A vision of Cornwall. That shaft of light shooting up into the sky from Truro Cathedral is also the artist’s personal vision
I’ve been for a few days in Cornwall, where I grew up, visiting my mother and taking her on a trip down Memory Lane. Her particular memory lane is accessed via the A30, the road which cuts as straight as a ley-line across Bodmin Moor and right through the county down to Hayle, near Penzance.
I mention Penzance, as in ‘Pirates of..’ because most people have heard of that place. And if you know anything else about Cornwall and the Cornish you probably know of its good weather, golden beaches, old tin mines, cream teas and pasties. Oh, and St. Ives and the Tate gallery there.
Growing up in Cornwall, surrounded by green pasture and moor, yet just a bicycle ride from the beach, I took it all for granted. But the sights and sounds made an indelible impression on me and I still have very strong affinities for the sound of seagulls and crashing waves, the unique rugged landscape and the solid feel of granite.
The Tintagel Maze, Bronze-age carving on the ubiquitous Cornish granite
Granite. Just about everything seems to be made of this silvery, feldspar-quartz stone. You see it everywhere. From the Bronze age carvings and stone circles, the old tin mines, and the Methodist chapels. Those chapels look as if they have just risen up out of the ground like trees, and are so all pervasive that it would be correct to say that Methodism is the religion of Cornwall. Certainly every town and village has at least one old chapel. Colourful characters like reformed miner Billy Bray, who sang and danced when he prayed, kept the Methodist tradition, and the chapel building, part of what it meant to be Cornish.
The all-singing, all-dancing preacher Billy Bray. He smiled a lot more than this.
Of course, a thousand years before the 1700s when John Wesley stirred up the Cornish with his message, the Christian spirit was alive in another vital form through the preaching work of the Celts. You can still find the old Ogham script of the Irish carved in places in Cornwall, and the Romans didn’t get down here often enough to change the culture and language as they did in other places.
The Celtic lands
Cornwall is one of several regions where the Celtic language of Gaelic can still be found in place names. There are various forms of this old language, still kept very much alive in Wales, Ireland and Scotland, struggling a bit in Brittany and The Isle of Man, yet undergoing a revival in Cornwall.
My grandfather preached in this chapel at Hayle and is buried near the Phillach church whose tower you can see in the distance
My grandfather, George Mills, was a Methodist local preacher and preached all over the area. People say that he had a strong voice, a military bearing and gave a stirring sermon and was a good hymn singer. Among the places I took my mother was the chapel in Hayle where she used to help my grandfather prepare for his sermons. I was baptised there, and no doubt was given some Cornish clotted cream in the Sunday tea that day.
Aside from pasties, developed to wrap up the miners’ lunch in pastry (one end was savoury, the other sweet) Cornwall has some other culinary delicacies of note. Due to its ancient role in sea trade – and probably thanks to its famous pirates – the county had more access to spices than did the rest of England. Saffron was very important and so was ginger, the first in cake and the second in biscuits, or ‘fairings.’
Saffron Cake, as cooked by Kurma Das
A Cornish cream tea
And then there’s the Cornish cream teas. As the chapels grew out of the ground, so the teas must have come from heaven. Nothing is quite like clotted cream. Nothing. Enough to make even the strictest vegans abandon their vows, clotted cream has to be the supreme use of milk. And with home-made strawberry jam on scones – all offered to Krishna – it is a dish fit to grace the pages of Kurma’s cookbook.
I should also mention that my mother, my son and I walked the sixth-century pilgrim’s path to St. Nectan’s Glen, a waterfall where they say that King Arthur’s knights were baptised. Its a nice spot for remembering Krishna.
St. Nectans Glen, named after a hermit who lived here.
So there you are. A little glimpse of Cornwall.
My family is quite spread out at the moment. We are all probably the most we’ve ever been spread. My daughter Jahnavi is in Vrindavan, northern India, for the lunar month of Kartik. She is taking a three week art course with Vaishnava painters Ramdas Abhiram and his wife Dhriti and is enjoying it. She phoned to say that she attended a wonderful full-moon darshan of Sri Radha Ramana. My wife is in the great Canadian prairie town of Winnipeg where she is visiting her father. While there, she visited the small local temple and gave a Bhagavad-gita class.