Walter White.

A Londoner's walk to the land's end and a Trip to the Scilly Isles online

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the island is granite : a solid bulwark against the ocean.
The extent and elevation of the upheavals successively dimi-
nish until, at the Land's End, the cliffs are less than a
hundred feet high. The same reddish, coarse-grained granite
is seen in all. But farther still : the SciOy Isles are granite,
much of it perfectly identical with that of Dartmoor. Thus
we see proof of some tremendous force having been at work,
along a line of more than a hundred miles, to elevate a
system, so to speak, of huge vertebrae, to strengthen the
narrowing land, and enable it to bear the pressure of the sea
on each side. They form a minor mountain range of striking
contrasts : rocky summits, bleak slopes, craggy steeps, and
wild ravines, which, as they decline towards the shore, be-
come fertile and bosky valleys.

And there is variety below, as well as on the surface.

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Cornwall has been called the country of veins : it is full of
them, running in all directions, but principally from east to
west. The numerous interstices formed in the rocky strata
by the uneasy throes of the old earth in past ages have since
become filled with metalliferous deposits, which now consti-
tute the subterranean wealth of the county. Copper, tin,
And lead are dug out every year by thousands of tons, be-
sides a variety of other highly valuable minerals ; and gold and
silver are found in small quantities. The mineral character,
unmatched by that of other English counties, has its counter-
part in France. Here enterprise and speculation majr be seen
burrowing three hundred and fifty fathoms deep in eager
quest of the precious ores ; sending away the solid substance
of the county, stone, marble, and metal by thousands of tons,
pumping millions of gallons of water into the sea, and carry-
ing millions of bushe& of sand fr jm the shore to spread over
the fields. A perpetual interchange. Only in comparatively
recent years has agriculture risen into esteem. " Fish, tin,
and copper" used to be the standing toast ; and but few
cared to cultivate a soil thought unfit for cultivation. Now,
tillage competes with mining, having found in some places a
surface of extraordinary fertility. Draw a line from Calling-
ton to Falmouth, and you cut off the best comer of the
county. And with these remarkable phenomena, as we
shall by-and-by see, is associated as remarkable a climate.

Eighteenpence was the charge made for my two meals and
bed, when, at ten o'clock, the rain having slackened, I went
on my way again. But for the mist I should have had a
view over the broad moorland district to the north-west,
where the Caraton mines and the Cheesewring appear on
the horizon. The weather was, however, brightening. The
muddy lane was not improved by the rain ; but I could see
better to avoid the softest places, and was soon down on the
beach at Seaton — a small bay containing two or three mise-
rable cottages, and a bridge, where carts come from the
neighbouring farms for sand and seaweed. The lane ascends
the opposite hill between high hedges, and only at the breaks
<jan you step aside to look back to Rame Head, or forwards
to Looe Island ; and altogether the way was such as made
me felicitate myself on having fallen back on Nackers the
night before. Another descent, and another rise up the very

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face of tbe cliff, and so lane and cliff alternately, until turn-
ing the corner of a high, rocky hill, where a fence guards the
path, a deep valley is seen beneath, with the queer-looking
town of Looe squeezed into its mouth — a place of foreign
aspect : and you will say the same of other Cornish towns
before you leave the county. Here the houses are grouped
irregularly together — a mass of whitewashed walls, outside
stairs, gray gables, green roofs, and dilapidated chimneys ;
scattered at the outskirts, and straggling away up the valley.
That patchy line slanting up between the trees of the oppo-
site hill is tbe main street of West Looe. Going down you
will see myrtles, fuschias, and geraniums, which stand out
the whole year, in the little bits of gardens, warmed by the
southern sun. The street is as narrow, tortuous, and ill-
paved as the view from above may have led you to expect,
bordered by old-fashioned little shops, offering very miscel-
laneous wares, among which stand the two inns. Presently
emerging you come to the open road by the side of the river,,
up which it is worth while to walk for a mile or two. There
is the inlet, singularly beautiful, leading to Trelawny Mill ;
and along its bauks a few hours may be delightfully spent in
exploring some of the finest scenery of the county. The
name recalls one of the ancient families ; and a memorable
passage in the national history. Continuing upwards you
come to the lock, where the river seems an embowered lake,,
the verdure in cheerful contrast to the naked downs, and' the
sullen-looking cliffs. Three miles farther will bring you to
that famous spring, St. Keyne's Well, overshadowed by it&
five trees, at which you may quaff the miraculous water that
imparts to bride or bridegroom the right to rule, according
as one or the other first drinks of it after wedding.

