2 miles to Ding Dong

August 17, 2013

Near England’s southwestern tip, ancient stone walls line the fields of Zennor; fields that have been farmed for more than 2500 years (since the Bronze Age). In January of 2006, the opportunity arose for me to visit this area of Cornwall, as part of preparation for that year’s Chelsea Flower Show.

Throughout the British Isles, different areas have regional variations of stone walling traditions. The dominant type in this area is the Cornish hedge, which is like a regular drystone wall with an earth core (instead of a stone core). The top of Cornish hedges is typically mounded with turf, as shown in the photograph below.

This road sign struck my attention on the way through the back roads from Zennor back to Penzance. The sheer existence of a place called Ding Dong is noteworthy; and it is only enhanced by the close proximity of Bodrifty.

The beautiful bench that is pictured below looked as if it would not be out of place in Japan. The way in which the large piece of timber (whose origin is intriguing) is checked into the base supports is executed in a particularly subtle manner.

The stone structure that is shown below is situated very close to the village of Zennor itself. It is part of an amazing network of walls and related structures (such as ‘smoots’, which are cavities for animals to move through). I do not know the function of this structure, although I can imagine that it may have something to do with driving livestock. The quoin stones are particularly elegantly worked, as is the way in which the folds and angles of the various faces are combined.

Metal gates are commonly swung off very large blocks of stone. This beautifully simple metal gate (below, left) appears to have been superseded by a timber gate that is just visible in the photo. Stiles, such as the stone example in the image to the right, are structures that appear in an enormous number of variations throughout England – and constitute a rich tradition in their own right.

As with much of Cornwall, the maritime climate is an omnipresent influence around Penzance. This is one of the prime reasons that I came to Cornwall; as certain coastal New Zealand plants are especially popular in this part of England, for their ability to stand up to the conditions imposed by the sea. Accordingly, Cornwall was the best place in the British Isles for sourcing New Zealand plants (as several plantspeople have compiled impressive collections of our native plants).

The final photograph shows an example of the living tradition of Cornish hedges. This hedge had just been completed at the time that I visited Cornwall. Although well-built, this wall does not exhibit one aspect of traditional Cornish hedges – whereby the battered face is traditionally slightly concave in profile, so that pressure from the earth over time results in a straight line on the battered face (rather than a bulge).

It is heartening to see traditions treated as a continuous, enlivening presence in a culture – rather than an artefact to be simply observed and preserved.