What do you mean 'Who is St Piran??'
St Piran is the patron saint of Cornish tin miners and that, coupled with the fact he allegedly died in Cornwall in 480, has all been enough for the county to adopt him as their saint of favour.
It's all a bit vague in the detail. St Piran probably born in Ireland but legend has it that the heathen Irish tied him to a millstone, rolled it over the cliff into a stormy sea, which immediately became calm. The saint floated safely across to land on the sandy beach of Perranzabuloe in Cornwall, where his first converts to Christianity were....er...animals.
More legend suggests that St Piran lit a fire on his blackstone hearth which, unbeknowest to him was a slab of tin-bearing ore. The heat caused smelting to take place and tin rose to the top in the form of a white cross which explains the Cornish flag (and my thanks to this website for that information)
No matter the detail the Cornish flag will be flying everywhere today, Trelawney's Army will be out celebrating in force, and I claim an affinity given we are only about a mile from the border and look across to all things Cornwall every time we gaze out of the window.
It therefore seems like the perfect day to salute the Virago reprint of Daphne du Maurier's Vanishing Cornwall published this week. This is a book we have owned but which I hadn't read for years until I settled down with this new edition over the weekend.
First published in 1967, and at a time when the coffee table book was all the rage,Vanishing Cornwall is Daphne du Maurier's tribute to the county she loved and adopted as her own, the place she made her home, and the book itself her answer to the banality of the glossy volumes that were gracing said coffee tables. All showy pictures and little else of substance, Daphne would write the opposite; words that mattered and which would be complemented by her son Christian's photography. Daphne did her research and the two of them criss-crossed the county on the trail of the heart of Cornwall. The landscape that inspired her books with its rugged coastline and expansive beaches, the wild and desolate moorland, the traditions, the legends, the industry, the fishing, the gentry and the working people, all are represented here.
And let's not forget the weather. Cornwall has a climate of its very own, balmy when everywhere else may be icy, drenched in torrents of rain when everywhere else has blazing sunshine. The times we set off from home on what seems like a glorious day to head down into Cornwall for more of the same, only to find it shrouded in mizzly mist from Bodmin down. But since childhood holidays it has always struck me as a place of secret corners, amazing sights tucked away from the rest of the world, and though of course not much of it remains secret now it still has that air of mystery and the unknown about it.
Reading Vanishing Cornwall it is quite apparent that Daphne du Maurier had enormous and ongoing anxieties about the future of the county. How would it fare as its burgeoning popularity as a holiday destination grew, and Daphne equally worried about how she may have influenced that with her writing..
' As a motorist I pass by with some embarrassment, feeling myself to blame, for out of that November evening long ago came a novel which proved popular, passing, as fiction does, into the folklore of the district. As the author I am flattered, but as a one time wanderer dismayed.'
We pass that place of 'folklore' within twenty minutes of leaving home every time we head down into Cornwall too, and reading Vanishing Cornwall some forty-four years after it was first published, and living on the doorstep as we do, I can see that there are some interesting debates to be had about it all.
We also pass the signs to Warleggan (yes, it is like driving through an episode of Winstons Graham's Poldark ...Demelza isn't that far away either) and now that I have read about the Reverend Frederick Densham, the vicar of Warleggan Parish in the 1920s I really would like to find it. Rev Densham apparently so terrifying and so barking mad that he had no congregation and was forced to make his own out of cardboard cut-outs. A young Daphne and some friends scaled the rectory wall and caught a glimpse of the incumbent pacing in his garden, and Daphne subsequently based a novel on it all... and I can't for the life of me think which it is ... one of you will know.
This is probably also a good time to flag up the 2012 Du Maurier Festival, 9th-20th May, the line-up has been announced and tickets go on sale soon. If I have a favourite and lesser known book of Daphne's it is The Scapegoat, making this event of particular interest...
“A major event of the 2012 Festival is a special advance screening of a new film version of Daphne du Maurier’s story The Scapegoat, commissioned by ITV and starring Matthew Rhys (from the hit US series Brothers & Sisters). Prior to the showing of the film, a panel of actors and members of the production team will discuss the making of this imaginative re-working of du Maurier’s classic tale. Joining them on the panel will be Christian Browning, son of Daphne du Maurier.”
For anyone with a day to spare I seem to have written quite a lot about Daphne over the years and have even remembered to tag it, so you will find it all here and including some forays down to the Du Maurier Festival in Fowey in previous years, plus I've had a trawl through the archives for some more Cornish reading,
Daphne ~ Justine Picardie
If you have any more suggestions please do add them in comments.
Meanwhile I do hope you will all be tucking into an oggy wherever you are today, god bless St Piran. I expect he thought of those first too, and that thing about the crimped pastry being the bit for the tin miners to hold it with when their hands were dirty is a load of old invented modern-day poppycock.