A painting of The Church at Zennor
When on painting trips, I occasionally get the idea that I want to go on long walks. It’s all pretty clear in my head. Me pounding energetically over clifftops taking deep drafts of the blasting gales of the North Atlantic. Then after a bag of miles, piling into an old country pub for a well-deserved jug of ale.
So one morning, I decided to go for a walk. I pulled out the map and picked through the coastal villages that pepper the coast heading west from St Ives. I soon found the village of Zennor, which had a small coastal footbath leading to the cliff tops, then followed the coast for a few miles. It had plenty of views and would be ideal. Off to Zennor then.
Zennor is tucked away in a small dell off of the main road, just a few ancient buildings with the church tower popping up just above the hillocks and trees. Like ‘hares ears’ as Betjeman once put it.
I pulled on my boots, and dropped into the church (St Senara’s) before the walk. A lovely tough structure, all battered by centuries of merciless storms. Inside is a 15th Century carved bench end which shows a mermaid. She is holding up a mirror and comb. It has the distinct look of Grayson Perry about it.
On leaving the church, I crossed the road for the footpath. This was just behind the Tinners Arms Pub which was originally built in 1271 as accommodation for the churches builders. A lovely old pub.
During the First World War, the writer DH Lawrence and his wife stayed in the pub for a few weeks. He quickly made himself unpopular. He hated the war and was very vocal about it. Many of the villagers had sons fighting and dying at the front so that didn’t go down well.
They also decided his wife was a spy and was said to be signalling U-Boats from the cliff tops with her washing. Paranoia yes, though his wife was German and the cousin of The Red Baron so you couldn’t totally blame them. Lawrence left and never forgave the Cornish.
Passing behind the pub, I stomped down the thread of a path to the cliff top, it weaved about for a few hundred yards, until I was in site of the foaming crashing waves of the mighty emerald and cobalt blue seas.
The path then dog legged to the left and dropped down between the cliffs where a fast running stream had cut its path to the open sea. I passed over the stream’s bridge, and looked up the other side, my eye following the path as it climbed away through the heather. ‘Looks a bit steep’ I murmured to myself. So I sat on a rock. I looked up in front, then back to where I came.
Then I had to admit to myself that I simply could not be bothered to walk across some draftee cliffs for entertainment’s sake. So I went back, nudging past some old age pensioners as I went.
On the way back, I sat down and drew the scene of St Senara’s Church from behind the trees, then went into the pub for a well undeserved jug of ale.
A painting St Michael’s Mount
I drove a few miles down the coast to take advantage of the sunny day to paint St Michael’s Mount at Marazion. This being a small promontory of rock with a big history with many powerful people.
I set up my small box easel at low tide, squeezed out my oil paints, and flicked through the guide book on the Mount.
Records begin proper in the 8th Century when it was the site of a monastery and then in the 11th centuries when Edward the Confessor gave it to the Norman Abbey of Mont Saint-Michel. These links remained until 1224 when Henry V broke links with its French counterpart.
From there, it was swapped from this Lord to that King during this war over many centuries, and St Michael’s Mount even managed to survive an earthquake and a tsunami.
Even in recent times, it still has the lure of the odd power mad nut case, it was last coveted by one of Hitler’s henchmen, Joachim von Ribbentrop. He was a regular visitor to Cornwall and planned to make the Mount his home once the conquest of Britain was successful in 1940. He did not succeed much to the relief of all and it was finally taken over in the 1950’s by the more benign dictatorship of The National Trust.
When I stood on the quiet beach painting this scene, I mused on why would this out of the way place be such a prize. Because it is as robust as it is beautiful? Easily defended? It is noticeable from miles around so you can announce ‘That is mine!’? Probably a mix of all these things and a lot more on top.
You can certainly feel the history when you take time to look at it. I was not, however, there to possess, only to paint.
The sea was very calm that day and I managed to pick up the reflections in the slick sand. Odd to think that what I was looking at probably hadn’t changed for nearly half a millennia.
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