I can't remember when we last had a hard frost never mind snow so I was determined to get up and out during the recent cold snap. Three days on the trot I set the alarm clock for 05.30, got up and decided that I couldn't be bothered scraping the ice from the car. Finally on December 1st I realised that it would probably rain soon so I made the effort and went up to the moor.
A little brown fox strolled across the road, I've seen one often around here at dusk and I am reminded what a privilege it is to see these creatures. I know that foxes are predators but compared to the wolves and bears that were once numerous here they're a minor irritation.
Perched on the Longstone I see the silhouette of a large bird and as it takes flight I realise that it's a snowy owl, again I've seen one here at dusk, none of which makes me an expert .
I arrive just as the sky is lightening in the east but overhead it's still a deep indigo, the stars glittering and the Milky Way like a frosty highway bisecting the heavens. I haven't mastered the night shoots yet, to be honest I don't even try anymore because I know I'll be disappointed by my efforts and I'd rather just enjoy the moment.
I follow my usual route past the Houseman engine house where the crows are just stirring and up through the heart of the mining area. Along the way there is the remnants of the dressing floor where whole families toiled in the 19th century sorting the products of the mine; further along the disused mine shafts have been fenced and roofed. Ancient smelting pits are populated by hawthorns, they are bare of leaves now but their branches wear a winter coat of green velvet moss.
To the right the moor drops away suddenly and below is a panoramic view of diamond shaped fields now rimed with frost and edged by ancient walls and blackthorns. Some of these walls are believed to have remained unchanged since the first fields were laid out more than three thousand years ago. Further up the moor on Sharp Tor you can see the same diamond shapes, the walls now buried beneath the green turf of the lower slopes.
The moor levels out and scattered across it are granite boulders, some showing signs of having been cut while others have simply been weathered into fantastical shapes. One rock I call The Old Man of the Moor because in profile it seems to resemble a primitive face, not unlike a great ape. I have fallen into the habit of looking at things as they might have appeared to the first people who settled here because for them even the stones carried within them the possibility of divinity and were venerated.
Ahead only the summit of Stowes Hill and the Cheesewring are visible and beneath them the ridged back of the barrow crouches like a sleeping animal. I approach it from behind and looking down the rectangular void gapes black amid the frozen turf. I look towards the summit of Caradon Hill and see a thin gold line where the sun will shortly rise.
I carry on climbing until I reach the ruins of a medieval farmhouse. A shadow appears before me and I turn just in time to see the sun rising behind Caradon Hill. The frost glitters and I watch as the light spreads out across the moor, turning the grey granite of the quarry and the Cheesewring to gold.
When I turn around the sun is just over the horizon on Caradon Hill and columns of mist are rising wraith-like above the frozen moor. The light flows like a river of golden lava illuminating the rocks and ruins in it's path.
I walk downhill towards The Hurlers and as I arrive it sounds like every cow in Cornwall is stampeding towards me. They're not coming from any one direction but all over and their mooing sounds quite menacing. The ground shakes and I have an idea of what it feels like to be a humble infantry-man when the cavalry are charging. Since I've never been a fast runner there's little point running and soon I'm standing like General Custard in the middle of a stone circle surrounded by some very large cows. At this point events take a comic turn and the cows jostle with each other for possession of a stone, then they start gyrating like Balou the Bear in The Jungle Book and scratching themselves on the stones.
Back in November when the Supermoon was due I headed up to the moor, do we ever go anywhere else? I hear you ask. Yes, we do but I'm still enchanted by the fact that I can view these astronomical events in a place where people have been observing them since before the standing stones were placed there. It was a dull-ish evening, a little misty until we reached the top of the moor and there it was, a not quite full moon that looked as if it had been cut out and stuck on the sky with glue. We headed over to Crows Nest for the best view and I wasn't disappointed. Two days later when it was due to be at it's fullest the clouds descended and there wasn't even a glimpse of the moon.
