Hitchhiking the Galaxy

Yes I know, old Dookes has been off air for a week or so…but sometimes if you’ve nothing useful to say its best to keep your mouth shut!

Life trundles on here in Cornwall, the first storms of autumn and winter have arrived and it seems like a good excuse to light up the log fire and get snug.

First it was former tropical hurricane “Ophilia” that shook the roof slates and now we are just getting over storm “Brian” who was, I believe, described as a weather bomb! Actually he was a bit disappointing, not quite the vicious beast that the meteorologists and media made him out to be, but hey I wouldn’t have wanted to ride a motorcycle as he blew through!

Before all the wind and rain started with a vengeance I managed to sneak out for a quick 150 miler with my old mate G. What a pair we were too…G with his semi-rebuilt wrists and me with two knackered shoulders. We worked out that he was OK turning right and I could manage left, then we ended up in a gravel covered car-park….!

Do you know that feeling when you get a bit stuck, then can’t help laughing and then you really can’t move? I’m still chuckling thinking about it!!

Our trip took us to the Western end of our County of Cornwall; one of those “Going Nowhere Particular” sort of rides, but just great to be out on two wheels again.

Mounts Bay in West Cornwall, simply beautiful.


Then just as life starts getting back into some sort of routine something happens that sort of puts everything back into perspective and highlights just what is important and what is trivial.

Yesterday evening I was at an informal social event with some friends who like me do a bit of looking after ancient ruins and sites. We were having a great time, a bit of ten-pin bowling and supper. I made the observation that I hadn’t seen one of our number for a while…only to learn that he had passed away a couple of weeks ago after a very short battle with savage cancer!

Now in the light of a beautiful Cornish Autumn day I’m trying to get my head round it.

It’s the fragility of life that’s so haunting; it’s not great that I’m typing this at a desk with a mirror behind it either! Whilst on the inside I’m looking out of what I feel are a 19 year olds eyes, what I see confirms that the rest is considerably older. A few weeks ago Mrs Dookes lost one of her dearest Aunts, yes it was a bit of a shock, but the lady was into her 80’s and as my dear late father used to say, “Had a fair innings.” Chris, on the other hand was around the same age as me, not at all good; no I’m not in my 80’s yet either!

Just for once I’m pleased to have tinnitus today, it’s giving me a sort of curtain to hide behind whilst I process the departure of Chris.

Chris, who had an air about him that was a cross between cultured indifference and barbed cynicism; but whose intellect was as sharp as a razor, yet gentle a silk and observations on life the universe and everything would leave me a helpless wreck convulsed with laughter. The lucky sod still had an amazing full head of blond hair too!

The sharp-eyed amongst you will have spotted my oblique reference to Douglas Adams brilliant book, “The Hitch Hikers Guide to the Galaxy.” Chris loved that book, as do I and we would frequently trade quotes in greeting to each other. I’m going to miss that.

Farewell Chris; on reflection it’s probably good that I didn’t get to say goodbye face to face, I want to remember you as I knew you.

“So long, and thanks for all the fish.”

Catch you soon.

Dookes

P.S. “Don’t Panic.”

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Digging The Past

Living here in Cornwall, at the extreme South West of the UK, I am frequently reminded just how lucky I am to be a resident in one of the most beautiful parts of our country. Actually I go a bit further, just living in our country is pretty OK too..despite Brexit and a host of other things!

You see the thing about Cornwall is that it’s a land of moods and a matter of choosing what you fancy today. If you want rugged cliffs and stunning coastal vistas, then head for the North Coast. High Tors and rolling moorland are on Bodmin Moor, whilst more pastoral scenery nestles on the banks of the River Tamar and the Roseland Peninsular. Not forgetting the sun-kissed miles of golden sand and some of the best surfing in the world at Gwithian and Praa Sands….we’ve got most needs covered!

The other thing that we’ve got in abundance is history, it’s everywhere and again there’s something for everyone’s interest, from the Stone-Age to Twentieth Century stuff via the Middle Ages and the Industrial Revolution.

So when the opportunity comes up to mix a couple of these points of interest together and throw in a bit of motorcycling, Dookes is always available…! So last Monday I started up Harls and hit the road.

Over on the North Coast, about 20 miles from Dookes H.Q. stands the bastion of Tintagel Castle. Perched on a high cliff-top above the wild Atlantic waves these mysterious and evocative ruins are, legend says, the birthplace of the mythical King Arthur.

Tintagel Castle

The reality is a bit different, in that the remains of the castle we see today were built in the 13th Century by Richard, Earl of Cornwall, who was brother to King Henry III. On the headland where this medieval castle was constructed evidence exists to show that the area had been inhabited for many hundreds of years previously. The problem is that no-one really knows what was happening here!

You see, apart from the 13th Century castle, the only other remains have been dated from what were once euphemistically referred to as “The Dark Ages.”

At this point I can almost hear the sharp intake of breath from various archaeological friends…these days, apparently, we must say “Early Middle Ages!” All I know is that it was a bloomin’ long time ago, between the 5th to the 10th Centuries to be precise!

One of the reasons that this period gained it’s “Dark” moniker is that following the decline of the Western Roman Empire very little literature or cultural output occurred and few relics have been found, especially in North West Europe; that’ll be here then!

Since the 1930’s Tintagel has been subject of a number of archaeological investigations into its unknown “bits,” that’s the stuff not including Richard’s castle. The view as to what was going on has varied from; Monastery, Trading Port and has now shifted to “possibly a Royal Palace,” delete as applicable and the mood takes you!

