Cornwall in autumn



Cornish fog is a capricious entity. It descends and disappears without warning. One minute the sky is crystalline and then fog swathes and surrounds the landscape on the turn of the tide. It's diverse and ranges from a soft, misty mizzle to a weightless, wet blanket that drips and drenches. The mild maritime climate is a trade-off against cold weather as westerly winds suck up vapour from the warm sea and then deposits moisture-laden air onto the land as rain or fog...quite often both at the same time!

Winter pond

Recently, I visited a friend up at Longdowns; a linear vilage, straggling along the County's high, inland spine. As I drove from my village, it was a clear evening and the stars twinkled around the sphere of giant dish shaped aerials of the Earth Station on Goonhilly Downs. We had a lovely evening, talking as only women can and catching up with each others news and gossip and around 11pm, it was time to leave for home. We opened the door; a fog had descended, so thick, it was impossible to see across the road.

I'm uneasy driving on my own in fog during daylight, but at night, I'm willing to admit to an acute bout of the heebie-jeebies! There was very little traffic and any hope of tailgating other cars in the dimmed reflection of sodium lights evaporated as the visibility was reduced to a few feet. The familiar was unrecognisable; had I passed the pub? The Post Office? I decided to take the back lanes, cross country, as it would be safer at that time of night as few vehicles used the narrow road with its twists and turns. The fog hung above the granite hedges creating the semblance of a tunnel which at least had definition.

I reached the village of Garras. Not far to go now; the fog was less dense and I could pick out diffused lights in the cosy homes. Tall trees edge the road around the ancient gates into the Trelowarren estate giving no indication of the weather conditions ahead as the road bends and opens to the sweep of the moor. The aerials of the Earth Station, somewhere to my right, were wrapped in a grimy shroud. A grey void of moisture-drenched fog, twisted and shape-shifted into supernatural, phantoms draping and caressing the contorted gorse bushes.

headless horseman

It was what my family call a 'headless horseman' night... and I couldn't shake off the account of a story, probably apocryphal, I'd heard about the gibbet that hung at the cross roads at Traboe. Local folklore has it, that in 1820, a villager, William Hancock, riding his horse across the downs from Helston Market, was attacked by three thieves, shot and later died from his wounds. The moor was, and still is, a bleak, desolate place and back then, vagrants lived in hovels around the Neolithic standing stone at Dry Tree. The murderers were captured, tried and hung . Maybe, one of the assailants corpses was left dangling in a gibbet at the crossroad?

I was making myself more scared every second. Never had a mile of road seemed so long. My only visual reference were blurred cats eyes in the middle of the road; if I drove into the ditch I wouldn't be found until morning. I tried talking to myself and thinking nice thoughts, but the only words that infiltrated my head was a jumble of bastardised Latin. 'Inspirito Incantatum, inspirito incantatum', It repeated over and over again. I couldn't blame it on Harry Potter as I haven't read the books! What did it mean? A spell? A curse? My heart was pounding as I imagined, for no sensible reason, a grisly, severed hand moving around on the back seat. I'd read somewhere that the hand of a thief was hacked from the corpse, post mortem, and pickled to exhibit as a warning. What if the Traboe cadaver had been dismembered....

I had never been more thankful to see the dismal flourescent lights of the local garage and I took the turn towards home. What was that smell? The last thing I remember were cold, boney fingers raking through my hair.

PS. Of course, that last sentence isn't true! But, living in Cornwall, we're closer to the elements and imaginative minds play twisted tricks on dark foggy nights...

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