Thursday Thought: Come to the aid of King Arthur! NOW.

Do you long to visit Cornwall?

In your heart of hearts what do you want to see, to experience? The picturesque fishing villages? The historic tin mining country? To walk the rugged coastal paths? To visit the great houses and country estates? To delve into the ancient spiritual energies?

King Arthur

King Arthur

But here is the key question. Do you value the authentic, the historic, the unspoiled, the original? Or would you settle for a commercialized, ersatz, Disneyesque reproduction — of the kind you can see in any local theme park?

The travel section in Sunday’s The New York Times led with an appealing article “The Weird, Mystic Pull of Southwest England” recommending “a pilgrimage to sites steeped in Arthurian lore with weird and mystical stops along the way.”

Proposed Footbridge

Proposed Footbridge

However, here is the horrific breaking news. The English Heritage organization is planning for King Arthur’s castle in Tintagel on the north Cornish coast the same fate they delivered to Stonehenge: despoil and commercialize this irreplaceable historic site with inappropriate contemporary excrescences.

I plead with you to raise your voice to prevent this disaster (especially those of you who learned of King Arthur and Tintagel in my recent lecture series on the history and lore of Cornwall, and who heard from Councillor Bert Biscoe of Truro bertbiscoe@btinternet.com)

Write to the Cornish councillor in charge and strike a blow for the once and future king!




Thursday Thought: Our Gang and Other Warfare

I am currently giving my lecture series “CORNWALL: History, Mystery, Mansions, Mines and Modernity” to OLLI (Osher Lifelong Learning Institute at the University of Cincinnati).

They are fascinated with what it was like growing up in England during the Blitz in World War II. You can read my “Memoirs While Memory Lasts”  of a little boy in Cornwall getting through this troublesome time here. My story is titled “Our Gang and Other Warfare”.  Read more here.

Barrage Balloons

Barrage Balloons


Thursday Thought: Dydh Grasow ha Lowender dhis

I know you can’t wait to greet your family and friends for Thanksgiving in the Cornish language! So here we go, straight from Maureen Fuller, Grand Bard of Cornwall. She explains:

With Grand Bard Maureen Fuller & Sarah Hoskin Clymer

With Grand Bard Maureen Fuller & Sarah Hoskin Clymer

“Happy Thanksgiving Day in Cornish is Dydh Grasow ha Lowender dhis (to one person) or Dydh Grasow ha Lowender dhygh (for more than one person). Translated literally it is Day Thanks and Happiness to you. Phonetically said, using English sounds, it is Deeth Grasso ha Low-ender thees (for one person) and ‘thoo’ for more than one person.”

I have just completed 8 lectures on “CORNWALL: History, Mystery, Mansions, Mines & Modernity” for OLLI (Osher Lifelong Learning Institute) associated with the University of Cincinnati. So enjoyable! We learned a lot about Cornwall’s amazing global contributions, exchanged ideas, and even learned phrases in the ancient Cornish language.

Students want to see the mystique and beauty of Cornwall for themselves. so Sarah and I are exploring ideas for designing a unique tour inside private places and meeting fascinating people.


Thursday Thought: How much did the ancient Celts influence English?

The first lecture in my new course to the OLLI group in Cincinnati stirred a fascinating discussion. OLLI is the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute of the University of Cincinnati. (For a description of the course, click here.)  Were the Celts pushed to the fringes of Britain by the Anglo-Saxon invasion? Or did they remain and assimilate into Anglo-Saxon society? And what effect did they have on the development of the English language? — Contact me if you would like more details.

Message from Student (retired English teacher)

“I spoke to you yesterday about the hypothesis that Celtic influence on later English is more profound than many linguists admit.  John McWhorter has been an exception to this trend and has given solid bases to his premise that the Celts of pre-Anglo Saxon Britain were not pushed to the edges, as is often stated, but rather blended with the new populations and helped create a language far different from the other Germanic tongues that the invaders brought with them.
“Thank you for the course.  Tuesday’s class was fascinating.”

