On Winter, Cycling and Cornwall.

For fifteen months I have cycled to work most days.

No great distance.

10 miles each way, sometimes longer when a fine evening has tempted me to stretch the trip home.

Despite working mostly from an office, for fifteen months I have been wonderfully aware of the weather.

And so this morning, for the first time since January, I was aware of winter.

Bitterly cold. Beautiful.

I felt so alive.

In a car, bus, train, or even walking, you can avoid the cold.

Not on a bike.

With a constant 15 – 20 mph wind all weather is exaggerated, none more so than the cold.

Good gloves, hilarious overshoes, and merino base layers all do their bit to keep your core warm. Your face though takes it all in.

And it’s an amazing feeling I wouldn’t ever want to avoid.

Lying in my super comfortable Travelodge bed I can tell if a morning is frosty, or even snowy, by the amount of light creeping around the curtains when it should be dark.

This morning it was so bright I expected snow, but it was just a heavy frost.

The roads were slick, slippery in places, and on the lanes I was treated to any number of tiny birds frantically flying from cover in search of breakfast.

A stoat crossed my path, undulating as if he were a rollercoaster. But then again he could have been a weasel.

And all the way into work I dreamt of Cornwall.

Sennen. Jan 2014.

Sennen. Jan 2014.

Of the beautiful and dramatic changes that winter brings.

It’s an exciting time of such extremes.

Rarely does it freeze, but we do have wild storms.

The beaches are empty, and only the hardy venture into the waters.

Polly on Gwenver. December.

Polly on Gwenver. December.

The Christmas Day Swim at Sennen is a must, even if you only watch. The excitement is palpable, the anticipation of the cold water on naked skin, the screams of shock, and for the mad ones, joy.

Then, after that bracing walk, or even swim, heading back inside is all the more rewarding.

The log burners roaring and pumping glorious dry heat into our well insulated rooms.

The Old Dairy. New Year. 2014.

The Old Dairy. New Year. 2014.

Ideally some slow cooked stew, chilli or curry has scented the house and will soon fill our bellies.

Dawn. New Forge. December.

Dawn. New Forge. December.

Heavy red wines.

Whiskey.

Steaming cups of tea.

The sofa is more comfortable, the blankets more inviting, and bed, oh let me lie in bed the whole night through – if only there were a fire place in the bedroom!

Polly. Dressed for winter.

Polly. Dressed for winter.

Even friends and family seem closer, more lovely. Precious.

Bring me winter, let it fill me with joy.

At least until the excitement of the first buds of spring.

Leaves. Hanging in there.

Leaves. Hanging in there.

Major Garden Works at Myn Tea

It was way back in 2006 that we stripped Myn Tea back to the stone and converted the two flat back into the house that it is now.

We didn’t do much other than plant the shelter belt of bushes, meaning to come back to finish the gardens, but until now that hasn’t happened.

Each year we have re-invested what the houses have brought in to gradually improved and update them. Last year Myn Tea’s investment was the gorgeous little fire that is a joy as soon as the temperatures start dropping.

You'll want to come in winter and snuggle up.

This year we have finally attacked the gardens – and attack is the appropriate term.

We wanted to create seating options that would offer guests somewhere to catch the sun at different times of the day, as well as an area to gather around a fire in the evenings.

The fire circle - in progress

The fire circle – in progress

 

IMG_2697

The soil at Tregiffian has tons of rab (ground up mine waste that’s mainly a granite gravel). This gives us good drainage, but it’s blinking hard to dig. John Murray and his team weren’t messing and got some heavy kit in to tackle the job, but even the mini diggers weren’t enough to shift one hearing great granite rock.

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While the big rocks are a challenge to get out, they’re things of beauty once on the surface, this fellow will just get better when there’s some planting around him.

The rock, as yet unnamed

It’s work in progress still, but we’re hugely excited about the potential. Look out for another post soon.

A perfect (early) morning. Gwenver.

I’m sitting at the table in Myn Tea.

It’s midnight and then some.

We’re just in from the garden where a few friends have been sitting out, watching the waxing moon, listening to the sea, and discussing the madness of the Lafrowda Oscars which took place at Cape School in St Just tonight.

