Intended primary for my Creative Inquiry on Woolf and Place (2012-2013)
and my capstone seminar on Virginia Woolf (Fall 2010),
this blog also contains an account of our Woolf trip in May 2012
as well as posts about flowers and gardens in the life and work of Virginia Woolf.

*Photo of Monk's House Garden taken from door of Woolf's bedroom*

Saturday, May 26, 2012

St. Ives: The Town

 Despite some fairly intense development, the center of St. Ives remains much the same: a warren of small steep streets overlooking several white beaches.

.  Still an artist colony, St. Ives is dotted with small galleries selling prints, paintings, jewelry, glass products such as small stained glass sailboats and hand poured glass tiles, and all manner of touristsy gew-gaws.  We had so many encounters with so many dogs of every conceivable size and species that the girls finally declared themselves in “puppy overload.”  Apparently lots of holidayers bring their dogs to run on the beach.  At any rate we met a lovely Burmese Mt Dog—bigger I think than a Saint Bernard, ubiquitous terriers, a very polite pair of airdales, the biggest bassett hound I’ve ever seen—maybe it was another species…something breathtaking which I think was a Scottish deer hound, whippets galore.  

St. Ives: The Wharf
St. Ives barely misses having a case of terminal cutes.  There are many small winding streets, leading up hills so steep that some streets are simply staircases. Mostly white-washed walls or grantite, often teal or royal blue trim, pots of flowers or succulents so large they look like they are from another planet (imagine hens and chickens more than a foot across).  There is a long street fronting the central beach called the wharf which curves around to become a long pier stretching out into the water with a lighthouse at the end.  The sand is pale, the color of light maple, and the water is completely transparent, changing colors constantly with the depth and shifting clouds. The general effect is pale yellow and 

Granite just below the St. Ives Museum

View from SW side of Pier


Thursday, May 24, 2012

To the Lighthouse

To the Lighthouse

At the Life Boat Station at the head of the wharf, we met Derek and got our tickets for a 1:00 boat trip to the lighthouse. (about $20@)   Saint Ives Boats

  We had to walk down the old granite stairs and across a long pier built across fields of barnacle and smail-encrusted rocks to get into a small boat, which took us out to a larger boat.  The six of us went with three other women, including two Americans from San Diego who run an international animal welfare association, one of whom was a Woolf fan.  We got right up close to the rocks, took dozens of pictures (I took 150 pictures today alone; multiply that by six and you get the idea…we think we are going to end up with about 1000 pictures each for the whole trip) 

Our companions  pointed out the seals and various bird species, (including cormorants) which made the trip even more fun.  I’ve looked for pictures of Godrevy on-line, and have never seen any as good as the ones we got.  The lighthouse and rocky islands which surround it really do look like a leaf stood on its side.
The round trip to and from the lighthouse takes about an hour.  It was a cloudy day, and the seas were rough enough that they had the red warning flags up in the lighthouse (which is now fully automated and solar-powered).  The rocks surrounding the lighthouse are impressive craggy, and you can see why so many ships wrecked off the reef they are part of.
There were lots of seals, some of whom dived into to check us out, slick heads swiveling as we roared by.  There were rows of cormorants on the rocks, looking like small egrets, poised to dive for fish.  Close to the rocks there were some huge swells that rose from below us to crash on the rocks—all quite gothic and sublime.   

We sailed (not literally—we were in a small motor boat, the Dolly P) back via Hayle Towons, the long white beach leading up to the estuary at Hayle, to which the Stephens often walked.   Saw the seas of grasses into which Prue disappears.

Circling back by St. Ives, it was barely possible to make out Talland House, peeping over the eaves of several giant alpine chalet roofs which block its view even more effectively than the Porthminster Hotel.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Days 11-12: St. Ives-- Talland House

Lovely trip down, green fields  flashing by—some patch work of bright yellow rape seed. As we get closer to Cornwall, the white lace hedges and clumps of May (Hawthorn) begin to give way to stands of purple rhododendrons, scotch broom still bronze in bud, and the occasional palmetto. 


Hit the estuary at Portsmouth—tide out, quite spectacular.

But nothing compared to arrival at St. Ives from St. Erth.  Sudden vista of endless white sands, turquoise blue waters, with Godrevy lighthouse out in the center.