Response from a leader in Cornwall

“I think that the truth of what happened with the Celts when the Saxons (and others, including the Angles, who gave their tribal name to ‘England’) lies halfway between the ‘expunged to the fringes’ and the ‘stuck around and blended’ schools — I suspect that some stayed, and some went!

The survival of, and evolution into Cornish, Welsh (and Breton) ‘dialects’ of British, in Wales, Cornwall and Brittany clearly demonstrates that these places were predominantly colonised by Celts. The Patagonian colonisation also shows that there is an instinctual motivation in these Brythonic groups to protect their culture and its attritbutes by seeking a degree of insulation, and that ancient links and fraternities survive the passage of time. So, one can find in the exceptional diaries of Harold Nicolson (September 1941, from memory) a description of Nicolson being sent by the Ministry of Information to witness a speck in Kernewek, commissioned by the British government, to welcome and make feel at-home Breton refugees who took refuge in Cornwall after the scuttling of the French fleet. The irony is that Churchill found Kernewek an expedient in servicing wartime alliances (and brutally necessary acts) but his successors have only reluctantly acknowledged the existence of the language and remain cussed in their denial of resources to support its development. As I say, ancient resonances endure.

It is true to say that there is strong Celtic influence in the English language. We should never forget that monasteries were also seats of learning and that the beginnings of scholarship, writing and linguistic development happened here, and that monasteries were as much repositories of the ancient as they were developers of the new. So the blending may have had as much to do with monkish predilection as with the movement of peoples.

I would commend to your correspondent the career of John of Cornwall, widely credited as being one of the founding fathers of the English language. Irony abounds! A search of the net might throw up a second hand copy of Julian Holmes’ translation of John’s prophecies of Merlin. Nuts!


Thursday Thought: A story

N.R. Phillips

N.R. Phillips

I just have to share with you another story from the delightful Cornish author N.R. Phillips. This is A Sweetheart Remembered from his collection of stories and poems Rainbow in the Spray. It is a charming tale—and I bet you will be surprised by the ending.

Link to it here: http://wp.me/P4LySx-L


Thursday Thought: Cornish Humor!

N.R. Phillips

N.R. Phillips (Photo by    Tom Tregenza)

Last summer I met Cornish author N.R. Phillips while I was speaking about The Miner & the Viscount at the Penzance Literary Festival in Cornwall. We chatted a while and he kindly gave me an autographed copy of his book Rainbows in the Spray. Since then we have corresponded and Roy has given me permission to share some of his delightful stories and poems with you.

To introduce you to this entertaining writer, here is his hilarious dialect story Coleus.

Do you keep house plants? This is about an indoor gardener whose enthusiasm got away from her!


Cresmass comes but once a year. The trouble is, the way they’re going, they’ll soon last ’leven months. They’ll have us hangin’ up our stockin’s on Good Fridays d’reckly. Mark my words, we shain’t know whether they’re full of chocolate eggs or shiny balls. Mind you, it d’ take that long to decide what present to buy some for people. And the closer you are to people, the more difficult it is. Somebody up country, they that you hardly ever see, you can send them a voucher for a book, or something to heave in the bath, or smother on their chacks, and that’s that.

The Cresmass before last, I honestly did not know what to get her. . . Some have green fingers, what they d’ call, and some don’t, and I’d never gov her a plant before. It might have meant the end of a beautiful relationship, like they d’ say. Well, I tell ‘ee what… she was delighted. Said she’d never seen anything like it in her life. Over the moon, she was. We put ‘n in the kitchen winda and it was like a thing grawed there. 

Read the rest of the story here.


Thursday Thought: Spring

The beauty of the magnificent landscape of Cornwall is at its peak in the spring. _1rj3390Flowers are everywhere in variety and profusion, from the wild primroses and May blossom in the hedges to the magnificent daffodils and narcissi in the commercial fields, from the Tamar Valley in the east to the Scilly Isles in the west.

