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classic cottages | 2011

A walk on the wild side of culture

The specialists for coastal and country cottages of distinction throughout the West Country Office Address Leslie House, Lady Street, Helston, Cornwall TR13 8NA Telephone: 01326 555 555 Facsimile: 01326 555 544 Email: Office Hours Monday to Friday 9.00am – 8.00pm Saturday 9.30am – 5.00pm Sunday 11.00am – 4.00pm (Closed Bank Holidays, Christmas Eve, New Year’s Day and Easter)

It may get you going. It may put you off. It may change the way you see the world. Or it may just make you think of yoghurt. The truth is there’s no getting away from culture and our need for it. At its best, it can bring tears to our eyes through laughter, sadness, enlightenment or shock. At its worst, it can pigeonhole us into those who get it and those who don’t. Thankfully, rural culture doesn’t play to the same rules as its urban cousin. We’re anything but luvvy and we don’t classify culture in the way that cities do. Down here in the South West, it just does its own thing and if it catches on, great. If not, it carries on regardless as it has since day dot. We put this down to the people. Humble souls with vivid minds who find novel ways to pass the time, from the sedate art of charming worms to the self-immolating chaos of flaming tar barrels. The landscape plays its part too. For centuries, poets, painters, potters and performers have flocked here to diffuse their creative block. It’s in the sea, the soil, the sun and the wind. With such an unassailable force, you’ll succumb, eventually. Even the most aloof of critics will crack when they hear a well-oiled fisherman belting out a shanty in the wee blurred hours. It’s these kind of oddities that daisy chain our traditions and folklore together in such a haphazard, yet lovable way. Think counterculture without the angst. There are no barriers. The cliff, the moor, the beach – they’re all a stage. Come, look, read, listen, dance, clap, heckle, sing, and marvel at another way of life. |

A walk on the wild side of culture

Cult Experience 1 Name: Bolster Day (below and previous page) Place: Chapel Porth, St Agnes, Cornwall Plot: Evil giant eats children and is none too pleasant to Mrs Bolster making her carry boulders on her back day and night. He ditches the wife for younger prettier model, Agnes. In an act of love, he sheds his blood, which runs out to sea, saps his soul and so he dies. Still, the lantern workshops, pageant, procession and barbecue should cheer you up.

Pictionary for giants We’ve all played it. Then binned it when we ran out of paper. But it’s back on a bigger, better and infinitely more beautiful playing field. The beach. First find a stretch of sand. One you can look down on if possible. If it’s trampled, rake it flat. Take turns to draw your clue with your foot, a stick or a welltrained dog. Let the guessers guess. Award a prize for most indecipherable drawing. |

A walk on the wild side of culture

The Museum of Cuttlefish

We may not have the fame of city museums and galleries, but we do have the riches. Our local shores, moors, gardens and pathways are littered with artefacts of nature and circumstance. So much so, you can grab your annual dose of culture in a few days away. Enter a fete with a garden in a tin and you might bag a rosette. Go to a gig – big names play secret pub sessions if you’re lucky. Collect and curate your own Natural History Museum. Record the squawk of a gull on your phone as a ringtone. Find the perfect cuttlefish. |

A walk on the wild side of culture

Cult Experience 2 Name: ’Obby ’Oss Day Place: Padstow, Cornwall Plot: Pamplona bull running meets Tellytubbies. The blue ’oss and red ’oss are released from their stables and teased around a maypole to the tune of a hypnotic folk song. The town dress in white and the streets go flag crazy.




Cult Experience 3 Name: Flora Day and The Furry Dance Place: Helston, Cornwall Plot: Town smothers itself in bluebells and gorse as adults dress up in top hats and lace gowns and dance with 1,000 children in and out of houses, while dragons wrestle and the town band bellows out that tune that Wogan stole.


