Cornwall Spring

I’m not sure if the title is a reference to the season or that a holiday has put a spring back in my step, but I certainly felt like I needed a holiday after the last few months. In fairness, of the two weeks I took off, we spent 8 days in Cornwall and the rest at home. In this case much of “at home” involved working dawn to dusk on home improvements. It feels like we used all of our energy to get our home move over the line and only now, 6 months later, can we contemplate getting things more to our liking. Much of this is entirely prosaic, though I will observe that painting electrical fittings and wall attachments (such as curtain poles) to the walls seems a bit daft and requires both brute force and craft to rectify and make good.

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In the meantime we’ve also had a Nest thermostat installed, which in theory should allow for much more control of our heating. The biggest benefit of this is being able to control heating remotely from a smartphone, though the thermostat itself is a wonder of product design and appearance.

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To return to our holiday for a second, it’s been 5 years or so since we last ventured west of the River Tamar, which we used to do often. In the past, with a tricky toddler, we had feared a performance or calamity from travelling too far. With our son getting older and (theoretically) a bit more able to cope with long periods travelling we thought we would go for it. With the benefit of hindsight I wish we had gone earlier.

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One of the things that always blows my mind are the narrow twisty streets of the fishing villages like Mevagissey, that would never be described as “SUV friendly”. A number of times driving in and out of the village I was gritting my teeth and holding my breath as I went up or down the hill out of the village. In one particularly odd moment I had to tuck in as a trio of vintage Austin sevens passed by going up the hill. All of that said, it’s an absolutely lovely place which also happens to be a working fishing harbour. I will confess to being partial to eating in the restaurants around the harbour too.

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Our first stop was the lost gardens of Heligan, a real Cornish tourist destination that we had visited before many years ago. The gardens are the restored gardens of a local stately home, largely abandoned in the middle of the 20th century and “rediscovered” in more recent times. This time we tried (vainly) to keep up with our son as he raced around it only to arrive at a rope bridge he wanted to cross. As I’m entirely yellow bellied when it comes to heights, I am completely clear that the most scared person on the rope bridge was me… Aside from that the Gardens themselves were a kaleidoscope of shades of green (and ginger pigs).

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We managed the obligatory trip to St Ives where we tried to go to a photography exhibition at the Tate but, due to variable levels of interest on the part of our son, ended up sacking it in to go for a walk on the beach in the end. The light in St Ives is just about perfect (hence all the artists who lived or visited). On the way home we took a scenic downpour (I mean detour) to Land’s End to get drenched and drink coffee.

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We visited the biomes of the Eden project and I confess it’s a place we have a soft spot for having been a few times to visit the Eden sessions prior to our son’s arrival. For those who don’t know, the Eden project is a landscaped open cast mine converted into gardens with an ecological/environmental educational purpose/theme. A highlight of the visit are the Biomes, enormous plastic bubbles that house a rainforest and Mediterranean environment. While I’ve enjoyed visiting in the past, this time was quite special, perhaps because it was out of season, hence fewer visitors, and we got to appreciate the visit more. While a lot had changed, it also felt like nothing at all had changed, which is probably the right way to be.

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What was enormous fun, without intending it to be, was the simple pleasure of taking a kite (in the shape of a Pterodactyl, obviously) to Pentewan beach and flying it in the light wind. It’s beautiful at Pentewan, but I can imagine it gets quite busy in the summer. Fortunately we were in the off-season, so only a few other brave souls shared the beach with us.

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Watching the Kite

We headed to Gweek, to the Seal Sanctuary there having visited a few years previously. Our son was very excited to see Penguins in person as ever (he acquired a soft toy penguin from London zoo called “Rocky” at Christmas). The seals and sea lions are majestic as they move through the water, though one did leap out of the water next to me to give me the fright of my life!

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A place I enjoy visit more for the walk and the views than the ultimate destination, is St Michael’s mount, a castle on a rock that becomes an island at high tide near the village of Marazion. In fairness the castle is really interesting too, but nothing can really match the views of the mount from the beach at Marazion, it’s a photographer’s dream.

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Another destination was Lanhydrock, an old mansion of Jacobean origin rebuilt and extended in the later 19th century following a fire. There was some fun for our son in the form of a trail of toy trains around the house, which meant we actually got to see it rather than the alternative we had experienced in other destinations! The house itself was a bubble of high Victorian modcons and decoration where no expense had been spared. It’s a place of beauty, but equally feels like the inhabitants were always striving for that extra 10% – I can’t really explain it.

Tiger, tiger

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Finally, my son and I ventured up to the top of Tintagel Castle, a settlement/fortification on a headland dating all the way back to the dark ages (and reputed to be King Arthur’s castle) on our way home. Unfortunately, it was incredibly windy on the day we visited and this allowed little appreciation of the wonder of the site (part of the wonder being that anyone at all lived in such a bleak place, part being the wonder of the stunning landscape and power of nature around by). Sadly my son decided that he needed the loo when we were on top of the headland which resulted in dashing back down the cliffside steps and high paths to the visitor centre at breakneck speed…

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All in all a trip that recharged the batteries and the spirits, despite the long drive either end.

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While away, I used the Nikon D810 a great deal, and the Leica M240 a little. In a reversal of the way I usually feel about these things the D810 was the camera that I enjoyed using the most, perhaps because the good light permitted the kind of results that make you wonder what the point of digital medium format is. Having said that though, the care, patience and composition that goes into M240 shots is clearly higher as I felt a much, much higher proportion of the Leica shots were special (at least to me).

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Mention in despatches should go to both the APO-Summicron 50mm mounted on the Leica, which was just stunningly accurate and the Tamron 15-30mm F2.8, which optically surpasses the Nikon 14-24mm where they overlap (more on this later).

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Taken with my Nikon D810, Df and Leica M240 using: (Nikon mount) Tamron 15-30mm F2.8, Nikon 20mm F1.8G, Nikon 35mm F1.8G, Nikon 50mm F1.4G, Sigma 35mm F1.4 Art, Sigma 50mm F1.4 Art, Nikon 70-200mm F4 and Nikon 80-400mm G VR; and (Leica M mount) Super Elmar-M 21mm F3.4, Summicron 28mm F2, Summilux 35mm F1.4 and APO-Summicron 50mm F2

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