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Archive for August, 2013

The small seaside village of Iluka is a very quiet, relaxing place on the north side of the mouth of the Clarence River in Northern NSW.  It’s a place far away from the hurly burly of the daily life of cities and towns.  As a holiday destination, Iluka’s neighbour across the river, Yamba, is a much bigger and livelier place.  But I wanted a quiet place to recharge my batteries, to slow down and enjoy the gentle things in life.  I found that place in Iluka.  So why not come with me for a quiet stroll along the riverside.

P1240838  ©  JT  of jtdytravels

P1240838 © JT of jtdytravels

This walk will take us along the edge of Iluka Bay, a man made safe harbour and refuge on the edge of the river.  This was the first view from the path I followed down to the river.

P1240843  ©  JT  of jtdytravels

P1240843 © JT of jtdytravels

There to greet me were two of those well known and much loved birds of the waterways, the Australian Pelican, Pelecanus conspicuillatus,  a very conspicuous bird.  We are so used to seeing pelicans in Australia that we often pass them by without stopping for a good look.   Common though this bird may be, there are some things we might not all know about this bird.  Here are some points of interest that you can use in a Trivia quiz!

1. There are seven species of pelicans in the world, all of them black and white except for the brown Pelecanus occidentals. That’s a pelican we have seen in the Galapagos Islands.

2.  Pelicans have a wingspan of 2.3 m – 2.5 m.  They need those big wings to help lift themselves off the water.

3. And even when they do get airborne, Pelicans can’t sustain flapping flight.  But they are excellent soarers, using the thermals to remain in the air for 24 hours at a time, covering hundreds of kilometres in search of food and water in dry seasons.

4. A Pelican’s skeleton weighs only 10% of its total body weight.

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P1240969  ©  JT  of jtdytravels

P1240969 © JT of jtdytravels

That famous bill is about half a metre long.  Perhaps some of you will be familiar with Edward Lear’s rhyme about the Pelican’s long bill and massive throat pouch:

“A wonderful bird is the pelican; His beak can hold more than his belly can; He can hold in his beak enough food for a week; But I’ll be darned if know how the hellican! “

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P1240820 ©

P1240820 © JT of jtdytravels

Of course pelicans are much heavier with a belly full of fish and, after eating, they just cruise around or rest on a safe rocky ledge like a break water.  I expect this pair are ‘locals’ and don’t go far from ‘home’ at Iluka Bay where there’s plenty for them to eat.

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P1240813  ©  JT  of jtdytravels

P1240813 © JT of jtdytravels

They no doubt wait for the next fisherman to come back through the breakwater with hopefully a load of fish – and fish heads that are not wanted!  And at the end of this bay is the harbour for the professional fishermen.  It’s a very good place for a pelican to live.

P1240815  @  JT  of jtdytravels

P1240815 @ JT of jtdytravels

Further along the beach, an Australian White Ibis was searching for food. This bird comes with a real tongue twister of a name; Threskiornis moluccus.  Using their long curved bills, they dig up food from the mud.  They eat invertebrates.  Best of all they seem to really enjoy mussels which they open by whacking the hard shells on a rock.

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P1240824  ©  JT  of  jtdytravels.com

P1240824 © JT of jtdytravels.com

I had hoped there was a path along the breakwater but it’s just a jumble of very large rocks protecting the bay from the river currents and strong tides.  This breakwater is essential to Iluka because the Clarence River is also known for very large floods.

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P1240814  ©  JT  of jtdytravels

P1240814 © JT of jtdytravels

In a park beside the bay, is a rather smart looking shed for the rowing club and other aquatic sports.  The mural is very much in keeping with the scenery.

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P1240822  ©  JT  of  jtdytravels

P1240822 © JT of jtdytravels

A Masked Lapwing, Vanellus miles novaehollandiae, kept an eye on me as it searched for insects.  Since it lives, nests and feeds on the ground, it is always wary.

This fairly common Australian bird is also known as a Masked Plover, a Spur-winged Plover or just Plover.  The distinctive black neck stripe on this bird distinguishes it as an eastern state variety.  The northern variety has an all white neck and larger wattles.

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P1240826  ©  JT  of jtdytravels

P1240826 © JT of jtdytravels

A new addition to the foreshore here is a very good and solidly built workout station.  I tried it out with a lady who had ridden her bike down to do her morning exercises.  It was a very pleasant way to do exercise while looking out at the bay, the boats and the birds.

P1240853  ©  JT  of jtdytravels

P1240853 © JT of jtdytravels

Walking back towards the other end of the bay and the professional fishing harbour, I enjoyed some shade in the heat of the day.  The path is in excellent condition and used by walkers and bike riders.  There’s one thing that is very certain about this village; people are encouraged to get out and about and enjoy the delightful environment. And they do.

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P1240829  ©  JT  of jtdytravels

P1240829 © JT of jtdytravels

Even this pretty pigeon was out for a walk and followed along with me for quite a while.

P1240840  ©  JT  of  jtdytravels

P1240840 © JT of jtdytravels

Among the usual seaside flowers was this unusual one that I had never seen before.

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P1240832  ©  JT  of  jtdytravels

P1240832 © JT of jtdytravels

But this magnificent flower of the coral tree, one of the Erythrina family of plants, is well known to me.  It reminds me of our wonderful, kind neighbour, “Gran”, who lived next door to us when I was a child.  Between our house and hers was a row of coral trees and  seeing these splendid red flowers always brings me a special sense of joy as I remember her with love.  Our own Grans lived far away.  She was our special Gran.

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P1240861  ©  JT  of  jtdytravels

P1240861 © JT of jtdytravels

A white heron flew down to try its luck in the waters beside me.

I love to watch them stalking their prey.