It could only happen here.

And I talked about last night.

Waking at 4.00am, and knowing that there would be no more sleep for a long time, and so I’d best make the most of my time.

I got up and gently raised Polly, the dog.

We walked off to the beach in the silvery moonlight.

Sitting on Gwenver at 04.30 in the morning, catching glimpses of the moon off the water, the air still warm, mid-October. No one to be seen.

And feeling that I was the luckiest man in the world.

The air is rarely still here, but it was this morning. Making it all the greater as a gift.

A moment in time.

And only Polly to share it with.

Polly who bravely chased away the foes who existed in her imagination.

Such a shame her chase was sometimes so vocal.

Now I’d best seek that sleep that eluded me last night.

Good night.

Weddings at Tregiffian

It’s always encouraging when guests book to come back to one of the cottages again. It’s the best recommendation we could hope for.

But then when people get as emotionally connected to the cottages as we are then it’s better still.

Back at the end of the summer we were delighted when a lovely couple, Dave and Louise, chose Myn Tea for their wedding party, a lovely gathering of friends and family, pulled from around the country, to a beautiful day at Tregiffian.

Dave and Louise - party at Myn Tea

Dave and Louise – party at Myn Tea

Another lovely couple who stay in New Forge in deepest darkest winter chose to get engaged there in January this year – hurrah, and congratulations Bill and Louise (is there a Louise theme starting here?). The romance of the far west is even stronger in winter, and I’m looking forward to our stays in the dark months this year.

Thank you all our lovely friends.

Thank you all our lovely friends.

Coming up in March another treasured guest is having her wedding party at Myn Tea too.

Perfect end to Dave and Louise's perfect day.

Perfect end to Dave and Louise’s perfect day.

If I were to list all of the honeymoons we’ve hosted this post would get long indeed.

So just to close this off on the wedding theme, Amanda and I aways get to Tregiffian to celebrate our own wedding, which we held on the cliffs at Bosigran, Portheras Beach, and Penzance Arts Club.

Who’s next? I imagine the gardens at Trevena Barn would be completely ideal for a wedding.

Why go to Mont St Michel when you can go to St Michael’s Mount? (after Mark Jones)

The modesty!

We’re a quiet bunch in Cornwall. You need to pass Hayle (Hell?) before you get a hint of what might grace the next bay.

 

The Mount through the mist.

The Mount through the mist.

You know about Mont St Michel from miles away – the brown signs start at least 50 miles before you get a peep of its spires, that’s like having signs for the Cornish jewel out on Bodmin Moor, that would just be showing off wouldn’t it?

Le Mont.

Le Mont.

Now I’m not denying that the French have something to shout about. After all the archangel Michel himself instructed its construction in 708. The saint (St Aubert) he addressed wasn’t too keen on the effort it would have involved, and he chose to ignore the instruction for ages. Old Michel got well fed up about that and burned a hole in the poor saint’s skull with his finger. Can you imagine the HR case if you did that to a subordinate today (even in France?).

Having said that though, Archangel Michael had his burning finger in the legend of the Cornish mount too, instructing a fisherman to build it in the 5th century.

The two were linked as monastic houses for a fair old while, and here our ancient history / legend lessons must end.

As we know, the French get all shouty about their mount. Organisation is serious and impressive. As the most visited single attraction outside of Paris is has to be. There’s regimented parking behind well planted polders that hide the thousands of cars from photos – cunning! Then there’s the quite beautiful new boardwalk that snakes the 45 minute walk from the parking to the Mount.

The boardwalk.

The boardwalk.

We visited this week – already September, and the rest of France seems empty yet still it was heaving. During the season a trip here must be hell. Three million plus peeps climb its narrow streets every year.

The Abbey

The Abbey

The Mont is huge.

Our hotel the night before was a funny place with a cheap room, yet we had a Mont view when the fog lifted.

44 people live on the Mont full time, about the same as on the Mount, but while the National Trust has a shop, a cafe, restaurant, the French have a whole thriving town.

