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To Launceston while the sun shines

Apparently it's going to pour with rain in a Noah's Ark, apocalyptic type manner shortly (rather than just in an English Summer type manner, as it is doing at the moment).  So as my chances of getting out in the sun seem slim, I thought I'd rummage through photos of last weekend's trip to Launceston. 

First we wandered by the church of Mary Magdalene - early sixteen century.  It's a very *carved* church. Every inch a carving. 


This might not seem very remarkable, until you realise that all those carvings are not in some soft friendly stone like sandstone, but in solid granite.   There is a tiny door, far too small for a normal height person to pass through.  It's not the main door, obviously.  But I like it.  I've had this idea for a while that the watery mineshafts all around might be entertainingly filled by fictional dwarves piloting gondolas through the tunnels, and this door only encourages that thought. 


A gleeful gentleman wandering past, saw us admiring the carvings, and informed us "They say it's impossible to carve granite!  But nobody told the Cornish!"  We were left a little unclear as to whether he was an Englishman telling us that the Cornish are a bit dim, or whether he was a proud Cornishman boasting of his ancestors' achievement. 

I particularly liked this bit.  I guess the rider with the spear is St George and that is the dragon, but I'm not sure who the rather magnificently-sleeved gentleman on the right is.  Or whether his steed is supposed to look like a donkey. 


Then we headed off to visit the castle.  On the way, we went past what I felt was a very silly-looking hotel, all steps and icing: 


It is eighteenth century (we learned, looking at the exhibition at the castle which is just up the hill), and yes, those are eagles on the gateposts.  My eye was caught by this lady on the top, with her rather flirty skirts, and impressive hat. 


So then we came up the hill to see the castle.  At first sight, it seemed a cheery place, all friendly with sweeping lawns. 


 Where I grew up in Swansea, there were quite a lot of Norman castles dotted about, so I think I tend not to register them as being as menacing as they were intended to be by the people that built them.  This castle is on what was once Dunheved hill.  (Wikipedia thinks that 'Dunheved' was the Saxon name, but I don't think that can be right, it sounds obviously Cornish/Welsh: Dun / dinas/Din... )  Before it was a Norman castle, it was once the capital of Cornwall (if, one assumes that Cornwall was ever unified enough to actually have a capital). 

We scaled it, and I took a panorama.  There doesn't seem to be a really good way of easily putting a panorama photo in a blog, so I converted it to a movie and put it in Youtube, though I'm not sure the quality is quite ideal.  Any better ideas gratefully received. 

Looking at the little exhibition about the castle, seeing the gatehouse, which doubled as a jail, and then the sheer thickness and weight of the keep walls made me realise just what an oppressive place this was built to be.  Its alternative name was 'Castle Terrible'.  

I took another photo of it, frowning terribly (if ruinously) down over the town.   I don't know why this struck me particularly this time, of all Norman castles, but this one struck me as particularly iron-fist-ish.   Perhaps it's appropriate that it flies the English Heritage flag, not the Cornish one. 



( 12 comments — Leave a comment )
7th Jul, 2012 08:32 (UTC)
Those are very fine carvings. I'm imagining some poor Cornish stone mason finally laying down his chisel with a sigh of relief. For 50 years he's laboured on these carvings, and his hands are bleeding and cramped, his back hunched, his health broken from the whole lifetime spent trying to do his town proud. His father and grandfather also laboured at this task until it killed them in the end; the granite carvings always do.

Then up comes a messenger on a horse. "We were cleaning out the depot and we found this letter for you. Tried to deliver it 100 years ago, but you were out. You might as well have it now. Hope it wasn't anything important."

"It is impossible to carve granite," the message reads.

"NOOOO!!!!!" screams the mason.
7th Jul, 2012 12:28 (UTC)
You can't but feel sorry for whoever carved that granite. I feel that by the time they had done one side of it, they must... surely... have known. So I'm imagining them as a crew of madly grinning indefatigable optimists, refusing to admit that the material is just not suited to the task as their fingers bleed...
7th Jul, 2012 08:33 (UTC)
That church is astonishing - all that painstaking labour! In granite!

I once went on a gondola ride through a flooded mine, in the Peak District. I think. It was such a weirdly dreamlike experience that I still have trouble telling whether it was something I actually did, or something I dreamt I did. The gondolier had a Yorkshire accent and told pirate jokes.
7th Jul, 2012 12:58 (UTC)
That does sound like a strange dream (possibly cheese-provoked?!)

I walked past one of the old mine openings today, and could hear all sorts of musical trickling noises echoing into the distance.

The original idea came to me because I once found a small rubber dinghy floating inside a flooded mine-shaft, on the wrong side of the sturdy metal gate that prevents loons from wandering in and getting hurt. Somehow or other it had made its way all the way over from the lake on the other side of the hill where people sometimes swim and frolic with similar inflateables.
7th Jul, 2012 21:48 (UTC)
That's one very carved church! Hope you don't get flooded. I can't believe there's another wet week coming on top of this.
8th Jul, 2012 11:15 (UTC)
7th Jul, 2012 22:37 (UTC)
That's granite?! Yeesh.

The hotel looks a bit like a gingerbread house, and the lady on top like a cake decoration. I'd rather expect it to melt in a sugary sludge in heavy rains.
8th Jul, 2012 11:16 (UTC)
She does! That blue dress is exactly the colour of icing, and her suspicious little eyes are like scary raisins.
8th Jul, 2012 17:05 (UTC)
I see what you mean about the eyes, Plus her helmet looks like a scary monster baby rising up to kill her!

I like the Norman Castles, they always look like they were built by very sensible and practical people :-)
8th Jul, 2012 22:43 (UTC)
Oh, no wonder she almost gives me the willies, I despise raisins...come to think of it, I probably despise killer monster babies too.
9th Jul, 2012 08:38 (UTC)
Oh, I am completely the other way on Norman castles - they always look so cold and uncomfortable to me. All that chilly stone and so many steep, slippery stairs! I'll give you that it lasts well, but to live in, give me a wooden house!
17th Jul, 2012 18:58 (UTC)
Ooh, that place looks GREAT!!! We keep seeing it on the weather map, and now we'll have to go and visit in in person some time!!
( 12 comments — Leave a comment )

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