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P1240862  ©  JT  of  jydytravels

P1240862 © JT of jydytravels

As usual in most Australian water ways, a couple of ducks came by to see if I had some food for them.  No such luck.  There’s plenty of natural food for the birds here. These ducks are Pacific Black Ducks, Anas superciliosa, a very common duck.  It frequents all types of waterways and feeds mostly on seeds, especially of aquatic plants. However, they also like to eat small crustaceans, molluscs and aquatic insects.

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P1240856  ©  JT  of  jtdytravels

P1240856 © JT of jtdytravels

On just about every coastal walk in Northern NSW you will come across the glowing pink flower of the Mesembryanthemum, a native of South Africa.  And since this flower’s name means ‘midday flowering’, you’ll see them at their very best in the heat of the day.

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P1240865  ©  JT  of jtdytravels

P1240865 © JT of jtdytravels

There are several paths back up from the river to the village.  This one was a little steep. A tree on the side of the path seemed to grow out rather than up, its trunk an art gallery of lichen.

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P1240950  ©  JT  of jtdytravels

P1240950 © JT of jtdytravels

Grevillea is one of my favourite native Australian flowers and this one was a real winner. These were growing in someone’s front yard.

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P1240951  ©  JT  of  jtdytravels

P1240951 © JT of jtdytravels

Beside it, this beautiful creamy Grevillea was just beginning to uncurl.

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P1240871  ©  JT  of  jtdytravels

P1240871 © JT of jtdytravels

A standard garden plant in any northern NSW coastal garden is the bougainvillaea.

They provide wonderful splashes of colour – mainly reds and pinks.

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P1240874  ©  JT  of jtdytravels

P1240874 © JT of jtdytravels

After a delightful morning walking by the water, I returned ‘home’ to the Iluka Motel for lunch, a rest and a quiet read on my private back patio.  This is a great country motel and I can’t thank Margaret and Les enough for the warmth of their hospitality.  I’ll be back!

Jennie

Photography ©  JT  of  jtdytravels

PS.  A good place to look for information on the water birds I had seen on this walk is

 http://www.birdsinbackyards.net

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At every turn along the winding, narrow roads across the moors of Southern Cornwall in June, there were wildflowers in abundance.  Sometimes, they grew so prolifically that they swept along each side of the car as we passed by.

P1150443  ©  JT  of jtdytravels

P1150443 © JT of jtdytravels

With little traffic, we were able to stop often and enjoy their rain drenched beauty.

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P1150445  ©  JT  of  jtdytravels

P1150445 © JT of jtdytravels

The effect of raindrops on foxgloves, Digitalis purpurea, is just stunning.

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P1060370  ©  DY  of jtdytravels

P1060370 © DY of jtdytravels

Spring had come late to Cornwall, so bluebells were still in flower.  These native bluebells, Hyacinthoides non-scripta, are often seen in Spring in the UK in woodlands, hedges and other shady places.  These are not the same as the blue bells grown in gardens, Spanish bluebells, Hyacinthoides hispanica, although those can be found in the countryside when careless people dump them.

The easiest way to tell the difference between native and non-native bluebells, I’m reliably informed by the Natural History Museum in London,  is to look at the colour of the pollen.  “If it is creamy white then the bluebell is a native.  If it is any other colour, such as pale green or blue, then it is definitely not native.”

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P1060372  ©  DY  of jtdytravels

P1060372 © DY of jtdytravels

Buttercups were everywhere bringing a touch of sunshine even on dull days.

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P1150451  ©  JT  of jtdytravels

P1150451 © JT of jtdytravels

The most common of all roadside flowers are the fluffy white heads of cow-parsley, Anthriscus sylvestris.  This member of the umbelifferous carrot family is also known as Wild Chervil, Wild Beaked Parsley and Queen Anne’s Lace.

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P1150361 ©  JT  of jtdytravels

P1150361 © JT of jtdytravels

Our wanderings brought us back out to the coast road at the tiny village of Zennor, on the coast not far north of Levant mine.   Here we found an excellent place for lunch; a back packer’s hostel with freshly made food.  Next door is the Wayside Museum; a very good, small, family run museum that has over 5,000 artefacts dating from the Bronze Age to the 1950s.  Items are well displayed with good descriptions to help the visitor understand something of life over the centuries along this southern Cornish Coast.

The museum contains Trewey Mill, restored and working again after 150 years of neglect.  On certain days of the year this Corn Mill still grinds wheat and oats  – not, unfortunately, on the day we were there.  In UK wheat is known as corn and that can be somewhat confusing to those of us from Australia.  If you remember poetry and prose from your school days about waving corn… think wheat!  And those corn dollies were made of wheat or oats.  Before the advent of the corn mill, meal was ground from grain using these querns (above).  Hard work for small results but then not too many people could afford great quantities of grain.

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P1150399 ©  JT  of jtdytravels

P1150399 © JT of jtdytravels

The museum is housed in the buildings of a 16th Century Miller’s cottage.  People were much shorter in stature in those days judging by this door.  It was indeed low!

The single storey house with a thatched roof, was built in 1513, in the reign of King Henry VIII.  It housed the family who worked the mill which at that time was a ‘fulling mill’ for making cloth.  When the mill changed to grinding flour is not known but two of the old grinding stones have been used in the floor of the kitchen (just inside this door).  These stones went past their use by date as mill stones but found a new use as flooring.  They have been part of this floor for over 200 years and show barely a sign of wear.  Modern flooring doesn’t last quite so long.

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P1150409  © JT  of jtdytravels

P1150409 © JT of jtdytravels

Grinding the flour was only the first part of the task of making the daily bread or pasties.   Most of the miners and poorer people’s houses would have had a ‘cloan’ or ‘cloam’ oven for baking.  (Spelling was not a high priority.)  Made of earthenware, these were portable ovens.  They were used from the early 1600s and were still being made in Cornwall in1937.  (David wants one!)

