Thursday, 20 October 2016

On the Rocks

After my walk around Treyarnon Bay, I got into Fiona and headed south-east across central Cornwall. It was mid-afternoon but still quite bright and sunny. I had two destinations in mind, both to do with rocks of one kind or another.

The first wasn't far away, up on St Breock Downs, a spot I hadn't visited since my honeymoon in February 1983. I remember going there with W---, and being a little disappointed at what we found. In fact the chief excitement we had was trailing a naughty sheep who had somehow escaped from her field and was wandering the narrow lanes. Anyway, there was a large standing stone which looked like this:

I remember that the day was raw and icy, and we had driven along difficult, slippery lanes to see this. Well, we came, we saw, we shivered. I snatched a picture, and we headed off without further ado to some warm and welcoming hostelry, or at least whatever could be found in Cornwall in the winter of 1983. (The honeymoon was a series of cold days and bleak destinations, punctuated with welcome meal breaks) I promised myself a return visit sometime, in more clement conditions. It took thirty-three years!

This time, in September 2016, I saw this. It was warm enough to shoot the stone from various angles. It really was a distinctive lump of rock, clearly selected for its quartz banding:

The plaque in the ground had gone however. The Ordnance Survey map called it The Longstone, but there was nothing around to confirm this, nor to explain how long ago it was set up, and what kind of rocks it was composed of. But those points are answered in Wikipedia - see

It was nice enough as remote standing stones go, but I thought it would look better shot in black and white, and combined with the nearby wind turbines - thus encompassing five thousand years of human development in the one picture.

This done, it was time to see Roche Rock, which is on the south side of the little town of Roche, north-west of St Austell. The Rock is not well signposted, nor easily visible from the road, but I eventually found it. There was a board explaining it to visitors:

There are in fact several rocks, all in a cluster, but the main tourist draw is one rock in particular - by far the biggest - on which a medieval chapel had been built. 

These rocks stood tall up above the general landscape, and clearly did so because they were very hard and resistant to erosion. But they were not made of granite. The board said they were a mixture of quartz and tourmaline. The rocks had an unusual fluted appearance, which I suppose was on account of the tourmaline. I walked closer to them.

How on earth had they built the chapel? There must have once been an easy way up, a stone staircase, but it had vanished. Getting even closer, I saw there was a modern iron ladder. It had a kink in it - it started normally, then flattened a bit halfway up.

I don't like ladders at any time, and I don't like any sort of height. The flats I was wearing had thin soles, rather unsuitable for a ladder. Nevertheless, I decided to give it a go. I wanted to see the chapel. And the view would be good. 

Well, the ladder was firm, but the drop on my right side got ever worse as I ascended. I felt determined not to be beaten, and got as far as the spot where the ladder kinked. But then I wimped out. 

Well, what would you have done? I was afraid of making it to the top but being unable to climb down again, or of my feet slipping through the rungs, or of getting cramp in my feet. Secretly relieved to give up and back off, but a bit ashamed for being such a wimp, I slowly and carefully retreated rung by rung until I was at the base of the Rock again. 

Oh dear. I've chickened out of climbing ladders before. Clearly a career in the SAS is forever beyond my capabilities. They climb and abseil all day long, without a tea break. Not for me. 

But the day's pleasures were not yet over. I had an evening meal to look forward to. I'd decided to call in at the St Tudy Inn, the place where I had my 60th birthday meal four years ago, in the company of Angie and S---. This was me then:

How I enjoyed that occasion! I'd followed my step-daughter and her husband down to Cornwall on the off-chance of seeing her and having a one-to-one chat, but the meetup hadn't happened and I was feeling let down and disappointed. But Angie and S--- soon cheered me up. It was good to recall that day. This time I went into the restaurant part of the Inn, which had had a makeover, creating a high-class candlelit look:

I was almost the first one there, but it soon filled up. Eating out is very, very popular in the West Country, and there are now (in some parts anyway) plenty of well-off residents (a lot of them retired incomers from the Home Counties) to provide business for pubs and inns that are aiming high. The staff were attentive and fun, and I had a good meal - a fish starter, and more fish to follow. Posh fish and chips if you like.

I ate almost all of it. I was really hungry after my long day. Then I hit the road. It was dark by the time I got back to Great Torrington.

My new electricity and gas smart meters

Let's shelve my Roche adventure for now. I want to say something about my new electricity and gas smart meters, and the handset, supplied and set up for me yesterday by SSE.

SSE (Southern Electric) had been nagging at me by letter and email for months. I had resisted, not seeing the clear advantages of embracing this technology. I'd also been put off by some negative comments on such programmes as BBC Radio 4's You and Yours. It seemed a lot of faff for not a lot of gain.

