Time Tour

A historical (and contemporary) tour of the area around Constantine courtesy of Liz Moore.

tolmen_stoneThis most SPECTACULAR STONE can be viewed during this once in a life time tour of the parishes of the North Helford.

The Tolmen Stone, the largest free standing granite boulder in Cornwall at 33 feet long, 14 feet high and 18 feet wide and a massive 450 tons. It stands on a hill top 600 feet above sea level, perched over the Maen Quarry ..

Facts are all true, only time changes, tour with us as the ghosts of things past rub shoulders with the spirit of the present.

Good Morning everyone, my name’s Liz and I’m your guide for today, and this is John Penlerick’s bus, looks a bit cranky but we know he’ll do the job, we climbed on board the bus at the Falmouth Sea Front and after a brief stop on the Moor for the townies, we’re on our way. Later on we may well gather in others. Have you got your a cushion to sit on, sturdy footwear and a coat to keep ee warm, you have good, lets get on to the sights, scoff some ansom food and stroll along the footpaths and through the beautiful gardens of the North Helford.

Ere we go then…we leave town passing close to the Grammar School and the Hospital, arriving at Lamanva Forecross where on a another day, you might like to walk around the Argal and College Reservoirs, beyond the smooth waters of Argal, can you see any signs of the train, the short bursts of smoke from steam engine carrying either passengers or granite from the quarries on the Helston to Penryn branch line. You will get a better view of the train at Retallack hill but for the moment if you look hard you might just see the corner of the great stone itself.

Back to our journey within a few hundred yards of the crossroads is our first stop for refreshment, but I advise you not to sample the home brew of the Oaten Sheaf, “It wyll make one to knack, also to spew. It is dyrke and smoky, and also it is dyn. It is lyke wash, as pygges had wrestled dryn”

Much better to visit the Military Vehicle Museum, here you can see many WWII American Army vehicles, as kids we used to play in a Dodge Ambulance called Katy, carrying each other on stretchers around the mowhay at Penwarne, we’ll pause here briefly, step into the Horsaur glider that was towed over Arnhem, sit in a Willys jeep, hear the stories of great courage and valour.

The road between Mabe and Mawnan Smith is unusual for the area, it was widened by the County Council in preparation for the D-Day traffic. Thousands of soldiers were hidden in the area, vehicles camouflaged, home guard being trained in readiness.

On we go though the hamlet of Treverva, there’s the sound of the anvil, yes the blacksmith is busy, and a couple of folks join us out side the post office, listen can you also hear the wonderful sound of the choir drifting through the air from the Methodist chapel. That Edgar Kessel he got his MBE for all his work with the choir. Just round the corner, Cornish farmhouses cheeses are made and we watch, taste and have home baked bread to go with it.

Leaving Menallack we wind through picturesque country lanes where the granite hedges are covered with the soft purple blue haze of the bluebells. Before we see the poly tunnels of the Fir Tree Farm Nurseries, with their clematis and perennials by the hundred we pass through Eathorne, with its operatic associations.

This is granite country. Everyone look to the right, there it is, the fantastic egg shaped granite boulder, The Tolmen, and its companion, the great Menhir, 24 feet high both standing guard over the quarries. A short walk takes us to the Tolmen itself, so called because there is room to pass under the great stone.

Evidence of prehistoric sites persuade us that their heritage is continued by the 200 men working the quarries, here, drilling and cutting granite to be shipped from Penryn and Port Navas across the oceans of the world, to the new harbours of Buenos Aires, Naples and Malta. Tower Bridge was built on the graft of Constantine men the most famous stone masons in the world.

If you choose the train next time hop off at the little Constantine Station and walk along the well trodden footpaths, used by those going to or from work or church, other stones of interest close by are the Maen Rock, Devils chair and the granite waymaker in the valley at Trewardreva, in the field near Bosahan Quarry the Fogou ‘Piskey’s Hall’ needs a sign duck or grouse, you’ll be Piskey mazed if you’re not careful. Now what’s that coming out the old garage, the hull of a canal barge beginning its long journey northwards by road.

Suddenly we’re in Brill, Boulder Park to your left, is where the boys worked hard clearing the granite from the small field and turning it intio the lovely cricket pitch you now see, oh yes, see the freshly painted white finger posts. While we’re out today we’ll see Cornish Crosses & Milestones keep your eyes open I might forget to mention them.

The beautiful house of Tucoys is the only place in Constantine Parish mentioned in the Domesday book, the estate included Borease, Boswidjack, Crowgey, Tresidder and Pollanguy, neglected and forlorn for such a long time it is blooming again. The Cornish Detective Wycliffe investigated a murder at the cottage, you may have seen it on the televison. Tucoys Chapel is a gem adorning the junction where we met the ridgeway road between Edgecumbe and Gweek.

