On Wednesday morning I wanted to walk to Fistral beach to find the holiday apartments where we had stayed back in summer 1974. I set off before breakfast because the weather looked poor. It was windy and threatened rain again. I walked up North Quay Hill from my hotel, and at the crossroads I judged that Tower Road would lead me to Fistral Court Holiday Apartments. It would have done, but I wanted to see Fistral Beach. After a long, but gentle climb, unaware that I was walking away from Fistral Beach, I arrived at the junction with Pentire Road. This did not look hopeful. An empty car park, with wind coming in off the sea, left me lost and disappointed. I had misjudged the land on this plateau. The golf course here did, however, stir my memory from 46 years earlier. I had a strong recollection of parking on a plateau like this back in 1974. I walked over it to find a route down to the sea. It was a different land from the geology that I knew at 18. The sand-covered Devonian rocks had the quality of downs, or as Emma Smith says ‘the rabbity rough uptilting commonland of Pentire Head.’
It was 7:42am. I looked across at a Victorian hotel, way off on a headland but low in the sea. Dirty puddles surrounded me. Over in the north east sky, a postage stamp patch of blue appeared through the grey clouds. That was enough to make me turn back in the direction of the blue sky and head for breakfast. Fistral Beach would have to wait until I visited Newquay again.
As Aaron promised over breakfast, the sun did break through, and, fortified, I set off to walk across town to visit the heritage museum. Just after 9am, I reached Belushi’s at 35 Fore Street, and walked down to the cliff edge and turned to photograph the headland of North Quay Hill. My hotel was very clear from there, the last large building before the drop into the harbour. Then I made the climb up onto Mount Wise. I joined it just below the summit of Trenance Hill. As Emma says ‘On the seaward, or town side of the ridge … runs a road called Mount Wise.’ This is where she lived in 1924.
Then, like Emma one day in spring nearly a hundred years earlier, I made my ‘way down and down the further steep slope of Trenance Hill’ until on my left, I finally saw the museum in ‘Wilton’s cottage, which stands at right angles to and higher than the road.’ Walking down Trenance Road, I saw stone walls built with grey slate in a herringbone style to adjust the levels, like a terrace, to the falling slope. The stones were like chevrons pointing back and forth, and between them the first circular, fleshy leaves of pennywort. Spring had arrived after all. For Emma it had too, and she and her family collected the tips of nettles along the estuary of the River Gannel. Contemporary foragers say that pennywort makes an excellent salad leaf.
The crop most closely linked to Wilton’s, now the Heritage Museum, is barley. In the early 1800s the cottages were created from a old malthouse. When I explored the museum I found that a small quantity of husks and a few grains had been framed, with a label saying that they had been found beneath the floorboards. I remembered seeing barley fields alongside the railway track on the way into Newquay. This was a very local crop. Was there a way of updating barley scones or tray bakes to make this grain a part of life today in Newquay? I thought of a breakfast bar made from barley, the word in Cornish, is barlysen and breakfast, of course, is hansel. It would have helped me earlier in the day on my quest for Fistral Beach. I should experiment, cutting them into a shape for carrying to the beach.
1:10pm 11th March 2020. The end of the line. I waited beside Newquay branch line for the only train out of town on its single track. My guide at Wilton’s had told me that the trains were rare at this time of the year but more ran in the summer, bringing holidaymakers from London. I spotted a glazed, handmade tile that depicted the cottage museum on the low wall that marked off the station waiting area. I wondered if they knew this tile. With such infrequent services, those tiles were probably well-known by locals dreaming of Par or even in their imaginations crossing the River Tamar to the city. I remembered the gorse that was flowering alongside the single track past Quintrell Downs and realised the meaning of the Cornish saying ‘Kissing’s out of season when gorse is out of bloom.’
Charlie Mansfield, March 2020.