First view of Porthminster Bay (lighthouse very faint in distance)
Hired a cab at the train station to take me and all six bags (suddenly very huge and heavy) up the stair-step steep climb to the top of the hill where our B&B, The Hollies, on Talland Rd. turns out to be only three houses down from Talland House itself.  Checked in to general pleasure with small but tidy, pretty rooms and big view out sitting room window to the Lighthouse itself. Bev Trood, the owner, very sweet and chatty.  

Talland House squeezed btw new buildings
After brief reconnoiter to Talland House (now much hemmed in by new cottages built in the car park and general crowding all around), we went down down  down the steeple cobblestone lanes to the center of town (maybe 5 short blocks away—everything much smaller and closer than I’d remembered). Window-shopped our way down to the waterfront where we comparison-shopped for a pub with wide menus.  Stopped at The Lifeboat Inn where I had something called Rattlesnake Cornish Cider (quite a bite).  Spent another couple of hours wandering around the town harbor, wharf, and Smeaton’s Pier before climbing the stairs back up up up to the B&B.
London Girls on Smeaton's Pier
Wednesday morning 5/23/12
Got up and went for lovely breakfast downstairs, including gluten free toast for me.  They switched Internet providers yesterday and girls are very happy with great connection.  They want to move in as Ian and Bev are quite lovely, and the place feels very homey.   I just booked 1:00 trip to the lighthouse, and now we are going back to Talland House.  After the lighthouse trip, we are going to the St. Ives Museum, but rest of day is open for wandering, absorbing atmosphere, taking pictures, and shopping.  I may try to squeeze in trip to Leech pottery.

Went up the street to take a closer look round Talland House.  I warned the girls we might not be able to see much of the garden b/c I didn’t want to be intrusive and bother the tenants.  But just as we arrived, a man in gardening gloves and a trowel walked out, introduced himself as the gardener, and invited us in.  Trip karma once again.  We’ve been so lucky and so blessed with generous people.  So in we went.

 What is left of the garden is beautifully cared for: the top terrace, the oval below, the flat side garden with the trickling waterfall in the corner and the stream leading down along the side to the gate onto Albert Rd below. Things have been trimmed and planted and shaped, though one suspects this more tended appearance takes the garden even further from the original.

Waterfall in NW corner
The escolonia hedge is still there, but interplanted with laurel and something else that I think may be honeysuckle.  The big stand of calla lilies by the corner fountain (heaven knows if they were there in Virginia’s day) has been replaced by clumps of psuedocoreus (yellow flags, quite a favorite of Leonard’s).   The large urns have disappeared from the piers by the windows on the lower floors, which judging from furniture placement, no longer function as doors into the garden.  The bright-eyed purple African daises no longer grace the top of the oval, though we ran across quite a stand of them a little down the road, and although there are no red-hot pokers, there is a large pampas grass down by the gate The gate itself has been wired shut and is increasingly fully covered by a hedge, though Woolfies wanting to recreate the 1906 visit of the Stephen children can still climb the stairs and try to peek through.  

Stairs from Rd up to gate, now overgrown
The real changes, however, have to do with the crushing amount of development crowding round the house.  Only a small stretch of the garden walls that supported the green houses is left.  The whole of the old car park (what used to be the orchard) is completely taken up by very modern, white and glass- brick holiday houses.  The whole bottom half of the garden has disappeared, sacrificed for a new wall and access road up to the holiday houses.  Below the road, an area which used to be a continuation of the garden, where only half a dozen years ago I took a photo of two stands of red-hot pokers framing the view to the lighthouse, has become a construction pit. Real estate prices are apparently booming in St. Ives, and every square inch has become potential investment property.  So not only the garden, but also the view, and more subtley the whole feeling of graciousness which used to characterize Talland House has been severely curtailed.
Construction below Talland House

Day 10-- Cambridge

Ah, last night in my lovely attic London room – made delightful by what looks to be an entire evening of coverage of the Chelsea Flower Show on a satellite channel I managed to locate.  We got back from Cambridge about an hour ago, and I’ve already managed to pack everything but electronics and other sundries, aided by  having sent two small but expensive boxes home this morning as we passed through King’s Cross. The station has been totally renovated, transformed from a dirty, confusing, broken-down mess (with frighteningly old and fire-prone wooden escalators) to a clean efficient, generous space, crisscrossed with a tracery of white girders that let in lots of bright, diffused light.   They’ve kept bits and pieces of the original brick work, including the old platform 9 and ¾’s, now complete with half a baggage trolley stuck in it, providing a useful photo op.

