‘All Things Bright And Beautiful’

I heard the church bells this morning, ringing like they do each Sunday.

There’s a group of dedicated folks who show up every Sunday and ring the bells for at least a quarter of an hour. They ring steadily, one after the other occasionally overlapping, tolling in a pattern of order that never seems to change.

At least three of the bell ringers live down the road from us and I know most of them never stay for the church services that follow. Asking why doesn’t seem appropriate even though I’d love to know why they ring the bells so consistently each week and then go home. I wonder if they’ve ever lingered to listen or maybe taken a seat on a pew.

In general, churches in England seem to barely have enough parishioners left to keep the lights on and all these lovely little village churches stand mostly empty during the week and not much better on Sundays. I’ve been to services in our village church a few times and I have to admit I don’t feel a big desire to hurry back.

I prefer to worship in another way.

Cornwall 2013 - Elizabeth Harper

Cornwall 2013 -Elizabeth Harper

Elizabeth Harper

Birdbox Cornwall - Elizabeth Harper

Birthday Party Bonfires & Ghostly Faces

Elizabeth Harper Ghostly Face in Bonfire Smoke

I’ve been in the UK long enough to have attended a bonfire or two especially since they occur routinely on the 5th of November every year, but last night was actually my very first one. John and I went to a 50th birthday party for a friend in the village and in addition to fireworks, there was a huge bonfire. While I expected to see a roaring big fire, I did not expect to see the faces that you see in two of the images I took.

Elizabeth Harper 2x Ghostly Face in Bonfire Smoke

An interesting observation is that these two photographs are separated by six photos in-between, none of which have anything resembling a face, making it seem to be a look that came, went, and re-emerged from the smoke.

It’s not the first time I’ve seen something unusual in a photograph and I’m sure there must be an explanation, I’m just not sure what it is.

What about you, have you ever had a ghostly image show up in your photographs? 

Accidental Meetings – A Place Where Past And Present Intersect

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Most of my friends and family know of my fascination with photographing old churchyards and cemeteries. I can get lost in a one for hours if left alone and I was delighted when I first came to Cornwall to find John living in a village with a lovely church only a short walk from home.

Since marrying him and moving to the UK, I’ve spent a lot of time in the churchyard especially when I felt a need for a quiet moment, not that it’s very busy or noisy in our village of 500. It’s a peaceful spot to watch the birds fly in and out of the church tower or to photograph the seasons as they change and I used to stop there for a rest at the end of a run. Even though my runs have become more of run/walk in the last few years, I still like to have a look around when I’m passing by.

I am always interested in photographing the gravestones, especially the old ones, and I notice when I spot an unusual name. The gravestone below first caught my eye because it is next to one (not in the picture) that has Elizabeth on it. I know it may sound strange, but I always look for headstones with John and Elizabeth lying next to each other. Click here to see a post about a churchyard over looking the sea where I posted some gorgeous photos and wrote more about how we always seem to find our names together.

Like any small community, you can discover a lot about its history through the names on the gravestones. Unusual names like, Axworthy tend to make me head for my computer pretty quickly to see what I can learn, but I have to admit that until I met a member of the Axworthy family last Sunday, I had not followed up on the research.

The Return 2009

Last Sunday was Mother’s Day in the UK and I had the pleasure of meeting a woman who was born in the cottage which use to house the old post office for our village. She moved away when she was seven, but still comes back a few times a year to have a bit of lunch and a look around the village. I recognized her maiden name right away when she told me because Axworthy is one of the more interesting names in the churchyard. She was in the pub with her son and daughter-in-law who told me she still lived in a village nearby.

Gwendoline Axworthy

Gwendoline Axworthy

After she told me her name and where she had been born, her son mentioned that there was a photo on the wall in another  room of the pub that had some of their relatives in it. I went around ‘borrowed’ it and after talking about the men in the photograph, I asked her permission to take a picture of her holding a copy of the photo of her great-grandfather, Austin Axworthy and great-uncle, Edgar Axworthy.

Cornwall 2013

They are sitting in front of the cottage/post office where she was born in 1926. While I don’t think there are Axworthy’s in our village anymore, there are certainly Pengelly’s living here. Tom Pengelly was the postman according the family.

I was pleased to meet such a delightful woman with a history and link to this place that has become my home and I was happy that she and her family gave me permission to use the photo and share our meeting online.

The stone cottage she was born in has changed a lot over the years. You can just see the edge of it where the women are standing in the doorway in the photo above.