After all, I was already keeping a watchful eye on my consumption and what it was costing me. I read my meters weekly, and put these figures into a spreadsheet of mine, set up to calculate what the previous week's consumption would have cost me per month, standing charge and VAT included. Then I compared that calculated cost with my present monthly payment.

All was well if I were within 10% of my monthly payment. Or in the summer, were well below it. Or in the winter, not too far above it. And yes, the spreadsheet colour-coded the result using green, amber and red, so that I could easily see at a glance whether my usage was building up credit with SSE, or eating into it.

What was going to be the improvement for me, really, if I had smart meters fitted?

The major domestic factors were (a) I lived on my own, and had full control over what got switched on and off; and (b) the main things involved - central heating boiler, gas cooker, kettle, fridge, freezer, washing machine, shower unit - were used on a regular daily or weekly cycle that hardly varied while I was at home. My use of electricity barely changed with the seasons. My use of gas did, of course, but heavy use in the winter (for heating) was generally balanced by light use in the summer. And my caravan holidays meant that for two months of the year my electricity and gas consumption was especially low. I knew all this. Smart devices could not tell me anything else that might be vital to know. And there was no need to micro-manage my consumption. You can easily become an anxious slave to gadgets that try to keep you to a target, with warning lights and bleeps and stern messages. Not this lady.

In the end I decided that there was no harm in getting brand-new meters for free (while they were still free, and there wasn't an installation queue), even if the handset turned out to be as superfluous as I anticipated. There would at least be no more estimated bills - although those had never fazed me in the past. I can't understand why people ever let estimated bills run and and on until they are paying way over the odds. It was so simple to take my own readings, send them in using the SSE website, and get a corrected bill.

So a month ago, I contacted SSE and arranged for their people to come and upgrade me. The day agreed was yesterday, sometime in the morning, for maybe two hours. This was, it seemed, going to tie me up all morning; but that was OK, as I had plenty to get on with at home.

It was quite a surprise when, still munching my breakfast toast-and-marmalade in my nightie, I got a call from a technician called Andy at 7.30am, telling me that he was on his way and would get to me before 8.30am! I scoffed the rest of my breakfast and hurriedly got myself washed and dressed. Andy's assistant Tim arrived at 8.00am, and sat outside in his van, waiting. Andy himself turned up at 8.15am, and I was by then only just ready to receive them.

They showed me their ID. I showed them my old meters, and explained to Andy what my main appliances were, and where the central heating controls were. Both declined my offer of a nice cup of tea. They worked steadily and efficiently, and were all done in an hour. Andy then took me through the basics of the handset, which was linked wirelessly to each of the new meters. And then that was that.

they had done a neat job, and everything was working fine afterwards. This was the handset:

It was powered by a rechargeable battery, and charged up from the mains via a USB cable, just like a mobile phone. Andy had already paired it with the meters for me, so from the first it was showing information relating to the power being used, what the carbon dioxide contribution was, and the cost of the electricity or gas consumed (matching this to a target I could set, and showing a green, amber or red light, depending on the consumption/target relationship at that moment). This was current information, only a few minutes old. SSE would be getting exactly the same details, and these would translate into various graphs and tables eventually viewable on their website once the flow of information had been going for a while.  

These were the swish new meters:

For me, these new meters were the main thing. I would still be taking my weekly readings and putting them into that spreadsheet. A weekly review was quite sufficient.

The chief thing I'd want the handset to tell me was what the current daily cost of my electricity and gas was, which (if accurately computed and trustworthy) would be useful to know if I needed to turn up the central heating, say, or have it on for longer during the day. But I discovered that the costs displayed were inaccurate - not the real costs my quarterly bill would show. Here's why:

# They were stated net of VAT, so the handset showed a lower cost than the eventual bill would show. It wasn't dangerously misleading for me, as the VAT rate on electricity and gas was only 5%. But for a high-consumption family it would be a different matter.

# Delving into the prices used, I found that the handset's calculations used the standard daily standing charge (26p), and not the lower charge I actually paid (14p), having adopted payment by direct debit and paperless billing. Another source of inaccuracy - even if it tended to cancel out the lack of a VAT adjustment.

As I write this, the handset is telling me that so far today (nearly twelve hours into the day) my electricity and gas consumption has cost me £2.01. That might suggest £2.01 x 24/12 hours x 30 days x 3 months = around £361 for the quarter. But I'd be in for a surprise if I relied on that calculation! The real bill could be quite a bit different.

