Almost of the walking I’ve done since arriving here has been on our local roads. I must admit I’d anticipated a spider’s web of glorious local footpaths: up hill and down dale, across field and pasture, through woodland, over streams… But so far all I’ve managed to discover is that this immediate area is known for its poor footpath management. There are paths marked on maps certainly, but invariably they are blocked. I’ve spoken with two Cornishmen, born and bred it would seem, who’ve lived in the immediate locality for decades. Both have public footpaths on their land; both paths are blocked.
Peter the cattle-farmer was quite brazen: there’s even a footpath on my land, he said incredulously, but it doesn’t go anywhere so what’s the point? I played along. No point in disagreeing with Peter; he’s a close neighbour and may be an important person to call upon for help one day. Roy the dahlia-grower told me more. The footpath on his land is blocked, he said, but he would be quite happy to allow walkers to get around the blockage. Neither man appeared to think the blockages were anything to do with them and most certainly were not their responsibility. There often used to be parties of ramblers in these parts, so Roy told me. And frequently heated disputes over rights of way. Apparently they get very few walkers these days. Hmmmm
Roy told me a lot about the local area, some snippets more useful than others. I met him when wandering slightly further afield than usual. I was trying to find the way to a house we can see from our windows. I never found it. I now know that this is because it’s actually built in the middle of a field and has no road access. I could have walked for miles and never got there… But back to Roy. I had found his house – which I wasn’t looking for – down what felt like a very remote lane. There were several people working some land a short way from the road, who were just far enough away to make it impossible to say a cheery hello in passing. Seeing people is rare when I’m walking here; it’s an ‘event’. They all turned as I passed and I was so tempted to wave and hopefully initiate a conversation but I didn’t quite have the confidence. I passed on by. As it happened, I had to retrace my steps, and this time a very excitable dog came galloping across to meet me. The people working simply called him back and assured me of his friendliness. Which he proceeded to demonstrate loudly. He bounded along with me until I reached the house where an elderly man was working on a small patch of land beside the road. He called the dog to him and that’s when I met Roy the dahlia-grower.
Roy has lived in this same house for 45 years, I learned, and dahlias are his passion. He grows thousands of them. He doesn’t sell them; this is a labour of love, with occasional visits from garden clubs and occasional entries into local shows. He doesn’t enter as often these days, partly through ill-health and partly because he kept on winning. He is a well-known figure in the Cornish dahlia world but more significantly for me, he’s a wealth of local knowledge – if only I could have kept him on track. He rather preferred to ramble off on to subjects of his own choosing, than to stick with the straight and narrow and the matters I was gently pressing. I would have liked to have learned more from him, but I’ll be passing that again anyway, in the summer and the autumn. All those dahlias will be quite a sight then.
Two random things I learned from Roy. There is a bluebell wood nearby. I love to see bluebells. And yes, the place where I had turned around was indeed a Cornish gouda cheese-making farm. You just never know what you’ll find in the middle of nowhere in rural Cornwall. And the cheese is very good. I love cheese. Two new things to investigate then!