Spring is a time of enjoying the beauty of nature for some—and a time of work and preparation for many more. In Chapter 29 of The Miner & the Viscount, I describe the goings on at the great Port Eliot estate:

As winter turned to spring, the sparse snow that had dusted the little valleys around Port Eliot surrendered to the mild Cornish climate, and the melt seeped down the hillsides to swell the lazy currents of the River Tiddy, thence to feed the Lynher and the Tamar as they paid their modest tribute to the busy waters of the English Channel. The tenant farmers and their laborers stirred, sharpened the ploughshares, greased the harnesses, groomed and shod the great shire horses as they prepared to cultivate the rich red brown loam to embrace the new season’s seeds. Their labor would give rise to a flow of revenue that would swell the wealth of their squire even as he played his role in the busy doings of the English capital city.

The awakening of the new season at Port Eliot welcomed Edward Eliot home from London.



Thursday Thought: Cornish Dialect

It doesn’t take a Professor Higgins of Eliza Doolittle fame to tell where you are in Britain with your eyes shut. Just use your ears. Every region has its own distinctive dialect. Even natives find it hard to understand each other!


Being a good socialist, George Bernard Shaw saw class differences too.

Here’s Professor Higgins in My Fair Lady:

Hear a Yorkshireman, or worse,

Hear a Cornishman converse.
I’d rather hear a choir singing flat.

An Englishman’s way of speaking absolutely classifies him.
The moment he talks he makes some other Englishman despise him.

In my historical novel The Miner & the Viscount Catherine Eliot is the gracious lady of the manor. She takes under her wing Mary, the former serving maid now married to the rascally Willy Bunt, and recruits her to help in her grand project of starting a village school. But first Mary must improve her English grammar and manner of speech.  Catherine promises to teach her.

In this passage from Chapter 46 I read the amusing conversation between them.

Would you like to know the rest of the story in Chapter 46? Read more here.


Thursday Thought: Scenic Cornwall

Toll House Roseland pensinsula

Toll House
Roseland peninsula

Why did I choose Cornwall for the location of The Miner & the Viscount,

readers ask? Many reasons. Cornwall is where my family is from, where I was born and grew up. The history is fascinating. The people are unique.

And the scenery is magnificent! The cover of the book is the iconic St.Michael’s Mount. Here is another view of the monastery and castle surmounting the peak of the island.

This view is from a new website with 100 great photos of Cornwall’s varied scenery

St. Michael's Mount

St. Michael’s Mount

Do these pictures make you want to visit? You can get  lots of ideas on this site, or see the Visit Cornwall site for a great variety of ideas.

Readers have also asked to be shown the locations in the book, the great houses, the mines, the the moors, the fishing villages, the picturesque towns. Could be a great idea!



Thursday Thought: St. Piran’s day

This Saturday, March 5th, I’ve been invited to a St. Piran’s Day party. It’ll be a rollicking good time! Unfortunately it is in Australia, which is a bit far.

St. Piran

St. Piran

Piran is the patron saint of tinners and of Cornwall.  I tell his legend in the Prologue to The Miner & the Viscount. You can read it here.

The story speaks to Cornwall’s mystical origins rooted in the Celtic culture and language. Piran, or Pyran (Cornish: Peran) was an early 6th-century Irish Christian missionary who became a Cornish abbot and saint. It was Piran’s demise and miraculous escape from martyrdom that gives him legendary status.

Druid priests in Ireland tied Piran spread-eagled to a mill-stone and rolled it over the edge of a high cliff into the stormy Irish sea. Miraculously, the storm immediately calmed and Piran floated safely over the water to land upon a sandy beach on the Cornish coast. It became known as Perranporth.

St. Piran's Oratory

St. Piran’s Oratory

My daughter Sarah and I visited St. Piran’s Oratory when we were in Cornwall on our book tour last summer. We expertly guided by Eileen Carter, who led the restoration effort, and by Colin Retallick, who plays the role of the saint in the annual reenactment of his arrival in Cornwall.

Happy St. Piran’s Day!