Charades-on-Sea The salt air does something to our sensibilities. It makes them anything but sensible. It makes them ludicrous. Add a bottle of daytime wine to a game of mime with some half-dozing guessers and you’ll all be on a completely different, but intensely relaxing, wavelength. |


A walk on the wild side of culture

The greatest show above Earth

We’re no astronomers but we do know that most nights the West Country sky puts on a show so dramatic, it won’t let you sleep. Shooting stars perform operatic dives, arcs and surges that would make Blondin gasp. At times, it’s like a phosphorescent flea circus in outer space. A book told us that these meteorites travel at thousands of miles an hour and ignite as they hit the atmosphere 30-80 miles up, then like a true hero, they die. Depending on where your cottage is, you might spot an early performance from bed, although it’s best to lie flat on the turf, sand or deck, let your eyes adapt to the dark and stare the damsels out.


Cult Experience 4 Name: Bridgwater Carnival Place: Bridgwater, Somerset Plot: Think Vegas meets Rio, on wheels, in the sticks. 163 pulsating neon works of art parade through the streets at Europe’s largest illuminated carnival to raise cash for local causes, detonate king-size fireworks and bag one of 53 trophies up for grabs. |


A walk on the wild side of culture

Cinema Paradiso

We live in a very filmic corner of earth. Ask Tim Burton. He shot Alice in Wonderland here, which tells you what the place does to your imagination. This is the land of escapism. So escape. Go old school and grab a film at one of the time-warp independent picture houses hidden away in small riverside towns. Catch a surf flick at a village hall. Or even rig up your own movie den in the garden. All you need is a laptop, a couple of DVDs, a projector and a big white wall. If you can’t find one, improvise. A pale sarong, sheet or XXL T-shirt pegged to a washing line or tree is almost Odeon-esque. Stoke up the fire and throw on some marshmallows. Lob some popcorn in the oven. And scoop yourself a fistful of ice cream. Open up the laptop, slot in your all-time favourite and get the fireflies to dim the lights.


A walk on the wild side of culture

Cult Experience 5 Name: The International Festival of Astro-Wormery Place: Blackawton, Devon Plot: It is to worms what charming is to snakes. The one who extracts the most worms out of one square metre of Devon turf wins. Methods include beer, gravy, Red Bull and fake rain.




Cult Experience 6 Name: Port Eliot Festival Place: St Germans, Cornwall Plot: Once called The Elephant Fair, the dreamy Port Eliot manor opens its doors to the best family festival this side of Wonkaville. Gavin Turk’s House of Fairy Tales is a lawless treat and Caught By The River is also worth a nose.


Holiday soundtracks Music plays a big part in time away. You might wake up late morning to the radio and fall asleep mid-afternoon to the sea. If you’ve got an ear for music, it might even inspire a song. 1. Write what you hear. When we relax, we tune into nature’s jukebox. It’s full of music. Waves and wind and rain and birds all tap out a rhythm. Get on their frequency. Take some notes. 2. Hum it out loud. These random sounds sound good together. A melody. They repeat and overlap. The lyrics can come from anywhere. Dedicate it to someone. Make their day. 3. Compile your own holiday soundtrack. Sling this shiny new tune into your most played playlist. Find the perfect listening spot and switch off. By track two, you’ll be whistling. |


A walk on the wild side of culture

Madame Butterfly & Mr Moth Opera often sits at the far and lonely end of the cultural spectrum. Around here, it’s different. Glyndebourne we’re not, but thankfully opera is just another ingredient in our delicious melting pot of culture. The setting often outweighs the performance, but who cares. One day you could witness the landlady of a local pub giving Katherine Jenkins a soprano run for her money in the beer garden – we have more than our fair share of amateur dramatics. The next day, inspired by the blossom and butterflies, you might unleash your own hidden talent at breakfast with a personal rendition of Puccini’s classic, even if you sound more like The Butcher of Seville. And the day after that, you might just lie in bed and leave it to the professionals. Just in case you’ve never heard the dawn chorus in full swing, prepare yourself for true opera. If your ears could cry, they would.


