With its windswept coastlines, haunted pubs, distant and glowing lighthouses and penchant for attracting mysterious heroes/heroines like Ross Poldark and Mary Yellan, it’s no wonder that Cornwall has been the backdrop for many a romantic tale over the years. It even provided inspiration for a huge part of my own novel, set in a crumbling lighthouse off the coast of a fictional village that has its roots in the folklore of Cornwall as well as Scotland and Northern England.
I spent a week in January, collecting inspiration and exploring this wild landscape, a less common time to visit. I’ve only ever explored in the height of summer, when the water is aquamarine and the sun beats down on the backs of the surfers and the tourists sitting outside waterside cafes. While it is famously stunning at that time of year, I am a gloomy weather person. Don’t ask me why, but I find foggy, misty, rainy and stormy days to be infinitely more inspiring for my writing and, as I am first and foremost a writer, I felt like I needed to see this gorgeous county in all of its haunted glory.
I wanted to experience Cornwall in the month of grey tides and grey skies, rough seas, rolling mists. I wanted to stand beneath the shimmering glow of a lighthouse beacon, hand-in-hand with the characters I’ve created, to see the world through their eyes.
The Cornish landscape is intoxicating. When you’re there, walking along the exposed cliff paths, watching the gulls swooping, or scouring the shoreline for seals, when the wind blows through your hair until it’s damp and salty, when your fingertips are ruby red with the chill of the day, it completely overrides every other sensation. It forces you to be present, in the immediate moment, every problem and worry is washed away on the pebbled beaches or carried away on the wind. It is my place of refuge, even when I’m not physically there.
When I’m stressed, panicked or upset, I take myself to Cornwall in my mind. You should try it: Close your eyes, take a deep breath and imagine this…you’re stood on a sea cliff but you feel no fear or danger from the height.. you know you’re safe just gazing out at the sea. Gather all your worries, your stresses, your heartaches and screw them into a ball and hold it tightly in your hands. Then, throw it to the wind. Look to the horizon and watch as the little black shapes flutter, caught by a strong gust that takes them far away. Feel that same wind rush through your hair, dampening your face with sea spray, filling your lungs with hope, calm, peace. Be still. You look out to the sea and spy a small group of seals… or are they selkies? Mermaids? They’re playing in the surf and their gleeful cries fill your heart to the brim with contagious joy. The sea is calling you and you are finally home.
Every time I return to the sea, I leave a part of my soul there. It holds the same fascination for me as the night sky: it’s vast and terrifying, but also calming, beautiful, mystical. The sea is a natural balm for an aching soul. Me and my soul belong amongst the waves, and Cornwall’s coast captures everything that a coastline should be. It has the perfect balance of idyll, magic, ferocity & wildness. It is both friend and foe.
Cornwall always sweeps me away and I often wonder whether I’ll ever find myself living in a tiny home in a tiny village, somewhere on the coast of this beautiful place. Until then, I’ll be living in the lighthouse with my characters, finishing off my novel and dreaming about being in Cornwall once again…
Happy dreaming, friends.