Writer: Morag Smith
Photography: Anthony Prothero
the silent robins of Angarrack
this close valley crucifies houses
on a cross of rock and water
road and river
Once trains steamed past the inn
where the silent robins of Angarrack flock
before they fly upstream
past ancient mills
over The Rock feather free
skimming small bridges
spanning the shallow water’s flow
rising they soar into the sky arch
of the viaduct
striding towards the sea
There are four ways to come here, none of them the same; each harbours its own history in the resonance of the path: an echo of historic footsteps, the squeak of a wheel, the thunk of hooves on compressed soil, the whistle of a train.
At the bounds, we find Angarrack, Angharrack and Angarrick on its signs. When was this place named and why? In Kernewek it’s An Garrek, The Rock, and just as words can lose their meaning, becoming nothing but a name, so rock is cut and carved and shaped, diminished from its raw and rugged form to become a dwelling, a mill, an inn, a home, a mine, an engine house, the stamps that crushed the rock to find the ore, the viaduct that soars across the valley, taking another tiny train towards St Ives.
At the centre is a crossroads and underneath the road the river streams unseen. This is where the bridge or ford has always been and yet the road flows steep down Steamers Hill, beside the inn and then without a pause climbs up again.
The ancient Angarrack River would have shone with tin and copper, traded with the Mediterranean by families that lived here. Men and women of the old religion, rich and cultured. Until the Normans conquered with their heavy boots, their swords and taxes, their Domesday Book, sending Cornish people underground, alive or dead. Women lost their right to own, and earn, and have a name belonging just to them.
Not just the land, so many of their ways and words were lost. Tapestries, books, vellum tomes that told the early stories; all that remains are Roman fragments, telling of a cultured people, quite unlike those in the rest of Britain. But there is another story told in stone.
By tunnelling into a name, we find its meaning and behind the words something like a feeling; we recognise the impetus that generates the labelling, a system to identify, to guide another person. But the alchemy of rock transforms a landscape.
With soft, persistent teeth the river’s cut, a narrow valley that cradles her water and carries it towards the sea. She’s carved out a hidden place that gives the humans all they need: protection from the elements, power for a waterwheel, irrigation, not to mention washing, cooking, drinking, and, when all is done, fermenting.
The story’s told in mills and houses, ruins, holes, and fragments of abandoned mines. An inn that’s stood for more than four hundred years, now quiet and sedentary, waiting to tell its sorry tale of Lottie Tregorran, the 19th-century landlady who revenged herself on robins. It’s said one pierced the nostril of a horse her son was riding, which threw him broken on the stone. In her grief she poisoned every small, red-breasted bird that came around the inn. The river has witnessed all the losses of these people.
This place is rock, rising up to meet us, asking us to let it lead us home.