Dried furze or gorse, of which there’s an abundant supply on the moors, was put into the oven and lit.  When white hot, the furze would be pulled out – carefully one would hope.  Maybe the stone floor was an advantage!  The food to be baked was placed in the oven, a door placed in front and the cooking process occurred using latent heat.  I grew up learning to cook on a wood fuel stove so I knew something of the vagaries of this method of cooking.

Now, when cooking in a cloam oven, it was quite likely that the bread would burn on the bottom.  A file or rasp was used to grate off the blackened bits.  When serving bread, it was always polite to give the top piece to those socially ‘above you’ and from that we get the English expression, “Upper Crust”.  The bottom piece, with the blackened bits filed off, would be given to your own family.  And, I suspect from my reading that, within the family, the upper crust usually went to the husband with the bottom bits to the children and wife.  There were, and always are, hierarchies in any society.

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P1150364  ©  JT  of  jtdytravels

P1150364 © JT of jtdytravels

One of the items in this museum that fascinated and horrified me was this man trap.  These were used by land owners in the 18th and 19th centuries to discourage poachers.  The penalty for being caught in one of these was not just a very sore leg.  The culprit would be deported to the colonies, usually for life, or sentenced to death by hanging, and that was usually an event for witnessed by large local crowds.  It was quite an event.

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P1150391  ©  JT  of jtdytravels

P1150391 © JT of jtdytravels

Others went to the colony of Australia more willingly, lured by the prospect of free passage and work when they got there.  We came across many such posters in small museums in Cornwall.  Transportation to Australia of so many young men to the colonies had left several ‘holes’ in the demographics of those developing communities. They were short of marriageable single women, skilled young workers and families who would add a sense of community to the growing colonies.  A great many Australians have forbears who answered this call to emigrate, not just from Cornwall but from other parts of England, Scotland and Ireland; many of David’s family among them.  Poor living conditions in the UK at that time were the ‘push factor’ for emigration and posters like these provided a very strong ‘pull factor’.  No one readily leaves their home, their family and their country forever without both of these factors being strong.

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P1160310  ©  JT  of  jtdytravels com

P1160310 © JT of jtdytravels com

And when people did emigrate, it was usually for life.  Their only contact with families was by post and those letters often took months to be delivered.  When it was time to leave the museum, we drove on across the moors along narrow roads that were once just tracks walked by the postmen and women of the moors who brought just such letters and parcels in all weathers and all seasons to the isolated hamlets and farms of the moors.

From notes at the museum we learned that some of these people were easy going, like Postman Bryant, who would stop for a cup of tea and a chat in various houses and even visit the pub on the way.  He would, no doubt, relay the gossip and the news that had come from across the other side of the world.  Others, like Postman Renowden, was a crotchety old thing nicknamed Mr Grumps.  He waited for no-one.  He was often helped by Willy Spry, a very small chap with a peaked cap and turned out feet.  Willy was always tied to a lead and led along by Mr Grumps so that he would not lag behind!

But it wasn’t just men who carried the post.  There are many stories of post women like Old Mrs Kitty White, Mrs Whelan and Annie Christopher, the latter a ‘grand old soul’ and a great story teller who wore long black skirts and hob nailed boots to walk many miles a day with the post.

It’s the stories of individuals like these who make the history of any place come to life.  We were very thankful that some of the stories of the Cornish coast have been recorded before they are lost forever.

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P1150446 ©  Jt  of jtdytravels

P1150446 © Jt of jtdytravels

Today, not many people walk these roads, still fewer ride horses or drive pony traps.  It’s cars, vans and sometimes trucks that drive across these moorland roads now and they were never really meant for vehicles.  Driving here becomes even more challenging when the hedges become higher.  Wondering what might be coming around the corners can be fun.  We even met the local garbage truck on one of these roads.  Lots of backing up!  But everyone is patient and considerate and it’s never a real problem.  And eventually you do come out onto a wider road that leads to a town.  From here, we turned east to visit coastal towns on the other side of the southern Cornish peninsular; Penzance, Newlyn and the improbably named Mousehole – places where some of David’s forbears had also lived.

More of that anon

Jennie and David

Photography copyright ©  JT and DY  of jtdytravels

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The mediaeval church of St Just-in-Penwith held a special surprise for us;  two very interesting examples of mediaeval secco art.  And that was by no means all that was of interest in this church.  No matter what your religious persuasion, or otherwise,  the story of this church is fascinating.   The old market town of St Just may not have much else to offer the visitor to this isolated southern part of Cornwall, but it does have this treasure.  How we found it, is part of this story.

P1150420  ©  JT  of jtdytravels

P1150420 © JT of jtdytravels

St Just was the only market town for this busy mining area along the coast.  It is old, grey, stone, drab, and quite uninviting, especially on a cold, rainy, windy day.  We would have driven straight through except for three things.  This town has the only public toilet for miles around.  I needed to find a chemist.  And the Ellis branch of David’s family had lived here in times past.  After satisfying the first two needs, we went to find the graveyard and pay our respects to some of David’s ancestors.

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P1150302   ©  JT  of  jtdytravels

P1150302 © JT of jtdytravels

Wandering along one very narrow street, we happened upon the only vestige of a garden that we were to find in the whole town.  Purple Clematis adorned the wall and Campanula spilled over the wall.  The sight of this tiny garden cheered me up.

Then,  just around the next corner, we met a very friendly man who just happened to be keen on family history.  Another nice surprise.  He told us that, even though we believed that the Ellis family were Quakers, by law they would have had to be buried in consecrated ground.  And that meant burial either in the grave yard of the established church, until about the late 1880s, or in the Methodist Chapel graveyard after that.  Since many miners in Cornwall had joined the Wesleyan Movement in the late 1700s, we went to the Methodist graveyard first.

