Living dangerously...

20th May 2011
The signs alongside the path say “Dangerous Cliffs”, but according to the bloke in the pub theres more danger here than just walking off the edge of the countryside. As he’s a local you have to respect the man’s knowledge of the area but when he starts to tell tales of adders the size of anacondas that seem to want to amuse themselves chasing dogs, worrying sheep and nipping at the ankles of the Japanese tourists you realise that its time to drink up and head out to the evenings place to shoot. One of us has had enough – and I’m pretty sure its not me.

We’ve travelled the breadth of the country and are as far west as we can go while still staying dry. The west coast of Cornwall is fantastic photo fodder – the scenery is rugged and leery, the locals love their tall stories and theres a pasty for every occasion. You can always tell when a trip is going to go well as everything seems to slot into place without any real effort. We decided on a whim – as we were too early to check in to the flat after a very quick A303 experience, to call into Padstow. We hadn’t spotted that it was the 2nd of May – or that the 2nd of May was the May Day bank holiday – but Padstow goes manic on exactly that one day of the year in a very complicated pagan celebration that involves two blokes dressing up as horses and spending the day walking about the town with large numbers of musical mates all getting outside of as much beer as they can. All very jokey and amusing around the lunch hour – but it apparently gets a whole lot livelier when the sun goes down. It was all explained to us very patiently, on a number of occasions – but I’m still at a loss to explain it. I just know we had a great time.

The first evening was spent at St Michaels Mount and ended with a curry in the local pub. From there we’ve shot at St Ives and Carbis Bay, Mousehole and the Minnack Theatre, Lands End and a little place called Church Cove where the surf was just amazing and theres a church pretty much on the beach. Brilliant! Every one of them was great. In truth the only damp squib so far has been the weather. While the whole of the UK is baking in sunshine and enjoying temperatures in the twenties, anything west of a line from Exeter to Bristol is thick with cloud and struggling to get into double figures. That’ll be us then, and if you’ve read even a small number of my previous missives you’ll know that photographing landscapery revolves completely around getting perfect lighting at the right time – however long it takes in the waiting, as there really is just no point in trying to fudge it later in Photoshop or other black magic software.

Which brings us to this evening. Our earlier trip to the pub fortified us with coffee and carrot cake along with the force ten warnings about snakes in the grass. They also promised us the hottest chicken vindaloo in Cornwall – but thats a post-mission promise. Right now its about getting to those cliffs to shoot tin mines. The path is pretty clear – you just follow those “Dangerous Cliff” signs. I guess it appeases the “Elfin Safety” people, but in Cornwall if you’re near the coast and walking west, then its inevitable that you’ll find yourself running out of land at some point. You just expect it – come prepared for it even. We push on to find a point overlooking the engine houses built into the rock just a few metres from the crashing surf. The architecture of the tin mines is fascinating, there are buildings over a wide area, chimneys pointing up from old furnaces and odd arched warrens that appear to be connected with the removal of arsenic from the mined ore. Yes, arsenic. Don’t see any warning signs about that on the paths. However, its the engine houses I’m after.

So, here we are. Right place, right time – but completely the wrong weather. This is so frustrating. Expecting the weather Gods to favour us just because we travelled across the country might be asking too much – but it wouldn’t have hurt them to give us even a short break in the gloom surely? In the two hours that I spent scrambling around those cliffs there was about a five minute window during which the cloud broke enough to lift the evening light to a reasonable level and the rain held back sufficiently to avoid messing with the cameras delicate electronic internals. Nobody said this photography lark was going to be easy...

Was it worth it? The pictures give a slightly negative view of the overall experience, but you can use them to judge for yourselves, but I had a great time, didn’t stray too close to the dangerous cliffs, avoided arsenical poisoning and getting bitten by the anacondas – and the vindaloo was every bit as hot as was promised. You’ll really have to try Cornwall for yourselves sometime – but please don’t write to me to tell me how good the weather was.

Keep taking the pictures

Graham

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