Writer: Luke Thompson
Photography: Steven Barritt
the smell of the receding tide
and the jangle of clay trucks
a meat van reversing
porcelain pigs in the butcher’s window
receding with the black monks
unflooded with a prayer of sands
clogging the bay
sea glass, pacific oysters
receding sandals grinding summer chalets
a shared sun receding
an urchin thurible of frankincense bubbling over sea coals
“It means cuckoo woods,” I said.
“Oh,” she replied.
The barman interrupted to ask if I had a hairy chest.
“Sort of,” I said, then turned back to the woman.
“I’ve not heard a cuckoo,” she said.
“Go on, show us,” said the barman, and, inexplicably, I began unbuttoning my shirt.
“Kilgogue, from kelli-kog”’ I said. “Kelli meaning woods and kog cuckoo.”
Tywardreath’s New Inn was my local a few years back. After work I would walk along Castledore Road, past Trenython to the village, the old china clay waste dumps on the horizon beyond Kilgogue. Historically, Tywardreath parish included all these places, plus Par and Polkerris, with Castledore on the eastern edge. The borders have shifted over the years and so has the land, a tidal estuary once running all the way up into Tywardreath. Industries blossomed and withered, villages swelled around pilchards, tin, kaolin, tourism. The name remained. Tiwardrai, Trewardreath, Tywardreath.
It’s a beautiful word in Cornish but dull when translated into English. Daphne du Maurier’s version is as good as any – “The House on the Strand”. She used it as the title of her novel about a man, Dick Young, who takes an addictive drug that transports him back in time. The story begins at Kilmarth House, Polkerris, a house du Maurier rented from the Rashleigh family. When thinking about names and naming, the Rashleighs deserve a mention. They trace their line back to King Edward I and not only do they have inns named after them at Polkerris and Charlestown, but the latter village itself is named after Charles Rashleigh, who built the harbour in the 18th century for exporting minerals from the mines and clay works. It’s better known today as the go-to for big-screen harbour scenes, like in Pirates of the Caribbean and Poldark.
I mentioned Castledore. It’s just a few houses on a crossroads but they are named for the castle ruins they were built beside – a castle associated with King Mark. That’s King Mark from Arthurian legend, of Tristan and Isolde fame. There’s a standing stone – now above Fowey – with a faded Latin inscription and debate over what it says. The most marketable version is, “Here lies Drustanus, son of Cunomori”, Drustanus being a form of Tristan and Cunomori of Quonomorius, a name for a Cornish King Marcus.
Du Maurier’s novel focuses on a priory of “black monks’ – Benedictines – that used to be here. She wrote to the prickly historian A.L. Rowse at nearby Trenarren for his opinion on her research. Rowse always had strong opinions. He also had a habit of annotating letters with scathing comments. On this one, responding to du Maurier’s speculation about a secret passage from the church to the priory, he wrote, “Utter rubbish of course!”
Exploring placenames involves jumping back and forth through time like du Maurier’s novel, the ages entangled, the past in the present. I still wonder, as I button up my shirt, which house is the “House on the Strand”?