Back to the bridge — a thirteen-arched structure, four
hundred and fifty years old, barely wide enough for a cart,
which does not convincingly testify in favour of wisdom of
ancestors, whatever may be said of the pillory and cucking-
stool, that once formed part of the town's legal machinery.
A new bridge is now building, a few yards higher up the
stream, of which the first stone was laid a fortnight before
my visit. Then up the steep street of West Looe, which
suffers by comparison with its eastern namesake. It is
tenanted chiefly by fisher-folk, and you may form some opi-

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nion of their diet by the medley of articles in the little shop-
windows: tawny bacon; long, thin candles; cheese and
matches, soap, butter, brimstone, and other sundries; be-
sides a tempting display of rich-looking yellow cakes. They
exhibit the Cornish practice, being richly coloured and fla-
voured with saffron. I bought a large piece, being curious to
test the quality. Nets, jackets, and heavy hose were hung out
to dry ; and on every doorstep sat women and girls knitting
dark blue stockings and Guernsey frocks. Tou will have
ample time to observe all these and other matters, for the
road is too steep for any but a creeping pace ; and you will
enjoy a draught from the gushing stream at the top.

Then away to the left again, and across a rural bit of
country till a descent through a grove of trees brings you to
a charming prospect — the church and village of Talland.
The churchyard has sunk pathways, as at Antony, with steps
leading to the higher ground ; and sitting on the topmost of
these I ate my piece of cake, and surveyed the scene around.
The hills here come rounding down in a half-circle, which
forms Talland Bay, leaving a breadth of gently undulating
fields, with here and there a cottage, a farm-house, and the
village among the trees and clumps that adorn the slopes.
On one side, "Old Ocean's everlasting voice" kept up a
playful murmur; on the other, the shouts and laughter of
haymakers, cries to the horses, and smacking of whips came
softened to the ear —

*^ Sounds of far people, mingling with the fall
Of waters, and the busy hum of bees,
And larks in air, and throstles in the trees

Thrill the moist air with murmurs musical:

While cottage smoke goes drifting on the breeze,

And sunny clouds are floating over alL"

The tower stands detached from the church ; and, as else-
where. Time screens the walls with ivy to conceal the slow
progress of decay. Talk to the rustics about here, and get
them to show you the contents of their pockets. You will
find, in some instances, a Httle stick of the mountain-ash,
which they carry with them to ward off witchcraft. One
need not go to Africa for fetishism.

The rocks on the beach contain some fine specimens of the

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green and red crystalline veins ; and in the western clifiOs an
experienced eye may detect the remains of fossil fish. A
broad, well-kept path girdles the hill in the rear of these
cliffs, forming a walk which, excepting the sea-view, re-
minded me of that along Salisbury Crags at Edinburgh.
Here I fell in with a sturdy little fellow about seven years
old, trudging along with a dozen pounds of sand in a bag on
his head, for which he was to get a halfpenny at Polperro—
the distance more than a miLe. No sand suitable for floon
is to be found nearer ; and he comes twice a day to fill his
bag, on terms that might conciliate the thriftiest housewife.
I gave him a penny, which, though it m^de him wild with
deUght, did not produce a relinquishment of his burden.
He only trotted on a little faster, telling me it was feir-time.

A glorious bit of walk is this path, creeping gradually up
the flank of the hill, round its seaward front, then gradually
down again. All praise to those who constructed and still
maintain it ! Once round the bend and you see Polperro, a
viDage built in a deep rocky inlet, which narrows into a pic-
turesque ravine. K you were surprised by Looe, this will
surprise you still more. Such a strange assemblage of houses,
crowded into the narrow space ; such queer little landing-
places; such narrow streets, with stray crags peeping up
here and there among the gables ; the inner port ; the stream
splashing through ; the fretted hollows and caves in the cliffs,
all come into a picture which, were it on the other side of the
Channel, would attract a host of visitors. I sat down on the
grass above the coast-guard station to view it in detail, for it
was too rare to be left in a hurry. Polperro is " a little
fischar towne with a peere," says Leland ; and the descrip-
tion is just as true now as when he wrote it.