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P1150303  ©  JT  of jtdytravels

P1150303 © JT of jtdytravels

The Methodist Chapel is a large, grey, unadorned building and quite forbidding in appearance.   After a search across wet, grassy, uneven  ground, we did find one Ellis headstone dated 1935.   So some members of the Ellis family had lived on here long after William left to go to Australia in 1850.   We knew that the probability of finding any older Ellis headstones was quite remote.  To begin with, they were poor miners and could not have afforded headstones.  Even if they had, time would have eroded the inscriptions away and lichen and moss would have taken up residence instead.  But here, at least, was the resting places of some of the family.

With rain coming down and the cold seeping into my bones despite my wet weather gear, I decided to sit in the warmth and dry of the car while David went in search of the established Church.  He soon came back to get me.  I had to go with him to see this church.  It was, he said, special.  I had almost missed out on one of the real treasures of Cornwall.  Let me share it with you now.

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P1060311  ©  DY  of  jtdytravels

P1060311 © DY of jtdytravels

From outside, this very old church showed that it had been built in three different phases.  There are three separate aisles with three different window shapes.  And indeed, the story of this church encompasses much of the history of the area.

There’s been a place of prayer and worship on this site for over 1500 years.  The first ‘cell’ or oratory belonged to St Justin, thought to have been a Celtic missionary, a native of Cornwall, who became a ‘holy man’ in the 5th Century.  Four, possibly five, other celtic cells or oratories followed on this site long before there was ever a settlement here.  The area became enclosed as a ‘lan’ with a small prayer and oratory chapel and several stone beehive huts.  When the Normans came to Cornwall after 1066, they swept away these small buildings, using the stone to build their own form of church.

By the 14th century, that Norman church had suffered badly at the hands of the wild Cornish weather.  A new church was needed.  And so, in 1334, the central part of this church was built in the form of a cross.   A small settlement grew up around the church.  It was known as “Lefrowda”:  laf or lan, a Cornish word meaning a religious enclosure;  rood, rode or rod, a Saxon word meaning cross or crucifix; and dha, a Cornish word meaning good.

This name alone shows the infiltration of words that came into the Cornish language due to the influence of ‘outsiders’.  Nowadays, the Cornish language is all but lost.  Although the Normans began that change, the final impetus for that loss came as a direct result of the reformation with the introduction of  the English language Book of Common Prayer and the forced change of the church litany from Latin to English.  With that change there was much disquiet in Cornwall.  Riots occurred, lead by Cornish churchmen, resulting in quite a few deaths.  The English law came down heavily against Cornish people struggling to maintain there language and their litany.  A new order was forced upon them and the Cornish language was fairly quickly lost.  Is it any wonder that, to this day, Cornish people refuse to think of themselves as being English.

In the 14th and 15th Centuries, the cruciform shape of the main church was lost when the two side aisles of the church were added .  The town that grew up around the church took on a new name, St Just;  and another piece of history was told through the story of this church.

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P1060316  ©  DY  of  jtdytravels

P1060316 © DY of jtdytravels

When you first enter the church, it is dim.  As your eyes adjust to the gentle light, you can see how the light coming through the main window reflects off the amazing collection of grey granite stones that make up the very thick walls.  Behind the altar is a very unusual and beautifully carved Reredos set into two dimly lit alcoves.  Made of Derbyshire Alabaster, the carvings represent fourteen Cornish Saints.  This Reredos was presented to the church in 1896.  It’s the first of the interesting works of art to be enjoyed in this church.

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P1150307  ©  JT  of  jtdytravels

P1150307 © JT of jtdytravels

The walls inside the church show clearly the random, rubble type of granite construction often used in Cornwall.  In most other churches, this is not visible since it was the custom to cover the rubble with plaster and whitewash.  But here, the plaster was stripped away in about 1865 when the church underwent restoration.  The light grey granite is now accentuated by black pitch pointing.

Stripping off the plaster during the restoration of the church, also revealed very different qualities of workmanship between the north and the south aisles.  And that tells another part of the story of this town.

Work on both of the new side aisles of the church started in the 14th century.  However, the North Aisle was finished fifty years earlier than the South Aisle and is much more carefully constructed.  Why should that be?  The answer; before the South Aisle could be finished, Cornwall was hit by the plague; the Black Death.  The population was decimated and all work on the church ceased.  Much later, in the early part of the 15th Century, the South Aisle was finally completed, but somewhat more roughly than the North Aisle.

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P1150315  ©  JT  of jtdytravels

P1150315 © JT of jtdytravels

But the pillars (the capitals) were completed by some very skilled craftsmen.

Each pillar was richly carved with its own distinctive 15th century design.

These designs include an assortment of shields, vine leaves, roses and quatrefoils.

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P1150318  ©  JT  of jtdytravels

P1150318 © JT of jtdytravels

The font, also, was beautifully carved.

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P1060313  ©  DY  of jtdytravels

P1060313 © DY of jtdytravels

During the building of the church, after a wall was completed, it was covered in plaster and white washed.  And into that plaster the secco art murals were painted.  A note in the church describes this art:  “The paintings are executed in a standard palette of red and yellow ochres and carbon black in a lime medium.  They were painted onto a layer of wet lime wash over a single layer of thick lime and sand render. This technique is known as ‘secco’ (dry) as opposed to ‘fresco’ in which the paint is applied directly onto wet plaster.”

One of the paintings (above) depicts Saint George, patron saint of England, representing all that is good.  He fights the dragon which represents all that is evil, wrong and impure in the world.  It is one of  six secco murals that were originally painted in this church, each a visual depiction of some lesson to be taught to the mostly illiterate congregation.