A walk on the wild side of culture


Cult Experience 7 Name: Flaming Tar Barrels Place: Ottery St Mary, Devon Plot: 17 wooden barrels are coated in tar, set alight and carted shoulderhigh through the streets of the town. Yes, on fire. It’s been a tradition since 1605-ish and probably started to brace the town for the imminent invasion of the Spanish Armada. |


A walk on the wild side of culture

Ancient entertainment

We’re not short of World Heritage Sites. Four, if you’re counting. But let’s get serious and talk prehistoric monuments. We have more giant granite megaliths per random field than anywhere else we know. Over the ages, they’ve performed many a role in the Pagan calendar, from lunar rituals to seed sowing, and even served the odd stint as loofahs for cattle. They come in all shapes and sizes, from Scorhill Circle (above), the Stonehenge of Dartmoor visible from an altitude of 39,737 feet, to Toblerone triangles with a Polo mint hole through the middle (Tolvan Cross). Our all-time favourite is a 24 metre circle of 19 standing stones off the B3315 between Newlyn and Land’s End, with a name to make you jig: The Merry Maidens (previous page). Your fidgety knee may be on to something. Legend tells of the 19 maidens who were turned to stone for dancing on a Sunday. So, if you’re passing and fancy a quick round of Hokey-Cokey, just make sure you choose the right day.


Off-piste theatre We don’t do palladiums, but we do do amphitheatres. In its day, at the height of the copper boom, Gwennap Pit (below) was the richest square mile on earth (sorry Mayfair). John Wesley preached here to thousands of ordinary hard-working folk in the late 1700s. Today, you can deliver your own sermon to a congregation of rabbits. Or, try The Minack at Porthcurno. Back in the 30s Rowena Cade carved this theatre into a granite cliff-face by bony bare-hand to create more drama, tension and romance than Hollywood ever could. It’s been called the coolest theatre on planet earth. It’s easy to feel why. Throw in one of Europe’s peachiest beaches as a backdrop and the legendary Logan Rock that sits on a fulcrum so precise you can wobble it, and you can make a day and night of it. |



By now you’ve twigged that West Country culture is hardly purist. A theatre can stumble into art, crossbreed with the solstice and evolve into a custom before your week is out. It’s one big pot of oddness. Ramble through our tombola of multi-culture compiled with insider tips from our Owners and see what grabs you. Tolpuddle Martyrs Festival Insurgent farm labourers start the first ever trade union and lobby for fair pay. It backfires, so they’re deported and become heroes. If you have a socialist bone in your body, make the day. Tony Benn and Billy Bragg are regulars. If you miss July’s festival, take refuge in the museum. Area: Dorset Fetes by fate In any given summer week, there may be as many as a dozen village fetes and fairs within half an hour’s drive of you. Keep an eye out for home-made signs and the scent of hog roast. The things to do, see, hear and eat are bewildering. Get stuck in, you’ll be as welcome as the locals putting it on. Area: Everywhere Golowan, Penzance The town erupts in a riot of colour, music and mayhem to fanfare in the solstice. It climaxes with Mazey Day, when Penzance rocks to the rhythm of a carnival of huge mythical creatures, street music, local artisans and a feelgood factor that lasts long into the night. Area: Far West Cornwall

Tavistock Wharf This 18th Century industrial-centreturned-arts-centre serves up theatre, concerts, cinema and art, all curated with wit and grace. Grab a pre-performance drink at the waterside bar. Area: Dartmoor Cinema made for holidays We’re not big on multiplexes but we do have some old school movie dens to melt your heart. This is the romantic world of film with usherettes, ice cream tubs and maybe even the odd intermission. Go on a cloudy day, or if you’re sunburnt. venues_screenwest Area: Here, there and rare John Betjeman Summer Readings, Rock Many a village has a reading room, but here, words attain greatness. Flop out on the dunes at St Enodoc church where the Poet Laureate rests in peace and listen to his poetry read out loud. The pop of a cork beats the crack of a beer can, so best take wine. Area: North Coast Cornwall