Here lives Mr. Couch, a naturalist, of whom Cornwall may
be proud. It was he who discovered in the cliffs of slate,
trap, and limestone, a few miles to the east and west, those
fossil remains which illustrate the Silurian era of Sir Koderick
Murchisou. Corals, bones, fishes, and fragments of rough
skin are singularly abundant, and are met with in places at
the very top of the hills. The cliff under the signal-station
is described as " literally blackened with them." But if a
practised eye be essential for their discovery, still more is it
to distinguish their character and species.

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Before descending, observe the large claret-coloured and
blue patches in the slate, and take a look towards Fowey, for
thither lies your route. All around here you see the hills
similarly steep and abrupt, from four hundred to five hundred
feet high, with deep, narrow coombs between, some prettily
wooded and watered by little brooks. They terminate in the
sea in lofty cliffs. Then a few minutes will take you down
into the village, and back into the mediaeval ages: rude
architecture, streets narrow as alleys, quays not so wide as
the pavement in the Strand, strange names, and people of a
distiiict national feature. Frequently did I fancy myself out
of England while in Cornwall ; and any one able to use his
eyes may well be pardoned for the illusion. The little town
was trying to be merry with its annual fair ; but, as it seemed
to me, with no more success than those ancestors of ours who,
as Froissart describes, " enjoyed themselves sadly."

To the meteorologist there is something especially interest-
ing about Polperro, as the systematic researches made of late
on . the climate of Europe show it to be the place where, in
England, plants first awaken from their winter torpor. In
the early months of the year it is some weeks in aavance of
the north of Italy, and agrees with Naples, varying only with
the temper of the Cornish winter. This forwar^ess holds
till the end of March. In April the conditions are equal ;
and in the subsequent months the advantage is on the other
side, the Cornish summer being comparatively cool, till the
mild winter comes and restores the balance.

Ton will be tempted to pause again on the brow of the
opposite diff for a reverse view of the picture. Going on
again you soon find the coast to be wilder and ruggeder than
in Devonshire ; no path at all in many places, and the ground
so rough and tangled that progress becomes a toilsome
struggle. I gave it up at the first opening, about two miles
from Polperro, and steered across the fields for the nearest
lane. An old fisherman, going in the same direction, wished
to know if I had " lost myself;" and, without further preli-
minary, plunged into an account of an adventure that once
befel him and two others, and introduced them to a French
prison for a couple of years, with a taste of the " noir cachot"
whenever they were unruly. That black-hole seemed to have
left a most uncomfortable impression on his mind. " But for

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all that," he said, " I learned to parly-voo a bit," and off h&
went into a glib string of phrases, made up of local Cornish:
terms and imperfect recollections of his French education.
He begged for twopence when we got to the hill-top ; and,
pointing to a farm-house, said, " I don't know what you're
got to sell, but there's a young widow lives yonder, and
she'll be sure to buy something 5 you call." My disclaimer
of pedlery availed nothing : he knew better.

The lanes again; and not without views over land and
water. A boy, driving a cart, overtook me ; he was going
my way for a couple of miles, and offered a seat. I accepted,
and found him to be another specimen of the primitive cha-
racter of the neighbourhood. He lived at Polperro, was
fourteen years old, and had never been to any other town
than Looe, though he had seen Fowey from a distance. His-
first visit to Looe was an incident to be remembered, and he
still thought it a wonderful place. He hoped some day to
go to Plymouth; and then — perhaps he would "go for a
sailor." He had been to school, could read and write, and
" do sums ;" and among all the boys he knew, there were but
few who could not do the same. He was an intelligent boy
of his class. Some others, whom I fell in with afterwards^
fully confirmed the School Inspector's Eeports as to the
dense ignorance on some subjects prevailing in certain parta
of Cornwall.

From the high ground where I alighted I saw the church
of Lansalloes, and Lanteglos, and Fowey, on the farther shore
of the estuary, backed by what seems a bold, dark ridge.
Presently an old carved stone cross appeared, mounted on a
pedestal, over a fountain — something Swiss-like ; and there
begins the descent to Polruan, which has, what seems in-
evitable in these coast towns, a street too steep to be as-
cended or descended without inconvenience. I could not
help noticing the shop-fronts and shutters, painted a very
flond mahogany, by an artist apparently of one idea, for they
were all of the same pattern.