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In this old black and white photograph provided by Shirley Runnells, the cottage that housed the old post office is on the right side with the phone box near the doorway. With a family living upstairs, I can’t imagine there was much privacy when trying to use the phone. The two cottages attached to it were later joined to form one.

Cornwall 2013

I took this photo taken last week and while you can’t see it, there is a window behind the blue car that used to be the doorway to the middle cottage. I am not sure when the two became one, but the old post office was housed in the white cottage until 1999.

Cornwall 2013

The stone cottage across from it is the ‘Old Smithy.’ I am not sure why we still call it that when we don’t have another blacksmith in the village.

When I researched the Axworthy name, I confirmed that it was Saxon in origin, something John had already told me, and the earliest recording of it in writing was during the reign of Henry VIII when Harry Axworthy was christened in 1542 in Lezant, Cornwall.

It might be easy for some to take the history of a place for granted, but in a country where you don’t have to go far to see something like the Celtic cross which marks the intersection of two lanes on the left in this photo, it’s difficult not to occasionally imagine the ghosts of those who lived here before me.

Talking with the great-granddaughter and great-great-grandson of the man in the photograph may have answered a few questions, but the real gift was more of a day-dreamy one as I imagined the lady before me as a baby and young girl learning to walk the same paths I’ve come to love in the village where we live.

Have you ever had an accidental meeting of a similar sort? 

A Castle For Your Dreams

13th Century - Restormel Castle, Cornwall, England

13th Century – Restormel Castle, Cornwall, England

Hundreds of years ago someone imagined a life on hillside overlooking the River Fowey. Not content with the natural height provided, they scooped up the earth to build a motte and bailey design castle. The first structure appeared around 1100 in what would eventually become the stone remnants you now see in the photo above. Restormel Castle in Cornwall is considered one of the best remaining examples of a motte and bailey castle and according the English Heritage site, one of 70 remaining in Britain.

Fulfilling the dreams of others

When my best girlfriend Patrice came for a short visit in 2011, she had a list of things that she wanted to do while she and her partner Lisa were here for a few days. One of which was a visit to a castle.

I took them to Sunday services on St Michael’s Mount and later John walked with us through the attached castle, but I wanted more for her. I wanted her to see a remote castle with no furnishings and few people, a place where she might have a moment alone to think about her mother who had died a few years earlier without going on the ‘Castles of Europe’ tour she’d always imagined she’d see one day.

I remember Patrice telling me how she’d asked her mother if there was anything she wanted to do in the time she had left and how they had talked about castles before her mother began chemotherapy. Her mother died without going on that trip so this was more than just another tourist stop for Patrice, it had a special meaning and while she didn’t mind which castle she saw, I wanted it to be really special and I had a feeling that Restormel Castle might be that place.

Patrice & Lisa, Restormel Castle

When I see this photograph of Patrice, I can almost hear her saying, ‘I’m here, Mama’ as she pauses in the first entrance to the castle.

Patrice & Lisa, Restormel Castle

You can see a second entry point into the castle where the person in blue is walking under the arch. The gatehouse was originally three stories high but was partially dismantled during the Civil War. I found the history of this building style fascinating when I researched Restormel Castle. If you’d like to know more, I have done some of the work for you by providing the highlighted links above.

Patrice & Lisa, Restormel Castle

You can see the entrance to the chapel in the center of the photo above. The chapel projected out past the circular structure and had points of entry from smaller side doors.

Patrice & Lisa, Restormel CastleLooking to the middle left of the photo above, you can a side entrance to the chapel as well as an arched entry leading directly into the sanctuary.

Patrice & Lisa

Here’s a shot looking mostly down into the space. I’m afraid these images are not my best work as it was wet and windy shooting that day, but perhaps you can still get a sense of the space.

Patrice & Lisa

From this angle so you can see how thick the walls are and get a glimpse of the lovely view from the castle walls.

Patrice & Lisa, Restormel Castle

Patrice & Lisa, Restormel Castle

There are stories about a dungeon, but I’m not sure they are more than stories.

Patrice & Lisa

There are stairs which lead to all kinds of hidden areas like this one with Patrice. I said she looked like a monk from a distance with her dark hood up to avoid the rain so she assumed a prayerful position at the end of a moss-covered passage way.
Patrice & Lisa, Restormel Castle

In this photo, you have a window in the center with an open space  to the left where a fireplace once stood. There’s a matching window (not seen here) on the other side of the fireplace shell.

