As our last holiday hurrah before returning to New Zealand, we are now on a walking tour in western Cornwall. Today was the first day of walking, travelling along the coastal path from St Ives to the little village of Zennor. Once again, we are lucky enough to find ourselves in a very beautiful part of Britain (the photos are Fiona’s, by the way).
Zennor itself, though small, has some interesting historical associations. It is perhaps best known for the story of a mermaid who is said to have lured away a local lad, having been entranced by his singing in the church choir. This story is presumably the reason why the local church has a chair featuring an image of a mermaid.
Also inside the church is a gravestone featuring this interesting image and poem: ‘Hope, fear, false joy and trouble/ Are those four winds which daily toss this bub[b]le/ His breath’s a vapor and his life’s a span/ Tis glorious misrey to be born a man’.
For some reason, a number of sources describe this as the gravestone of a ‘hen-pecked husband’, but there’s absolutely nothing in the inscription to suggest any such thing. Perhaps people are misinterpreting the line about ‘glorious misrey [misery] to be born a man’, which is clearly meant to be about the short and troubled life of human beings rather than any sort of message about the difficulties of being male.
Out in the church yard is a memorial to one of the claimants to the title of last native speaker of the Cornish language, John Davey, who died in 1895.
Cornish is a Celtic language, related most closely to Welsh and Breton. Although it had essentially ceased to be a living language by the nineteenth century, it was revived in the twentieth century, and has been recognised as a minority language by the European Union and by the UK Government.
This evening we went to the Tinner’s Arms pub for dinner, its name referring to the miners who used to work in Cornwall’s many tin mines in earlier times.
Just over a century earlier, the writer D.H. Lawrence and his wife Frieda are believed to have stayed briefly at the Tinner’s Arms before finding a house in Zennor. Lawrence was hoping to set up a sort of artists’ commune there with the New Zealand writer Katherine Mansfield and her husband (who did join Lawrence and Frieda there for a little while). Lawrence seems not to have had a particularly happy time in Zennor: he was ambivalent about the Cornish people, and they appear not to have taken kindly to him and his German-born wife at a time when Britain was at war with Germany. In fact, the Lawrences were ultimately forced to leave Cornwall after suspicions developed that they were German spies. Lawrence subsequently wrote about his experience of living in Cornwall in a chapter of his semi-autobiographical novel Kangaroo, which is set mainly in Australia.