The estuary here is of considerable width, and while wait-
ing for the ferry-boat you will have time to observe sur-
rounding objects, from the variegated cliffs of Polruan to
Black Head, at the extremity of St. Austell Bay, and the
Dodman, still farther to the west. The haven itself, said to

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FOWEY. 123

be one of the best in the kingdom, is a noNie expanse of
water, navigable at all times of the tide ; yet, judging from
appearances, the trade is nothing like commensurate with
the natural advantages. It looks inviting upwards where
the water disappears between the hills ; and a pleasant boat
excursion may be made to Lostwithiel, eight miles distant.
There is the tall obelisk on Greben Point ; there St. Cathe-
rine's Fort ; there the ruined chapel ; there the remains of
the two castles that once guarded the entrance, for Fowey
has been a place of note in its day. The town itself is plea-
santly situated, looking across to Hall "Walk, an elevated
promenade among the trees, and the green hills beyond.

The bluff old boatman obeys the Dutch maxim — keep on,
however slowly, and conveys you across in time. The town
loses somewhat on a closer view : the streets are narrow and
crooked ; the quay, with the vessels moored alongside, seems
lifeless; but there are a quaint old market-house, a fine
church-tower, and a churchyard, bordered by rows of trees.
And higher up is Place House, which has a history of its own
dating from the times when Warwick the King-maker was
making a noise in the world. Some of the apartments are
paved and decorated with the choicest of Cornish stone.
Eamous, too, has it become through its restorer, the late
Joseph Treffry — a giant of modem days, mightier far than
those huge Cornish giants we read about in old story-books.
With wealth at command, and endowed with energy and
enterprise, he undertook and accomplished great works,,
which remain to show how natural difficulties may be over-
come, resources developed, and society benefited. Harbours,
canals, viaducts, and breakwaters, all at a man's own cost,
are no unworthy monument.

One reads with surprise that Fowey gave forty-seven ships
and seven hundred and seventy mariners to Edward's Calais
fleet : more than any other port, except Yarmouth. Prom
that time down to Henry V., so writes the old chronicler,
the town was in its glory ; " partely by feates of warre,
partely by pyracie; and so waxing riche feUe all to mar-
chaundize ; so that the towne was hauntid with shippes of
diverse nations, and their shippes went to al nations." Liver-
pool was then a mere fishing village : — and now ! Success
made the Powey mariners proud, and when sailing past Rye

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124 A Londoner's walk to the land's end.

and Wincbelsea they " would vale no bonet being requirid,"
whereupon the men of the Cinque Ports came out to do
battle for their privileges ; but Fowey beat them back^ and
thereafter bore the arms of the two towns with its own.
Erom this incident arose the term " gallaunts of Fowey."
The townsmen Had, however, occasion to fight against others
than their own countrymen, for the French not unfrequently
paid them a predatory visit. Place House was first built by
the husband of a spirited dame, who animating her servants
in his absence, successfully repelled an attack of the piratical

A stiff ascent awaits you on leaving Fowey, between walls
of solid rock, that serve as a basement to some of the houses,
grim in their style of architecture. " Come up !" is the
never-failing admonition to horses in Cornwall on road or in
field; but on this steep hill I heard it more than ever.
Arrived at the top there is a view of Par, one of Mr. Trefl&y's
harbours, at the head of St. Blazey Bay ; a busy trading
place, kept alive by mines, china-clay works, quarries of
white granite, and pilchard fishery. Another half hour
and you are walking on the level of green turf and sand,
that stretches in front of the houses ; and behind are the
mines — Par Consols, well known to those who study the
mining lists in newspapers. Then you come to paths across
flats of dirty water, where the noise of the ore-crushing ma-
chinery — ^thump, thump, thump— is heard for miles, and you
see iron rods stretching away furlongs in length, some hori-
zontal, others at an angle. What can they be for ? Suddenly
some miseen power gives one of them a pull a yard or two to
the right or left, with a jerking clank, followed by a watery
gush. It is a pump-rod, making perhaps six strokes a minute,
impelled by the engine which is too far off to be visible, and
keeping the workings beneath your feet free from water.
The hiU beyond presents a curious medley of machinery and
itrees : a spectacle for one imaccustomed to the mining dis-
tricts. Then you come out on a broad and well-kept tum-
pike-road, not far from the viaduct of the Cornwall Eailway^
and Boon after arrive at St. Austell.

