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Sennen Cove

I was trying to say "Tre-Ylewyth" home of the musician (Ylewyth being my bardic name.) But Peter Poole, who is a much better authority on the Cornish language than I am, assures me that I have in fact written "Tree lewyth" which would mean "Three Leaders". As we have only two leading-marks on our estate, my wife and two daughters must be the three leaders. Meanwhile, when the nameplate was first put up, Commander and Mrs. Crews looked down from their eyrie on the hill above and, recalling that we had had trouble with the building of our bungalow, thought that we must have named it "Trial with" The merely facetious call it "Trilly-with".

It took me a long time to fix on this marvellous site. About three years before the last of my Parsons Aunts, Auntie Lily ("Modrib Lily", as we ought to have called the bungalow) died and left me the handsome sum of £4000. Little enough, you would think to buy an estate with, but it was the beginning. Our two girls, who were small children then were showing the symptoms of whooping-cough and the Doctor assured us that it would be all right to go on the holiday we had planned. But my poor wife was left with two sick children on her hands. In the end we came home. But this "never again" was what decided us to have our own place.

So I consulted the agents to see what sort of property one could acquire for £4000. We spent the next three summers looking for something. At one place you walked through a farmyard and over a dunghill to find that there was a man asleep in the bedroom you hoped was going to become your own. At another there was a disused engine-house which I thought might be converted into a studio, but suddenly a neighbour popped her head up:" Do you realise that your children are dancing on top of a disused mine shaft?" One place was really tempting because it had a beautiful view of the sea, but Peggy ran her finger over some wood-worm that put this out of court.

We had almost despaired of ever finding anything when Audrey Pender, the lady with whom we had been staying, suggested: "Why don’t you write to Commander Crews up on the hill. He owns much of Sennen Cove and might have something he could spare on the edge of his estate. Commander Crews! A Naval man! I suddenly remembered my vow made long ago from the deck of H.M.S. Welshman when sailing to Land’s End and looking over to those wonderful Cornish cliffs where I now was: "If ever I get through this lot, I’ll have a little place there on those beautiful cliffs."

Well I had survived and now was the chance. But with a heavy heart, for it seemed too good to be true, I sat down to write to Commander Crews. Had he by any chance a corner of his land that he could spare for another Naval man who had made a vow that he would one day have a little place on those beautiful Cornish cliffs he could see yonder?"

I shall never forget the storm that ensued after I had posted this letter to Commander Crews. Sennen is generally free of storms. But on this occasion Beethoven and Berlioz were not in it. Lightning flashed and storm-drums rolled.

When I found a letter waiting for me in a corner of the room where we were staying. Would I like to come and call on him? There were two possibilities. One was our present Trylewyth. The other, which fortunately we rejected was later turned down by the local authority as a building site because it was on too sloping a hill.

It took me a whole morning to fight my way up what is now our drive and is easily mastered in a few minutes, with a scythe lent to me by Commander Crews, I tangled through the wilderness, but my heart was singing. Was I not the first of my family after two centuries to come "home" to own a little bit of Cornwall?

I remembered all this later when I was confronted in the saloon bar of the Old Success by a local man who said airily: ‘Oh, you’re the man who built his bungalow on a right of way." Pretty sort of a right of way that was allowed to become impassable! The old right of way where donkeys were led, was up the path known as Coronation Way. This started in the cove, then passed several cottages on the left and continued up the hill between Carn North Studio and our bungalow. We did not build on this right of way. By lunch-time when I stopped to have my sandwiches, I had fought my way up to the present front door of our bungalow. Of course I did not know that it was going to be the position of the front-door. What intrigued me was a rusty old post that I found here. What was this? How could I make use of it, or remove it?

Bill Pender, who came up in the afternoon to help me clear the site of the bungalow thought it was something to do with the lifeboat and told me I should consult Captain Harvey who was then the President of the Lifeboat. Bill was in the crew of the lifeboat for very many years. When Captain Harvey came up one morning when I was working on the site, he explained that the old rusty pillar which was due for renewal, was one of the two leading-marks that had to be in line when the life-boat went out to sea, to avoid hidden rocks that were under the waves. He pointed to the other leading-mark that was situated further up the hill beyond our property. I was glad to have all this explained to me before I laid rude hands in my ignorance on what belonged to the life-boat. When I next came they had removed the rusty old thing and replaced it with something more respectable.