Patrice & Lisa, Restormel Castle

I wondered how many faces must have looked though these great stones windows over the last 800 or 900 years and thought about how the view must have changed along with the ownership of the castle. My imagination goes wild thinking about the lives of those privileged to have been able to stand or sit near the windows in a room with such an important function.

Patrice & Lisa, Restormel Castle

You can see how the windows and fireplace might have looked in the great hall by double clicking on this image of a plaque from the castle grounds.Patrice & Lisa, Restormel CastleHere’s a last look at what the interior of the keep might have looked like. You can see the window outline and the fireplace off to the left in this photo of one of the English Heritage information plaques. I usually take a quick photo of these to use later as a reference when I want to do more research online at home. I thought these might be helpful for this post.
Duchy Nursery

One more shot of Restormel Castle from a distance … the first and last photographs were taken during the last week and all others in September 2011.

It was good to help Patrice complete a goal that had been one of her mother’s dreams. Two castle visits may not have been the ‘Castles of Europe ‘ tour her mother dreamed of, but walking through Restormel Castle and St Michael’s Mount, I can’t help but think that Patrice’s mother would have had a little chuckle to see her daughter fulfilling a few of mom’s unfinished dreams.

I imagine most of us have something like that. There are so many places I see living in the UK that I know my dad would have loved to see himself, but the thing I feel most keenly is the connection he and I shared with writing and imagination.

My father left a fair amount of unpublished words and ideas and at least one story he wrote for his daughters. I know he would have been a big fan of my writing (being my dad) and would have encouraged me to go beyond the limitations of my blog. I hope to manage that one day and do something that he, like Patrice’s mom, never had a chance to do himself.

How about you? Are any of you secretly hoping to complete a dream desire that someone special to you can no longer do for themselves or maybe one like mine that you shared with a parent or other loved one?

Hazards Of Being A Curious Explorer

Bodmin Moor, Garrow Tor, John Winchurch

It would be a mistake to imagine you might be able to veiw Cornwall properly from the window of a passing car. If traveling near our home, you’d see the wide open spaces of course and the immediate beauty of Bodmin Moor, but the tucked away places require a bit more effort to reach … and maybe a pair wellies if you want to keep your feet dry.

Last Saturday, John and I set out on a path we’d been on a few times before. We parked on a patch of moorland grass, slipped on our wellies and started walking towards King Arthur’s Hall.

Bodmin Moor, King Arthur's Hall, Brown Willy, Rough Tor

King Arthur’s Hall with Brown Willy and Rough Tor in the distance.

It had been a while since we had walked to the unusual rectangular shaped area on the moor  that is surrounded by 56 stones like the one in the photo above. There are a lot of suggestions as to its age and original use, but like the Arthurian legend, no one can say for sure. You can read more about the monument here. (Do have a look at the links as the details are interesting)

Bodmin Moor, Garrow Tor, John Winchurch

You never know what kind of livestock you may come upon or how they will behave. Cows are always interested in you until you get close enough for them to see that you are not bringing anything for them to eat. These were part of a larger group that alternated between following us and running away. What looks like a pile of rocks behind them is Rough Tor. You can see me standing on top of it in my header at the top of this post.

Bodmin Moor, Garrow Tor, John Winchurch

Remember when I mentioned that you would miss a great deal if you only saw Cornwall by car … this stream of water is the first sign of the unexpected for those thinking moorland is just an open grassy space. Crossing over this footbridge takes you into what I think of as, ‘The Dark Wood.’ There are gorgeous bits of light that break through the tightly planted rows of trees at times, but not on this day.Bodmin Moor, Winter Trees

I shot this after walking through the narrow swath of trees. It was so green that I modified the color a bit making it look a bit more wintry than it actually did on Saturday.

Bodmin Moor, Garrow Tor, John Winchurch

There are loads of circular stones once you are through the woods and they line the hillside reminding you that neolithic communities and medieval villages once stood here. The wind is always blowing when we’ve walked through here and I can’t imagine how the people who lived in these stone and likely wooden structures (I think) ever felt truly warm.

Bodmin Moor, Garrow Tor, John Winchurch

Rounding the hill and in the distance sits an old stone cottage that appears as if it has changed little over the years. The windows are not original, but with no electricity, or running water, it is still very primitive. I think the single pane of glass in the windows looks as if there is no glass there at all adding to the abandoned feeling that makes one want to hurry past … unless your name is John Winchurch.

