It’s a real honour to park our boat against the historic Cornish stone quay known as Roundwood because for over two thousand years vessels have been arriving at this very spot propelled by the wind. Back along it was trading boats loading tin and copper from Cornwall’s famous mines that moored five-at-a-time at the ramps you can see built into the quay’s three sea walls. The ramps facilitated loading by cart.
Although the quay fell into redundancy in the 1800’s the National Trust keeps the block granite walls, quoins and capping stones pristine for occasional visitors by boat – together with those on foot, camping or barbecuing …all are welcome to enjoy this piece of history and the romantic setting of the spot seems to unbend people – there’s always a convivial murmur of conversation emanating from those who have come to sit in the sun and pass some time. And because guards are down, you’re guaranteed to meet interesting folk on Roundwood.
We’d arrived to do some supermarket shopping and, having our car near-by, were just returning from our trip, along one of those thread-like Cornish roads which only ‘local knowledge’ reassures you will eventually get you to your destination, when we turned a corner and found the single-track road blocked by a yellow car, apparently parked-up. Inside, an elderly lady sat quietly eating a sandwich. Seeing us, she waited until a convenient moment in her meal, then set down her sandwich on the passenger seat and through her dazzlingly polished windscreen we recognised the actions of someone preparing to start the engine. To allow her generous room to pass we pulled onto the muddy verge on our side so that she could sail through on hers. But she didn’t. She crawled toward us until she was alongside, wound down her window, and then turned her engine off …taking up her sandwich again.
I wound my window down.
In 1963 I bought a painting… she began, but was interrupted by our dog who, hearing a strange voice, woke up and began barking. Shut up, dog! she snapped, over my shoulder, before resuming her story: In 1963 I bought a painting by Margaret Eastwood, called Cowland’s Creek …so years ago I decided I would one day visit the spot to see if I could find the very place the artist sat. I found it alright, but guess what?… (here she took a bite from her sandwich for dramatic effect) – there was no water! Is there usually water in Cowland’s Creek? In my painting there is – but now there’s only mud!
We sympathised with her disappointment; told her it was low tide, and suggested that if she returned in a few hours she’d fine water in the creek.
Oh well, I’ll come another day. she said airily. Anyway I was just driving away when I saw a rabbit sitting right in the middle of the road, blocking my way, eating his lunch. He wouldn’t move, so I thought ‘Alright then, I’ll join you …I’ll sit in the middle of the road and eat my lunch!
What with observations about the Newlyn Group of Artists; the wisdom or otherwise of investing in Art; together with sundry remarks about what lovely weather we were having just then, it was another five minutes before we were allowed to continue our journey.
That evening, still tied up to Roundwood Quay, whilst preparing dinner we heard a knock on our hull and climbed on deck to find a terribly-well spoken man in his sixties apologising for the noise he and his friends were making. We hadn’t heard a thing. Looking across the quay I noticed a huge motor boat had arrived, and from it came the occasional sound of mirth. At its stern flew the White Ensign …you can only fly one of those if you are a member of Britain’s poshest yacht club …the Royal Yacht Squadron. It’s one of those Great British Institutions that simply refuse to open their doors to riffraff, and the Queen gets last say. Later that evening we found it in our hearts to accept an invitation that Charles (we’d learned his name) had made to join him and his friends for drinks.
In conversation we established that both he and my father had served as Commanders in the navy – though not at the same time …my father died twenty years ago, and was in his eighties, then. Charles asked for my father’s name? Tyers I said. The name didn’t ring any bells, so he wandered away to turn the sausages, leaving us to ‘mingle’. Five minutes later he was back carrying a plate of perfectly-cooked sausages and offered me one. As I chose, he pointed an accusing finger at me with his other hand; You’re father was Secretary of the Naval and Military Club; he said.
He was! I beamed, How did you know that?
Your father gave me a bollocking! He said, and his voice carried with it the distant ripples of a wound inflicted 40 years earlier. For my own part, I was utterly thrilled to meet someone who’d met my father – after all I’d only met him a handful of times myself. I’m going to write to the Royal Yacht Squadron and see if all of this qualifies me for free membership.