After the Reformation, all such works were to be destroyed.  Here at St Just, the paintings were simply covered in whitewash. Over the centuries, many more coats of whitewash covered the paintings.  They were forgotten.  It was not until restoration of the church commenced in 1865 that their existence was rediscovered.  However, much of the art work was destroyed by the workmen who were employed to strip the whitewash off the walls with axes.  Only two have survived somewhat intact.  St George is one of them, but this painting was mostly overpainted during the restoration of the church.  Not much of the original mediaeval paint survives.

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P1150320  ©  JT  of  jtdytravels

P1150320 © JT of jtdytravels

In the second secco painting, much more of the original art work survives.  Also painted on the wall of the North Aisle,  this work is known as “Christ of the Trades”.  It represents Christ blessing the work tools of the various occupations of the people of the town at that time.  It gives us a glimpse into the lives of the people who were part of this congregation.  Some of the tools depicted include a fisherman’s reel, an axe, a shoemaker’s knife, a carpenter’s chisel, a wall candlestick, a turf cutter,  a mason’s trowel, a cooper’s adze, a wool carder’s comb, a bit for a horse’s mouth, a sickle, shears for cutting cloth, a thatcher’s comb, an anvil and bellows.

In a note regarding the future preservation and conservation of the paintings, mention is made the problems associated with the prevailing westerly winds and abundance of rain in West Cornwall.   We had personal experience of both of those.

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P1060321  ©  DY  of  jtdytravels

P1060321 © DY of jtdytravels

Other items of interest in the church also told something of the story of this area.  In these churches in the mining areas of Cornwall, there are often memorials to the wealthy owners of the local mines.  This church is no exception.  The Lady Chapel East Window is just one of three windows in this church dedicated to the Harvey James family who were formerly the owners of the local Botallock Mine.  It’s has delightful floral and palm tree styled traceries.

I wondered what miners and their families thought of these windows knowing that it was their hard work that really paid for them.

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P1060317   ©  DY  of jtdytravels

P1060317 © DY of jtdytravels

In most churches, each person, or group of people, had their designated places to sit, or stand, within the church.  Personalizing the end of their special pew with a carving was just another way that the mine and land owners displayed their wealth within the church.  One example is this beautifully carved wooden pew end which bears the date 1625 and the initials JB.  The carving is of a coat of arms; merging the coats of arms of two local land owning families – Arundell and Bosavern.  Three shells down the centre are flanked by six swallows, three on each side.  After almost four hundred years, it was in remarkably good condition.

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P1150295  ©   JT  of  jtdytravels

P1150295 © JT of jtdytravels

The organist was practising a few pieces while we wandered around the church and that gave it a warm, ‘used’ feeling.  Some of the churches we visited on this trip felt very cold and unloved, signs of waining church attendance.

As we left the church, I noticed some tiny flowers growing in the outer stone work.  I also noticed that the weather had cleared somewhat and that meant we could go out onto the moors again to enjoy the wildflowers.  More of that anon.

Jennie and David

Photography  Copyright  ©  JT  and   DY  Travels

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The ruins of copper and tin mines can be found all along the west coast of Cornwall from its southern tip at Lands End north towards St Ives.  We set off on a damp and extremely cold morning in June (it was supposed to be summer) to find some of those mine sites.

P1150414  ©  JT  of jtdytravels

P1150414 © JT of jtdytravels

This coast and the nearby inland moors are often shrouded by a mist that adds to the mystery of this once very busy mining area. The noise of mine heads and crushing hammers that boomed out across the whole area are now silent.  The smoke and steam from the engine houses rise no more.  Only ruins of the past remain to remind us that here men, women and children worked long hours in often very dangerous conditions to mine ore.  And some of those miners were David’s forbears.  We needed to learn more.

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P1150337  ©  JT  of jtdytravels

P1150337 © JT of jtdytravels

Parking the car near the old Levant Mine, we were stunned by the beauty of the area and by the number of wild flowers that adorned this long disused mine site.

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P1060338   ©  DY  of  jdytravels

P1060338 © DY of jdytravels

Thrift was again in abundance.  It’s probably the most common plant of the coast.

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P1060340  ©  DY  of  jtdytravels

P1060340 © DY of jtdytravels

Being common, it’s often overlooked.  But each flower is a delight.

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P1150329  ©  JT  of  jtdytravels

P1150329 © JT of jtdytravels

Walking here is very picturesque with chimneys and the ruins of mine workings rising from the landscape.

Any one who enjoys walking holidays would do well to consider this coast.

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P1150331  ©  JT  of jtdytravels

P1150331 © JT of jtdytravels

There were carpets of yellow Vetch and Silene everywhere.

There are no trees here and most plants grow low to the ground,

in an attempt to shelter from the wild winds that often lash these shores.

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P1060343  ©  DY  of  jtdytravels

P1060343 © DY of jtdytravels

These tiny flowers are well worth the effort of getting down low to enjoy them.

The plant name is unknown to us.  Any help?

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P1060334  ©  DY  of jtdytravels

P1060334 © DY of jtdytravels

But we hadn’t come just to enjoy the wildflowers and the scenery.  We’d come to learn something about the mines.  We began by visiting the National Trust owned Levant Mine where some buildings and a steam pump engine have been restored.  A guide is available to explain the workings and the history of these mines.

A large part of Cornwall is made up of slate and greenstone intruded by granite and over 150 other minerals have been found in this ancient geological area.  Of most importance were the ‘veins’ of tin and copper ores found within fractures in the granite.

