Writer: Lucy Beckley
Photography: Jane Stevenson
A grounded transcendence
In the turn of the hairpin
Whispers from St Ninnies
Linger in dappled damp light
As piskies’ morning breath
Caresses the crown of green
Down the vale
Three woods greet the river
A buzzard’s call
Nature’s urgent utterance
Reverberates in the warning cry
As time stands still
Transcendence – a false promise
For all life is here
Under leafy mulch
In questions unanswered
Driving down the lane, my mind whirrs in time with the sound of the wheels on uneven ground. My normally reliable inner compass spins as I try to find the place I’ve been given. Trees meet in a crown overhead and rambling hedgerows nudge and caress the car doors with scratchy, squeaky kisses.
“Yearle’s Wood,” I whisper, tentatively trying out the name, as if it will help me find this place.
“Yearle’s Wood,” I say again; the words find form in misty dragon’s breath as I repeat it aloud. Who was Yearle? Was it a family name or merely a nickname?
Before I had set out, a search through digital archives had sent me down a rabbit hole, scouring maps and snippets from forums and blogs. Yearle’s Wood sits nestled in a valley next to two other woods: Sowden’s Wood and Pitts Wood, with the West Looe River running through the middle. There’s mention of an ancient fort, a hermitage, St Non’s Well, St Nonna’s Chapel and a Giant’s Hedge.
Pelynt, the closest village, is apparently derived from the Cornish pluw, meaning parish, and the name St Non (mother of St David). During a trip to Kresen Kernow, the Cornish archive, I traced the house in the woods to the Trelawny family, and found it was once home to a William Broad, but further information eluded me. In newspaper archives, St Non’s Well and the superstitions that surround it were mentioned frequently in the early 1900s. More recent blog posts by pilgrims who have made their way to the untouched holy well recount its beauty and magic. The name Yearle does not appear in any of the books that I scan about Cornish place names. Could it be a version of the English surnames Yerrall and Yourl, thought to stem from the Anglo-Saxon gor, meaning swampy, plus waella, a spring, and hyl, meaning hill?
Back on the lane and more questions are forming in my mind as I slow down through muddy puddles. Large tyre tracks have eaten into the sides of the road, carving out an imprint. My wheels begin to churn in the mulch and as I pass a farmer he warns me, ‘Mind how you go, there’s a sharp turn ahead.’ The lane narrows even more and the hedges grow higher as I find myself heading down a long hill.
Parking in a layby, trees tower above me. I hear a buzzard call and the sound of trickling water grows louder. All life is held in the seams and folds of this place, I think, as I notice a woodlouse and worm in the mud and see a robin and a squirrel in the trees.
Hidden out of view, Yearle’s Wood is a place both thin with the veil of piskies’ breath and thick with verdant thicket.
I leave the woods with more questions than answers. As I head back round the hairpin turn, I wonder if this is what life is about, to be open to questions rather than answers? I wonder if true contemplation and appreciation of a place is to be found in the form of a question.
If you go down the woods, maybe you’ll find out.