Bill Pender and I worked hard at the site of the bungalow. It was a wild uneven site of rocks embedded in the earth that would have made a wonderful setting for Valkyrie Act II. Bill Pender showed how to remove a rock that looked impenetrable. Occasionally we came across clumps of primroses that I tried to move nearer to the sea-front, but they did not like being removed and almost always refused to settle down in their new home.

I naturally wanted to show my three leaders what great work I had done and with that end in view I booked Surf the cottage further down the main road on the seaward side, belonging to Commander Crews. But I had not bargained for the Torrey Canyon disaster which happened in that very year, specially to upset my wonderful projects, as it seemed.

In case you don’t remember, the Torrey Canyon was a large oil-tanker which managed to run into a rock off the Scillies spreading its loathsome cargo all over the beaches of West Cornwall and the Scillies. Luckily the Prime Minister of the day was a lover of West Cornwall, who had a place of his own in the Scillies, so he readily decreed that much public money should be spent on cleaning up the Cornish beaches in time for the summer tourist trade, which might otherwise have been lost.

So when we went to "Surf" we found that we had a first-class view of the operations involved in trying to clean the beautiful beach of Whitesands Bay.

Fortunately I was able to take my "Three Leaders" up the narrow path. I had taken my family to inspect the Wagnerian site where one day was to be our bungalow. But the gross smell of detergent which managed to eclipse the smell of the whole Torrey Canyon’s load was beginning to be too much for my Peggy who suffered from asthma, and it soon became clear that we must sacrifice our holiday in "Surf" and I must forego my clearing effort until a later date though the smell of detergent had no harmful effect on me personally.

In the later Summer I returned and managed to find a man with a bulldozer who was willing to spend a day creating a roadway and levelling a site for a bungalow. I was sad to see the Valkyrie Act II gradually dismantled, but I could not fail to admire the way the bulldozer pushed the great rocks aside, one to the left and one to the right, smoothing this position as it came back to drive another monster out of the way.

When the bulldozer-man had cleared the site for our bungalow, he still tried to clear the very heavy rocks that were at the back of the site. Over and over again he advanced towards them to give himself momentum. He nearly endangered his life by sending the bulldozer horizontally against them so that I was quite afraid that the bulldozer would fall backwards and squash him to death. At last he gave up - to my relief. The rocks at the back of our site were quite immovable, so that I couldn’t help laughing when my wife always felt that they might fall on top of her!

The bulldozer man and I decided that we must be content with the site as he had made it. When we went to share a pint of bitter and a pasty at the Old Success, I could not help admiring the work of this man who in one morning had cleared a rocky site into a level piece of ground ready for the builders. He wanted to return in the afternoon to smooth things over for them, but he had done the main job in one morning. Towards evening water began to appear on the smooth yellow surface of the mud that the bulldozer had created, and I began to fear that there might be hidden underground streams that the bulldozer had revealed but the man reassured me. It was just some moisture that the removal of the rocks had revealed.

The site was now ready, but I still had to find a builder who would build a bungalow at a reasonable price such as I could afford. There was, at the time, a firm called Bell and Pascoe who published an attractive brochure of differently designed bungalows with attractive Cornish names. It was to this firm that I first wrote for advice.

They sent a rather airy young man who seemed very critical of my wonderful site, as I thought it. In the end he turned it down as being impossible, because the slope of the drain-pipes down through the road way to the main drain under the road would be too gradual.

I came to the conclusion that a firm like Bell and Pascoe were not interested in jobs like ours. They were only interested in places where a number of bungalows could be built on the same site.

Once more we were frustrated. But again Audrey Pender came to our rescue. Mr. Roberts up the road from you. He’s a builder. He’s your neighbour. Again she was right. Bryan Roberts was the man. We became good friends with Bryan and Joyce Roberts.

He built us a very nice sturdy little bungalow and the next summer we were able to start our lets by which we hoped to retrieve our fortunes. But there was still one thing that disappointed me. I had been dreaming of a bungalow with a beautiful garden and this was still lacking. Nothing seemed to grow on this site exposed as it was to the sea winds except willow and sycamore trees and lilac bushes. There were plenty of wild flowers, of course, especially campions, but one could not make a garden such as I’d dreamed of out of these alone.