Listen, listen, the familiar sound and smell of the steam engines, all polished and shiny. Down hill all the way to Gweek, we could free wheel it, if it twasn’t dangerous, Oh, slow down, tucked behind this cottage is the Tolvan Stone, pass your sick child through for healing. Gweek, what an industrious place, ships tied up along the quay, warehouses, noise, smoke and bustle, all this activity to feed the needs of Helston, since its was cut off by the formation of the Loe Bar.

What else do we find, the headquarters of a Cornish Company with platforms throughout the world. Further on we can see the little clapper bridge up stream; the corn mill and on the bend here is the Gweek drive entrance to the Trelowarren Estate guarded by a beautiful thatched cottage. There are lots of lovely walks through the grounds but that’s for another day. Back in Gweek the Count House stands proud, black swans and inns not to be seen.

The Helford is a gateway to the world the Caroline sails from here to Philadelphia on the 27th March her commander is John Broad and she’s 400 tons and she will sail with the tide. Gweek often makes the local press only last Thursday Mr James the Comptroller of the Port and his men captured in the Helford River, a vessel having 125 kegs of brandy on board and also arrested the smugglers 1 Englishmen and 3 Frenchmen. There’s also notice of an auction soon, possibly of goods seized by the Revenue men, of 12 pair silk gloves, 452 cotton hose, 249 worsted hose, 153 scissors, 8 doz watch chains,1 dozen spectacles 12 lace veils , 15 telescopes, night caps, thimbles and 1 pound of snuff, not to be sneezed at.

Two sound Gweek vessels, the brig Ann, a 156 ton cargo carrier recently returned from America with a cargo of timber and the schooner Mary are in Penzance harbour awaiting sale by private treaty.

The new seal hospital is worth a visit, seemed a bit odd to find them here at first but they’ve settled in very well with all the other activity. We’ll move on again back towards Constantine, where we’ll pause for lunch, the energetic ones can walk out to Scott’s Quay, the tides in so there’ll be boats working in the creek.

As we go up the road from Gweek we are passing several very interesting farms and manor houses, Carwythenack was once in the possession of the Walter Dec Stapleton who was Bishop of Exeter in 14thC. and his Brother Richard was one of Edward 1st Judges.

Standing proudly alone are those wonderful red pillars built to flank a new entrance road which never appeared. There’s a lot to talk about and its lunchtime so we’re off down to the Gilly, where a sweet bit of fish and some ‘andsome sausages are brought to your table by pretty maidens. Those who walk with me to Scotts Quay, might see a porpos or even a Dolphyn, any great fish like that do belong to the Lord of Merthen, tis his right If you hear the clashing of arms its only the Romans practising their battle movements in the encampment nearby, one of many.

Those that chose to can go back on the bus to Constantine, John will drop you off next to the Church, where the gravestones for locals who died on the Titanic and Lusitania can be found, in the Church you can see the brasses of Richard Gerveys his wife and sixteen children and of John Pendarves who died the same year as Shakespeare. And other interesting things.

Horses and carts of all sorts and sizes jostle as they take granite or copper ore to the quay for shipment,then turn smartly round to carry the coal back to the tine smelters. The drone of a piston engine is heard as Captain Pugh’s small aircraft comes up the river and turns into his landing strip. The distant crack of rifles travels over the water from the targets set in the creek banks of Polwheveral. The boats look splendid even under half sail but it’s a tight fit for the schooners. You have to be on board a sailing ship to know how noisy it is, winches and pullys straining, timbers creaking, orders shouted.

On our way back we can see the rifle men threading they way along the creekside towards the corn mill and fulling mill at the head of the creek. They are just passing the old salt pans. Crossing the little stone bridge built a few years ago, 1572 I think, by Roger Hallard from over on the Roseland for the princely sum of £3.8s.6d. with an a down payment of 6s.8d. For £6.13s.4d. He have to maintain it for the rest of his life. Just to make a good circular walk we’ll go along ‘jarra bottoms but first here’s the stamps, t’was sad time when the boy was killed.

An inquest in the Cornish Arms, said he got jammed against the crank of the main axis wheel and crushed. This is part of the Wheal Vyvyan Mine worked mostly for the copper with some tin, even though wethink of them all as tin mines now. The mine and a lot of the cottages in Fore Street are owned by Vyvyan’s out at Trelowarren.

We have several mines of one sort or another in the area, later we’ll pass by Anna Maria at Budock Vean which yielded 24% copper, 12 ounces of silver and half once of gold per ton.