So why should we go to St Michael’s Mount?

As I started, its modesty is charming. The crowds rare. The gardens stunning (no room for many plants on Le Mont). But moreover, you’re in Cornwall, and why would you want to be anywhere else?

The case for Le Mont? Well, I guess there’s the crêpes, the cider, the wine, the accent, but beyond that, what is there? Enjoy a pasty from Philps, a pint of Doom Bar and a choppy boat ride and get over to St Michael’s when you get the chance.

(to be updated, I haven’t been to St Michael’s in ages and need to remind myself why I love it so.)

En route to Mont St Michel

Tonight we can see Mont St Michel from our room – hopefully we’ll get there tomorrow and I’ll be inspired to write “Why go to Mont St Michel when you can go to St Michaels’s Mount.”

We ended up staying two nights at La Bristellerie. When you find something that good you need to make the most of it. Today though we need to get at least a bit closer to Brittany.

First stop Carteret, from where you can get a ferry to Guernsey, but for us it was just a walk around the Cap.

Stout shoes for bouldering, Carteret.

Stout shoes for bouldering, Carteret.

On south to the quite lovely Coutances, where the soaring cathedral dominates the view from miles around. Most of the town was closed – except a good little crêperie where we lunched on galettes and cider.

There’s a stunning park/gardens, somewhat unimaginatively called Jardin des Plantes, entered through an arch under one of the more grand houses.

Coutances, Cathedral

Coutances, Cathedral

 

A. Minty. Collins.

A. Minty. Collins.

 

Yellow

Yellow

Now, having looked in on Granville and thought it was a bit like Newquay en France, we’re in our room in a funny little hotel, but overlooking Mont St Michel and just above the strangely named St John Le Thomas.

The Cornish Way in France.

We love learning, and when it’s combined with drinking fine wines, calvados and cider, and eating the best imaginable foods then the whole experience is better still.

View from our room to the gardens

View from our room to the gardens

Yesterday we caught the ferry to Cherbourg from Portsmouth and woke up after a rough crossing in La France.

A short drive to our first mason d’hôtes, La Bristellerie, in the hamlet of Hardinvast, and a wonderful welcome from Jan and Marie. A quick bag drop and we’re back downstairs in their huge and comfortable converted barn sharing stories and excellent wines.

So many places to sit

So many places to sit

Dinner at Jan’s friend’s restaurant in nearby Les Pieux was excellent, washed down with local cider. It’s called Le Petite Bourg.

Later, back to the house for a superb sleep in our room that’s a similar size to the flat we rent in Manchester. Slipping between the sheets and breathing in the wonderful smell of French linen before a sweet oblivion descended.

The house is in there somewhere

The house is in there somewhere

It was hard to find the house for a photo from the calming gardens – but here’s a try.

Pussycat on tour - again

Pussycat on tour – again

Saturday’s weather wasn’t amazing, but hey, we were tired, and doing little was ideal.

A short drive around La Hague, Port Racine for photos.

Port Racine

Port Racine

 

The girl - Port Racine

The girl – Port Racine

 

Port Racine

Port Racine

Back to the house for dinner in the garden, simple – cider, great red, cheese, saucisson, great bread. Perfect.

 

Dinner chez La Bristellerie

Dinner chez La Bristellerie

Now it’s Sunday morning, the sun’s shining, and we can’t wait to get out there. But just a couple more photos from La Bristellerie…

Gourds - La Bristellerie

 

So many places to sit

So many places to sit

Levant, its working beam engine, and rugged coast.

We’re delighted to be back in the far west after too long away working.

There’s an old Sunday school for sale in Trewellard, and I flirted with the idea of a big project. I dragged Amanda to see it earlier. We concluded that my madcap schemes would be too much to layer on top of everything else right now, but it’s always exciting to look at a plot, or dilapidated building, and let the creative juices flow.

The Sunday School also meant that we stopped off in Trewellard instead of just driving through, and that’s well worthwhile.

It might not seem that there’s a lot to Trewellard, but at night there’s the attraction of the Meadery and the pub with its huge collection of whiskeys, and of course the coast. There was no drinking to be done today though, not yet at least.