For about 2,000 years, copper and tin mining has been part of Cornwall’s history.  Much of the very early mining was ‘stream’ mining for ore found on or near the surface or in streams.  Mining families were somewhat self sufficient as they also farmed the fields whose boundaries had been laid out hundreds of years before.   Gradually, the mines became ‘beam’ or ‘coffin’ openwork mines in which ore close to the surface was dug by hand.  By the mid 16th century miners were working the alluvial deposits in the inland valleys and the ore loads that could be seen in the coastal cliffs.

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P1240309

P1240309

As miners began to dig down into the cliffs, it became ever more obvious that here was the real wealth.  But to get to this ore would require underground mines – and that would require money that the poor miners did not have.  All this coincided with a growing market for minerals as the industrial revolution changed manufacturing processes.  For the established land owners and gentry, and for outside investors, there was wealth to be made in Cornwall.   And so, in the the late 1700s and early 1800s, many new mines were opened in Cornwall.  St Just, the only market town in this isolated coastal area, now became more important.

It was soon realised that the richest veins were down very deep and some even extended out under the sea. With much more profitable ore loads on offer, the Levant Mining Company was formed in 1820 by twenty investors, or ‘adventurers’ as they were called in Cornwall.  With a capital of ₤400 divided into 80 shares, these investors shared in the profits of what became a very successful mine.  Many of them were not even Cornish men and had never been into a mine.  They had no real idea of the hard work involved to provide them with their ever increasing wealth.  There was a great divide between the investors and the miners.

Underground mining was very dangerous in extremely difficult conditions.  Miners, and their women and children who also worked for the mines, took home very little pay and lived relatively short lives whilst the ‘adventurers’ became ever richer.

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P1240316  Cartoon by Emma Metcalfe

P1240316 Cartoon by Emma Metcalfe

This is one of the cartoons from a little book that I bought at the mine, “A Family Guide to Mining in Cornwall” written by Lucia Crothall.  It tells the stories of a real miner, John Harris, who began working underground at the age of ten.  John became famous in Cornwall for the poems he later wrote about his experiences.

The words of the cartoon reads: “It is smelly, hot, down here.  No toilets, nothing but blackness to see and its hard to breathe in the dusty atmosphere.”

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P1240304  from "A Family Guide to Mining in Cornwall" - the stories of John Harris.

P1240304  Cartoon by Emma Metcalfe

While John and other boys like him worked with the miners underground, above them, in their fine houses, the owners wined and dined and lead the good life.  This great divide between the rich and the poor was seen as ‘normal’; part of the mores of the time – each one born to their place in life.  But that would change over the years as miners began to take on the idea of unionism, which of course was resented by the owners.  It was, in fact, against the law to speak of unions and many a miner who spoke his mind was imprisoned or transported to Australia as a convict.  It would take years of outspokenness by many brave men before conditions would change in favour of better conditions for the miners.

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P1150340  ©  JT  of jtdytravels

P1150340 © JT of jtdytravels

As Levant Mine was developed, it was found that the richest lodes of ore were not only deep under the ground but they extended far out under the sea.  As each lode was mined out, the shaft was dug down further to find the next rich vein of ore to be mined.  Some of the working ‘levels’ that ran off from the shaft extended out over a mile under the sea.

In time, the Levant shaft went down to 350 fathoms (2,100 feet or 640 meters) – Cornish mines were always measured in fathoms, one fathom equalling 6 feet.  So not only did the miners have to climb down a long way, but then they had to ‘walk’ a long way through cramped, rough tunnels before they even began their ten to twelve hours shift.   Above their heads they could hear the rumble of the sea as it churned the sea bed, particularly in stormy weather.  Water posed the constant threat of flooding.  But no matter the conditions, they had to work to feed their families.  Despite the conditions, and maybe because of their ability to overcome hardship, over the years they became very proud of their skills as miners.

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P1060344   ©   DY  of jtdytravels

P1060344 © DY of jtdytravels

For years, the only way down into the mines was by means of a series of wooden ladders.   From the story of John Harris we learn that when he was twelve, he started to work deep underground with his father.  To begin the descent into the mine, a rope was attached between the father and son.  They then had to climb down over 60 ladders in all, in the dark, to a depth of 200 fathoms (1,200 feet or 366 meters).  As they went, John often grazed his legs and arms against the rocks.  Down at the work level, all was blackness.  Their only light was a candle which had to be bought by his father from the mine shop.   John said, “I hated it in the dark, dangerous underground.”

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P1150941  ©  JT  of jtdytravels

P1150941 © JT of jtdytravels

John’s father used a spike and hammer to make a hole to take some blasting powder, an activity that often caused injury in mines.  When the rocks were blasted away, John’s task was to put the loose pieces of ore into a wooden barrow (like the one above that was found on another mine site.)  He then wheeled the barrow, in the dark, along the rough ground of the level to the shaft.

There, he loaded the rocks into egg shaped buckets, called kibbles, to be hauled to the surface by a horse powered winch.  One day the chain broke and a bucket filled with ore crashed down right beside John.  Another day the roof above where he was working suddenly collapsed with a deafening noise filling the tunnel with dust.  John was filled with the fear of being trapped.

At the end of working hard for ten to twelve hours in those cold, damp, very dark conditions, John and his father had to climb back up all those wooden ladders to get back ‘to grass’.  Many times it was recorded that an exhausted miner either lost his footing or his grip on the rungs and fell to his death down the mine shaft.  Those climbing up beneath him were often taken down as well.

Death walked beside each miner each day.  But the mateship of miners and their loyalty to each other became legendary.  ‘One for all’ was their motto and there were always men ready to help search for fellow miners trapped underground.  But the death or maiming of a miner mattered little in the eyes of most owners.  Miners were expendable.  If they didn’t like the working conditions, they could go without work.  There were plenty of others who needed work to try to feed their families.