I think the handset is only a rough guide to current consumption and should be treated with caution. Perhaps its true purpose is to give parents a gadget that will 'prove' to their children that being careful with switching lights on and off makes a huge difference to the household budget.  

So I have turned off the provisional targets I set: I'm not going to switch things on and off just because the handset says I ought to. Not when the thing isn't giving me the true cost. In fact I'm not going to use the handset at all. It can go in a cupboard. It's just so much clutter. If a phone app becomes available, well, that'll be another matter.

I will however be continuing with my own existing cost spreadsheet - which is giving me the information I actually want - and I will be studying SSE's online analyses for my elctricity and gas accounts when they become available.

Treyarnon Bay

There you have it. A fine view of Treyarnon Bay in Cornwall, one of those surfing bays a few miles west of Padstow on the north Cornish Coast. And I saw it on 22 September, the day after I arrived in North Devon. Although I felt tired from towing the caravan 230-odd miles from Sussex the day before, I couldn't resist a long day trip into Cornwall. It had been unusually warm and sunny for late September, and I wanted to see the premier holiday scene of my childhood. Here's a map of the general area. Treyarnon Bay is bottom-left:

And here is a more detailed map, with Constantine Bay, the subject of my last post, at the top:

This post covers the remaining two-thirds of a walk that began inland and had brought me to the shore at Constantine Bay. Now I would be roughly following (on the second map) the green long-distance footpath from the blue 'P' (for 'Parking') symbol on the south side of Constantine Bay down to Warren Cove, and then back to Treyarnon Bay and up through the caravan site to the main residential part of Constantine Bay, where I had left Fiona (close to where it says 'Hotel').

So back to my opening picture. What a view! In the distance, the unmistakable hump of Trevose Head. Nearer, Booby's Bay and Constantine Bay. Treyarnon Bay is in the centre and foreground of the picture, a bay angled well for surf, but with rocks to fear on each side. I was standing on the cliffs on the south side of the bay. I'm going to show a series of photographs that gradually reveal the beauties of my walk.

First, a glimpse of Constantine Bay, which as you can see is devoid of any seaside development despite having a wonderful beach and good surfing. I don't mind the little mobile coffee bar in the foreground - a civilised touch, I'd say.

So hard to turn away from that northward view towards Trevose Head! At night the lighthouse winks every thirty seconds. Back in the 1960s it was a red light, but nowadays it's white. I preferred red.

There are only a few houses close to the shore. This is one of them. If you look carefully, you can make out a restored ship's figurehead in one of the windows. It looks like this now:

I wrote a post about ships' figureheads (see Figureheads on 13th April 2015) which says a lot about this one in the second half of the post.

A bit beyond this house, Constantine Bay was left behind and Treyarnon Bay started to come into view. I was walking on low turf-topped cliffs made up of sharply-slating slate that the probing sea had indented.

The slate was easily weathered, and where denuded of turf was crumbling away, making it essential to take care near the cliff edge. In the 1960s the turf was mich more extensive, but the footsteps of countless holidaymakers and boot-shod walkers have worn it away. On I went:

Ah, it was still there - a natural bathing pool in the lower rocks. Nobody was using it now, in the cool early autumn. But when I was young, and on holiday there in the summer, it would be very popular. As in this shot from August 1973:

The pool wasn't deep, and it had a sandy bottom. It was safe for kids, if they were confident in the water. Here is my brother Wayne in the pool in August 1966:

These are all my own photos, by the way. I got my very first camera in 1965, when nearly thirteen, and I've been snapping away ever since.

In 2016 it was not so different from fifty years before. Although it looked serene, there have always been lifeguards here, because it isn't safe to get too close to the rocks on the north and south sides of the bay, whether surfing or not. A breeze combined with an incoming tide soon makes the waves crash heavily onto the rocks, as this August 1965 shot shows:

In fact I think that's a shot of the bathing pool in the rocks being invaded by the waves - which this August 1973 picture (from roughly the same spot) of Dad shooting Treyarnon Bay with his cine camera seems to bear out.