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8t. Austell — The China-clay Works — Clay Digging and Washing — The
Drying — The First English Porcelain — Carclaze Mine — The Sparkling
Cliffs —- Glimpse of Hensbarrow — The Giant's Walking Staff— The
Highway — A Foreign Aspect — Grampound — Probus — " Wrostlin* Day'^
— ^The Wrestling Match—The Fall— TresUian Bridge— Truro— Market
Day — Studies of Character — Cornish Loyalty — "And shall Trelawny
die?" — ^Mary Kelynack — ^The Lander Column — Carnon Creek — The
Stream Works — The Great Adit — ^Arsenic — Perran YHiarf — Penryn.

St. Austell was the first Cornish town in which I saw
noticeable indications of life and business ; accounted for by
its being the capital of a busy district, and not far from the
three important ports where mineral produce is shipped in
large quantities. Eemarkable is the number of carts rum-
bling along the streets laden with what appear to be cubes
of chalk, each as big as a peck loaf; and should your cu-
riosity be excited to know what they are and where they come
from, a brief and interesting excursion will enable you to
grattfy it, as we shall presently see.

Inquire for anything remarkable in the town, you will
hardly fail to be told of the Mengu Stone, a slab in the
market-place, regarded with some veneration by its pos-
sessors, probably because no one knows anything about it,
except that it is the spot from which proclamations and
public announcements are delivered. The church has a fine
tower, and a few peculiarities worth examination. Leaving
the edifice' on your left, take the street leading north-east
to the village of Tregonissey ; and, after a pleasant up-hill
walk of about two miles between trees and hedges and across
a wild down, you see upon the shaggy slope large white
patches, rising one above another, pumps working, wheels
revolving, white torrents flowing, and gangs of men, women,
and boys variously employed. Striding through the dens©

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126 A Londoner's walk to the land's end.

beds of heath, still ascending, you come at last to a novel
scene of industry. The white patches are china-clay in its
several conditions, and here is one of the china-clay works
which, extending far into the dreary district north of St.
Austell, animate it with an activity nourished from its own

To comprehend what is going on, one needs to know
something of the object of this industry. The inhospitable
landscape, looking across to St. Columb, lies about the
centre of the second granite district of Cornwall ; and this
rock, after long exposure to Hhe weather, undergoes a change
which converts it into a material indispensable to the im-
portant manufactures carried on in the Potteries. Granite
contains felspar ; and felspar, as a German chemist remarks,
is " a mineral at all times disposed to play the part of a false
friend, and to forsake its companions in distress.'* The
consequence is a process of decomposition, most observable
on the southern slope of the county, from its exposure to the
most prevalent rains and winds ; and in time, in place of
granite, there is found a deposit of gray or bluish white
powder, intermingled with grains and scales of mica and
quartz. In this state it forms large beds, generally con-
cave, on the hill-sides, marked by a vigorous and luxuriant
vegetation, and the springs that not unfrequently bubble
from near their margin. In some places these * stopes,' as
they are called, are within two or three feet of the surfiice ;
in others they lie at a depth of from forty to eighty feet.
Here we see a process of natural chemistry preparing the
granite, without which there would be no china-clay.

The artificial process of conversion into clay is very simple.
In one place I saw a party paring off the heather, and dig-
ging away the ' overburden' to my bare the valuable mate^
rial beneath. The refuse is wheeled away to a short distance,
and spread over the rough surface to prepare a level drying-
ground, the sand uppermost. The sand is also distributed
to the existing drying-grounds by trucks running on tram-
ways, impelled by water-power. The refuse having been
removed from a large patch, a stream of water, led from the
higher part of the slope, is made to fall on the exposed sur-
face, which, trampled by the heavy boots of the diggers,
speedily becomes a bed of slime. Hither and thither stride

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Online LibraryWalter WhiteA Londoner's walk to the land's end and a Trip to the Scilly Isles → online text (page 13 of 26)