New King's Cross

Our Cambridge trip was okay, but not wonderful.   Started off with a delay on the line, which allowed for a coffee stop which should have picked the girls up, but once we got on the train, they all plugged into i-Phones and fell asleep.  The May is fully out now and long hedges of it flash by on the train broken by the occasional stand of river birches -- a nice alternation of design elements.

Once we got to the station, I provided a bit of excitement, having left my wallet—with ALL the credit cards, my ID, and the train tickets for St. Ives – on my seat in the train.  However, some lovely person turned it into the lost property office before I’d had more than about 5 minutes of utter panic.  I’ve now secreted credit cards in several different places, so if I lose my mind again, we won’t be totally destitute.   I have to say our interactions with Brits have been uniformly lovely.  They seem geared up to be extra helpful—though I cannot imagine how weary of tourists they will be once the Olympics are in full spate.

Because it is exam season, we were restricted as to what we could see of Cambridge.  All of the girls were feeling as if they were sickening for something and all were annoyed by the continued cold.  We boarded the Big Bus—again the ticket agent gave us a huge discount: both student and group rate—which not only provides an informative tour of the town, but also takes care of all transport needs, including the mile or so walk from the train station.

Mathematical Bridge across the Cam
Midway through the tour we got off to find Newnham College, the “Fernham” of A Room of One’s Own and also the location where Woolf delivered the lecture version that preceded the book.  Crossing the river Cam on Silver St. I spied a pub, The Anchor, and proposed we first have lunch.  The pub proved to be warm, the food good, and the local apple cider invigorating.

Newnham College, Hall where Woolf delivered lectures which became A Room of One's Own
From there we walked up Silver St to Newman college. After walking halfway round, I began to fear that, like Woolf, we had missed the turning, but we were assisted by two Newnham girls -- anthropology majors -- who let  us into a dorm then took us through to the main quad and directed us to the tall towered entrance I remembered.  Indeed, we had missed the turning and needlessly circumnavigated half the grounds.  But, technically the college was not really open, so our detour gained us entrée.  The grounds were lovely: billowing beds of purple allium and yellow wall flowers.

Rolling the backs at King's

From Newnham we made our way across the Backs--another long way round as several of the entrances were closed to visitors.  However, managed to get in to see Kings College Chapel, which was wildly impressive. Especially the ceiling.  After a brief stop to buy sweat shirts—the girls have given up all hope that it will ever get warm here-- we walked back up Trinity St. to re- catch the Big Bus on its route and finish our tour of Cambridge at the bus station..

King's College Chapel Roof

On the way we were able to duck into Trinity, and visit the great court and the chapel , so full of plaques and statues. Found some old friends on the wall: A.E. Houseman, Frazer of the Golden Bough, Cornford the great ritualist.  The porters were particularly pleasant---not at all foreboding.

Trinity Great Court

Porters at Trinity

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Day 9—Free Day in London

Sunday: May 20, 2012

Desultory morning,  organizing pictures, writing blogs, sorting receipts.  About 11:30 took tube down to Temple to explore Fleet Street and environs, particularly Clifford’s Inn, where Leonard and Virginia lived from October 1912-Dec 1913.  I knew that much of it had been destroyed (it was torn down in 1934) but wanted to see what remained.  Had thought Sunday would be a good day to explore the City since it wouldn’t be busy, but had not realized they locked it up tight on the weekend – couldn’t even walk thru the Middle Temple.  

When I finally located the little back lane leading to Clifford’s Inn, the door was locked.  But I persevered and went poking around until I found a way in through a gate to King’s College.  The college buildings are on the north side with St. Dunstan’s Church on the west, and office buildings on the other two sides.  What remains of the garden/ green is a much divided patch of hedges and unmown grass with scattered benches, obviously used mostly by the students who’d left behind scattered detritus of cigarettes lighters and plastic cups.  There’s a statue of Confucius at the center.

Mission accomplished, I wandered west through various legal streets, finding this cat sitting in a window, complete with judge’s ruff.

Wandered around Covent Garden which was getting more and more crowded.  There was an Arts and Crafts Market as well as a whole building full of booths selling do-dahs, like old type-high printer’s ornaments, jewelry, cheap scarves, bendable fairies dressed to kill, every kind of lavender concoction you can think of. 