It was going to be a long time before this garden could come into existence but one could make a beginning. One plant that seemed to like sea winds was the hydrangea, so I wrote to my cousin Margery who lived in Barnstaple and had a garden full of beautiful pink hydrangeas. Her gardener sent me many cuttings. They all turned blue immediately but this began to make a display and I was encouraged to seek other plants that would be equally sturdy. One of these I knew would be the senecio, as it came from New Zealand and then there were the escallonias and the hebes, with their many different colours. Cornish gardens are often graced with camelias as long as they are placed so that they are not exposed to the early morning sun.

At last we had managed to achieve a garden worthy of the site we had chosen. Planning a garden was not unlike composing an opera. You should come in the springtime if you wish to see the primroses. These were certainly not here when I fought my way up the drive before the bulldozer created it. It is true that we now have John Pender (Bill’s and Elizabeth’s son) to keep the grass mown and drive back the bracken. But where did they come from - all these beautiful clumps of primroses? They were certainly not showing here when we first moved in.

But now there is a regular choir of boys and girls singing away to their heart’s content. I counted 200 plants many of them in great clumps singing away to their heart’s content on the landward side, all up the drive, and when their season is over, they are replaced with interesting and unusual ferns to make this bank a place of interest in all seasons. Every Easter, Elizabeth Pender helps to decorate their lovely Sennen Church on the Land’s End Road and these primroses can be seen on the font.

To return to the entrance of the drive and turn to the seaward side, we have left much of the original bracken and bramble here with clumps of blackthorn which always seems to refuse that lovely white hedgerow which one can see elsewhere. So we have introduced pockets of better soil here and there in the hopes that a few hydrangeas and buddleias of different colours may take on. I have certainly been successful with one Camelia cutting, if not with anything else.

A little further up the drive on the seaward side we come upon a duet that is a particular favourite of mine. Years ago when my daughters, who are now both young married women, were small children, we stopped on our way down here to visit a country nursery where I was told that white poplars could withstand sea-winds, but one must always be careful where one planted them because they had a way of suddenly dropping a bough or two sometimes with unfortunate results. At the time I was fighting against odds in my attempts to create a garden, so felt I could take the risk. I bought the white poplar and put it in a safe sort of place which it never seemed to like. Eventually I moved it here where it seems much happier in full view of the sea, surrounded by blue hebe. Every time I pass them I cannot help thinking what a lovely duet they sound. But I must be careful. Already there is a bough of the white poplar waving in the breeze not far from the main road. It must be removed before an accident occurs. Such are the hazards of people who try to create a garden by the sea.

A little further on we have planted a dwarf pampas grass which we hope will be shooting its white waves in the air like its brother up on the hill. The sycamores that shoot up so high from the ground just below are remnants from the days when nothing would grow in this garden. Now perhaps too high and prosperous, but they make a nice cover for the rubbish we heap here. Then, beyond the gladiolas we come upon an aery ensemble of which I am particularly proud. It starts with a variegated eleagnus shouldering a camelia and a mahonia duet of a berberis and a blue hebe, the two groups bound together by some Californian poppies that have seeded themselves. Beyond that and some other bushes are some tree mallows that are a feature of this part of the world which the locals call malleys

At this point we turn slightly to the left and find the big house (a four-roomed bungalow) in full face at the end of a further extension of the drive. We are under the boughs of a tall lutea, that has now lost its golden glory which it had in its youth and become a dark-leaved fir-tree. The primroses are continuing on our left landward bank dotted with violets and continued with bluebells, of course. This is a place perhaps to mention all the other wild flowers that my wife Peggy and our friend Sue Jordan had found in this drive - sea-squills, celandines, garlic, buttercup, sheep’s-bit, scabious, red campion, white sea campion, sea centuary, St. John’s wort, gorse, thrift, ragwort, figwort, blue fleabane, pennywort, montbretia, speedwell, lesser and greater stitchwort, foxglove, scarlet pimpernel, herb Robert, cut leaved crane-bill, yellow iris and musk.

Our children, Susie and Penny, were six and three, when we started making the garden. They enjoyed helping, and as it was opened up more and more wild flowers began to appear. When the earth became loosened. over the year they became skilled at looking up the names of flowers, the butterflies and the many birds that came as the shrubs and trees grew up. Susie worked out nature trails and Penny became a horse riding round the estate.

On our many walks to Land’s End there was thrift heath, heather, gorse and many other flowers in abundance. Near one of the coves we used to see year after year a large clump of white thrift, quite a rare plant. At the far end of Whitesands Bay you can walk across the sand dunes or along the beach. Only when there are very low tides to Gwenver where the children found sea holly and sea lavender.