Bodmin Moor, Garrow Tor, John Winchurch

You wouldn’t think it to look at him, but John likes to make his own set of rules sometimes and while he gives off this easy-going vibe and is certainly a gentle soul, he is not often deterred when I say, ‘ I’m not sure we’re allowed to do that ‘ as was the case on this day. While much of the moor is accessible to walkers, this cottage is not abandoned nor have I ever been as close to it as I have now. I generally like to keep a respectful distance, but when John walked up to have a quick look I couldn’t help following behind.

Bodmin Moor, Garrow Tor, John Winchurch

Even though I felt a bit guilty for peeking in the window, I was so intrigued by what looked like a place forgotten by time that I couldn’t help taking this image of a smaller window on one side of a primitive kitchen setup through a larger window on the front of the house. As much I wanted to photograph more of what I saw, I wanted to be a bit respectful so I took two quick photos of the window before following John up the hill behind the house as we took a different path back to the woods and on to the car.

I wondered aloud to John as we walked, talking about the history of the house and what it might be used for now. It was clear from our hasty look that someone was using the house from time to time and John suggested it might be used as temporary shelter for farm workers or a primitive holiday cottage for someone with a city life.

Fast forward a few hours to evening when we meet up with friends for dinner. We had no idea when we accepted the invitation to their home that there would be more than the four of us and were pleasantly surprised to see we were part of a party about twelve, many of whom we’d not met before.

Conversation was lively and the food excellent and just to keep us on our toes, the Universe sent us an answer to our  earlier questions about the house when we realized that the man we were seated next to at dinner … owned it.

That’s right, the one time I go past the gate for a sneaky look and a photo, I end up face to face with one of the owners.

He was very pleasant and shared the most interesting details about the land and area around the house. That said, I don’t think I ever actually mentioned that I took a photo of kitchen window, but given that we discussed my blog, photography, and how to find me, there’s a good chance he’ll know now.

I wonder if some artistic interior shots might make amends, not that I have them yet … because I’m not that nosy!

But with a proper invitation, I could do some lovely things.

Safer In the UK – One American Mother’s Perspective On Gun Control

Mountain View Elementary School (Internet Photo)

Mountain View Elementary School (Internet Photo)

Few things were certain for me in my early years, but some things were absolute.

School was my safe place, home was not.

Watching the news yesterday as the reports came in of the murdered children and adults in a Connecticut school, I could not help but flash back to the shootings at Virginia Tech in 2007, where my daughter was a student at the time.

I wonder how the recent mass shootings affect her, but I don’t know because she doesn’t talk about it.

My husband, John and I spend a fair amount of time talking about gun laws in the US and the UK. Having lived in the UK since 2008, our conversations are different from when I first moved to Cornwall. While it’s based more on how I feel here than the statistics John has quoted, it’s difficult to argue with the facts.

John frequently cites the numbers of gun deaths in the US. It used to annoy me, but having lived in a place now where I feel safer because guns are so restricted, I wish I could have the same relaxed attitude when I’m in the US.

I kept a .22 revolver for years in my home in the US. It was an old family pistol that my dad gave me and it made me feel safer. Unlike some of my handgun owning friends, I had weapons training in the military firing M16 semi-automatic rifles, and a M60 machine gun. Additionally, I’d had some experience with handguns as well.

I always recognized how deadly guns could be, but felt the risk necessary to ensure my daughter and I were safe if someone tried to break into our home and cause us harm. My gun was meant for protection at home which is the argument most Americans make when people talk about new laws intent on restricting their ability to own handguns.

Statistics still show that most gun deaths occur in the home with family members killing those they once wished to protect, a reality that makes the protection at home reason more difficult to justify. While the right to bear arms may be protected by the constitution, it has long been one with frequently deadly effects.

Here’s something for gun enthusiasts in the US to consider. The most recent figures I’ve been able to find show 87 people die each day in the US from gun related injuries while in the UK, only 58 die each year. It’s difficult to argue with those kind of numbers.

87 Deaths A Day versus 58 Per YearI feel safer living in the UK. I never ever worry about being held up at gunpoint or shot while shopping at the mall. Church is still a place of sanctuary and while I might get a rude gesture by someone with road rage, I know I won’t get shot. I could go on listing … public transport, movie theaters, and University campuses, but I think you know where I’m going with this.

Britain didn’t wait for as many reasons to push for change … after the Dunblane massacre of sixteen elementary school children, they did what was needed to keep it from happening again.