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P1150348   ©   JT  of jtdytravels

P1150348 © JT of jtdytravels

There was not a lot to a miner’s life except work, smoking his clay pipe, drinking ale to slake his thirst and begetting more children to become workers to help feed the family.  While boys went below ground with the men, women and girls (the bal maidens) and small children worked above ground.  There are also accounts of women, often stripped to the waist in the heat and dust, working below ground pulling the carts of ore back to the shafts.

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P1150349  ©  Jt  of jtdytravels

P1150349 © JT of jtdytravels

On the surface, the work of the bal maidens, small children and men too old, sick or maimed to work underground, was to sort and break up the ore with hammers before taking the broken rock to the noisy stamping crushers.  It was hard, rough work for very little pay; a few pence at the most.

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P1150330  ©  JT of jtsytravels

P1150330 © JT of jtsytravels

During the mid 1800s, Cornish engineers and innovators harnessed the power of steam to develop steam engines that helped to make the mines more efficient and improve safety standards.  These engines were housed in buildings like the one that has been restored at Levant. There were, at one time, 2,500 of these engine houses in Cornwall.  Most are now in ruins; reclaimed by nature.

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During our guided tour of Levant Mine, the beam engine was powered up for a short time to demonstrate how it had changed the way mines worked and how much deeper a mine could go if engines were used.  These engines made it possible for ore to be lifted to the ground mechanically instead of by horse drawn winches. They also made it possible to pump out water much more efficiently.

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P1150344  ©  JT  of  jtdytravels

P1150344 © JT of jtdytravels

But steam engines required coal to burn and for that the mine owners turned to the Welsh collieries.  Crushed ore was shipped from Cornwall to the big smelters in Swansea in Wales and the ships returned laden from Wales with coal.  Wales and Cornwall now shared much more than just their Celtic origins, their belief in the preaching of Wesley and their love of singing.  (That’s another story!)

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P1240311

P1240311

One of the benefits of the steam engines was that the ever inventive Cornish engineers, like Richard Trevithic, improved the ways that mines worked.  One of these inventions was the ‘man lift’.  Using the movement of the pumping shafts, miners were able to move up and down the shafts in small stages of about ten to twelve feet.  This made descent into, and ascent from the workings, easier and safer.  Because of that, they were able to work longer and harder at the ore face thus improving profits.  It was a win-win situation.

However, there were times when these lifts were not maintained properly and miners crashed to their deaths below when the man lift broke.  It happened at Levant in 1919 with the deaths of 34 miners.

Times became very hard for the miners and their families in the 1840s because food was scarce and costly in Cornwall; there was a potato famine and the Corn Laws sent the prices of wheat well out of the reach of poor miners.  Times were becoming harder for the mine owners too.  Copper and tin were found in places like Malaysia and South America and, in 1850, in Burra, South Australia.  As prices fluctuated for the Cornish minerals, many mines became unviable.  At the same time, both Cornish miners and Cornish engineers were highly sort after by these overseas mines; the Cornish knowledge of mining was well known.  Many miners left Cornwall including David’s Great, Great, Great grandfather, William Ellis, who sailed with his wife and young children to start a new life in South Australia.  When gold was discovered in Victoria, they moved there to mine for gold in Castlemaine.

As word of gold finds in Australia and California became common knowledge in England,  thousands more miners and their families sailed from Cornwall across the world in the hope of making better lives for themselves.  And among those who sailed to Australia, were David’s Great, Great Grandfather, Thomas Bray and his brother James.

Unknown to each other whilst living in Cornwall, these two Cornish mining families were joined together in Australia when William’s grandson married Thomas Bray’s daughter in Victoria in 1889.  These families were never to return to Cornwall.

Apart from the cost and the length of a return journey ‘back home’, there was no reason for a miner to return to Cornwall.  By the end of the 1800s and early 1900s most of the mines were closing and Cornwall was left to reinvent itself.  And that reinvention eventually came in the form tourism.  Over time, as road and rail began to penetrate further into the scenic Cornish countryside, the lives of the Cornish miners, fishermen and smugglers became the stuff of legends and that gave the impetus for the growth of museums.  Many hotels and guest houses were built to house these visitors.  Cornish families opened their homes as B&Bs.  And to sustain their way of life, wealthy families were forced to open their gardens and houses to the public.  Many properties were given to the National Trust.  We, like thousands of visitors every year, enjoyed this new Cornwall even while we were learning more about the lives of David’s ancestors, the Bray and Ellis families.

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P1150442  ©  JT  of jtdytravels

P1150442 © DY of jtdytravels

After our visit to the mine, we had much to think about as we turned inland once again to explore the narrow flower filled roads of the moors.  Staying away from the main tourist destinations, we were beginning to fall in love with Cornwall, its narrow roads, its small villages and its very friendly people …to say nothing of tasty Cornish pasties and afternoon teas of warm scones, home made strawberry jam and thick clotted cream.  But more of that anon.

Jennie and David

Photography  Copyright  ©  JT and DY of jtdytravels

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The beaches of Cornwall are very popular with English visitors from the northern counties as well as overseas visitors.  Some, like Port Isaac, have been made too famous by TV shows such as Doc Martin.  Others, like St Ives, are now famous as artist colonies.  And still others are fishing villages, such as Padstow, which TV chef Rick Stein has made famous.  In summer, they are all filled with tourists.

P1050661©  DY  of jtdytravels

P1050661© DY of jtdytravels

Today, there are many more tourists in Padstow than when I was there in 1986.  Now, the village shops are all cafes and souveneir shops.  Now, pleasure yachts fill the harbour with many fewer of the working fishing boats.  It has lost its allure for me, although, judging by the number of tourists, it’s still a big drawcard for many.  We were looking for something further off the beaten track.

