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  • Duncan Mackay

PIDDLEDOWN DIDDA?*


It's wild, arty and crazy but absolutely beautiful in all the right ways; landscape, culture and people. The Lizard Peninsula, Cornwall, home to Goonhilly Downs Earth station, a national nature reserve, serpentine rocks, choughs, Poldark film sets, Gear Farm pasties, Roskilly's ice-cream, Gweal Mellin cider, Helford rind washed white cheese, Frenchman's creek and Kettle Barton art gallery. Other local treasures do exist. The Lizard is also England's most southerly point. However, in a raging wet gale with gusts of 84 miles per hour, thoughts of enjoying southerly warmth were all focused inwards around a log-burning stove set in a solid granite inglenook fireplace, hot food and tangy local cider.

In the aftermath of the night storm, a short trip to Mawgan Stores for emergency log and cider restocking became a marathon challenge. Two oak trees with branches violently ripped off and splintered had crash-landed across a tightly narrowed, high-banked Cornish country lane. Possibly to some this would be a depressingly unwelcome sight, but four fit adults on a mission could just about drag and lift the offending wood into a just about passable space. The next dip in the road leading sharply down to the ria of the Helford River was now an impromptu flash-flood with a blocked culvert creating a new fast flowing ford, although a quick wet inspection deemed it just about passable. It was.

Ten leagues further on there were signs, as well as an increasingly luxuriant grass sward growing down the middle of the highway, that should have alerted us to general weirdness ahead. 'DEAF TABBY CAT ON ROAD' the signs proclaimed. We wondered if it was now just a tragic spelling mistake as there was no sign (sic) of the actual cat. Maybe it was too wet for feline roadblocks. Another league onwards there was another real roadblock. This time not vegetable but animal and mineral. A parked car filled yet another impassable narrow Cornish lane. Slowly, an old man in cap, coat and wellies emerged from the door and explained that up ahead a very large bull was being transported from one field to be with some cows that had already gone on to another field ahead. This was emphasised with a generous amount of pointing and agricultural charade. Sure enough, after a bit of mutually assented vehicle gateway jiggling we moved forwards to join a small convoy. First, the large bull slowly plodding, being nudged up the backside by a tractor with two black plastic silage bales skewered on the tines of a forklift at the front like a giant bull-bumper, then a battered, mud-splattered farmer's 4x4, then us. For a mile we followed this strange beef caravan wondering what the bull would think of doing to any cow-coloured oncoming traffic or what might happen if we arrived at a crossroads. We all emerged from a gnarled bent beechwood tunnel in the rain to a-spy two women armed with sticks apparelled in oversized waterproofs and hats, standing guard at a T-junction. It was like something from a Kurosawa-directed scene in a tractorised version of Game of Thrones. The bull placidly plodded one way and we went the other. Game over.

Later, over dinner, more eye-witness tales of Cornish highway paranormalities. This time from Bodmin Moor near Bolventor. A night drive to Bristol from Cornwall on the old A30 road saw two very sane and honest Cornishmen approach Jamaica Inn when a spectral white horse at full gallop and bearing the hunched flowing, cape-shrouded figure of a man or woman shot across the road. The car-borne duo stopped silently in the nearest lay-by to corroborate what each had seen. They are not alone. The modern A30 dual-carriageway (ironically in an era when carriages are no longer used for transport) has seen a spate of reports of 'phantom hitch-hikers' hereabouts.

It is now not long after 'All-hallows', the time honoured period when the the improbable but possible quantum veil between different realms thins, and folks, worried about soul-stealing wraiths, try to confuse them by dressing up as the dead. If anything is possible then it is wise to take precautions, or insurance, and maybe a pumpkin lantern...or maybe two. As Erwin Schrödinger, a pioneer of quantum mechanics and a philosopher of science wrote: "The first requirement of a scientist is that he be curious. He should be capable of being astonished and eager to find out". Maybe he hadn't been on Bodmin Moor at night...

*Cornish dialect for "we seem to be experiencing some inclement wet weather"


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