Category Archives: Featured Westcountry

Golden Cap and Fossil Hunting at Charmouth

Golden Cap from Charmouth's East Beach

Golden Cap and Fossil Hunting at Charmouth

How do you drag kids away from their social media lives without annoying them? That’s a question that lots of parents must wrestle with these days, but thankfully it’s one I don’t have to, but if I did, I think that I would take them for a day out to somewhere like Charmouth.

As a kid, I always enjoyed rummaging around in rockpools seeing what I could find, and I also remember my first project at school was about dinosaurs and early life on earth; here at Charmouth, you can have the best of both worlds because there’s no better place in the country to go fossil hunting, and judging from the number of families who come here, it seems like I’m not the only one who finds this an enjoyable and stimulating day out.

The Dorset and East Devon coastline has been given World Heritage Status by UNESCO and is widely known as the Jurassic Coast. In actual fact, the 95 miles of coastline between Exmouth and Old Harry Rocks in Purbeck covers three different periods of Earth’s history – from the Triassic Period (250-200 million years ago) through the Jurassic Period (200-140m) to the Cretacious Period (140-65m) – a total of 185 million years.

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Old Sarum

Remains of Old Sarum Castle

Old Sarum

 

Old Sarum probably wont be the first place visitors will come to see on their first visit to Salisbury, but it should be the first place to know about, because without Old Sarum there would be no Salisbury.

On a hilltop overlooking the valley where present day Salisbury lies are the remains of Sarum, or Old Sarum as it is now called.

This previous Iron Age hill fort, just a couple of miles north of the city centre, passed through the hands of the Romans, Saxons, and Vikings, before finally falling to William the Conqueror.

William built a Motte and Bailey castle inside the existing fort, probably around 1069-70, and the importance of the site was strengthened even more by the construction of a cathedral which was consecrated on 5th April 1092.

As was often the case during medieval times, the powers that be and the clergy didn’t always meet eye to eye and the decision was made to relocate the cathedral down to the valley below where it still stands.

 

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SS Great Britain

SS Great Britain

On the 19th July 1843 crowds thronged the slipway at Bristol’s Great Western Dock to watch Prince Albert launch the ‘world’s first great ocean liner’, and on the 19th July 1970, exactly 127 years later, crowds once again lined the banks of the Avon to see the grand old lady brought back home to her birthplace.

Those 127 years had taken their toll, and she had been left to see out her final days 8,000 miles away down in the South Atlantic: That was, until a rescue operation was organized to make sure that the old girl had the dignified end to her life that she deserved – and what a life it was.

When the SS Great Britain was launched, she was the most advanced ship in the world using revolutionary new techniques to transport passengers in luxury to the other side of the Atlantic – and that was just the beginning. In total, she travelled over a million miles around the world before being scuttled at Sparrow Cove in the Falkland Islands in 1937, but why was she built in Bristol?

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West Pentire and the Wildflower Fields

West Pentire and the Wildflower Fields

 

From Newquay Harbour the town has spread inland and along the coastline northwards, but the River Gannel has at least contained the expansion southwards.

On the opposite side of the river is the small and attractive village of Crantock, which because of its access to the nearby beach can become busy at peak times, but the good news for people who enjoy a more natural environment is that the National Trust (NT) has been able to purchase significant parts of the estuary and southern coastline, including the headland at West Pentire.

Whilst many are drawn to the beach at Crantock, some venture a bit further along the minor road to West Pentire where the Bowgie Inn offers some exceptional views from its pub garden and access to an easy wander around the peninsula.

The views take in the Gannel and the headland of Pentire Point East opposite, and it might not come as any great surprise to learn that the mouth of the estuary has another headland on the West Pentire side called Pentire Point West.

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Have you seen the light?

The view towards St. Ives from Hayle

Have you seen the Light?

Don’t worry, I’m not going to come knocking on your door with the latest edition of the Watchtower: This article is about the clarity of light that has brought artists to West Cornwall for years.

I’m no artist, and before you start to snigger, I mean I can’t paint or draw, which is why I’ve got the utmost admiration for those that can.

I do believe that the quality of the light in West Cornwall is special, but I also believe that artists have beat a path to St. Ives for the quality of life as well.

I mean, let’s be honest, would you prefer to be working in an office or on the factory floor all day, to dabbling with a paint brush on the harbourside in between visits to the Sloop? I thought not.

I don’t think they make a vast fortune mind you, but then again, I don’t think they worry about the money side of it too much either. My philosophy about life is somewhat similar – but unfortunately, I’m no good at painting the bathroom door let alone a nice atmospheric seascape.

Painting en plein air became fashionable in Cornwall back in the 1880s with Falmouth, Newlyn and St. Ives setting up their own individual artist colonies.

Some of the more renowned artists, such as Ben Nicholson were encouraged by Alfred Wallis, a retired seaman who didn’t start painting until he was in his seventies. A man of very little personal wealth he used all sorts of bits and pieces to paint on. Although he died a pauper in 1942 his legend lives on and his old home still stands in Back Road West which has a plaque on the wall outside.

The St. Ives School of Painting opened up in 1938 just a few doors away in the Porthmeor Studios and is still going strong today.

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Daniel Gumb’s Cave

Daniel Gumb's Cave

 

Cornwall is a land full of tales, myths and folklore – many of which are somewhat economical with the truth, but Daniel Gumb was a real man who became a legend in his own lifetime.

Born to a humble family in nearby Linkinhorne in 1703, he worked as a stonecutter up on the moor around Stowe’s Hill. I’m not sure whether he was paid much for what he did, but he was obviously pretty good at it because he decided to build himself a cave out of the raw material that was readily available.

The 10×4 metres stone dwelling suited Daniel for several reasons, but whether his wife and nine children appreciated it as much as he did, I wouldn’t like to say.

Apart from saving himself money in the building and running costs, the Flintstone type existence enabled him to follow his love of astronomy. He also had a passion for mathematics, and if he wasn’t following the stars from the roof of his cave at night, he was solving mathematical problems during the day.

He became known as the ‘Mountain Philosopher’, and even Willam Cookworthy, who discovered China Clay in Cornwall, came here to see him.

Daniel Gumb finally went to that great big cave in the sky in 1776 aged seventy three, and his home could have gone to the bottom of the quarry floor if somebody hadn’t had the foresight to move it to a safe location when the quarry was expanded. Although it doesn’t look quite the same as it did back then, there are still some of the original slabs of stone on which he made some mathematical carvings.

The cave can be found on the way from Minions to the Cheesewring next to the quarry. The easiest way to find it is to walk around the edge of the quarry towards The Cheesewring and then just before heading uphill you’ll hopefully be able to see four grassy humps on your right hand side. The cave is tucked in between them.

OS Ref – Map 201 SX258724

Latitude – 50° 31′ 29.3″ N

Longtitude –  4° 27′ 28.51″ W

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