 Had a lovely time browsing, until I started getting tired and hungry. So I settled down at one of the many sidewalk cafes scattered about and ordered a warm Pims with apple juice—quite the tonic for a damp cold day (I listened to the weather report and was only wearing a sweater; they keep promising warmer weather…) and a plate of Shepherd’s pie.  

After this late and relaxing lunch, listening to a guy wi dreds playing blues on his electric guitar on the plaza, I found I’d satiated my desire to shop and made my way back home on the tube, easily switching lines to get the shortest route home, avoiding the lines closed for maintenance and suffering delays because of “a body on the line” (worried about that a little).

Took my clothes over to the launderette, only to discover it was closed on Sundays.  Met some of the girls in the lobby and talked through tomorrow’s trip to Cambridge.  Now to do a little hand-washing.  I bought enough clothes today that I may be able to make it wiout a machine wash. 

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Day 8-- Richmond and Kew

Day 8—Saturday, May 19, 2012

Lovely day today, after a rather slow start.  Paddington  rather crazy—after criss-crossing the station three times in search of an ATM that wasn’t out of money, finally found one that would dispense 50 pds, but no more.  We spent an extra hour or so getting to Richmond because of delays on the Circle Line.  One of the girls figured out we could take the Hammersmith Line out west and connect at the end of that line to the line that ran south to Richmond.  So we did. Serious worries about how they are going to handle the Olympics if they can’t do a busy Saturday morning.  And sympathy for why Virginia felt so isolated from London stuck out in suburban Richmond.

When we got to Richmond we went immediately up a series of twisty little lanes until we got to Hogarth House, Leonard and Virginia’s “London” home 1915-1924, where they founded the Hogarth Press and began their printing ventures.  The new tenants have nurtured a wandering wisteria vine, trained to circle the blue plaque commemorating the Woolfs’ residency which certainly softens the rather stern façade of the building.
London Girls at Hogarth House, Richmond

Then we navigated our way over to No. 17 The Green, the house where they first lived in Richmond, from Oct 1914- March 1915.  About all that Virginia has written about this house are memories of huddling in the basement with the servants at night, during the aerial bombardment at the end of WWI.  There were guns at Kew which they could hear firing as well.  That house fronts onto the huge public space of The Green, still used today by people walking babies, eating lunch, or playing a pick-up game of soccer. 

We ducked into Brewer’s Lane, a tiny lane or twitten just a few houses down from no. 17 in order to get back to the center of town, and found ourselves in a little shopping alley already festooned with banners for the Jubilee.  We were all getting hungry, so we piled into a pub called the Britannia and had lunch.

Once we got back out on the High Street, we found the proper bus to take us to Kew, but while waiting everyone was eying at least one store they were dying to explore, so I declared a 15-minute power-shopping break. Loaded with a few extra bags we rode about a mile and a half down to the Lion’s Gate, the SW entrance to the park and the place where Woolf would typically have entered.   This is right near the famous Kew Pagoda, so we starting out by inspecting it, and then just began to wander. 

 Some of us made it to the Water Lily Pond.  I managed to sneak in a few minutes at the Marianne North Museum—utterly amazing array of YEARS of botanical painting all over the world.  The word “redoubtable” was invented for women like her; she travelled alone to Sumatra, Brazil, India, Australia, Java, Ceylon, always painting the rarest native species she could find.  When she came back she willed all her paintings to Kew and built a small museum to hold them.  They are hung next to each other like mosaic tiles, literally hundreds on each wall.  Astonishing.  I made friends with a woman who was standing there with her mouth open when I walked in.  We instantly bonded on the basis of sheer amazement.

Marianne North Gallery at Kew

Finally we all met up at the Palm house—so full of hot steam my glasses became completely opaque when entering—an admired the “oval-shaped flower beds” outside that are the site of Woollf’s short story, “Kew Gardens.”  I also made everyone visit the Victorian Water Lily House, with its giant lilies five feet across upon which they used to stand small children—back in the days before child endangerment laws.

Oval Shaped Flower Beds at Kew

Exhausted from the 4+ miles we had walked in the garden, we piled into the train.  The girls decided they wanted to eat Indian, so we all went out together to the restaurant at the end of the block, where they served us very well. 

And now everyone is tucked in, working on their blogs and relishing the idea of sleeping in late tomorrow.  The girls have an assignment to visit Tavistock Sq and take pictures, but otherwise are free.  I think everyone is planning to shop.  They’ve been very restrained so far, but TopShop is calling.

Day 7-- Hampton Court