Trewellard Sunday School

Trewellard Sunday School

After staring in awe at the stonework of the Sunday school, and dreaming of the plot’s potential, we walked down to the cliffs, stopping off at Old Bal engine house, and then taking a few quick phone shots of Levant mine, before lying in a sheltered spot and loving the sounds and smells of the sea.

Higher Bal, Levant

Higher Bal, Levant

Levant was worked from 1820 to 1930 and is perched right on the cliff edge, with its workings going out a couple of kilometres under the sea. Back in the early 1990s a gang of dedicated engineers restored the beam engine to working order and it now steams regularly. Amanda wasn’t likely to want to spend time with a smelly old steam engine, but I made a note to return soon (Mr Orton?).

The Oldest steaming beam engine is here at Levant.

The Oldest steaming beam engine is here at Levant.

The cliffs here are not the highest, but it’s certainly a rugged stretch and interesting with its mining heritage from hundreds of years ago, right up to 1990 when Geevor finally stopped extracting ore.

Thinking of the beauty back home – The Brisons.

I’m sitting on a train from Manchester to London, I’m lucky today, first class on the Virgin pendilino was cheaper than standard, so the air is cool (if a little smelly), the wi-fi is free, and I might even get a sandwich later.

The Cheshire countryside is good, but my thoughts soon turn to the far west of Cornwall.

I was browsing through photos of our last few days at Tregiffian, Sennen and realised that I haven’t loaded these onto the blog yet, so here goes, a couple of shots of my favourite place.

This is the rugged and simple Cape Cornwall, Priest’s Cove, and the Brisons, the evening shot was taken on a walk back from the Kings Arms in St Just. Big news from the Kings – they also own The Square, the new pizza deli next to McFaddens. Pizza is good, and you can take it to the pub to enjoy with something wet.

Through campion hides the Cape and Brisons.

The fisherman’s huts at Priest’s Cove seem to be breeding again. There are a couple that have been fixed up, and even one that’s a tiny piece of beachside architecture. I just wish I could somehow take on the crumbling concrete hut right on the front and create a small single room retreat there.

The Brisons. Late evening. Mid-summer 2014.

The Brisons. Late evening. Mid-summer 2014.

Life’s always better with a shaggy dog photo – here’s Polly, adjusting to normal life after her taste of stardom, about to join me in the sea at Nanquidno.

Polly at Nanquidno.

Polly at Nanquidno.

It’s gratifying to read of guests at Tregiffian who become as captivated with the far west as we are. We have just started taking bookings on 2016, and winter is getting more popular too.

I dream of when we’ll be in the wild west through the crazy months of winter.

ARCO2 and Umbazi

Anyone who has scanned the shelves at New Forge will know I love great architecture.

Hawkes Point, Carbis Bay

It’s the simple buildings that most appeal to me. The shacks in the middle of nowhere with harpy a facility beyond shelter and a wood burner, the purity of Pawson, or the concrete joy of Tadao Ando.

I hope that New Forge achieves that simplicity, it was what we were seeking when Charly Griffiths and I worked on its design back in 2009.

This week I had an absolute treat when we visited Hawkes Point to see the ARCO2 building being realised there by Umbazi. Umbazi is an interesting build team working with young local lads on a project fuelled by passion and great design, that has seen more challenges than Kevin McCloud could possibly fit into just one programme of Grand Designs.

The site is about 150 metres from the nearest road drop off point, and down a very steep slope. This means that every single item, from a box of essential tea bags, to huge windows, or a wood burring stove, has had to be carried, by hand, to the steep sloping site.

The house will be a private home to some very fortunate people. It offers views that will be up there among the best in the world. You can only really see it from the beach, and it’s worth a trip to this little known beach just to stare up and dream of what it’s like inside.

Porth Kidney, Hayle

I didn’t feel envy – rather I felt inspired, and now I want to create a project for The Cornish Way that involves the beauty, simplicity and honest practises that the design and build team have achieved here.

Well done everyone – and that includes the client, without their faith this wouldn’t have been possible.