Sand Sculpture Festival, Weston-super-Mare Set against the backdrop of the new pier, this is the humble sandcastle as high art. Sculptors take 15 days and 400 tonnes of sand to create their masterpieces at the UK’s largest sand sculpture event. Area: Somerset

The Dorset Ooser, Dorchester Rise before sun-up and climb the 180 foot Cerne Abbas Giant (also known as the ‘Rude Man’ – go and you’ll see why), to catch a glimpse of the horned Ooser beast welcoming in May Day. Or just go to the Dorset County Museum to see the Ooser mask. Area: Dorset

Maiden Castle, Dorchester Britain’s largest and most complex Iron Age hill fort covers an area of over 50 football pitches. In the flesh, the scale is staggering. Within slingshot, Poundbury Camp Iron Age settlement hides over 1,000 Roman graves. Area: Dorset

Pirate and Shanty Festival, Brixham Ale rules here, in this weekend of skulduggery and sea dog singing. In 2010, a record-breaking 1,744 Ahab-a-likes took to the streets of Brixham to steal back the Guinness World Record title for the most pirates in one gathering. Area: South Devon

Kneehigh Theatre As theatre troupes go, there is only one that takes your soul to the moon and back. The Kneehigh. Their anarchic brilliance has graced New York, LA and the fields of Cornwall in a tent they call The Asylum. Go and you’ll leave with a 40,000 spin speed grin. Area: Cornwall to Bogota Portland Sculpture and Quarry Trust Grab a chisel and carve away, as stonemasons do, at this old quarry. If your sculpture is any good, it may make the clifftop gallery. Area: Dorset Feast Days Most fishing ports along our peninsula have a feast day or week. It usually harks back to a famine that ended thanks to a gallant seaman. Streets dress up and locals build rafts to race and sink. Area: In most coves and crannies The Lowland Games, Muchelney Mud wrestling, ferret racing, raft jousting, tug of war and not a kilt in sight, all fuelled by the local rocket-fuel cider. It boosts performance, allegedly. Area: Somerset Sterts, Bodmin High-energy theatre, comedy and poetry performed at an outdoor (rainproof) amphitheatre somewhere in a field near Bodmin Moor. Beware the beast below. Area: The Moor to River Tamar Trial of the Beast of Bodmin The legendary Beast of Bodmin ­– part panto horse, part primordial beast ­– is captured by Helliers (Cornish huntsmen) and put on trial at eerie Bodmin Jail. Lob in a town crier competition and Cornish wrestling and you have folklore at its most bizarre. Area: North Coast Cornwall 29

Listings Hunting the Earl of Rone, Combe Martin 600 locals dress up as grenadiers and hunt down the evasive pimpernel on the fourth and final night of this four-day jolly. He is then mounted back to front on a donkey, paraded through the village and thrown in the sea. Who cares why. Area: North Devon The Mohican Morris Men Dancing with bells on your ankles takes on a new meaning when you sport a Mohican. These Morris Dancing punks are known to gatecrash all kinds of public festivities. You won’t miss them. Area: When you least expect it Terence Coventry Sculpture Park, The Lizard Cornish pig-farmer-turned-sculptor Terence Coventry displays his inventive and constructivist work, inspired by years of farming in Cornwall, on the cliffs above Coverack. Area: South West Cornwall Agri-culture and Horti-culture The land and its plants are pretty fine tonic for the fussiest of culture vultures. The art of Mother Nature lets you make up your own narrative. If you need stimulus, take a book. Area: Cliffs, moors, rivers, low tide coves World Stinging Nettle Eating Championship, Marshwood Vale Dorset’s answer to the chilli eating contest. An argument between two local farmers over who had the longest nettles growing on his land led to this macho test of taste buds. Each June, crowds gather at The Bottle Inn to witness the showdown. Area: Dorset Drawn to the Valley, Tamar Valley This is the spiritual home of the 160strong Tamar Valley art community. Since Turner’s day, print-makers and painters, sculptors and ceramists have thrived on this border of contrasting counties. Area: The Moor to River Tamar Beach Buskers We can’t give you an exact schedule and line-up but if you hang about as the sun drops, we swear someone with a voice will burst into song. Pay as you like it, with coppers, crisps or backing vocals for the chorus. Area: Any beach at sundown 30

