River run

I’ve mentioned in previous posts about my rural walks with Mrs TD during lockdown that we’ve noticed little art objects left where walkers will see them. It turned out that the maker of these fairy houses, painted pebbles and so on was John Rowe. He told me in a comment that it was his way of commemorating a loved one, and of brightening the world in his memory. It seems to me as well that he’s celebrating humanity and the natural world.

From the back of our house we look over the river Kenwyn, which runs through a wooded valley into the city and the sea beyond. We often walked our dog along the banks, but haven’t done this walk much since she died. But we have noticed new wooden handpainted signs indicating this woodland, riverside walk. Locals have posted pictures on social media of little artworks that are obviously John’s work.

Not so long ago we passed a walker and got chatting about these lovely natural artefacts. He was John’s brother. He told us a little more about the project. He and his brother are keen birdwatchers. This would explain the delightful, brightly coloured images of kingfishers, perched on a branch above the rippling current of the river, dappled by bright sunlight under the canopy of trees.

When Mrs TD and I were walking home yesterday we noticed a city parks truck parked by the roadside. A young couple were walking back to it; he was wearing a city parks teeshirt. Mrs TD asked him if he was responsible for the recent arrivals in this little parkland area: a bug hotel, a walkway fringed by twigs and branches, bordered by wild and garden flowers; a bench beneath a bower of arched, living willow (I think); piles of logs that serve as havens for wildlife.

Yes, he said, this was all his work. He told us he’d also worked on developing the riverside woodland trails. His girlfriend had helped him with the design. They were a charming pair, and his delight and satisfaction in his job were palpable. He’d moved to Cornwall to be with his girlfriend, and was looking for any work he could find, but managed to get this one in his own field: forestry and parks. He couldn’t have been happier. What a lucky pair. And what a great job they’re doing.

So we took the riverside path for the first time in maybe a year. He’s done a fine job, and it was a perfect day to admire what he’d done. The sunlight was bright, and the river gleamed like a jewel. It’s shallow, because we’ve had so little rain this month.

The images of kingfishers are John Rowe’s work. The young man we spoke to said he’d chosen that spot because it’s near where kingfishers nest each year. I’ve yet to see a living kingfisher along this stretch of river, but Mrs TD has. I was going to say a little more about the legends around kingfishers, but maybe more about that next time.

On a sadder note, we decided for the first time in over two months not to join in the ‘clap for carers’ at 8 pm on Thursday. Not because we no longer value the contribution of key workers like delivery people, postal workers, shop workers, and all those who’ve continued while the rest of us are isolated, furloughed and socially distancing. We simply feel that it’s become a way of distracting attention from the need to reward and value such workers properly, with decent pay and safe working conditions.

I won’t start another rant about the despicable Cummings, but that affair, and the shameless, immoral rush to protect him by the PM and his senior ministers, has put us off any public display of solidarity with an initiative they endorse. I prefer to thank my postman, people who deliver parcels, checkout staff at the shops, and so on, in person.

Our daughter works in the NHS (they’re not heroes; they’re committed, caring and dedicated – qualities our leaders would do well to discover). Many staff at her hospital, as in the rest of the country, have become infected with the virus. She was tested earlier this week. We all spent a couple of worrying days waiting for the result. Fortunately it was negative.

It shouldn’t have taken nearly three months for her to get a test.

People like her need much more than our applause: they need proper protective equipment and less exhausting patterns of work. Paying them a decent wage and giving them better working conditions would also help. The public sector in this country has been starved of funds for a decade, which is partly why we have the second highest death rate from C-19 in the world, and one of the worst rates of mortality per capita. Bragging about ‘world-beating’ test and trace systems (which have still to materialise) doesn’t make it happen.

OK, kingfishers next time, and no politics or viruses.

Stitchwort, periwinkles and politicians

I’ve continued with daily rural walks with Mrs TD – our permitted exercise during the present CV19 crisis. We’re averaging about 4-5 miles per day, so get to see how new growth is burgeoning as spring warms the earth, watering it with April’s sweet showers.