This summer staff and volunteers from the Cornwall Archaeology Unit have been undertaking a “Dig” to try to piece together some of the jigsaw. They were building on work that had been started last year, following a new geophysical survey of the headland that had given some interesting pointers where to start digging.

To say what they have found is impressive sort of depends on your viewpoint, but certainly there’s been a lot of hard work put in to uncover another tantalising glimpse into the past. Hence why I popped into to see for myself.

The excavation site lies on the very Southern edge of Tintagel headland, in a sheltered spot under the lee of higher inland cliffs. The view our 6th Century ancestors had can’t have changed very much and must have been as impressive as today.

The dig team have unearthed substantial remains of walls, giving an interesting perspective of what must have been a most impressive structure. What exactly it was, remains to be unearthed, if you’ll excuse the pun, but being positioned on a sloping cliff-side I’m not at all surprised that it’s walls were substantially built!

Amongst the stones they have also found a veritable treasure trove of pottery shards, oyster shells, animal bones, charcoal, fragments of glass and possibly the remains of a metal blade.

Is this a 1600 year old blade?

The media have been quick to enthuse that this “suggests” that “early Cornish Kings” once lived and dined lavishly at this place… only it doesn’t – and that came from one of the archaeologists!

What it really does is add more weight to Tintagel being an important trading point; precious local metals out; wine, oil and spices in.

5th Century Pottery shards from the Mediterranean.

It was fascinating to talk to some of the team and watch them at work. There’s clearly a lot more to be discovered and here’s hoping that they will be back next year to keep digging. I spent a happy couple of hours on site and left with a head more full of questions than answers, but archaeology is like that.

Then it was time to fire up Harls and head home… and take a lot longer route than the 20 mile hop to get to Tintagel!

Catch you soon.

Dookes

Land Of Legends

The County of Cornwall, home of Dookes H.Q., nestles at the extreme South West Corner of the United Kingdom and juts out into the Atlantic Ocean.

The name “Cornwall” is believed by some to come from the Anglo-Saxon “Corn-Wallis,” meaning Land of the Welsh. This stems from the time when invading Saxons pushed the indigenous Celts out of England into what we now know as Wales, Scotland, Cornwall and Ireland. In the old Cornish language, the County is known as “Kernow,” though strictly speaking Cornwall is not a County, it’s really a Duchy, but that’s for another day! Confused? Welcome to the club!

Cornwall is also known as “The Land of The Saints.” It has an incredibly high number of saints associated with it, over fifty to my knowledge. There are numerous villages and places named after various of them; St Neot, St Minver and St Teath are just three that spring to mind.

All that aside, Cornwall is arguably most famously associated with King Arthur, the legendary King of the Britons.

The big trouble with Arthur though, is that the real man and the legend have become totally separated. It’s not just Hollywood films to blame for that either, the Welsh cleric Geoffrey of Monmouth was “bigging up” Arthur way back in the 12th Century!

There are two main sites in Cornwall that are indelibly linked with the Arthurian Legends. The dramatic, yet forbidding Tintagel Castle and the remote, hauntingly beautiful, Dozmary Pool.

Tintagel is reputedly the place where Arthur was conceived, though some people also believe it to be the site of his famous court of Camelot. The truth, not surprisingly, is a little different! Located on the peninsula of Tintagel Island and standing high above the Atlantic surf, there is evidence of habitation going back to the Dark Ages, well before the Romano-British period over 2000 years ago. It is believed that the regional Kings of Dumnonia may have built a summer residence here as well.

The real Castle that we know today, however, dates from the 13th Century when Richard Duke of Cornwall began construction and it is the romantic ruins of this castle that people from all over the world are drawn to visit.

Tintagel Castle ruins.

Tintagel Castle ruins.

Leaving the legend for one moment, the place is stunning and no wonder that it attracts hundreds of thousands of visitorsP1020885. . . who I must admit mostly come to look for King Arthur!
Barras Head.

Barras Head.

Looking due north from Tintagel Castle is Barras Head a strangely shaped headland that some say is a slumbering dragon, have a look at the photograph and you might be able to see what they mean.

The other place I mentioned is Dozmary Pool. P1030794

Situated high up on Bodmin Moor, this is one of the few natural inland bodies of fresh water in Cornwall. Way back in 1951 it was designated as a Site of Special Scientific Interest for its biology, ecology and wildlife. Evidence of human activity around the lake stretches back to prehistoric times, that’s over ten thousand years ago. More than 2,500 pieces of worked flint have been found including many implements, tools and arrow heads. Interestingly the nearest source of flint to Dozmary is nearly twenty miles away whilst some examples appear to have originated over one hundred miles further east. Clearly our ancestors were not afraid of a good walk!

According to legend Dozmary Pool is where Arthur rowed out to the Lady of the Lake to receive the sword Excalibur. The Pool is also where Sir Bedivere returned the sword, as Arthur lay dying.

Legend says that the sword was received by a female hand, Tennyson wrote;
“Clothed in white samite, mystic, wonderful, that caught him by the hilt and brandished him three times, and drew him under in the mere.”

On a sunny day it is certainly very pleasant, but when the mists roll across the moor it’s waters take on a forbidding leaden hue and it is best left alone with its ghosts. Could this really be Avalon?

Of course there is another Legend seen around these parts too. . .

An American Legend!

An American Legend!

Another day I’ll tell you about more Cornish Legends, like Knockers, Spriggans and the Beast of Bodmin Moor; gotta dash, gotta ride!

“. . . and your destination, you don’t know it, Avalon.”

Catch you soon.

Dookes