branches too prickly even for birds to roost.


The Newlyn School of painters

Spectacular scenery, granite cliffs, surrounding sea, what more could an artist want to paint out-of-doors? Newlyn, next door to Penzance, offered such a venue for an arts community. The first artist, Walter Langley, moved there in 1882. By September 1884 there were at least 27 resident artists in Newlyn, St Ives, Lelant and Falmouth who formed the Newlyn School. Penlee House houses one of the largest public collections of the Newlyn School.

One of our favourite paintings is by Norman Garstin (1847-1926), The Rain it Raineth Every Day, a scene on the Penzance promenade on a rainy day. We’ve walked the one-and-a-half mile promenade between Penzance and Newlyn, beside Mounts Bay, numerous times–mostly in sun, but also in mizzle, drizzle and rain, often with the sound of rocks bouncing together in the wash of the tide.

Ten photographers

The Penlee House photographic exhibition, Luminaries: Victorian Photographers in West Cornwall featured “luminaries” who emerged from the 1860s onwards. They chronicled outdoor life on land and sea, including Cornwall’s once dominant tin mining enterprise and archaeological heritage. Newlyn is still a significant fishing port.

One of the photos that kept me riveted to the spot was  J. Smith’s Boot and Shoe  Manufactory, Penzance, 1884. The photo shows 22 workers seated at various tables and machines, including what looks like a 12-year-old boy.

The 106 photos form the largest photographic exhibition (12 January-16 March) that Penlee has ever staged, thanks to 10 professional and amateur photographers who captured life in Victorian West Cornwall. Loved it, as well as some of the Newlyn School paintings.

A brief note on two of the paintings. Walter Langley’s Among the Missing–Scene in a Cornish Fishing Village, 1884, Newlyn’s fishing boats traveled all around the British coast. When one of these boats was lost at sea, a telegram sent to the  Newlyn Post Office was posted on the wall to tell the villagers the name of the lost boat and the list of fishermen “among the missing.” One feels the fear and apprehension of those assembled and the quiet attempt of an older woman comforting a younger woman who feared the worst for her loved one.

Elizabeth Adela Forbes (1859-1912) painted School is Out, 1889. The tag reads: “it is believed that the setting for this painting is Paul School and that the small boy is Richard Vivian Spargo, whose two elder sisters are the red-haired girls laughing at him.” The downcast, pouting boy is sitting on a bench and his books lie scattered on the floor.

The gallery’s special exhibitions are well done and the permanent collection keeps us going back, too. Throw in a walk through Morrab Gardens, a stroll along Mounts Bay on the English Channel, lunch at one of a variety of cafes, restaurants and pubs, a return to the train/bus transportation hub, and you’ve got makings of a richly satisfying day. By road, Penzance is about 12 miles from St Ives/Carbis Bay.

Sadly, Carbis Bay has lost its post office. The thought takes me back to a painting by Walter Langley, Time Moveth Not, Our Being ‘Tis That Moves, 1882. It’s a watercolour, depicting an elderly woman looking down at a Bible on her lap. She may be musing over her life or paused in a revere of the everlasting beyond mortality, beyond time.


More signs of spring


A tin mine ruin sits in a grazing field, a reminder of a once thriving industry.
Ferry to the Isles of Scilly will resume operations in March. We had a wonderful time there last year.
Penzance harbour.
Porthgwidden Beach looking to The Island at St Ives. It’s one of five area beaches. Had lunch at Porthmeor Beach Cafe, cheek by jowl on the surfing beach on the other side of The Island. We met up with a brief spot of mizzle on our walk back to Carbis Bay. Fundraiser at St Anta filled Saturday morning (today) with conversation over cake and coffee/tea.

St Michael’s Way

Marsh Marigold from our St Michael’s Way walk to Marazion on Friday–10 miles. Glorious day.
St Michael’s Mount, end of a 12-mile walk on St Michael’s Way from Lelant on the Atlantic to Marazion on the English Channel. Vicar Nigel Marns has written a guide linking a network of old footpaths over 125 miles dotted with reminders of pilgrims past. The route was featured in The Guardian Travel on Saturday 16 February, headlined, Cornwall’s camino.

Celebrate a life-affirming step into a new day.



5 thoughts on “Celebrate life, past, present, coming

  1. Wonderful to see spring in full bloom! We were headed toward a warm and early spring on the Olympic Peninsula when an unusual snowstorm stopped us in our tracks. Still, the snowdrops, hellebores and heather are happy and blooming brightly. Marlene


    1. Spring is bursting out all over, even as the forecast for later this week is for more typical winter weather. Taking it all in with a visit to Trengwainton Garden near Penzance on Monday where “plants from around the globe flourish in this warm sheltered garden with its sea views and walled kitchen garden built to the dimensions of Noah’s Ark.”Fine cafe, too.


  2. Hello John,

    Sure signs of spring: flowers and young lambs. You are lucky to not be in Goshen right now. They’re having high winds and blowing snow! We have been in the 80’s for almost 2 weeks, almost too warm!

    Is the “Pirates of Penzance” based on this town?

    Sent from a device smarter than myself!



    1. It would be good to see Pirates again. I don’t know how popular it is in Penzance but the town’s a fitting home for it’s namesake operetta. Lots of historical material. When the performance premiered in the 1880s it was staged in New York the first night and in the UK the next night to protect the copyright and keep it from being pirated in America.


  3. I’m glad you are getting a dose of spring. As we are getting yet another storm, a wind storm now. I will just have to enjoy my tulips on the table. Looking forward to your adventures this coming week.



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