Stitchwort

Stitchwort

I downloaded a plant identifying app, as I was becoming frustrated by not knowing what so many of these fresh new flowers were. These delicate little white ones are everywhere in the hedgerows and field fringes at the moment. My app tells me they’re greater stitchwort (Stellaria holostea), a species of chickweeds.

Various sites online inform me that this wild flower is strongly associated in folklore with fairies. Whoever picks it will be ‘pixie-led’, or enchanted by the bitter-sweet realm of faerie, and become disorientated. One of its local names is adder’s meat, apparently because children were warned that if they picked this flower they were sure to be bitten by this lurking snake. Another consequence of picking it was said to be thunder or lightning. It was also known as satin flower and easter-bell starwort – the latter because of the configuration of the flower’s five petals.

The name stitchwort derives from the old belief that the plant could cure a stitch in the abdomen. A more ancient Greek herbalist claimed that if a pregnant woman drank a potion made from it, she would give birth to a son.

As for ‘wort’: this is from the OE ‘wyrt’ meaning root, vegetable, plant, spice. In the past it tended to be an element appended to the part of the body or the ailment for which the herb or plant was supposed to benefit when taken medicinally. Alternatively, it was an element attached to the time of year at which it flowered (as in easter startwort or St John’s wort – around 24 June).

Periwinkles

Periwinkles

In an earlier post I included a picture of a pale blue-violet periwinkle growing in the hedge at the bottom of my garden. Recently we’ve come across many clusters of them. The OED online gives its etymology as from post-classical Latin pervinca, with various explanatory suggestions – that it’s from a magical formula, or associated with pervicus, ‘stubborn’, possibly from pervincere, ‘to conquer completely’ (with “various suggestions” but no details). Another online etymology suggests it was in Middle English associated with beauty, a paragon, but also, weirdly, with evil.

Ancient yew tree in the grounds of Epiphany House

Ancient yew tree in the grounds of Epiphany House

It’s a member of the genus Vinca, but I have no idea what this name might signify. It does seem to accord with the ‘conquer’ meaning of the Latin which it resembles, but this may be coincidence.

Mrs TD asked for her thoughts to be included in today’s post. I’ll add some more pictures from our recent walks to lighten the mood a little.

She’s upset with our government’s apparently worsening response to the pandemic. Measures to suppress the spread of the virus, as done in parts of Asia and in Germany, such as testing, tracking and isolating, weren’t taken, and those that were came too late.

The notion of ‘herd immunity’ was poorly judged. Let the weaker members of the community be sacrificed for the good of the rest, seemed to be the strategy. A chilling form of eugenics, in fact.

Here's a red campion to brighten this part of the post

Here’s a red campion to brighten this part of the post

Our prime minister was successful in the election because of his bluff, blustering ‘Get Brexit done’ approach. He’s not the man for a crisis that threatens people’s lives. What’s needed now is a different kind of leadership, based on honesty and integrity.

She wanted to add that she dislikes the rhetoric and imagery from the field of the military that’s used everywhere by politicians and the media: we ‘battle’ or ‘fight’ this ‘invisible enemy’. When the PM was in intensive care, infected by the virus, his stand-in said he was ‘in good spirits’– this while thousands of others were dying. This implies that those who don’t survive the horrible disease lack the ‘spirit’ or fight to combat it. Why can’t our politicians be straight with us, and use appropriate language? Treat us like adults, not children. Stop massaging the truth. Be transparent and honest.

She also feels disempowered. Who do we contact to say we’re unhappy with the way things are going? Parliament sat (in virtual form, mostly) for the first time in weeks yesterday, so those in charge have acted with impunity.

Blossom beneath the Carvedras viaduct (see earlier post)

Blossom beneath the Carvedras viaduct (see earlier post)

One good development, she says, is that the social care system is finally getting the recognition and attention it deserves. Whenever we mention (and praise) the excellent work done by the NHS, we should include the care sector. We’d both like to thank all of those working so hard for us: in the health and care sectors, but also vital workers like deliverers of goods, postal workers, those who work in the shops and supermarkets that are still open, and many more who tend to be taken for granted (and are poorly paid).