Perhaps the most famous of all Cornish tourist destinations is Land’s End.  It’s always packed with tourists and, even back in 1986, there was not a lot of the natural beauty left to be enjoyed.  It’s become something of a fairground.  I would not go there again.

We sought a quiet place to enjoy the weekend and found Sennan Cove, only a short distance north from Land’s End.  It’s a place left in peace by the tourist buses which would find it very difficult to make their way down the narrow, twisting, steep road to the cove.   And, anyway, there’s not a lot for a busload of tourists to do… it’s just a peaceful beach.  It was perfect for us!

P1150277  ©  Jt of jtdytravels

P1150277 © Jt of jtdytravels

When we arrived, the sea was calm and there were just a few people on the beach enjoying that peace.

P1150283  ©  JT  of jtdytravels

P1150283 © JT of jtdytravels

Patches of seaside daisies held their faces up to the warm afternoon sun.

P1150276  ©  JT  of jtdytravels

P1150276 © JT of jtdytravels

Some daisies even grew into an electrical box by the edge of the road!

P1150288  ©  JT  of jtdytravels

P1150288 © JT of jtdytravels

Our home away from home for the weekend was the Old Success Inn, built in the 1600s and, in some ways, it still felt like that. It was a bit of a rabbit warren of rooms with bits added to the original building over the centuries.  This was the Inn where David slept on the floor because the bed was so soft he thought that it would cave in and smother him!   At least the floor was better for his back.  We enjoyed our time there;  the staff were friendly, the pub food was better than most pubs and the location was just right.

P1150440  ©  DY  of  jtdytravels

P1150440 © DY of jtdytravels

Sennan Cove is a tiny village with just a couple of shops and cafe.  A few small, old style fishing boats were pulled up in the shelter of the long slip way for the rescue boat. This is one of the most treacherous areas on Britain’s coastline (and there are quite a few of those).  The life boat station was established here in 1853 and people have been rescued from the unpredictable sea here ever since.

P1150424  ©  JT  of jtdytravels

P1150424 © JT of jtdytravels

It was not always thus… for many centuries, rescue was not always uppermost in the minds of locals.  This area was renowned in times past for the many shipwrecks that, in the view of the locals of the time, provided food and clothing for the poor.  It’s said that donkeys were used to carry lanterns across the cliff tops to fool seamen and create many ship wrecks in and around this rocky cove. Looking out across some of the beach rocks it’s possible to see a couple of the dangers that lurk in these waters not too far from shore.  And there are many other rocks unseen beneath the waters. The list of ship wrecks is a long one.

Smuggling was another well known, and dangerous, part of local life in these parts, in times past.  They got away with much at Sennan Cove because the Revenue men were mostly busy patrolling the villages and coves on the other side of Cornwall, the side closer to France and with usually better sea conditions.  Stories of smugglers and their close calls with the law abound in books about Cornish coastal life.  They have become akin to Australia’s bushranger stories and just as much romanticised, when the facts were, in reality, very brutal for those who took part.  But for the desperately poor villagers of Cornwall, smuggling often made survival possible.

P1150441  ©  DY  of  jtdytravels

P1150441 © DY of jtdytravels

There are a few houses tucked in between the beach front and the steep cliff.  This one has an iron bar attached just below the roof to make sure that the thatch roof isn’t disturbed by delivery trucks, or the local double decker bus, when they turn on the quay side.  This is a no through road and a tight turn is a must.  As with any coastal area, the sea salt has made the iron turn to rust, thus adding a visual warning presence to the side of the house.

P1150435  ©  DY  of jtdytravels

P1150435 © DY of jtdytravels

There are no gardens as such here but there’s an occasional mallow plant.

P1150437  © DY  of  jtdytravels

P1150437 © DY of jtdytravels

The path up the hill to the south of the village is adorned with blackberries.

Weed they may be in Australia, but here they provide delicious berries –

and very attractive small flowers.

P1150423  ©  JT  of  jtdytravels

P1150423 ©   DY of jtdytravels

David climbed to the top of the cliff.  Looking north along the coast it’s easy to see that Sennen Cove is well placed for walks along the Cornish coastal path.  Apart from the wonderfully rugged coastal scenery to be enjoyed along the way, there are many ancient sites to see as well as relics from the once thriving tin and copper mining industry.  We would search for those old mine workings next day.

P1150426  ©  JT  of jtdytravels

P1150426 ©  DY of jtdytravels

Wild flowers, like this Thrift, add to the beauty of the area.

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P1150438  ©  DY  of jtdytravels

P1150438 © DY of jtdytravels

A mix of Silene and Thrift makes a pretty, natural rock garden.

P1150429  ©  DY  of jtdytravels

P1150429 © DY of jtdytravels

Lichen on the rocks adds a dash of bright colour.

P1150422  ©  DY of jtdytravels

P1150422 © DY of jtdytravels

I wonder how long this rock has been balancing on the cliff edge…

and how long it will stay there!

P1150434  ©  DY  of jtdytravels

P1150434 © DY of jtdytravels

Looking south along the cliffs gave an idea of the terrain that was mined for tin and copper.

P1150290  ©  JT  of jtdytravels

P1150290 © JT of jtdytravels

Watching the sun dropping lower in the sky across the Atlantic Ocean was a good way to end this day.

P1150833  ©  JT  of jtdytravels

P1150833 © JT of jtdytravels

By next morning, however, the blue sky had vanished along with the calm sea.  It was raining and exceedingly cold.  The miners of old had had to endure many a day like this, so we would continue with our plan to seek out some of the old mine workings along the coast.  Perhaps the unpleasant weather would add to our understanding of the way the miners and their families had lived.

More of that anon

Jennie and David

Photography Copyright ©  JT and DY of jtdytravels

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