I don't know whether I'm a pagan at heart but I find myself drawn to the stones and the quoit at the solstices. It's not that I expect anything supernatural to happen but I suppose I hope to get a glimpse of what it was that made them choose these places above all others to mark the important rites of life and death.
Yesterday I got a touch of cabin fever because we've all had flu so been confined to barracks. That having been said there's a lot to be said for wandering down the crowded aisles in the supermarket snorting and sneezing as you go. Especially when whole families seem to conduct their social life in the bakery aisle. I'm talking four generations congregating with their friends and relations. Great granny's sitting in the giant electric trolley thing poking the floury baps, shouting over her shoulder at Granny, 'I said, these aren't fresh, go and tell them to put a yellow sticker on them, they're not fresh, they should be in the reduced basket!'
Granny does her best put-upon sigh, 'The doctors gave her three months twenty years ago, we'll have to shoot her! Put them back Mum, I've already got some, look,' she points to the trolley which contains six packs of floury baps, two large bottles of Bells and a giant pack of toilet rolls.
Gathered around the trolley is also Great Grandad leaning on a wheeled zimmer frame and at either end of the aisle are the four year old and the five year old trying to slide through the tunnel of wheels.
It occured to me that the supermarkets could equip their trolleys with a pre-recorded message along the lines of,
'Your time has expired, please vacate the aisle before you are vapourized or lethally contaminated with streptococcii.' it might get them moving. It's worse at this time of the year because even the light bulbs have to be debated before a deal can be closed.
Anyway due to the cabin fever I decided to go, yes, you guessed it, up to The Hurlers even though it was nearly dark. By the time I got there the mist had descended but the sky was a deep fuschia and the place looked magical.
I've really enjoyed writing this update, hope you've enjoyed reading it,
I first came to England in 1973 on a school trip to Stratford-upon-Avon. It was a huge adventure and the thing I remember most vividly was passing through Ellesmere Port at night. The illuminations from mile after mile of refineries made the place look like the set of Space 1999, which was then a date that only existed in science fiction!
My next trip to England was made in 1977 when I arrived at Fazakerley Hospital to do my nurse training. The docks were in decline although the ferry still went from Brocklebank dock to Dublin, a twelve hour crossing on The Irish Rover which was only tolerable if you were in an advanced state of inebriation.
By the mid-'80's the ferry had ceased to run and the docks were virtually derelict; the nearest sea crossing was from Holyhead, which is surely the most desolate sea port in the world.
In 1995 I returned to Liverpool John Moores University to study biology and though as a mature student I didn't do the student scene it was obvious that the city was being regenerated.
Today Liverpool's waterfront is one of the most iconic in the world and I don't think you could better our apartment which was located above The Malmaison Hotel in Merchants Quarters. I'd booked online and didn't have great expectations so it was a pleasant surprise to find that the accommodation was exceptionally well equipped and the views were outstanding.
The sun was just going down over the river, as if to remind me that Cornwall doesn't have a monopoly on spectacular sunsets.
I've always loved urban and industrial landscapes so I was enthralled by the views from our apartment overlooking the Liverpool and Birkenhead docks.
All the old songs kept running through my head, Liverpool Lou, Ferry Across The Mersey and The Leaving of Liverpool as I watched the boats crossing the river. I would definitely recommend Liverpool for a city break and you won't find better accommodation than Merchants Quarters at L3 Living! I've added a link below to their website.
The following day we walked along the waterfront where people seem to have come up with a new kind of memorial, miles of padlocks attached to the rope walks each bearing a dedication and all of which had to be read by the boy before we could move on. The fab four statue was very popular though it was agreed that George Harrison didn't look himself at all. Next we did the Liverpool Eye which gives a fantastic view of the Liverpool skyline.
I've put together a short slideshow of my favourite views below and a link to L3 Living.
One of the great things about Liverpool is the Scouse sense of humour; my current favourite is Stevie Riks who does superb impersonations of pretty much everybody in the music business. I don't understand why he's not on the telly but thankfully he's got a vast archive of material on YouTube. Here he is doing Keith Richards falling out of a tree!