We understand that our government has had a huge task in trying to deal with this crisis. Some things have been done well. But they need to change the way they communicate with us.

Here, to end on a brighter note, is another fine gatepost.

Trewinnard gatepost

Trewinnard gatepost

 

 

Whitebells, St Keyne, the NHS, and a woodpecker

The last couple of days’ walks have furnished material for the last few posts here. I still seem to find it hard to settle down to any serious reading.

The last couple of posts have mentioned St Keyne’s church. I took this picture the other day of a well just by the main entrance porch to the church. It’s covered over with a grill, but through this it’s possible to see a set of stone steps leading down into the dank darkness below. I don’t know if there’s any water there.

This is not the same as St Keyne’s holy well in the countryside near Liskeard. There’s some information about it at this site, which quotes its legend from Richard Carew, antiquarian and High Sheriff of Cornwall, presumably from his Survey of Cornwall published in 1602:

‘The quality that man or wife whom chance or choice attains first of this sacred spring to drink thereby the mastery gains.’

I haven’t visited it myself. I do own a book given me as a wedding present the day Mrs TD and I got married, 25 years ago this summer: Secret Shrines: In search of the Old Holy Wells of Cornwall, by Paul Broadhurst. According to his account of this well, St Keyne lived towards the end of the fifth century, so about a century before St Augustine is said to have brought Christianity to England.

She was one of ‘the fifteen sainted children of the illustrious King of the Brecon Beacons’, and blessed with ‘bewitching loveliness’. Nevertheless she wandered about Wales and then Cornwall, ‘safe from insult or wrong-doing’ by ‘the strength of her purity’, performing thaumaturgical marvels wherever she went.

One such miracle was performed in Somerset, commemorated in the place-name of Keynsham (near Bath). There she turned all the serpents that were infesting the place into stone. A footnote suggests this could be an allegory of the erection of monoliths or crosses to neutralise ‘unbalanced energies’. We could do with some of that power during the current crisis.

Image from Broadhurst's account of St Keyne's Well

Image from Broadhurst’s account of St Keyne’s Well, about 100 years ago

When she retired to Cornwall she made her home near the well that now bears her name. She planted several different types of tree by it, and endowed its water with ‘peculiar virtue’ by her blessing. Robert Southey has a poem about it (full text HERE), telling the tale of a traveller who’s stopped to take a refreshing drink from it, and is told by a local householder that the saint often drank from and blessed this well, and ‘laid on the water a spell’:

‘If the husband of this gifted well/shall drink before his wife,/A happy man thenceforth is he,/for he shall be master for life.’

But St Keyne’s wish had been for equality for women. The man’s tale therefore continues:

‘But if the wife should drink of it first,/God help the husband then!’

Asked if he was drinking this water before his wife, the traveller says he left her by the church porch as soon as they were wed: ‘but i’faith, she had been wiser than me/for she took a bottle to church.’

Serves him right.

Broadhurst goes on to say that the local custom of drinking this well water for luck persisted into early modern times. The well was then rebuilt in granite, as it had begun to deteriorate.

Gate post

Here’s another picturesque gate post

I’ll end with some more images from the last couple of days’ walks.

Today I saw a great spotted woodpecker, furtively shielding himself behind a tree trunk high up when he saw me. Then a jay, standing by the side of the lane; it took off into the trees at my approach. The same trees where the other day a man told me he was engaged in a stand-off with a squirrel.

White bluebellsThese white bluebells (whitebells?) grow profusely in the wood above our house (soon it will be a violet-blue haze of proper bluebells).

As I went to cross a stile to access a footpath that crosses a field, I noticed this delightful little message. Our health service has been under unprecedented pressure during this virus outbreak, and the people have started posting images of rainbows in their windows, not just to thank NHS workers and other carers and services, but as a message of hope. How nice that someone thought to put this little rainbow on a stone in such a remote (but fairly well-trodden) spot.

 

NHS stile

Here’s a shot of the stile with the painted stone just in front and to the left, on a step

NHS message