... 'that might just be his homeland, drowned and forgotten, sea roads snaking to the present.' Following on from part 1. Dan Crockett with Josh Vyvyan.
‘Throw them out. They are the wrong sort of map. They are too thin. The coyote, even the crow, would regard them with suspicion.’ Barry Lopez
After a time, a place gets under your skin. You carry it around with you when you travel. It becomes a felt thing, tangled up in the senses. A place changes its inhabitants too, they get hewn and sculpted as hillside rock or high moor. William Least Heat-Moon, the author of PrairyErth and Blue Highways, coined the phrase ‘Deep Maps,’ to describe personal writings that weave in autobiography, archaeology, stories, memory, folklore, weather and intuition. A small area of earth may be translated for the reader. For Josh Vyvyan, the place he knows best is the Lizard and this is a snippet of his personal map, what he calls a Homescape:
On geology and time
‘390 million years ago dense oceanic rocks of the Normannian tectonic plate partially slid under the lighter continental crust of the Laurasian plate to the north. Rock usually only found in the mantle, serpentine, is visible today at the earth's surface on the Lizard peninsula. This unique purple and green rock, streaked with delicate white lines has always served as a reminder of my home. I take a chunk with me when I leave not only as a keepsake, but also as a reminder of the volatile nature of the planet, and the fragility and insignificance of our time here in comparison. One of these small pebbles is vastly older than humanity itself, and will be here long after we have gone.’
On sailing these waters
‘This most southerly peninsula stands as a gatekeeper to those leaving and entering the channel by sea. It has been a welcome sight after a long ocean passage, as well as a waving friend as you leave familiar waters, rounding wolf rock and Scilly and into the unknown. A few years ago while sailing outwards from the mouth of the Helford river, it struck me that humans had looked upon this landmark as often in fear as in gratitude. The Manacle bell buoy tolling in the mist remains one of the most unnerving noises in these waters. It presents a warning, as well as a reminder of the hundreds of wrecks and countless lives lost on this notorious coast.’
‘They say every cloud has a silver lining, and that is certainly true of the Manacles. What remains a shipping hazard and a grave to many also holds one of the largest marine ecosystems in Cornish waters, and while floating outside the reef I have seen blue sharks, whales, sunfish and dolphins. It is a reminder that what is a formidable piece of rock to us, is also a home to them, and that it should be treated as such. Having seen the depletion of cod, bass, and even the humble mackerel, it is imperative that we only take what we need. Releasing a fish to swim back to the reef and a world we will never fully understand remains one of my favourite feelings.’
On surfing access
‘After you round Lizard point the rest of west Cornwall begins to come into view. This more exposed part of the peninsula faces straight out into the Atlantic, and as a result gets the full force of winter storms and gales. A peppering of small sandy coves leads you to Loe bar and Porthleven. The Loe was originally the entrance to the river Cober and the port of Helston. It is hard to imagine the town in such a way now, but it would have served as a refuge for boats sheltering from the harsh Atlantic winters. Porthleven sits to the west of Helston, and is home to one of the best waves in the area. This sometimes misguided reputation has brought cameras, crowds, and in the last few years some disrespectful behaviour in and out of the water. Having had a great relationship with us using his garden to access the water, and after being verbally abused by young visiting surfers, Mr Bell has understandably closed his garden and stopped access to the point. Parallels can be made to the over fishing of the Manacles, and again it is imperative we see these assets as a gift and not a right. A lot has changed since I first paddled out on the reef as a wide-eyed nipper, but the wave remains the same.’
On history and connection
‘Humans have inhabited the Lizard for longer than we can imagine. Countless signs of forgotten parts of humanity exist in every corner. Fogous and standing stones tell us that we were here, but also of a world we will never understand, sharing DNA but little else. What we do know is of their intimacy with their environment. An understanding that it controlled them rather than the opposite. Nature ruled them and everything around them. Every human has a connection to a place, it is what defines and shapes us as individuals. I am lucky to call this place home. I believe that if we increasingly think of the landscape we inhabit as our home, rather than just our houses, we can begin to understand our connection to the ground beneath our feet. We are part of the environment not separate from it. In this busy and often confusing world that is easy to forget. There never has been a more important time to go outside and engage with your home.’
One year in the early noughties I spent my student loan on bonzers and walked the coastline of the Lizard. Despite a few lucky discoveries, it never felt like I got to know the place. Spending time with Josh affords a glimpse into generations of knowledge, of working with the land of the Lizard and immersion in its patterns on land and at sea. This doesn’t just yield better waves but also an appreciation of something greater – a reliance on the land and water of our home not just to sustain our bodies, but ourselves as feeling human beings too. At this point we become part of our environment, writing our individual homescape with the world.