What poet, playwright and author Alan M Kent doesn’t know about Cornwall’s rich literary and cultural heritage just isn’t worth knowing. Lucky for us then that he’s compiled some great walks for you to enjoy where you can discover more about the writers and poets who have been inspired by Cornwall.
Virginia Woolf and the Lighthouse
A key figure within 20th century Feminist literary studies, Virginia Woolf (1882-1941) was born at Hyde Park Gate, London. Until her mother’s death in 1895, she spent all of her holidays in St Ives, staying at Talland House in the town. Although Woolf never openly admitted that the Trinity House lighthouse at Godrevy across the bay from St Ives was the model for the lighthouse in her Hebredian-themed novel, ‘To the Lighthouse’ (1927), most observers agree that the iconic building featured is based on the one in Cornwall. The lighthouse at Godrevy has continued to inspire a number of writers, including W. Gregory Harris, Jill Paton Walsh, Michael Foreman and Alan M. Kent.
Walk: Begin at the National Trust car park at Godrevy [SW586423]. The lighthouse is visible from all parts of the coast here, and there are great picnic spots overlooking the three islands. If you follow the coast around to the east, you will encounter a tumulus, and also quite often you’ll see seals down at Mutton Cove [SW584433]. A walk back down the hill will return you to the car park. In St Ives, it is also possible to see Talland House, Woolf’s holiday home, which is close to Trelyon Avenue, above Porthminster Beach.
Extra info: Godrevy Lighthouse was completed in 1858 and warns shipping off the dangerous Stones Reef. 86 feet (26 m) high, the light can be seen 12 miles out to sea
The North Cornwall Poet
Born and educated in Launceston, where he was a teacher after serving in the Navy, Charles Causley (1917-2003) was an admired poet, children’s writer and dramatist. Causley began his career as a dramatist, much inspired by mystery play culture, but after the Second World War, began to develop a poetic career, much inspired by balladry and folklore. His apparently simple poems carry deep messages about innocence and experience. In his later work, his poetry embraced more modernist forms while he still developed children’s literature and work with Cornwall’s Kneehigh Theatre Company. The landscape of the Cornwall and England border, not to mention the town of Launceston itself, form the metaphorical base of much of his poetry. Causley was awarded the Queen’s Gold Medal for Poetry in 1967.
Walk: Launceston is littered with images and material from Causley’s work. Start your walk at St Mary Magdalene Church [SX334847]. At the east of the church you will find a relief of a reclining Mary on the wall. Folklore says that if a stone or pebble pitched onto her back remains there, then it will bring you luck. Around the church are several memorials and buildings related to Sir Henry Trecarell who rebuilt the church in 1531. Outside of the church, turn right and then right again to find a path called Zig Zag, which features in Causley’s poetry. Come back up into the town from the car park and turn right, heading toward the Eagle House Hotel. The two eagles in front of the hotel are also featured in his poetry. From here enter the grounds of Launceston Castle [SX325987]. The castle gives a good vantage point over Causley’s landscape. To the right you’ll find Willow Gardens also mentioned in one of his poems. Head back to the town centre to see The White Hart Inn with its Norman Porch. Causley’s grave is found around 100 yards from where he was born at St Thomas’ Churchyard. The grave is simply marked ‘Poet’. Causley’s house (No. 2 Cyprus Well) is where the poet lived for most of his life.
Stop off suggestion: Pick up some baguettes stuffed with freshly cooked farm meats from the Bray’s Farm Shop in Launceston’s Church Street and have a picnic in the nearby grounds of the castle
Thomas Hardy Country
Thomas Hardy (1840-1928), poet, novelist and short story writer, was born at Upper Bockhampton in Dorset. In 1868 he worked as an architect in St Juliot near Boscastle, where he met his first wife Emma Gifford, the local rector’s sister-in-law. Much of the landscape around Boscastle forms the inspiration for his 1873 novel, ‘A Pair of Blue Eyes’. The landscape of the Valency Valley from Boscastle to St Juliot can be observed within its pages. Probably, locations such as Rocky Valley also inspired the text.
Walk: Begin at the main Boscastle Car Park [SX101914]. Proceed through the car park up Valency Valley. Follow the river up through the valley. Specific parts of the river’s course are described in A Pair of Blue Eyes. The St Juliot’s church is signposted. In the novel, the church is imagined as West Endelstow. In St Juliot’s are memorials dedicated to Thomas Hardy and Emma Gifford. There is also a Thomas Hardy Memorial Window, the product of an appeal by the Thomas Hardy Society to mark the millennium. There are also a number of early Stone crosses to be found in the churchyard, as well as the old font basin.
Stop off suggestions: Boscastle is full of great places to eat. The National Trust has a café near the harbour that serves up local produce and then treat yourself to a handmade local ice cream produced at Helsett Farm and sold from their shop across the bridge.
The Queen of Cornish Novels.
Daphne du Maurier (1907-1989) was born in London but has come to be much associated with Cornwall. She was a novelist, biographer and short story writer. For over forty years, historical romances and adventure stories such as Jamaica Inn (1936), Rebecca (1938) My Cousin Rachel (1951) and The House on the Strand (1969) have made her one of the most popular authors of the twentieth century. Although associated with Fowey and her house at Menabilly in mid-Cornwall, her 1941 novel, Frenchman’s Creek is imagined around the Helford Estuary. The heroine in the story Lady Dona de Columb finds solace in the creeks of remote Navron but falls in love with a Breton pirate. Du Maurier’s narrative skills and strong visual aesthetic have made sure that many of her novels have been turned into successful films, television series and dramas.
Walk: The best view of du Maurier’s Helford Passage is at the River’s entrance. Park at Mawnan Church [SW787272]. Take the path leading past the western end of the church towards Parson’s Beach. Follow the path around to Toll Point and Porthallack and then back up the valley to the car park. For an alternative walk, head towards Passage Cove [SW765268] and walk the length of the Bar beach to Pedn Billy.
Stop off suggestion: the Ferry Boat Inn at Helford Passage nestles in a riverside setting that’s hard to beat with patio seating overlooking the water in summer, roaring log fires in winter. www.ferryboatinnhelford.com
Extra Info: Du Maurier’s prolific career spawned many stories later turned into films and TV series. One of her lesser known contributions is The Birds , a short story she wrote in 1952 that was adapted by Alfred Hitchcock and became one of the most well-known horror films ever made.