Hi everyone, did you get a good cup of tea at the Tolmen Centre, since its conversion from the big Methodist Chapel to a community centre it has blossomed and is now home to the heritage collection; the male voice choir; the Feast Concert which is musical extravaganza that drawing together the numerous music makers and performers of the village, and a theatre which attracts the finest actors and musicians.

Well can’t keep John waiting any longer we’d best be off again, under this bridge the mock mayor of Constantine was ducked, it did upset the vicar to be sure, ah Ponjeravah Academy where the boys have to duck the chalk or get a stinging earhole.

We’re coming down into Cove, the little Methodist Chapel is tucked up on the right, abit further down and there’s the ladies, not ships figureheads as would be quite at home, but a pair of garden statues. Pubs have been mentioned several times during our journey around, the Cove pub is the Jolly Sailor you can just see the outline of it’s name on the wall of the slated house, it even has a skittle alley.

The Wash room and Reading room built by Mayne has got a new life; Painting and Italian classes as well as a stroll in Popes Garden or out to the Oyster Farm encourage us to linger here. So off we get, just for a few minutes, up the lane to see the higher and lower Quays and the crane track on top of the wall. Having taken huge pieces of granite and kerb stone to Ireland and further away, the coastal schooners circular routes sometimes brought into Port Navas every few weeks, carrying cement, pig iron and lime

This has been a very full day but we are not finished yet, back on the bus, and on to Budock Vean, primroses adorn the banks, egrets, kingfishers, herons and the graceful swans usually visible around the waters edge. Trenarth bridge who’d think a 40 ton lorry would ever need to come along this winding road – EU rules! I’m sure many foreign visitors think it is one way only.

Around a few more bends and Wheal Anna Maria is up on the right, named after Anna Maria Pender of Budock Vean. The small manor which once had it’s own chapel dedicated to St Budock, was in a state decay when Parky and Eddie set to work on it, creating a place for rest and relaxation for the years to come.

Everywhere around here are signs of Military activity, I already mentioned the widening of the road from Mabe, well here we are at the far end of it going down to Helford Passage, the concrete road has been made out to Polgwidden Beach below Trebah, for the tanks and the troops to get to the landing craft. Several properties along the river bank are used by the Special Forces, all very hush hush, but we know great discussions and plans are being made behind the closed doors of Pedn Billy & Ridifarne. The schooner yacht Sunbeam II is waiting in the river, and the crews of the three long sleek gigs are getting ready to join the Championships on the Scillies. In the pubs or the hotel here you might be rubbing shoulders with American, Canadian, French and Polish servicemen, the jeeps, halftracks, weapons carriers and lorries are all ready and waiting to go. June is not far away now.

A farm, a laundry house, a manor house and the fantastic garden of Trebah is our next stop, are we in some exotic location, huge tree ferns, magnolias, with the beautiful shimmering of the blue hydrangeas leading the eye on to the water, it must be time for a cream tea, Planters here we come.

Just a touch further on is Glendurgan, home to the Fox family, of Quaker persuasion, this wonderful valley garden has a maze and the giants stride, footpaths lead gently down to the river’s edge at Durgan, where a family of Badgers can be found. This also is a place of great activity with coal ships beaching for unloading and vessels of many eras are to be found anchored within a few yards of the shore, very photogenic.

More places to eat and drink, this tour should have been over three days, the Red Lion licensee is Sophia Boswarrick and just by chance the mistress of the school is Emma Sophia Vickery, John Wills Pascoe does a good job mending the shoes and Henry Skewes Lugg keeps the fire going in the smithy.

You know that Mawnan Smith got its name from the blacksmith shop, twas a very important place, being on the route of the monks travelling to Meneage and using the Ferry over the Heyle, Carwinnion leads on to the Church on the Cliff, I arrived here by taxi some years ago the third generation of brides to travel with Dryden. Many locations along the coast have great significance for those at sea, cottages that have always to be painted white, trees kept clear of Church towers, St Mawnan is one of these, and just a few days ago saw two intrepid sailors complete their long journeys around the world, thousands lined to cliffs towards Falmouth to welcome Robin and Ellen home.

Time has gone, so we finish by travelling though Maenporth, the Castle with St Anthony Light in the distance comes into view briefly and back into town, thank you for joining John and I we hope you enjoyed the trip.

I have enjoyed writing this concoction of things past, present and the what might have been, I hope it has shown you the taste and colour of our communities, there is so many amazing stories & interesting books to read. I have referred to several which sit on my bookshelves. Life in Cornwall (Extracts from the West Briton 19th Century) Henderson’s Constantine Cornwall, Story of Port Navas, The Book of Constantine contains a map of the proposed railway, Book of Mawnan, Cornwall and its People A.K. Hamilton, Kelly’s Directory 1883, even the jottings I made in the 1994 Who’s Where.

Liz Moore