The fieldwork for this three-leaf feuilleton was completed during an EU project, under Interreg 5, called KAŠTELIR. The travel writer-researcher explored ethnobotany in the town for sustainable tourism and the development of the enterprises in the surrounding countryside. This was an opportunity to work in narrative non-fiction for place-making. The field research collects stories of plant use, and then reports the findings in a narrative synthesis that is readable and accessible to visitors, stakeholders and the local council. Please also look for the audio-book podcast version at the foot of the page.

Fieldnotes from Fistral

"They wake, they work, they wait,  
Then they fall,
Like the gulls call to the shore:
Ro an mor, ro an mor. "
from ‘Seagift’

FEBRUARY 2020 had been the hardest month, not through cold, no, but from the warnings sent in by the Atlantic. Even as March came, wet slate still glistened on the terraces each morning. I had postponed my journey long enough.  So, on Tuesday 10th March 2020 I headed west to Newquay on the Great Western Railway. My first stop was the change at Par.

Outside Plymouth, a fine, misting drizzle blew in from the sea. The promised sunshine of the vernal equinox had not yet materialised. After the change of trains at 10:10am, onto the Newquay branch line, I crossed Cornwall to its northern shore. From Par onwards to Quintrell Downs yellow gorse bushes were already in bloom. The railway had followed this course into Newquay since 1876.  I was not due to meet my guide at Trenance Heritage Cottages, the museum of local life, until the following morning so I had the whole afternoon to lunch and explore the town.

From Newquay station it was easy to cross over the road to find fish and chips for lunch, and in the terraced dining area of number 9, Cliff Road, I had my first view down onto Great Western Beach. The name was used by Emma Smith as the title for her book where she looked back to her childhood in the late 1920s. After lunch, I walked west along Cliff Road, into East Street and went to buy a local newspaper at 27, Bank Street, just as Max Sebald always did on his explorations. I doubled back to talk with the staff in the tourist office on Marcus Hill; they told me about the outdoor museum, called Newquay Tree Walk, which had a large sweet chestnut tree (castanea sativa) that produced a good crop of edible chestnuts. Fore Street then took me north around the curve of Newquay Bay to reveal the new coffee bars and clothes shops, like London Girls Surf Club and Wet Dog Pizza Co.  Finally, after I had spotted North Quay Hill, sloping steeply down on my right, I discovered my hotel, The Harbour.

The Harbour Hotel, and Harbour Fish & Grill, seemed an organic part of the rock face. It was a grain store, converted first into a house in the early 1900s, when Emma Smith still lived in Newquay, and then into a five-bedroom boutique hotel. What type of grain was stored here? Oats for the horses that pulled the tram along the quay below us? Or barley for malting at Trenance Heritage Cottages? In recipes for Cornish pasties, even as late at the 1980s, barley flour was still recommended for the pastry crust. A much earlier recipe was more specific and advised black barley.  In July 2011 the Cornish pasty was granted PGI, Protected Geographical Indication by the European Commission. Cornwall employs 1800 people in pasty-making and sells £60 million worth of pasties a year. That’s about 6% of the county’s food economy. Now that Cornwall has left the protection of the EU, their status has been lost.

Look for the next episode of this three-leaf feuilleton: Fistral-2

See the new website for The Harbour Fish & Grill by Aaron Janes at

Listen to the audio-book of Fieldnotes from Fistral as an mp3 podcast. Please click on image to access. 14m 32s duration. Filesize 23.7 MB

Hao and Chenyuan in Newquay
Hao and Chenyuan in Newquay