Wednesday, 28 March 2012

Rocky Valley Epiphany

The little River Trevillett rises just west of the Camelford-Boscastle road, and meanders for a couple of miles before spilling into the broad Atlantic. Despite - or, perhaps, because of - its all too brief journey, it is possibly the most special little river in Cornwall.
A twig dropped into the source of the river would reach the Ocean in about half an hour or so... but what would it experience along its voyage? The current would push it through a couple of fields, the stark pasture of North Cornwall, before dropping into a wooded valley known as St Nectan's Glen.
Arboreal dampness pervades this place, the trees on the slopes huddling close as the river passes an ancient hermitage, now a chapel and a teashop for the visitors determined enough to find this spot. Then, with a gush and a roar, water drops downward, scything through the rock, its timeworn passage creating a series of basins known as kieves. A sacred spot, the foot of the waterfall, replete with votive offerings, the Pagans leaving behind a kaleidoscope of colour, small piles of pebbles, coins in every crevice, photographs with the ink running in the perpetual dampness. Here, Maclise painted his Girl At The Waterfall, and he was not the only Victorian artist to become entranced by the passage of the Trevillett.

Your twig might struggle here, caught up in the tangles of natural weirs, branches that have fallen from the canopy above and clogged parts of the flow. If it can get through those, it will continue its descent through densely overgrown foliage, eventually reaching the point where the river passes beneath the coastal road, near the hamlet of Trethevy. Near this crossing can be seen a small, rustic chapel of ease, and a Holy Well - this one dedicated to St Piran, the patron saint of Cornwall. A neighbouring building contains a Roman milestone, one of the few remains of that period that proves even the Romans had an interest in the mineral wealth of this wild corner of Britannia.
Passing beneath the road, the river leaves the Glen and enters the Valley. It babbles past Trevillet Mill, a wonderful building which, until recently, was a restaurant but is presently a private dwelling. My eldest has said that, if she ever won the lottery, this is the building she would like to buy and live in. This was painted by the landscape artist Thomas Creswick R.A., underappreciated nowadays but famous in his Victorian heyday for his pastoral scenes.

A footpath follows the course of the river, opposite the Mill... and after a short distance, you will come across a second building, the path cutting straight through it, the derelict and protected Trewethet Mill. The mysterious aspect of Rocky Valley. Here, carved on a quarried wall at the rear of the building, are petroglyphic symbols of the type usually associated with Ancient Greece. They were probably carved by a bored miller but, in the absence of proof, they have become a Cornish mystery, a local legend, a possible link between the world of Ancient Greece and the Cornish peninsular which they knew as Belerion.

Another Pagan haunt, the cracks in the rocks filled with rusting coinage, bunches of twisted plants and small heaps of slate on every ledge. I visited in the Summer of the year 2000, and here experienced my epiphany. Alone here, the sun dappling through the trees above me, the soothing babble of the passing stream, a curious peacock from Trevillett Mill watching me from the opposite bank, and the soft tinkle of wind chimes left by a previous visitor. Beauty filled me, warming me, calming me, leading me into a state of meditation that mellowed me for months afterwards.

The path crosses the river via a wooden footbridge, a replacement for the bridge damaged in 2004 by the flash flood that swept half of Boscastle Harbour into the Atlantic. The twig, nearing the end of its journey, would shoot below this bridge, carried with increasing urgency as it twists through the canyon, beneath the Coastal Path, flying over small waterfalls before reaching the maelstrom, the point where the flow of the river collides with the tidal push of the Ocean, and the twig is out, bobbing into the Atlantic, ready to begin its long westward journey to America.
On a sunny day in Cornwall, there can be no more fulfilling, no more exhilarating task to undertake than to follow the course of that imaginary twig. Rocky Valley, canyon of legend, the place where the last of the Cornish Choughs are supposed to have nested, firmly imprinted itself into my heart and soul on that day seven years ago, and the River Trevillett itself now runs through my veins.

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