27 Lamorna Cove
Scenes such as Admiral Rodney’s naval battle against the French fleet in the Caribbean are described in such vivid detail that it is hard to believe that the author had not witnessed it first hand. Whether in Cornwall, West Africa or the West Indies, Crosbie Garstin was a master of local dialect and folk song, seamlessly integrating it into the narrative. At the time, he was living in Lamorna Cove, a romantic location and the scene of a dramatic meeting with his future wife Lilian. She was visiting the cove with a student friend who got into difficulties while swimming. A strong swimmer, Garstin rescued the friend and married her!
It is in the countryside around Lamorna where the Penhale story unfolds, and the author makes good use of his familiarity with the area, setting the action among real locations including the villages of Paul, Mousehole and Newlyn. The inn where the smugglers hold their meetings, the Admiral Anson, is nicknamed the Kiddlywink, a reference to the sale of contraband liqueur. The buyer would signal his wish to buy with a wink to the landlord. This is a reference to Lamorna’s local inn, the Lamorna Wink, nowadays providing sustenance of the purely legitimate variety! The only geographical twist is that St. Gwithian, the parish in which the Penhales live, is borrowed from a location some 20 miles away near Hayle.
Crosbie Garstin died in 1930, following a boating accident in Salcombe, Devon. He never saw the Hollywood adaption of his last novel, China Seas, which starred Clark Gable and Jean Harlow.
Later, in the 1980s, a church minister revealed that 20 years before, in London, he had met a writer who claimed to be Garstin, and who had written a number of novels under the names Norman Leslie and John Crosbie. However fascinating, the story has never been authenticated, although Garstin’s body was never found.
Today Lamorna Cove remains a quiet location at the end of a wooded valley carved out by a bubbling stream. The beach is rocky and boulder strewn. From 1849 to 1911 the cove was a hive of industry, extracting granite, the rock from which this coast is built. Many well- known landmarks, including the Thames Embankment, were constructed from the blocks which were loaded directly onto ships moored in the harbour. During the early 20th century the cove attracted a colony of artists and writers, and the Lamorna Society have erected slate plaques to commemorate them. I took the cliff path from Lamorna east along the coast to find the home of another much- loved writer from more recent times. Initially the climb up is hard, as the cliff is littered with granite blocks which make the going difficult. Past Lamorna Point the path ascends to a granite cairn where a tall boulder, shaped like a standing stone, looks out to sea. This is Carn Barges, the spot where, on holiday in the 1950s, the writer Derek Tangye first set eyes on a lonely uninhabited cottage sheltering by the edge of a wood in the distance. He and his wife Jeannie knew at once that this was where they wanted to spend the rest of their lives. Both of them had
glamorous jobs in London, he as a journalist and she as the publicity manager for the Savoy Hotel group. They knew many famous people and attended numerous society parties, but it was a life they were both happy to give up in favour of a simpler and more rewarding one beside the Cornish coast.
How they eventually acquired the tenancy of the cottage at Dorminack, and the ups and downs of their new life growing flowers and vegetables on the difficult cliff- edge location is described in A Gull on the Roof, published in 1961. This was the first of 19 books which came to be known as the Minack Chronicles written by Derek until his death in 1996 — Jeannie died 10 years earlier. He took particular delight in describing the various animals that shared their lives, including Monty, Lama and Oliver the cats, and Fred and Penny the donkeys.
As well as domestic creatures, a number of wild birds adopted the couple, among them Hubert ( the gull on the roof), Tim the robin and Charlie the chaffinch. Jeannie was also an author using her maiden name of Nicol, writing about her life at the Savoy in Meet me at the Savoy, followed by three hotel novels, Hotel Regina, Home is the Hotel and Bertioni’s Hotel. Before her death, they set up the Minack Chronicles Trust, which today owns 18 acres of land
adjoining the cottage ( http:// minack. info/). They named it “Oliver Land” after their cat, and today it is run as a nature reserve and “a place for solitude”, according to the notice on the gate beside the cliff path. The cottage, though, is not open to visitors. I must also point out that this Minack is not the location of the famous cliff- side theatre, which is a few miles further east at Porthcurno.
Visiting in spring I found that, beside the cliff path, daffodils were still in flower. These are a remnant
of the bulb fields that used to be cultivated when the Tangyes first arrived. In Sun on the Lintel the author describes a morning he spent at this idyllic spot overlooking the sea: “Nothing a millionaire could buy could equal the reward of a spring morning on a lonely Cornish cliff”.
At the foot of the cliffs just beyond is Tater Du, Cornwall’s newest lighthouse built in 1965 to warn ships of dangerous rocks after the coaster Juan Ferrer came to grief in October 1963 with the loss of 11 lives. The incident is described by Derek Tangye in his book A Donkey in the Meadow. Nearby is the property of another famous writer who was a friend of the Tangyes, John le Carré.
The granite outcrop of Boscawen Point, provided magnificent views of my destination, the boulderstrewn beach at St. Loy’s Cove. After descending to the water’s edge, the path took me through a small wood at Boskenna Cliff which, in May, is glorious with bluebells, within earshot of waves lapping on the beach.
At St. Loy’s Cove, after scrambling across the boulders, which entirely cover the beach, I rejoined the path to return to the main road through another valley which runs parallel to Lamorna. This passes Boskenna, once owned by the novelist Mary Wesley. This spectacular section of the Cornish coast has certainly been an inspiration to the writers who have been lucky enough to live and work here.
Lamorna Cove in Cornwall, home of the writer Crosbie Garstin.
The view from Carn Barges with the Tater Du Lighthouse in the distance.
Above: The cottage at Dorminack, once home of Derek and Jeannie Tangye. Right: Merthen Point and St. Loy’s Cove seen from Boscawen Carn.