The Brewhouse, Taunton Welcome to the creative soul of the county. This vibrant arts hub is rammed with theatre, film, comedy and music. After 30 years, it’s as eclectic as ever. Area: Somerset Carn Euny Fogou, Land’s End We’ve lauded this ancient village before and rightly so. With its lunar landscape and 20 metre long tunnel (the Cornish say ‘fogou’) dating back to the first Century, it knocks spots off its busier neighbour Chysauster. Area: Far West Cornwall Walford Mill Crafts, Wimborne Artisans weave silk and jewellers carve works of art out of precious metals. Have a go yourself. There are classes galore, from glass bead workshops to silversmithing. Area: Dorset The Ancient Custom of Wassailing the Apple Tree In the depths of winter, locals congregate to sing to the apple trees. The Wassail queen pours ‘precious liquid’ (mulled cider) around the roots of the tree. If the locals then down another few gallons, the gods will guarantee a good harvest, so they say. wassailing/index.html Area: Somerset Lulworth Castle and Park Fancy a joust, or an open-air rom-com? Then this 17th Century fortress is a good bet. It even hosts the uber-cool familyfriendly Camp Bestival (older sister to the Isle of Wight fest). Area: Dorset The Willow Man, Bridgwater Serena de la Hey’s famous 12 metre high willow salutes you on the M5 near Bridgwater. Find out where you can see some of her lesser-known sculptures. Area: Somerset South West Artwork CIC An old pumping station, a reclamation yard, a deconstructed church – SWA specialise in contemporary art in unusual spaces. Challenge them – find somewhere super-strange. Area: Dorset/The South West

The Land of Dance From pubs to pagans to professionals, we like a good knees-up. The gulls dance in the wind, and the dolphins move to the sea. There are a million variations of human body expression to watch or take part in. Area: Wherever the music takes you Withypool Hill Barrow and Circle, Exmoor One of only two complete stone circles on Exmoor, it’s so precise you could stand in the middle and let your shadow cast a sundial good enough to set your watch to. Area: Somerset Dartington Hall With 1,200 acres to play with, the sense of space filters through their programme of arts, film, contemporary performance, literature and music. If it all gets too much, cool off in the River Dart that snakes through the estate. Area: South Devon Portland Castle You could pretend to be Henry VIII or one of his wives, as he built this seaside shack to no doubt woo a few more. While you’re here, grab a play at the turreted amphitheatre. Area: Dorset Hound Tor, Dartmoor This stack of rocks on Dartmoor is famed for ghosts and spawned Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s ‘The Hound of the Baskervilles’. Take your dog to see how he/she reacts. Area: Dartmoor The Devon Guild of Craftsmen We’re forgetting how to make things. It’s people like these who remind us of how inventive we can be with tools. The exhibitions and events are a crash course in buying, making and falling in love with contemporary craft. Area: Dartmoor

Photography: Annabel Elston Words: Peter Kirby Design: Kate Tregoning Printing: St Ives Web, Cornwall Copyright © 2011 Classic Cottages

Classic Cottages, Leslie House, Lady Street, Helston, Cornwall TR13 8NA | Telephone: 01326 555 555 | Email: | |

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A walk on the wild side of culture  

A walk on the wild side of culture - A tour through some of the best culture the West Country has to offer

A walk on the wild side of culture  

A walk on the wild side of culture - A tour through some of the best culture the West Country has to offer