The Brits I meet are always talking about the US and our need to have so many guns. They tend to make ‘Wild West’ jokes about it, but they’re not really trying to be funny. I think they’re shocked by how much Americans will sacrifice to carry guns, a question I’m beginning to consider now myself.

I’ve chosen to focus on change in this post because I can’t bear to think about any more sadness and loss. This year alone has had more mass shootings than I want to consider and the grief of the families who’ve lost those who were precious to them, breaks my heart.

UK Immigration & My British Citizenship Ceremony – One American’s Experience

Elizabeth Harper Receiving British Citizenship Certificate From Deputy Lord-Lieutenant, Peter Davies

Receiving My British Citizenship Certificate From Deputy Lord-Lieutenant, Peter Davies

A simple way to take measure of a country is to look at how many want in. And how many want out. ~ Tony Blair

Three days ago I joined a group of fifteen immigrants standing in a half circle as we pledged allegiance to our new country. Even though I was fairly giddy with excitement over the ceremony, I was aware of several things. It was obvious at a glance that we were a diverse group, but it was not until I heard each of them read some variation of the words below that I realized how different we all really were.

British Citizenship Ceremony - Elizabeth Harper, (Far Left)

Only six of the sixteen appeared to have English as a first language and it was almost painful to watch as four or five of those becoming British citizens struggled to read the Oath of  Allegiance.

Listening to a few of them mumble words that bore little resemblance to what they were supposed to be, I was astonished that they were there as I thought we’d all had to pass written tests to get to this final step. As I was writing this post I did a bit of research and it looks as if there are times when people may exempt from some parts of the testing process.

Elizabeth Harper, British Citizenship Ceremony

Cadare, is from Jamaica and we had an interesting chat about the misconceptions many folks have about people from both Jamaica and the US.

I wondered as I watched them about the difficulties they might have faced in the country of their birth and thought about the opportunities  they now have in the UK that they may not have had in their respective countries.

My desire to become a British citizen was not a difficult decision as I was allowed to keep my US citizenship, but after seeing the list of countries that do and don’t, I feel sure some of the people who took the oath with me were from countries that don’t allow them to retain their original citizenship when taking on a new one.

I think like many people I tend to take a lot for granted. Basic human rights for one, and a sureness that every American grows up with knowing that hard work and a bit a luck will carry them far. We are a nation of bold believers in our ability to overcome adversity, an idea made easier by the knowledge that there are laws in place to protect us from governments gone mad. I’m not sure the same is true for some of the people I was with on Wednesday.

British Citizenship Ceremony - Cornwall

Elizabeth Harper Receiving A Gift Badge/Pin Made Of Cornish Tin From Cornwall County Council Chairman, Mrs. Pat Harvey

Immigration for some requires closing a door behind them before stepping through the newly opened one of their adopted homeland. I’m grateful to have two doors that open at will for me and feel fortunate that unlike many brave immigrants, I can go home again.

British Citizenship Ceremony - Cornwall

My Interview With Cornwall Council Chairman, Mrs Pat Harvey, ‘ A Day In The Life Of Cornwall Council Chairman.’ Filmed by Cornwall Channel

I was interviewed by Cornwall Council Chairman, Mrs Pat Harvey, for ‘A Day In The Life Of Cornwall Council Chairman.’ It was filmed by Cornwall Channel and will be on FREESAT  found on channel, 401 or SKY on channel 212. It should air this Monday or the next at 9:00 PM.

Cornwall Council ChamberThe ceremony took place in the council chamber. You can see me talking with an American woman in a hat who also became a Brit and my friend,  Armella Jenkins who happened to be in the UK and came down from Devon to share the experience. She’s the woman to my right.

Me standing in the queue with Armella waiting for a coffee and scone after the ceremony. I’m happy and clapping, saying, ‘ Yay! ‘

Most of the photos are video screen grabs from a video John made. Thanks also to Armella Jenkins who took some additional images of the day. I may post an edited video version of the event later if any of you are interested in seeing it.

So ends a long journey that began more than four and a half years ago when I came back to the UK on a fiancé visa. I didn’t know then that I would apply for British citizenship and I’m happy that the only paperwork that remains now is that which is needed for my British passport.

This photo of a Celtic Knotwork lapel pin made from Cornish Tin is like one I received from Cornwall Council to mark the occasion. It’s made by Blue Hills Tin ,which is where I snagged the image.