At walking pace, the landscape tells its tales. Stories told, stories heard and stories sparked off by the stones. Before I leave Cornwall, here are a trio.
A story told.
When it came to finding a place to stay, there was plenty of choice at the tail end of the summer. So why Mousehole?
It’s a quaint old fishing village, just along the coast from Newlyn and Penzance, full of narrow streets, crammed with outrageously picturesque views. Like here and hereand the granite arms of the harbour walls hold the boats safe on a stretch of coast where the weather grows wild and the seas treacherous, even if that is hard to imagine on a calm September morning.
So yes, it was a perfect spot for a few days away.
But what really drew me to Mousehole was a much loved story.
In The Mousehole Cat, Antonia Barber retells the folk tale which sees Old Tom and his cat Mowser saving Mousehole. Stargazy pie is involved. Nicola Bayley provides the illustrations and they conjure up such a delightful vision of the place that, though bedtime stories are now far behind me, I have long wanted to see it for myself.
And so we did and the village is indeed just as charming as Bayley paints it. (The book’s still in print, by the way. Take a look – http://www.walker.co.uk/The-Mousehole-Cat-9780744523539.aspx).
I heard a whisper that the artist herself lives in Mousehole. Could it be here?
A story heard.
The coast path from Mousehole to Newlyn is not terribly exciting. For most of the way it runs alongside the main road carved out of the hillside. For a short stretch near Newlyn, the path diverts down to the shoreline and onto a narrow, once industrial space, possibly the course of an old railway, with the remains of old port buildings on one side, giant boulder sea defences shelving down to the water on the other. It is maintained with the lightest of touches and nature is doing her best to reclaim the land, the grass growing long wherever it can get a foothold and bushes springing up around the ruins.
I came upon a man, perhaps in his eighties, slashing at the grass with his stick while a lively young collie bounced around him in that way that small children and big dogs do when excitement takes over their bodies. I wondered if he had lost something and whether he would allow me to help him find it. I began with my usual opener – What a lovely dog you’ve got there.
The man carried on with his search, the dog ignored me.
He’s not mine, he’s my daughter’s. I just mind him in the day
More slashing at the grass.
He’s lost his stone.
He won’t go for a ball and he won’t go for a stick. He’ll only go for a stone
The stick hit something hard. Success.
He’s a stone dog.
He bent to pick up the stone. The dog stepped back in readiness.
When we’re out and I spot a good stone, I pick it up and I pile it over there, see, so I’ve always got nice one ready for him.
With that he threw it and they were off. All that remained were the cairns, testaments to the story of an old man, a stone dog and their devotion, one for another.
And finally, some stories imagined.
In the melange of exhibits at Land’s End there is a wall of millennium pledges inscribed upon slate plaques. It is really rather peculiar and if there was an explanation there for the project I missed it.
Some people felt the need to promise to do something worthy to mark the dawn of a new era. Charity work was uppermost in the minds of the Foggs and the Warners.
Sixteen years on, I began to wonder how things had turned out. Christopher will be pretty fluent in Cornish by now
and Violet’s car will have taken a pasting.
The Brinkworths will have happy memories of Disneyland Paris and Sonia will have it all in hand. But the ones which touched me were the ones which had me longing to know what happened next. What are the stories in these stones?Did the Woodings manage to sort out their problems together? Does Stephen still love Michele (and how does she feel about him a decade and a half on)? How have things turned out for Ann? Going with the dear old flow no matter what hinted at so much but said so little. Let’s believe that she’s landed at a good place. And did Penny’s soulmate ever make it to the UK?
I hope so.