The sea is now out there on our right and I have tried to break up the extension of bracken by creating a bed with my beautiful white hydrangea, with mauve and red hydrangeas beyond. The Brompton stocks used to flourish here until it became difficult to get them and sometimes their seeds do not seem to work. I hope to clear the bracken, or push it back up to the quarry which I trust has already claimed your attention on the left.

We like to call it "the quarry". It marks the point where our ownership on the left really begins, for all that wonderful hedge on the landward side with all the primroses and ferns: does not really belong to us though its true owner leaves us to look after it, but now with the "quarry" begins our property. I made this space originally as a secondary car space and turning, but it never seemed to work as such. Now it has become an important part of the garden, with a patch of wild geranium growing out of the left-hand rock which I tried so hard to remove in the days when I was trying to make a car-turn. Incidentally we connect this patch of wild geranium with our friend, Mollie Wallis who first made it and the camelia and pittosporum beyond them on the left with our friend Sue Jordan. A patch of thrift seems to have taken a hold on the grass floor, and long may it flourish there. On the right rock a patch of erigeron, such as is common down here, has also taken hold and we don’t want to lose it. So altogether this "quarry", as we call it, has become a beautiful little garden of its own.

Sometime I should like to arrange for a plaque to be erected saying: "This garden has been created in memory of all those men lost in H.M.S. Welshman (now at the bottom of the Mediterranean) which used to sail down the horizon opposite (1940-41) and was later instrumental in saving Malta."

Above and beyond this "quarry" I have planted a great mass of senecio, which came originally from New Zealand, I understand, and is here erected in memory of my early friendship with Douglas Lilburn the New Zealand composer, whose Symphonies are now becoming well known.

You ought to come at the end of June or the beginning of July to see the golden mass that leads the eye up the hill at this point. You must take your life in your hands if you wish to follow me up through the ranks of senecio to the next stage. I did prune the senecio giving me further cuttings and we soon come to a resting-point with a red camelia that may or may not be in flower, some tree-heather (likewise) and a holm-oak that is perhaps happy. This tree is the only one that took of many that came from an offer made years ago to try to increase the tree population of Cornwall - pines and firs of all kind. I put them in but they all failed except this holm-oak, with which I seem to have been lucky. Proceeding further up the hill on the right we come to a glowing line of senecio at the end of which is a seat given us by our friend Sue Jordan, where I bid you rest for a while and admire the view. Yes, we are lucky. It is high tide and the sea is flowing up the distant beach with the headland above. Keep your head down and let the hebe mask the car-park that is just beyond.

Behind us is the wonderful pampas-grass. I counted 20 fronds last year and didn’t they make a lovely sight in the evening light. Walking in this direction and passing my cuttings of various coloured buddleias we come upon John Pender’s rails and steps down to the ground level we had left. John has been helping us for many years and is still doing so with all-the-year-round maintenance of the drive, in the garden and the bungalow. Thank you, John, and we couldn’t have managed without your help. John is now the Deputy Coxswain of the Sennen Cove Lifeboat.

Proceeding towards the bungalow we notice the beautiful blue hydrangea on our left and the lovely mauve one of many colours up on the hill. (I wonder if the canopy of trees gives it this variety of mauve and blue colours?) Then don’t miss the yellow iris in that marshy bit of land on our left or on our right the globosa buddleia that produces golden balls in June.

Now we have come to the car turn and before entering the house I would like to point out the red fuchsias that make such a wonderful show against the blue sea in the autumn. Our friend Helen Colquhoun gave us the cuttings from her garden. On our left you can see the camelia given me by my music class years ago. What a sight in Spring with its beautiful pink flowers! There used to be a royal fern just behind it, but sadly this has died. Never mind! There are plenty of baby royal ferns coming along behind the bungalow.

Now at last let us enter the bungalow. I want to show you the picture of the Welshman given to me by Jim Burgess, one of the survivors from the 1943 torpedoing. There is now a regular Welshman Society founded by Mr, and Mrs. Evenett. Mr. Evenett was not in the Welshman, but he remembers it because he lost his brother in the final catastrophe.

This other window looks down towards the life-boat house and haven’t we seen some amazing sunsets with the sun dropping into the sea just there.

But now I should think you must be pining for a cup of tea, if not something stronger, so come into the kitchen and rest a while at the window table there and admire the view. It is wonderful before the hydrangeas come out, when they are just about to burst into blue, but still more wonderful, perhaps, when for the whole of the late summer they turn to blue.

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