Loch Awe in spring - Photo courtesy of Neil Donald Photography






Saturday, 12 August 2017

FROM HUMBLE BEGINNINGS ... by Victoria Cornwall


One day I will have a study of my own to write in, rather than a corner of my son’s former bedroom. I can see it in my mind’s eye now. I will have a shelf dedicated to research books and another displaying the first editions of my novels. The room will be tastefully decorated, with perhaps a vase of fresh flowers in the corner. Of course there would be lots of natural light from a large window, with soft pastel drapes and a spectacular countryside view.  In this room I will write my greatest work … at least that is the plan.

Henna Cliff on the North Coast of Cornwall
Of course, writers don’t have to have a study to write in. In fact there are many famous writers who have written their greatest work in an unusual place. I don’t know how much is truth and how much is fabrication, but I have heard that John le Carre wrote on a train, D.H..Lawrence wrote under the trees, Virginia Wolf in a storage room, Dame Edith Sitwell in an open coffin and Roald Dahl in a writing hut at the bottom of his garden. However, the most interesting place I know of is built into a north facing Cornish cliff, and I had the pleasure of visiting it one summer as I walked the coastal path.

Hawker's Hut
Hawker’s Hut was built around 1844, from timber taken from wrecked ships, namely the Caledonia, the Phoenix, and the Alonzo. To reach it one has to briefly leave the coastal path and descend down the steep gradient by way of some slate steps. It was built by Robert Stephen Hawker, vicar, poet and antiquarian of Cornwall, who could name Charles Dickens and Alfred Lord Tennyson amongst his friends. He was thought of as a compassionate man, who provided a Christian burial for around fifty shipwrecked sailors washed up upon his shore.

He was also considered an eccentric, as he preferred to dress in a claret-coloured coat, blue fisherman's jersey, long sea-boots and a pink brimless hat. Tales about him added to his reputation - he talked to birds, invited his nine cats into church and kept a pig and a stag as pets. It is thought he even excommunicated his cat for mousing on Sundays. What we do know for sure is that he introduced the Harvest Festival celebrations to his church, a thanksgiving service where people bring fruit and vegetables they’ve grown to give thanks for a good harvest. The tradition continues today in Cornish churches and chapels up and down the county and the food is later sold and the money donated to a good cause.

Greenway and Caunter Beaches, Cornwall
Despite his busy pastoral life, he spent many hours sitting in his hut, looking at the breathtaking views while he wrote his poems, letters and smoked opium. Today, his small writing retreat is considered the smallest property in the National Trust portfolio.

The hut, which only contains a bench, is built into the hillside, with a turf roof and only the width of a path in-front of it. The Atlantic Ocean crashes on the rocks below, providing a roaring backdrop to the solitary place. The door has two parts, so one can sit inside and be protected from the wind, yet still enjoy the view of the dark blue sea meeting the ever-changing sky above. If one sits at the back, it appears that the hut is on a precipice, with nothing but the roaring Atlantic Ocean, rolling and foaming onto the jagged rocks below.

Hawker wrote many poems and published several volumes such as Records of the Western Shore (1832), Poems (1836), Ecclesia (1840), Reeds Shaken with the Wind (1843/44), Echoes From Old Cornwall (1846). Eventually, money and other worries led him into a gradual decline of depression and delusions. As he lay dying, he converted to Catholicism and when he died, the mourners for this much loved and respected vicar wore purple instead of black.

Hawker's greatest legacy to the Cornish people is his poem The Song of the Western Men. It is a poem that the Cornish people still hold close to their hearts today as they sing it as their anthemic song “Trelawny”.

I may dream of having an ideal study one day, but Robert Stephen Hawker needed no great room to write his works and be remembered for years after he left this world. All he needed was some driftwood, formed into a small hut and built into the face of the North Cornish Coastline. It was what he could see, hear, smell, taste and feel on the sea breeze that inspired his writing, plus the ability to appreciate the unspoilt beauty of the natural world around him.

Do you have an unusual or special place, where you like to read, think or write? Perhaps you have heard about someone else's. I would love to hear about it.





16 comments:

  1. What a fascinating post, Victoria - thanks for sharing the story and photos with us!

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  2. What a beautiful post, Victoria, with beautiful photos to go with it. The little hut looks enthralling.

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    1. I love discovering eccentric characters. My aim is to be one, one day. :D

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    2. Do you want us to let you know when you get there? Interesting post and I'd heard of that place before. I took over my eldest son's bedroom for my office and it's definitely my happy place :)

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    3. Many people tell me I am already eccentric! :) There are a lot of interesting places, with fascinating stories, along the coastal path. Well worth a visit. :)

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  3. Great post, thanks for sharing x

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  4. What a wonderful post, Victoria. I love that the names of the shipwrecked vessels, which 'supplied' the timber, are even known. Hawker is new to me and sounds such a fascinating individual that I'd love to read some of his work. : )

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    1. He was quite a character. After his first wife died, he married again when he was in his 60s. His wife was only 20 and they had three children. He certainly packed a lot into his life! :)

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  5. Wonderful post, Victoria. Amen to all that he did but maybe not the opium!

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    1. Thank you, Linda. I am amazed that opium was around then. I always thought it was a modern problem ... although I don't think he considered it a problem. ;)

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    2. We - as in the UK, not as in me and him indoors - introduced it to the Chinese!

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    3. One learns something every day! :)

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  6. Wonderful post, Victoria, fascinating read. xo

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    1. Thank you, Jade, and thanks for dropping by. :) There are a lot of posts (on a wide variety of topics) on this blog. If you want some light reading, without spending a penny, please feel free to check those out too. :)

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