I am surprised that there are so few people on the beach in the shot just above. It would typically be packed in the 1960s, and only a bit less so in the early 1970s. Mum and Dad and the family we went on holiday with (the Hintons) were all stay-on-the-beach-all-day sun-worshippers and acquired deep tans. I was the awkward lily-white exception; I disliked spending hours on the beach, was shy of showing so much of my unlovely body, and impatient to be somewhere else more interesting. Here's Mum and Dad (with Mrs Hinton) in beach mode in August 1972, clearly before the tans had developed:

Huh. I must have Dad's nose. Here's Dad with Mr Hinton (in the hat, with the pipe, making a joke) in same year, both showing a rather more sun-kissed look:

It was all very jolly and light-hearted. I just didn't want to join in. I felt trapped. My brother Wayne had no such misfit attitude, though. He was a teenage son to be proud of. He was active, loved the water, and didn't mind posing for my shots. More from 1972:

That was some drop - I think there was a pool below. Or maybe not. Wayne was pretty fearless. Strange to reflect now that he'd be dead before he was forty. I don't know about Mrs Hinton, nor the Hinton kids (two sons and a daughter), but everyone else is dead too. It's quite weird, revisiting this scene of sunny family holidays, and feeling that you are the last person left standing. It used to upset me, but not now.

My walk next took me to the Youth Hostel that overlooks the bay, and where the general public can secure drinks, refreshments and light snacks. It was too sunny for comfort outside, but I got a nice inside table:

Walking on around the top of the beach, I then took the path that followed the bay's southern edge.

I wasn't alone in wondering where those two men were off to. A group of us watched their progress. Their objective seemed to be Trethias Island, a detached chunk of cliff at the mouth of the bay, which was difficult to climb up onto. I remember doing it with Dad in 1967 - rather nervously, but at least Dad was with me - but it's not anything I would attempt now. I absolutely wouldn't dare. But these guys did - in the next two shots they find a way to the top:

What were they going to do on the island? It might presently be sunny, but it was clouding over and the wind was getting cooler. If they didn't have some kind of shelter with them, and warm jackets too, they could be in for a miserable time. Both were carrying a light rucksack and some poles. Were those fishing rods? They made their way to the sea end of the island, then disappeared from view. I wondered if they would get marooned on the island, as the tide was surely coming in. Once dark, they would have to stay there until dawn. Perhaps they knew of a cave.

It must be to fish. And yet, if it were fishing, why clamber up onto the very top of the island? Oh well, it was useless to speculate. The cliffs on the south side of Treyarnon Bay were much higher, and they overlooked a series of deep chasms: Wine Cove (with the big offshore rock), then Warren Cove and Pepper Cove:

There was yet another, Fox Cove. But time was getting on, and I decided to leave that for a future visit from Porthcothan Bay further south.

Nearby were a couple of new clifftop builds. One was a home half-buried in the ground, like a Hobbit's dwelling:

The other was a big single-storey house in full view:

Although these houses were in keeping with the older detached houses already there, they were nevertheless not-very-sympathetic intrusions in the landscape and I was amazed that planning permission had been granted. The board fixed to the decking on the more conventional house had 'Jean-Paul Kuhnzack-Richards' on it. I understand he is a big-name designer, based in North Cornwall.

I retraced my steps back to the head of the bay, and walked uphill through the static caravan site. It looked very much the same as all those decades ago, just a bit modernised and a bit smarter. At the top was the field where tents and touring caravans pitched. Not many there in late September.

As a family we abandoned holidaying in a tent (and turned to static caravans) after my infamous 1971 walkout. I stood up to Mum and Dad for a change. Fed up, I declared my intention to cut my holiday with them short and somehow manage at home for a week until they came back. Everyone was amazed at my behaviour, because being assertive was so uncharacteristic of me. But for once I insisted, asking only for a lift to the nearest station, then Bodmin Road. To be honest, the prospect of a long and novel train journey back to Southampton very much appealed. I was sure I could manage some minimum shopping and cooking. And I would certainly enjoy a bit of freedom for once. There would be TV to watch (my own choice too) and all the home comforts.

I was not behaving like a spoilt prima donna without reason. The August weather in 1971 was wet and windy, and it wasn't at all exciting being cooped up in an unheated tent. I craved hot baths and central heating! Besides, I felt ready to make a point, that I could do stuff on my own.

And I did. Mum and Dad seemed to treat me much less like a child after that.

Really it was Dad who was so keen on tenting. Mum must have had a word with him. To keep me on side, they promised a proper static caravan next year. Mum must anyway have looked forward to the upgrade. A static caravan had space, facilities, conveniences, and even little luxuries well beyond what a tent offered. You could ignore the weather much more easily in a caravan! It was in every way a nicer experience. Ironically the switch from a tent coincided with hotter, sunnier summers.

For the sake of having a free holiday, I went along with Mum and Dad and Wayne and the Hinton family for three more years until 1974. After that, I stayed at home and did not holiday with them again until 1991.

And now I holiday by myself. Well, here I was in North Cornwall. It was already mid-afternoon. I should be heading back to Great Torrington, some sixty miles away to the north-east. Instead I decided to see a curious thing off to the south, at Roche, not far from St Austell. Next post.